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The Essential Parka Jacket Guide

An essential guide to the parka jacket or coat. Worn by Arctic explorers and hardy souls the parka is one of the best winter jackets.

Last updated March 19th, 2022
Words by Samantha Ferrec
Photos by Mr Joe Leahy, Unsplash & Pinterest
Mens Canada Goose Expedition Parka Jacket In Arctic Red - The Essential Parka Jacket Guide. No2 SEIKK Magazine

Worn by Arctic explorers and city dwellers alike the parka jacket or coat is a cold-weather staple. Adapted through time and often featuring a fur collar and down insulation, the parka jacket is defined by its warmth, durability and timeless style.

“Nothing is impossible”, says Nimsdai Purja, the Nepali mountaineer who fearlessly decided to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-metre peaks in seven months and is the subject of the latest “14 peaks” documentary on Netflix. Although mindset is essential to summit mountains, it wouldn’t be possible without the right equipment, and especially without a strong and resistant coat. One of the best jackets made to endure extremely cold temperatures is the parka. It comes from arctic countries and it has been used for its strength and adaptability throughout history.

ORIGINS OF THE PARKA

The ‘Amauti’, A Traditional Parka For Hunting & Caring

Although many mysteries and speculations surround the origin of the parka, one thing is sure: its origins lie in arctic territories. It is said that the word was first used by the Nenets of the Ural Mountains in the North of Russia and in their language “parka” means “animal skin”. The term would also be derived from the Aleut people from Alaska. However, the parka, as a piece of clothing, made its appearance in northern Canada with the Inuit people. Their traditional coat was a hooded jacket similar to a pullover and was named the “amauti”. The shape featured elongated length with functional proportions for isolation and a hood lined with fur.

Fur Parka Western Arctic Inuit McCord Museum Landscape By Isaac Demeester - The Essential Parka Jacket Guide. SEIKK Magazine
ARCTIC LANDSCAPE BY ISAAC DEMEESTER & PARKA, WESTERN ARCTIC INUIT: INUVIALUIT 1900-1905, CARIBOU FUR, WOLVERINE FUR, STROUD, SINEW, © MCCORD MUSEUM.

To face the harsh winter season, the coat was made from different skins and furs such as polar bears, wolves, seals, or caribou.

The amauti was treated with fish oil to be water-resistant as it was worn whilst hunting and kayaking.

It is said that a male wearing an amauti would be more fortunate when hunting, especially in the south Baffin tradition. It was worn by both men and women and featured a pouch to transport babies and keep them warm thanks to the body heat of the wearer. This tradition was kept alive in communities based in the Nunavut and Nunavik eastern Arctic territories.

Inuit Mother With Amauti Baby Carrier Greenland Cabin By Annie Spratt - The Essential Parka Jacket Guide. SEIKK Magazine
ARCTIC CABIN BY ANNIE SPRATT & INUIT MOTHER WITH TRADITIONAL AMAUTI BABY CARRIER, GREENLAND, PINTEREST : THE ESSENTIAL PARKA GUIDE.

The Military Usages Of The 20th Century Parka

CANADIAN MILITARY PARKA OF THE 1900’S

With the Industrial Revolution, production evolved along with the way objects and clothes were made. In the 1900s, the design of the parka changed to enable manufacturers to ship them more rapidly to faraway locations. Similarly, to other industries, the use of synthetic and chemically made materials advanced strongly. The Canadian military used the style of the parka but refined and improved the material to act as a shield from extreme cold and wind. They would serve men and women sent in harsh climates as well as pilots, film crews and scientists.

THE US ARMY N-3 PARKA FROM WW2

During World War II, the N-3 parka was developed by the U.S. Army for soldiers sent to polar regions of the world.

Arctic Longyearbyen Svalbard Norway At Sunset By James Padolsey - The Essential Parka Jacket Guide. SEIKK Magazine
ARCTIC SVALBARD IN NORWAY, LONGYEARBYEN AT SUNSET BY JAMES PADOLSEY : THE ESSENTIAL PARKA JACKET GUIDE

The parka was the best jacket to resist cold temperatures and adapt to any situation.

The roomy design enabled freedom of movement and can fit over the uniforms of soldiers. Some important changes occurred, such as the length of the parka that shortened to arrive mid-thigh while the material used for the outer shell and lining was nylon. Soldiers also needed a jacket that could easily be worn over their uniforms, leading to the preference for loose fits. An element that remained characteristic of the parka is the fur-trimmed hood. For additional warmth, it was lined with mouton.

