Heavy Winter Coat?

12:38 p.m. on May 24, 2015 (EDT)
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Hey guys,

I know this isn't exactly the most appropriate forum to ask this question, but you guys seem to have a lot of experience with good coats/parkas. I'm a Southerner going to college way up north (Hanover, NH), and I have no idea what winter coat to get. I've gotten this down coat from uniqlo, which was reviewed on Trailspace (which is how I found this site): https://www.trailspace.com/gear/other/uniqlo-down-ultralight-parka/

However, the review didn't make it sound as if it would keep me warm enough. I'm looking for a heavy coat/parka that will keep me warm in sub-zero temps, that costs up to ~$150. 

Thank you so much, and please excuse my potentially misplaced post.

2:21 p.m. on May 24, 2015 (EDT)
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dmouth19, welcome to Trailspace, and good luck (I know, it depends on your diligent studying, not luck) in Hanover.

On this website, "Beginner" means you are trying something new to you. So you could be a long-time backpacker who is trying out canoeing for the first time, or a desert hiker from southern Utah who is heading into a winter climate for the first time and never saw snow before.

Southerner from where? If it is the Deep South, well, the temps in winter in NH are a bit colder (I lived in Mississippi for 10 years, as well as a few years in Boston MA, so I have a comparison). The coldest I have ever been was in Boston. My wife and I had moved from California just a couple months before. The late summer and fall were just great. But by Thanksgiving, the temperatures had dropped. We made the mistake of heading to the MIT Coop wearing basically what we would wear for a cold California day. After we got off the MTA (the subway system) and started across the campus, we started getting really chilled by the cold winds blowing off the Charles River. By the time we got into the Coop (the campus store, which is sort of a co-operative, hence Coop), we were starting to lose feeling. We warmed up inside the store, but our legs felt like they were recovering from Novocaine. Because of lots of backpacking, we did have winter clothing. We just didn't think about how cold it would be.

Half the year in NH, the temps are just fine and your uniqlo will work just fine for hikes in the hills. However, by late fall, you will find it falls a bit short. You first need to learn about layering. In midwinter, you will want a base layer (aka "longjohns", which come in a range of weights - light through "expedition"). Next will be insulating layers - sweaters, your uniqlo, a thicker down parka (thicker means more insulation thickness, not necessarily heavier - some really heavy-weight jackets are less warm to wear than a really lightweight down "sweater"). On the outside will be your waterproof-breathable shell. This acts to block the wind (and the winds in NH can be realllllyyyy COLD!) and provides protection against the wet (rain and wet show). Headgear is important - stocking cap, balaclava, etc, as are gloves and mittens. But the torso covering (in layers) is most important.

It is tempting to get a single huge, heavy jacket and pants. But layering works better. Generally, do NOT wear cotton. Wool (especially merino wool) is quite warm, as are the better synthetics in puff clothing (a parka with a filling of down or Primaloft is a "puff jacket").

There are lots of stores carrying the right kind of clothing that can tailor your choices. Eastern Mountain Sports and REI have stores all over these days. And it isn't all that far a drive to go over to LLBean in Maine. Distances in New England are pretty small compared to the South and out here on the Left Coast.

And I am sure your new friends at Hanover who are more local will be able to help you a lot.

Look at the gear reviews here on Trailspace.

Oh, I do know the South can get cold temperatures - the last year we were in Mississippi, the temperatures dropped low enough that the city water mains froze, bursting the pipes, and producing a few geysers downtown. And we had one day that we got 14 inches of snow.

12:18 a.m. on May 25, 2015 (EDT)
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I'm going to suggest a hard shell to go over the parka. The nylon isn't likely to be waterproof and if it wets through, it won't be warm at all.  I'm also going to suggest looking through the second hand shops or online for a nice used jacket given your budget. 

What size are you? I have a like new Nordica ski jacket, size medium l bought years ago, but never wore. It is a bit heavy compared to newer materials, but would work for what you need for school.

5:22 a.m. on May 25, 2015 (EDT)
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I assume you are asking about an every day coat to wear, not something specific to winter hiking/backpacking.

Don't over complicate it.... Millions of people manage just fine without over thinking the issue. Just go to a shop, pick out an insulated ski type jacket and it will be fine. Wear a hoody or a sweater if its not warm enough.

Columbia ski jackets are what many people wear in the north east because they are warm, don't cost much, and generally last a good while.

