I am so glad I did my research and packed up the perfect coat for a (very) cold European winter.
When I decided to spend a whole semester living in Eastern Europe people were pretty excited and wanted to know all the details ... especially when I told them I was leaving in January! It gets cold all across Europe, particularly in a few countries where you can live as an ILP volunteer, but I wasn't worried — I did my research to find the perfect coat.
Yep, I spent a whole semester living in Europe and it was just as perfect as it sounds.
Learn about volunteering abroad with ILP here.
The coat I packed up for my semester was so warm and cozy (and cute) I was actually pretty disappointed when the weather warmed up enough that I didn't need that heavy as a parka, but I am so glad I brought something that was so perfect for the cold weather there. This post is a whole big collection of the coats our ILP volunteers recommend either for the end of the Fall semester, or right at the beginning of their Spring semesters. Hopefully with all of this advice in one spot, you can find one that works for you and your budget.
Brands We Love (And Volunteers Recommend)
This is probably the most popular brand for our ILP volunteers, with tons and tons recommending Eddie Bauer for the quality, price, and warm (but not bulky) parkas. Kat Green is just one happy ILP volunteer who was glad she got an Eddie Bauer coat before her semester:
"We went to the outlet store which was awesome. Sign up for their rewards, because I've been getting 40% and 50% coupons off for most everything since I signed up! These coats are super warm, waterproof, long enough to cover the bum, have a fur hood lining, and 550 down."
You can find lots of different coat options online, but here's the link for similar parka.
Okay, here's my recommendation, from Fjallraven. I knew I'd be taking most of my pictures wearing this coat, so I wanted to love it. I did tons and tons of tons of research and this coat hit everything on my wishlist.
- Long Length (check!)
- Suuuper Warm (check!)
- Fur Hood (check!)
- Waterproof (check!)
Tons and tons of pockets (check!)
The North Face
Lots of volunteers recommend coats from the North Face. You can find these in a lot of sports stores, the North Face storefronts, and online (even on Amazon). This makes it super convenient to try on the coat you're looking at in store, but look around the web for a great discount. Try sites like Backcountry and Sierra Trading Post for a killer deal on name brands like this, because they tend to be more expensive than other options like Columbia or Eddie Bauer.
You can get a good idea of what coats they have by looking at the "Parka" section of The North Face website. Here are a couple to check out:
- Metropolis Parka II: Water-resistant, long, 550 down, nice hood, lots of colors
- Outer Boroughs Parka: Waterproof, 550 down, adjustable hood.
Lots and lots of ILP volunteers recommend going to Columbia. It's probably the second most recommended brand if you ask around (Eddie Bauer is the most popular). Generally speaking, Columbia will be less expensive than other outdoor brands like the North Face or Patagonia, so check out their prices when comparing. Here are a few coats to check out that our volunteers have loved.
- Barlow Pass 550 Turbo: waterproof, 550 down fill adjustable waist and hood
- Voodoo Falls Coat: water-resistant, 590 down fill, chin cover
A Few Other Brands
There are tons of brands to choose from, those are just a few that have been the most popular with our volunteers. However, we also have had volunteers pack up parkas from these retailers:
Things To Consider
No matter what brand your coat is or where you bought it, there's a little checklist to follow to make sure your coat will keep you warm and dry. Make sure your coat fits this list and you'll be prepped for any forecast.
The length of your coat is majorly important. I highly recommend taking a longer one, rather than a coat that hits your hips. Think past your bum, and maybe hitting your thighs. The difference between a thigh-length and hip-length coat is drastic — so much more of your body is covered with a longer coat meaning you'll be way warmer.
Many volunteers have said they ended up buying a longer coat in Europe if they didn't bring one (just read what some ILP volunteers shared on our Facebook page):
Go For Waterproof
There's a big difference between water-resistant and waterproof ... and you're going to want something waterproof. One girl had a water-resistant coat that ended up getting soaking wet and re-freezing when we were out exploring, which made her really (really) cold. Water-resistant is better than nothing, but if you have the option, go for waterproof.
How Warm Will It Keep You?
Not all coats are created equal. Make sure you check out what temperatures the coat can handle. When I was coat-shopping, I talked to several people at a lot of outlet stores. One thing they said was to go with a higher packed down to stay warm, without the need to layer lots of sweaters or jackets underneath. You'll want to make sure the down-pack is at least 550+ when looking for a good, warm coat. And again, having a waterproof coat will also help keep you toasty.
Are There Pockets?
This sounds silly, but pockets are also important. Try to find a coat with pockets that will hold your wallet, phone, headphone, and gloves, plus to keep your hands warm in. Then you can skip the purse while you're out exploring. If you have the luxury, a set of pockets that are fleece-lined help keep your hands warm and having pockets which zip close will both be lifesavers.
Packing It VS Buying One There
You can buy a coat before you head to Europe or you can pick one up there. We've had volunteers do both, with pros and cons on each side. This blog post breaks it down.
Get Your Gear For Less
A Little Advice
There have been volunteers who have gotten a $30 coat from H&M or Target and ended up spending $150 in-country to buy a proper coat. If you're heading to Eastern Europe for their coldest months we are recommending you spend a little bit more in the first place to make sure you're buying something that's higher quality and going to keep you warm. While some volunteers have spent $200-$500+ on certain parkas, with deals and promotions, you can get brands like Eddie Bauer and Columbia for around $150 or less.
Don't Pay Full Price
I love getting exactly what I want without paying full price — I know I'm getting quality gear but more in my budget when I check out Black Friday deals, sign up for email promotions, shop at the outlets, etc. If you're eyeing a certain coat on this list but can't afford full price, check out these ways to get discounted gear.
Ready for your own semester in Europe??
You'll probably never want to come home. Volunteering with ILP gives you the opportunity to explore Europe while giving back and serving at the same time. It's perfect for the traveler who wants to make a difference and have the adventure of living like the locals and figuring out how to explore and vacation in a whole set of different countries and languages. Have questions about how to make this happen? We can help.