THE AIR FORCE B-9 PARKA BY EDDIE BAUER

Another type of parka that was invented during that time was the B-9 Down Parka and was designed by Eddie Bauer for pilots of the US Air Force Army (USAAF). The outer shell was made of a mix of nylon and cotton and one of its distinctive components was the hand-warming chest pockets.

Military Pilot B-9 Parka Jacket Pinterest - The Essential Parka Jacket Guide. SEIKK Magazine
PILOT IN PARKA JACKET & MILITARY GREEN B-9 PARKA COAT, PINTEREST : THE ESSENTIAL PARKA JACKET GUIDE.

THE N-3B PARKA OR SNORKEL JACKET

After the B-9, another parka came into existence: the N-3B, also called the “Snorkel”. To protect from cold temperatures, it could be fastened up to the face and the hood only left the eyes uncovered. Originally made for pilots and flight crews, it was to be worn in freezing conditions reaching as low as -50 °C while enduring sufficient mobility. Typically, the material used for the outer shell was nylon while the interior lining was made of wool and later replaced by synthetic wadding. In addition to having a hood lined with fur, it could also be filled with feathers for greater insulation.

N-3B Snorkel Parka Demonstration By Thomas Mason IV - The Essential Parka Jacket Guide. SEIKK Magazine
N-3B SNORKEL PARKA DEMONSTRATION, BY THOMAS MASON IV : THE ESSENTIAL PARKA JACKET GUIDE

FISHTAIL PARKA & ITS ITERATIONS: THE M-48, M-51 & M-65

The N-3B was followed by the fishtail parka created in 1951 for soldiers during the Korean War. The back of the coat features a split end, similar to a tailcoat, with drawstrings in the hem to tie the bottom of the coat around the legs and prevent wind from coming in.

The Fishtail parka had many classic versions such as the M-48, M-51 and M-65.

The “M” is used for “military” or “model” while the numbers represent the year of the invention of each design. The M-48 parka wasn’t produced for long by the military but the M-51 and M-65 jackets have had lengthy manufacturing runs.

Mods Wearing Fishtail Parkas On Their Scooters Pinterest - The Essential Parka Jacket Guide. SEIKK Magazine
MODS WEARING FISHTAIL PARKAS ON THEIR SCOOTERS, PINTEREST : THE ESSENTIAL PARKA JACKET GUIDE.

With the end of WWII, some military and utilitarian garments were repurposed to become everyday wardrobe staples. The fishtail parka, and more specifically the M-51 and M-65, are renowned for being adopted by the mod subculture movement in the UK. There are many reasons for the integration of the fishtail parka style in British youth culture of the time: the spacious and loose design fitted sharply with the slim tailored Italian suits of the mods and could protect from dirt while riding a Vespa or Lambretta.

The fishtail parka progressively became associated with scooters, modern jazz and youth culture of the 1960s.

The military surplus parkas were recycled and reinterpreted for their practicality and utilitarian lines. However, the increasing demand led to them being manufactured again while parkas were being sold in boutiques on Carnaby Street and Soho.

Snow Trekking Photo By Nicolas J Leclercq Unsplash - The Essential Parka Jacket Guide. SEIKK Magazine
WINTER HIKE BY NICOLAS J LECLERCQ ON UNSPLASH : THE ESSENTIAL PARKA JACKET GUIDE.

From the late 1960s to the 1990s, numerous innovations were developed. American brand Sierra Designs launched a 60/40 mountain parka that later became a standard length.

A new weather-resistant fabric for parka was developed in 1976 named the Gore-Tex, which is still used today by technical brands such as Arc’teryx.

In the 1970s, parkas were being worn by both civilians as well as the military, but the 1980s and 1990s were marked brands moving forward to suit the needs of explorers and scientists engaging in challenging expeditions, but also by the iconic celebrity figures wearing the parka for style or aesthetic reasons.

WHO’S WORN PARKAS WELL

The will, courage and curiosity of human beings to discover unknown territories have been powerful driving forces for many polar breakthroughs, which have also been possible thanks to protective and warm clothing. The first explorers paved the way for all future adventurers while the evolutions of the parka coat are strongly tied to these arctic expeditions. The iconic figures of travellers of the poles all share similar bravery but carry their own specific story, sometimes as secretive as the inaccessible regions of the world they step foot on.

Arctic Expeditions & Explorers

Paving the way in the 1830s was Sir James Clark Ross who charted Antarctica’s coastline, discovered the Ross Sea and told his story in a memoir A Voyage of Discovery and Research to Southern and Antarctic Regions. Another form of triumph was that of Sir Ernest Shackleton who never reached the South Pole like he planned during his 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Mission, but inspired many for surviving 10 months and rescuing his crew of 27 men after his ship got trapped in ice. Someone did eventually reach the South Pole: Robert Falcon Scott Jan 17, 1912, which unfortunately was one month after the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

The secret of Roald Amundsen's success? His skis, bogs and a parka made of sealskin and fur, which was wrongly judged by American Robert Scott as old and inefficient.