9:30 a.m. on May 25, 2015 (EDT)
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For most people that move to a much colder climate, they need to look at their whole wardrobe. Add some wool, heavier pants, less polyester, etc. Some people never figure out how to dress for the cold. It is a mistake to think that one heavy coat will keep them warm.  After you get indoors it still may seem cold compared to Georgia.

10:37 a.m. on May 25, 2015 (EDT)
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One thing I forgot to mention - you will inevitably run into the local "clothing styles". When my son headed for college in Colorado, where the winter temperatures can get just as cold on campus and around town as NH,  by the time winter came around, he discovered that most of the male students and many of the females were walking around in T-shirts and shorts, mainly because that was the style. When I visited him on the CU campus and saw him doing this as well, the excuse was that it wasn't very far between the dorms and the classrooms, both of which were kept quite warm in winter. This was on days where there was snow on the ground and, as far as I was concerned, it was very much on the cold side.

12:34 p.m. on May 25, 2015 (EDT)
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ppine said:

For most people that move to a much colder climate, they need to look at their whole wardrobe. Add some wool, heavier pants, less polyester, etc. Some people never figure out how to dress for the cold. It is a mistake to think that one heavy coat will keep them warm.  After you get indoors it still may seem cold compared to Georgia.

I grew up in a city where I routinely went to school in -40 oC and snow was on the ground for 4-6 months of the year. Your body adjusts quite quickly, and for day to day living, the adjustment is not so extreme. Warm jacket, scarf, hat and gloves for the bad days, and you should be fine. You can otherwise have clothes just like anywhere else.... and its not like stores are poorly stocked and supplies are scarce, you can buy items as you see fit when seasons change!

I spent most of my life dressing like a regular teenager/student... jeans, t-shirt, some type of hoodie, throw a regular ski jacket on top and I was fine.

9:50 a.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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I have known plenty of people, especially those from California that move to Nevada that never figure it out. They complain about the cold all the time. I call them the "cotton people."

Growing up in the cold makes it seem normal.

10:11 a.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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Thanks, everyone!

I only plan on outdoors activities in the Fall/spring/summer. In the winter, I'd like to go skiing and snowboarding occasionally. I'll take all your advice into account, thanks!

ppine, I'm not sure how you knew I live in GA though.

4:05 p.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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I'm a New Hampshire native and spent some time with the NH public defender after law school.  for what it's worth, my son is in 11th grade, we live in Maryland, and he's contemplating various colleges in New England.  Congrats on Dartmouth, great school.  

you would be amazed at how many college students walk around in a patagonia or north face fleece in zero degree weather on college campuses. they generally aren't walking long distances and probably care more about how they look than how cold they are.  indeed, on a couple of college tours we took in New England in January, 10 degrees above zero, my son wore a fleece and an uninsulated pair of maine hunting shoes.    

the reality is that you could wear one of those fleece jackets or a heavy wool sweater under an inexpensive, un-insulated nylon shell to stop the wind and be fine in pretty cold weather, provided you wear a decent hat and gloves.  

if you want a single jacket that's warm enough to throw on in cold weather, for walking around a college campus, and possible doubling as a layer to use for skiing or hiking when it's cold, i see two primary options.  if you aren't super-focused on style and might tend to hike more than ski, look for a down jacket with a hood that's insulated with 550-700 flll power down.  in the confusing lingo of insulation descriptions, down with higher numbers (800-900 fill power) has the most loft per ounce, so it's lighter weight but much more expensive.  550-700 are a tad heavier but will still keep you very warm.  outdoor websites often have outlet sites - this one is about $150:  http://bit.ly/1Awr931 on the 'how it looks' scale, these are more functional than good-looking, and they tend to be a little warm for skiing unless it's polar out.  

or, you could look for a ski/snowboard type jacket, which usually have synthetic insulation, aren't as hands-down warm as down, but also have a leaner/trimmer and probably more stylish look - Burton makes jackets like this, and you can get great deals this time of year on the REI or Backcountry.com outlet sites for stuff like this.  for example:  http://www.rei.com/product/872575/burton-mb-covert-insulated-jacket-mens 

if you lean away from something that doubles as a ski/hike insulating jacket, LL Bean's field coats are available with a removable primaloft liner.  http://bit.ly/1HJ6gnT  not for hiking or skiing/boarding, but they can handle most of what you'll see on a daily basis in Hanover, and the ability to remove the liner means you can wear it most of the year (like the columbia 3 in one jackets, by the way).  added bonus, they last forever and look better the more beat-up they get.  

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