Packing: The Perfect Travel Coat  25


Tour season is almost upon us again and my thoughts have turned to…wait for it…packing! I have about three weeks before I head to Sicily, so I’ve been slowly laying the groundwork for packing my bag and I’ll be writing a lot about it in the next few weeks. March is a great time to travel. The cities are empty of tourists, the locals are fresh and ready to welcome visitors. The only downside is that it can be cold, especially when you are outside for a large part of the day. It is certainly not as cold right now in Italy as where I live, and that’s the problem. I don’t really have the perfect travel coat.

Finding the perfect travel coat is tricky, and the requirements for March are different from December or June. My winter coat is far too bulky for March in Sicily, although I was surprised it was perfect for Turkey in November. I have a down parka with a furry hood, and the Internet told me the temperature in Turkey was about 50, balmy by NW standards. I was going to bring a mid-weight fleece coat that’s relatively warm, but my mother convinced me to bring my warmest coat. I was so very glad I did. Being outside in 50 degrees for 10 minutes is a very different thing from 50 degrees in windy archaeological parks for 3 hours. I’d have been miserable without that coat. I’ve learned this lesson again and again: in the off-season, always bring a travel coat that is warmer than you think you will need.

My dilemma with this trip is that I just can’t tell how warm it will be. March is fickle. It can be freezing. It can be mild. It can pour rain every day. Add geographical changes, from the beaches of Sicily to the base of the Alps, and it is almost impossible to find the perfect solution. The weather forecast for this week isn’t helping me much. The highest temperature of places I’ll be going is 72 in Catania, the lowest is Venice at 37.

I made a list of desires to start my shopping trip off right.

  1. I tend to run cold, so I will err on the side of warmth.
  2. I’d like a waterproof coat, ideally with a hood.
  3. I like longer coats in cool weather, parka length if possible.
  4. It needs to be as light as possible, and potentially packable. I’m thinking that down insulation is what I need.
  5. I’m very tall, I’ll need something with sleeves that reach my wrists without problem and a longer waist.
  6. Style counts too, sorry to say. I don’t want to walk around Venice looking like I just came from an expedition to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, many of the Gore-Tex camping jackets are out for me.
  7. As for color, I like all colors as long as they are black. I’d like to say I’m inspired by gondolas or Coco Chanel or something fabulously elegant, but I like black because I’m a messy eater.

Now that my requirements are clear, want to go shopping with me? Of course you do! Andiamo!

REI Our first stop was at the REI headquarters in downtown Seattle, the great bastion of granola and survival gear. You can tell I’m not a native, this was only my second visit to REI ever. This is a great time of year to score a jacket at a reasonable price, most stores are having decent sales. The huge selection of colorful coats was almost too much, but I narrowed it down quickly. I was imagining something so soft and comfy that I would keep it on in the airplane like a cocoon. The Gore-Tex shells were off the list immediately. Even if they are the only thing that’s really waterproof, they are too stiff and heavy, and offered very little insulation. They are also ugly. I was attracted to the softer puffy coats, in Italian we call that a piumino. I decided to go that direction and tried on several, with varying results.
 

I’m from Ventura, California, a beach town that also happens to host the headquarters for Patagonia, maker of warm coats for cold places…which Ventura is not! I grew up wearing their coats because everyone else did, and we also benefitted from their warehouse sales. I haven’t had a Patagonia in years, so I thought I’d start there. Their Nano Puff jacket ($190) is ultralight and soft, and seemed fairly warm. The fit was ok, nice sleeve and body length, but the XL seemed too big and the L too small. It was ok, but not stellar and a bit pricey. The quilting pattern made me feel like I was wearing a picnic blanket. I’d also prefer a hooded jacket and down fill. Overall, it was just sort of blah.


After describing my needs to a salesperson, they suggested the REI Revelcloud jacket. It’s essentially the same as the Patagonia, same ultralight synthetic fill, water/wind resistant fabric, but a more flattering cut and friendlier price. It scrunched down to a ball and weighed little, but still lacked a hood. I was also not pleased with the sleeve length.


