Gillette Castle overlooks the Connecticut River in rural East Haddam, south of the town’s famous Swing Bridge. The state park’s accessible walking trails remain open year-round. The opportunity to explore Gillette’s namesake estate coincides with some of Connecticut’s most scenic views, and annual holiday decorations transform the property into a whimsical winter wonderland.
It’s worth visiting. I’ve been twice this year so far, but each time the weather’s dipped colder and colder. Connecticut and Rhode Island average winter temperatures in the low thirties, warmer than New England’s northern mountains thanks to the states’ wide coastlines. Regardless of how it compares, those average temperatures are marked annually by days and nights with record single digit lows. It’s New England; it’s wet and cold.
So we adapt. Reliable warmth results from combining wicking baselayers, insulated midlayers, and weatherproof shell jackets, but that’s not always an option. Technical apparel can sometimes be a little too technical for the office, or maybe you want instant warmth. Luckily, the materials and technologies that help us climb mountains make comfortable casual parkas too. Take my last visit to Gillette Castle; that was definitely a parka kind of day.
I prefer in more
Most winter jackets fall into one of two categories: waterproof and water-resistant. For waterproof, you’ll find waxed cotton fabrics, treated shells, and proprietary laminates. But none of that matters if the jacket isn’t breathable, and here’s where people get confused. Breathability refers to water vapor transfer, not convection. So it doesn’t mean drafty. Waterproof/breathable jackets are 100% windproof, but they limit condensation by allowing vapor to pass through the semi-permeable fabrics.
Water-resistant jackets, by contrast, treat shell fabrics with a durable water repellant (DWR) finish. This causes moisture to bead on the outside of the jacket. It just rolls off. You’ll stay dry walking down the block. Be warned, however; these jackets will soak through in heavy rain or snow.
That brings us to jackets’ insulation. Again, there’re two basic categories: synthetic and down insulated jackets. Each category has its own pros and cons. I prefer synthetic when I’m working out or if I’m in the snow. Down insulation I prefer in more casual settings.
When it comes to warmth, it’s all guesswork. Warmth depends on a person’s metabolism, preferences, and layered clothing, but we can estimate that value. Take synthetic insulation. We measure it in grams; more grams means more warmth. Down insulation, on the other hand, we measure in fill power, the quantifiable quality and loft of the down. Higher fill power means more loft and warmth with less weight. A lighter jacket with high fill power down will be warmer than a heavier jacket with low quality down. Combine high fill power and weight, and you’ll be nice and toasty.
Confession time: I don’t own many casual jackets. I wear my technical gear in poor weather; the jackets best for long days on belay work for long days in the city too. And when it gets really cold this time of year, like at Gillette Castle the other week, that’s when they come out of my closet.