Roald Amundsen Arctic Explorer Portarit Pinterest - The Essential Parka Jacket Guide. SEIKK Magazine
PORTRAIT OF EXPLORER ROALD AMUNDSEN & ROALD AMUNDSEN ON AN ARCTIC EXPEDITION IN 1899, PINTEREST : THE ESSENTIAL PARKA GUIDE.

Also fond of warm furry parka coats that resist the extreme temperatures, is Robert Peary, who is also credited to be one of the first persons to reach a geographic pole, but on the opposite side of the planet, the North Pole. Although some claim it is false, it is undeniable that this may have been possible dressed the way he was.

Arctic Explorer Robert Peary Portrait On Boat 1900s Pinterest - The Essential Parka Jacket Guide. SEIKK Magazine
EXPLORER ROBERT PEARY ON AN ARCTIC EXPEDITION IN THE 1900'S & PORTRAIT OF ROBERT PEARY, PINTEREST : THE ESSENTIAL PARKA GUIDE.

In the 1980s, Canada Goose invented the emblematic parka Expedition for the scientists at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station and later gained the name « Big Red ».

Thanks to the innovative and well-designed parka coats and equipment, many brands helped scientists and explorers to fulfil their missions. Laurie Skreslet summited Mt. Everest in 1982 wearing a custom parka designed and manufactured by Metro Sportswear Ltd., the initial name of Canada Goose when it was founded in 1957 by Sam Tick. In 2011, her iconic “Big Mountain” jacket was re-released as the Skreslet Parka.

Mountaineer Nims Purja ThruDark Ambassador By Sandro Baebler - The Essential Parka Jacket Guide. SEIKK Magazine
NIMS PURJA IS JUST ONE OF THRUDARK'S ICONIC AMBASSADORS © SANDRO BAEBLER : THE ESSENTIAL PARKA JACKET GUIDE.

To climb the 14 highest mountains in the world in only 7 months, Nims Purja MBE was helped by British outdoor wear brand Thrudark, by creating a bespoke summit suit that certainly was part of his record-breaking achievements.

Cultural Icons

Attracted to the functionality and aura of the parka coat, cultural icons have also shaped the identity of this garment. The mods adopted the M51 and M65 in the 1960s, the fishtail became a staple of this youth culture. After bad media coverage and societal changes, this mod style was revived thanks to the movie Quadrophenia released in 1979.

The main character Jimmy, played by actor Phil Daniels, became an icon whose staple jacket was the parka.

Jimmy In British Drama Quadrophenia 1979 Pinterest - The Essential Parka Jacket Guide. SEIKK Magazine
JIMMY IN THE BRITISH DRAMA “QUADROPHENIA”, 1979, PINTEREST : THE ESSENTIAL PARKA JACKET GUIDE

Intertwined with subculture and certain types of music genres, it is said that Kurt Cobain, the iconic grunge figure, would wear parkas in the 1980 and 1990s. But the most well-known musician for his parka is Liam Gallagher from Oasis who went to the extent of selling his own design.

THE PARKA JACKET TODAY

Today, the parka jacket is a wardrobe staple due to its functionality, style and history.

Coming in a variety of designs and materials, the parka coat can adapt to extreme conditions or urban environments depending on the model selected. The best brands producing high-quality parkas are usually the technical or sportswear makers like Moose Knuckles, Arc’teryx, Patagonia, Alpha Industries, Canada Goose and The North Face.

Arctic Parkas For Extreme Climates

THRUDARK EXPEDITION PARKA JACKET

The Expedition Parka by ThruDark has been designed and tested by former Special Forces operators and record-breaking mountaineer Mr Nims Purja MBE. This Expedition jacket is built with windproof black MultiCam® fabric, reinforced with Cordura® X Dyneema® panels and insulated with 900 fill powder down. Tested down to -40℃ the ThuDark Expedition Parka offers incredible protection against the elements.

CANADA GOOSE EXPEDITION PARKA JACKET

The Expedition parka by Canada Goose is the original extreme weather jacket. Developed for scientists working in the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, the Canada Goose Expedition parka is field-tested at -30°C and below. Featuring a durable and water-resistant Arctic tech finish, duck down 625 fill and a frost-resistant Coyote fur collar, the Canada Goose Expedition parka is super warm and guaranteed to last a lifetime.