The hood aspect was important to me and I did find a good prospect with the Aria jacket by Outdoor Research. It was cozy, light and fit nicely, including long sleeves and a nice hood. This might have been the winner, except that the super puffy look and the strange quilting pattern made me feel like I was channeling Joan Collins on Dynasty, circa 1983. The puffiness might be helpful in disguising a bulging middle after a big dinner though…..


The big winner at REI was the Nuri Coat by Archteryx, a company I’d never heard of. It was all of the things I wanted-soft, light, down-filled, hooded, flattering, cute and BLACK! It even made me look thinner! As I was wondering if it would massage my feet and make me coffee in the morning too, I found out why it will not be mine, the price. Of course the jacket that fits perfectly and fulfills all of my requirements is also the most expensive one in the store, coming in at a cool $425. I’d like to say that I’m worth it and buy it anyhow, but I know how this goes. I’ll lose it within the first week, guaranteed.

North Face

 

North Face has a good selection of what I am looking for, but nothing that really shined for me. They are also at the high end of what I wanted to spend and don’t carry tall sizes, unfortunately. I liked the Thermoball Hoodie, it was light and seemed warm, although I find these synthetic down fillings suspicious. I’m old fashioned, I guess. Biggest downside here is the shiny logo. I don’t really like being a billboard for anyone.

Eddie Bauer

 

Eddie Bauer is always where I find myself in the end. They make tall sizes and their prices are reasonable, especially if you can get it on sale. I think that every single coat in my closet is from Eddie Bauer, so I wasn’t surprised when I found some good options here. I do find their sizing to be inconsistent and their clothing a bit on the frumpy side. And don’t even get me started about their alleged “Travel” clothing line.

ignitelite reversible jacket

After trying on every single jacket in the store, I settled on my two favorites and ordered them both in tall. The Ignitelite Reversable Jacket seemed to be my dream come true. It’s very light and packs down into its own pocket. It’s water repellent and hooded, and the length seemed pretty good. It’s not particularly flattering, but super practical and even flips inside out to be a blue jacket.

 I was really happy with it…until I wore it outside. The fake down filling is not nearly as warm as advertised, it feels flimsy and cold. It’s very soft, but makes a noise when you move that makes me feel like I’ve wrapped myself in plastic bags. The size seemed good at first, but with a sweater underneath it felt tight and restrictive. It’s ok. I might keep it to use in the summer season. It’s not going to work for shoulder season.

My last option is the Alpine Express Down Parka. I ordered this on a whim, not really thinking I’d like it since it lacks a hood. As it turns out, this is a surprisingly stylish jacket, not something I’d expect from Eddie Bauer. The zipper is offset diagonally and ends at a wrap collar. The water repellant fabric has an elegant shine to it and feels substantial. It’s heavier and not as compact as I would like ideally, but it is definitely warm. There isn’t a hood, but the reality in Italy is that rain is actually rain, not Seattle mist and a hood often won’t keep you dry. I will need to bring an umbrella no matter which jacket I pick. I really did want something more packable, but let’s face it, at this time of year I will probably be wearing it all day anyhow. It doesn’t hurt that I got it for a steal on sale, for about $100. Like a cat who has brought a bird in the house, the  bargain hunter in me is very pleased with herself.

The winner, after much gnashing of teeth, is the Alpine Express Parka by Eddie Bauer. It doesn’t have it all but it does have great qualities: low price, warmth, water repellant, down filled, tall size, and elegance that an Italian would appreciate. That may be as close as I will get, but I’ll keep dreaming about the perfect travel coat.


About sarahinitalia@yahoo.com

Sarah Murdoch is a tour guide and guidebook writer for Rick Steves Europe. Her blog, Adventures with Sarah, focuses on packing tips, travel stories and advice for planning the best trip possible.


25 thoughts on “Packing: The Perfect Travel Coat 

  • Christina

    Sarah, I love your videos and your blog. You have the most practical tips for a down to earth gal like me! For my travel (and every day) winter coat, I finally found what I wanted at Costco. The same company that makes our favorite puffy vest makes knee length coats that pack into their own bag. I just wish they had more colors.

