Bushcraft is a hobby practiced by people all over the world and thus, it’s hard to give any suggestions on winter jackets that applies to all. A normal winter here in southern Sweden keeps a temperature at about -5°c to +5°c, which really is a sucky temperature if you’re unprepared. It’s always wet and damp and every time we see some snow fall it’s equal parts ice and rain. When it hits the ground it instantly turns into slush. However, even in this climate you’ll thrive if you’re properly dressed!
Warmer winters +5°c or warmer
If you live in an area where it rarely gets colder than this, most of the time you’ll do rather fine with a shell jacket. No extra insulation is generally needed here. The main problem living in this type of climate is the rain. Just ask the English what their opinion is on the winter weather!
If you wear clothes according to the layer principle underneath a shell jacket with rain protection will be a great choice in this environment!
Colder winters -5°c to +5°c
In this environment I do like to grab a jacket with some extra insulation, mainly due to often being out with the kids. If you’re out with people who doesn’t like, or can’t move in a speed that keeps you warm but not sweaty you’re going to get cold. There’s just so many interesting things to look at, climb on and jump off in the forest!
This climate is probably the one that puts the most demand on your jacket. It’s constantly damp and wet, but it’s also very cold all the time. You’ll probably be too cold in just a rain jacket and a poncho is just not an option in all situations. No, here you’ll need something sturdier, with water protection and some proper insulation.
Arctic winters -5°c and colder
In the northern parts of the world we normally get temperatures much colder than -5°c. The air is a lot drier and you don’t get any rain, just dry snow. Here, you don’t have to consider the risks of getting wet from the outside. You do, however have to consider the risk of getting wet from the inside!
In arctic climates it can be quite dangerous if you start sweating. The best type of jacket for this climate generally tends to be a breathable overshirt or jacket. Such as the classic red lumberjack shirt. It’s also important to bring a warmer jacket that is wind resistant for the coffee break.
Winter jackets for different purposes
I tend to cycle between several different jackets during winter time. If I know I’ll be moving in a steady pace I’ll throw on my Fjällräven shell jacket. It’s made of G1000 fabric and is by no means water proofed, but it breathes exceedingly well so it’s perfect for rucking in the cold, for example. Underneath I’ll wear enough to keep me warm but not sweaty. For breaks I’ll just bring a warmer wool or fleece shirt and if the weather turns sour I’ll keep the poncho easily accessible.
For light bushcraft (as in coffee and some spoon carving) I’ll tend to go for the insulated winter coat. It’s water proof, wind proof and very cozy. This is normally combined with walking in a rather slow pace and mostly just relaxing.
During Scanian fall (English winter ;)) I’ll wear my Fjällräven jacket and make sure the poncho or rain jacket is nearby.
Features in Winter Jackets
What are the different features I’m looking for in a winter jacket?
As previously mentioned, water protection on my winter jacket is a must here in southern Sweden. Not just water resistance, but water proof. Being caught in the rain in +2˚c without any type of water protection is not a situation you want to be in. I tend to bring the poncho regardless of the jacket I wear, but for lighter rain I still want my jacket to be able to handle it.
In more northern parts you generally don’t have to consider water proofing. The only way you’re going to get wet from the outside is if you fall into a lake. If that’s the case, you have another type of problem and no jacket will help you there! Up there, it’s mainly warmth and wind you need to consider.
This is one of the most important features of a winter jacket in my opinon. I normally wear a normal wool- or fleece hat when outdoors and it works perfect for when it’s not windy or rainy. Once the wind starts up, however, being able to use the hood is a life saver and great for morale!
The hood needs to be big enough that you can wear a hat underneath. Preferably it also have an extension over the face to protect from rain. Look for attributes such as storm protection, which is what it’s called when it protects the face as well.
I dislike the removable hoods since it tend to remove itself in some situations. Buttons unhook, zippers break, etc. That’s just my preference, though!
Good pockets are very important! I want pockets on either side that doubles as hand warmers. I also want a few pockets on the front to keep keys, phone, folding knife, fire steel, some birch bark, cool sticks, etc. Some brands adds a pocket that sits just above your butt on your back. I find these pockets great for gloves, hats, and other somewhat bulky but light items.
Some brands go a bit overboard with pockets and add pockets inside pockets, and while I can see some use in that, it’s just too much. One such jacket have small mesh pockets inside every single normal sized pocket and it’s just a hassle to get things in- and out of these mesh pockets. If you have that much gear in your pockets, perhaps you’re bringing too much gear?
Another downside with having too many pockets with zippers is the weight. It actually adds quite a bit of weight adding robust zippers to every single pocket if you have 6+ pockets. I don’t even count the main zipper, the zipper for the hood, or the zippers underneath the armpits. Every zipper is also a potential entry for water.
Lining & insulation
I won’t say too much on the lining, other than choose the lining and insulation that’s suited for your climate.
Wool works everywhere. It’s warm, even when wet. The smell of wet wool might not be for everyone, however.
Polyester is the most common type of lining. Just as wool it’s warm and works even when wet. It has the added benefit of not smelling too much when wet. Keep it away from fire, though!
Down works extremely well in colder climates. Mostly due to its great insulation, but also light weight. Doesn not work in wetter climates. Down doesn’t work when wet and can possibly even be destroyed by water.
Cotton isn’t really that great in the cold. It doesn’t keep you as warm as the other options and when wet will get you really cold really fast. Save for summer instead!
Conclusion on winter jackets
I hope you got something out of this article and that your choice in winter jackets will keep you warm and dry this winter! There are a lot of great options out there and some work only for a select few while others work might work for you. Don’t get too caught up in details, in some cases simplicity is king!