SHACKLETON ANTARCTIC PARKA JACKET

This limited edition Antarctic Protector parka by British brand Shackleton was designed in collaboration with Antarctica’s Blue Marine Foundation. Built to provide expedition-grade insulation for Artic field teams, the Protector parka features a sustainably-sourced goose down fill, Merino wool storm cuffs and recycled wool blend pocket linings. This seriously warm all-black Shackleton coat is field-tested down to -25ºC and has a waterproof rating of 20,000hh.

Military-Inspired Fishtail Parkas

THE REAL MCCOY’S M-1951 PARKA JACKET

The M-51 field parka by cult Japanese brand The Real McCoy’s is a faithful reproduction of the classic M-51 fishtail parka produced by US Army in 1951. The M-51 parka was an affordable favourite of scootering mods to protect their suits from urban grime. This Real McCoy’s M-51 parka uses heavy back sateen olive fabric instead of the original cotton poplin to give the military jacket a subtle more premium update.

UNIFORM BRIDGE M65 FISHTAIL PARKA JACKET

Introduced in 1965 the M-65 parka is a revised version of the M-51 parka. Like the original version, this M65 parka from South Korean brand Uniform Bridge features an iconic fishtail and oversize fit. Made from pure cotton this Uniform Bridge M65 parka features a quilted synthetic inner, funnel neck and zip closure to keep you warm. This classic street-ready fishtail parka is available in sage green or stealthy black.

RAINS FISHTAIL PARKA JACKET

This military green Fishtail Parka jacket from Danish brand Rains is one of their signature waterproof coats. Featuring a classic fit, welded seams, fishtail drawstring and a cap-like hood, this long parka should keep you dry and well covered.  This sleek Rains Fishtail parka is available in a range of colours including black, navy, olive and bright yellow depending on your mood and location.

Tailored Parkas For Urban Environments

ARC’TERYX THERME PARKA JACKET

The Arc’teryx Therme parka is a true allrounder combining warmth, weather resistance and a host of useful features in a clean minimal lightweight silhouette. This Arc’teryx parka features a waterproof Gore-Tex 2L 75 Denier outer shell, storm flaps and a helmet-compatible hood. The Therme Parka is lined with warm 750 fill goose down and water-resistant Coreloft synthetic insulation, ensuring the jacket performs well even when dampened.

PATAGONIA ISTHMUS PARKA JACKET

The Patagonia Isthmus Parka is a casual 60s-inspired expedition parka made of 68% recycled materials. The Isthmus jacket features a weather-resistant NetPlus™ recycled nylon outer, insulated with 60-g Thermogreen® polyester and lined with a soft 100% recycled polyester fleece. Excelling in mild-weather conditions and available in a range of classic colours the Isthmus Parka is clean, understated and true to Patagonia’s outdoor roots.

THE NORTH FACE HIMALAYAN PARKA JACKET

The North Face Himalayan Down Parka is a lightweight and breathable technical jacket originally designed for serious mountaineering. The parka features a tough nylon ripstop construction with a DWR treatment, WindWall technology and is insulated by a warm 550-fill-power of responsibly sourced down. At home up the mountain and on the streets, The North Face Himalayan parka jacket is cut to a slightly relaxed fit to allow for movement and layering.

Click the product names for a closer look, or use the link to shop all jackets.

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FAQ’s

Which parka jacket is best for warmth?

The well-insulated parkas are those filled with down, lined with fur and made of warming material placed in strategic places of the garment. It is recommended to select a goose down filling rather than duck as it traps heat more easily and to pay attention to the down fill power of a coat. To avoid unwanted wind entering the parka, it is essential to look for drawstrings on the hems and hood, closed ribbed or knitted cuffs and the general fit.

How do parkas size?

Depending on the brands and types of parkas, they can size differently. For physically demanding activities in harsh environments, it is better to pick a well-fitted parka coat that isn’t tight to enable good mobility. If a warm parka jacket is what you are looking for, it is best to purchase a long length parka descending to the middle of the thighs. Some other parkas can also be wide and oversize, like the fishtail that is worn as a roomy protective coat just for the sake of style.

How to clean and re-waterproof parka jackets?

As materials (natural or synthetic) and quality vary from one brand or model to another, the first step is to take into consideration the specificities of the parka coat. Next, the jacket needs to be cleaned with a technical cleaner because dirt rubs and damages the waterproof protection. Once clean and dry, some caring sprays can be used to restore the waterproof or water repellent coating.

Not sure parkas are for you then shop all coats and jackets.

Samantha Ferrec is a Writer, Art & Fashion Historian and PR in luxury. She is passionate about heritage, sustainability and timelessness

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