Whether your family is planning a walk in a winter wonderland or an adrenaline-generating ski vacation, winter gear is a must. And if your family includes older kids and teens, style is going to be as important as the coat’s ability to fend off winter winds and snow. Beyond basic fashion, however, there are other factors to consider, such as packability, moisture resistance, price (as kids grow quickly … and we adults may, too, given certain circumstances), and the practical matter of a coat having a life after the vacation.
Natalie Burr, a tech gear-focused sales associate at Ann Arbor-based outfitter Bivouac notes that, as a category, parkas (literally) cover most travelers’ needs. However, layering pieces that include a well-chosen parka may be a better way to go, especially as travel often involves moving from climate to climate.
“We advise starting with a base layer like a merino wool long sleeve tee from New Zealand brand Icebreaker, and then add in an ultra-packable Patagonia ‘Micropuff’ wind breaker, fleece top or down-filled vest because they are light and packable,” advises Burr. “These pieces, along with a waterproof shell can be mixed and matched depending on where you are going this winter and what you are doing. The objective is to build a functional wardrobe with pieces that look really great together.”
Whether a family vacation mixes adrenaline-inducing outdoor activities with fancier dinners out or city trekking and museum hopping, Burr recommends shells for adults by Arteryx for both their form and function. “Arteryx has a special relationship with the producers of Gore-Tex, the best wind and waterproof material for optimal coverage in windy and wet conditions. We suggest longer coats, because they also can look really dressy and are tailored well but are almost as lightweight as the shorter pieces. Arteryx walks the line between technical apparel where the cuts allow for movement and being active, and fashion.”
Although the children’s ranges by North Face and Patagonia for Kids are not the least expensive, Burr notes parents are willing to invest in these pieces because of their style, durability and ability to protect their kids from the elements. She also points out Patagonia’s Worn Wear program emphasizes sustainability. Parents can send in their kids’ used gear for repair or recycling with credit toward new pieces.
“If alterations are needed, they are happy to fix them or send the parents credit toward something new,” she says. “It’s also worth noting that Patagonia has wonderful fleecy layering pieces for kids with inspired designs, and other styles that match up with some of the adult pieces. Even little animal hats! North Face has them too, as well as onesies and some reversible items.”
Puffer jackets from Uniqlo have gotten a buzz recently for their value pricing, packability and the fact you can buy them out of vending machines in a pinch. While Burr says the more outdoorsy, active families will want to invest in the more durable and expensive brands, mixing quality layering pieces and a Uniqlo jacket makes sense for those who do not hit the slopes regularly or live most of the year in warmer climates. “While you don’t get the quality or material advantages with products like Uniqlo that you would with Arteryx or Patagonia, you may not need them,” Burr says. “We always try to match our customers to the right pieces based on their budget situation. If a customer from Florida is just up in Michigan for the weekend, we will not try to sell her a Canada Goose coat.”
Although most of these brands are sold online through the brands’ sites, independent retailers like Bivouiac and large sporting goods chains, Burr point out its best to try everything on in person as every brand sizes their gear differently and there is no sizing consistency between the brands. “The coats we carry are intended to last a long time, but you can’t pinpoint exactly what you or your family will need for a specific ski trip or the entire winter season until you come in.”
New on the Market: While Patagonia’s recently launched Silent Down jackets are tailored with a slopes-to-street sensibility, the designers also addressed other concerns, such as eliminating the swish-swish sound of polyester and creating outerwear in a way that’s less harmful to the environment. The jackets are crafted with 70 percent recycled polyester taffeta with a DWR finish that sheds moisture and increases durability, a 100 percent recycled 700-fill-power down reclaimed from used duck and goose down products and Fair Trade Certified sewing.