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What’s the Difference Between a Parka and a Jacket?

A military green parka jacket and a black jacket on a white background.

The cold season is almost upon those of us in the northern hemisphere and it always leads people to ask: parka or jacket? Layering is essential for staying warm in cold winter weather. Without a jacket or parka to top it off, you’re leaving yourself exposed to wind, rain, snow, and freezing temperatures. 

Few additions to your winter wardrobe are as vital and effective for keeping warm as the jacket or parka. Both are incredibly popular during the cold season because they feature a number of qualities to maximize body heat retention, wind deflection, and water resistance. This leads many to wonder: what’s the difference between a jacket and a parka, anyway?

Related: What is a parka jacket?Are parkas good for winter?

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Distinguishing Parkas from Jackets

While many people wonder about the difference between parkas and jackets, it’s quite simple. Parkas extend below the waist, making them significantly longer than jackets. Parkas often cover your entire backside while extending to the thighs or lower.

Parkas also tend to be heavily insulated, usually stuffed with either down or synthetic fiber. It is also typical for a parka to include a hood, often one with a fur lining, though there is some variation. While many jackets and winter coats have a removable hood, parka hoods are usually non-removable. 

Jackets stop at the waistline. While only some jackets offer hoods, this isn’t necessarily a given. There is a lot more variation in jacket styles. Some may include hoods, while others may include extra layers for insulation. Alternatively, many jackets are a few layers of fabric, often an exterior and interior lining, without stuffing.

Pros And Cons of Parkas

Two people wearing parkas

Parkas are the go-to winter gear for extremely cold climates. If you’re planning a trip to the Arctic, you will want to pack your parka. 

Pro: Extra warmth and coverage

The extra insulation and length add extra protection, ensuring that your trunk, neck, and head are completely covered from bitter winds and freezing air. Jackets that extend to the waistline may pull up when you bend forward, especially if you have a longer-than-average waistline. The length of a parka solves this problem. 

Meanwhile, the hood also ensures that you keep your head and ears warm. Some parkas even have hoods that can be drawn or snapped over the bottom of your face to keep your nose and mouth shielded. 

Pro: Drawstrings for better insulation

Winter gear for extreme temperatures usually comes with a drawstring to secure the garment around your waist. This traps warm air against your skin and reduces the risk of cold air entering through gaps in your clothing. 

Parkas typically feature two drawstrings: one around your waistline and one around the bottom hem. This gives you additional protection against cold drafts sneaking up the bottom of the fabric. 

Con: movement is restricted

Parkas are great at keeping you warm, but they’re not so good at keeping your legs free and unrestricted. If you want to go for a hike, you’re better off leaving your parka at home and choosing a high-quality insulated jacket, which will leave your legs with their full range of motion. 

Similarly, because parkas are made to reduce airflow, they can get hot. If you try to move too much while wearing one, you may find yourself breaking a sweat. 

Con: difficult to transport

All that extra stuffing and fabric is great when you’re climbing through a snowbank, but it can be incredibly annoying to tote around. It’s not exactly easy to carry one in your arms, stuff it into a backpack, or carry it over your shoulders. They can be extremely heavy and bulky, making them an impractical choice for long outdoor treks. 

Pros And Cons of Jackets

Blank hooded sweatshirt, men's hooded jacket with zipper for your design mockup for print, isolated on white background.

Pro: more style options 

While parkas have just a few small variations, there is a lot more to consider with jackets. You can find everything from hooded jackets to jackets with drawstrings or ventilation pockets, removable elements, extra insulation, or other features. In other words, there is a lot more room for you to find exactly what you’re looking for in a winter garment.

Pro: breathable and lightweight 

Parkas are prone to doing their job a little bit too well, causing you to get hot while wearing them. Jackets tend to be lighter and less airtight, letting the fabric breathe a bit more. While this can be a con in extremely cold temperatures, it also means that you’re less likely to start sweating while wearing your jacket. 

Similarly, this lightness means that you will have an easier time transporting your jacket if you decide to take it off. Most jackets are easy to fold enough and put in a backpack or even tie around your waist, unlike parkas which are far too bulky.

Pro: easy to move in

If you are planning on moving around a lot, a jacket is your best bet. By ending at the waistline, jackets leave your legs free so you can move easily. This makes them a great choice for hiking, rock climbing, camping, kayaking, and other outdoor sports.

Con: leaves legs and waist exposed 

If you plan on visiting somewhere very cold, you might find yourself shivering even in a high-quality jacket. While jackets keep your torso and arms warm, they leave your legs exposed. This can become uncomfortable in extremely cold temperatures, especially in windy or snowy conditions.

People with longer torsos might also struggle with jackets since they can expose your waist. This can be a big problem if you are stretching or bending a lot, causing your jacket to pull up at your waistline.

When Should You Wear a Parka vs. a Jacket? 

If you plan on being in extremely cold conditions where you aren’t required to move around a lot, a parka can be a great choice. Their full coverage and extra insulation are made to keep the warm air your body generates trapped against you while protecting you from bitter outside air.

However, their bulkiness and long hem can get in the way if you need to move around a lot.  Alternatively, if you’re planning on doing outside activities like hiking, rock climbing, or snowshoeing, a high-quality jacket is the better choice.

You can find jackets in almost every style, including ones with insulated lining. This can help you stay warm while also leaving you the full range of motion you need on your trip. Jackets are also much easier to transport and don’t get in the way of equipment like climbing gear or rucksacks.


At the end of the day, remember that your outerwear is just that — the exterior layer on top of other layers. Your comfort will also depend on what you wear under your coat, a vital consideration in icy temperatures or while spending lots of time moving outdoors.

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