    • sarahinitalia@yahoo.com Post author

      Yes! I just saw those a few weeks ago. They are a little heavy though. Glad you’re enjoying my blog!

  • Ro Vaselaar

    I had this same dilemma 2 years ago…starting trip in Rome, early March. Settled on a Travel Smith Anorak with removable “thinsulate” liner. It was PERFECT! Was plenty warm for every need and nicely changeable as the weather warmed.
    Thanks for ALL your insights, Sarah.
    Bon Voyage

  • Eileen

    Sarah, absolutely love your blog! Great to find another person obsessed with lightening luggage loads and packing wisely. Agree completely about the Ignitelite jacket (and even the North Face thermoball jacket.). I outfitted the family with these lightweight, supposedly super warm jackets (including an equivalent one from LL Bean) for our recent trip to Peru. The weight limit on luggage on the train to Machu Picchu Pueblo is only 5kg, and there was no telling what the temperature would be at that elevation. These jackets have an extremely low temperature rating, but that only works if you’re a heat generating person and are fairly active. I run cold like you and even with a sweater, these jackets are really only warm to 45 degrees F. My husband froze in his Ignitelite jacket in Vienna when it was about 49 but with a 30mph wind. Love your choice! Looking forward to your next post.

    • sarahinitalia@yahoo.com Post author

      I’m glad I’m not the only one! I took it downtown in 45 degree weather with a cashmere sweater under it and still froze. I also didn’t like the sensation that I was wearing a black garbage bag!

  • LauraH

    Great way to get us all to think about what we need to consider when choosing clothes for travel. Thank you for all your advice.

  • Shawn roerig

    Sarah, I have the same long arm issue so I often buy a Men’s Medium. Usually fits fine in the body but arms are always long enough. I bought a Columbia online, tho, and it was perfect. Black, hood, deep pockets, long arms. Ladies XL

  • Debra

    I found a man’s packable down jacket at Costco. It is a little too long for me, but I liked it much better than the woman’s version. I plan to layer with my ultra-light hooded Columbia rain shell on my trip to England this May. I will be spending three weeks and includes a four day Cotswold walk.
    PS,
    I made myself a fleece neck warmer, and have found it much easier to wear than a scarf.

  • Pia

    I love your posts about packing, Sarah, keep ’em coming! It sounds like finding the right coat for travel is like finding the right swimsuit: a real odyssey. I definitely think you made the right choice in the end. You look warm & stylish!

  • Barbara

    Thanks for taking us along on your shopping excursion. Fun! Just wanted to let everyone know that until February 25, Patagonia is having an online sale and there are hooded and non-hooded down and synthetic jackets! http://www.patagonia.com/us/shop/web-specials-womens-jackets-down-insulation?k=1E-6z-b9-ga

    Yeah, they are pricey, but I’ve been using my Patagonia jackets for over 10 years and they still look great.

    Sarah, can’t wait to see what you pack for the spring trips!

    • sarahinitalia@yahoo.com Post author

      Great link, thanks Barbara! Yep, I’m dusting off the backpack this morning. Lots of blogging ahead!

  • darlene vecchi

    I was on rick’s 21 day euro tour in sept-oct 2015. Staying warm was a issue. warm scarfs (buy one there), rainy days, hot Itallian days (80’s). My only suggestion for a coat….is make sure it looks good open, it’s not slippery (nylon), good pockets, and dark color. I live in Fl. Layers are good. Plastic rain ponchos…$1 at walmart…..take a bunch.

    • p whelan

      I too was looking for such a perfect coat for traveling a few months ago. I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars, though. I don’t love Costco, but felt quite lucky to find there a very lightweight fake-down jacket, quite warm, with a removable hood, long enough to cover the butt for only $40! But I’m not sure sure it’s waterproof.
      Thanks for this fun column. Shopping is such an adventure!

  • Julia Williams s

    I loved going shopping with you and think your pick was perfect. Please post more entries. I feel that I get to travel with you. Julia Williams

  • Judi

    Love your packing thoughts. Hope you will post photos of bag as it gets packed. Watched your video during the tour weekend meeting, but it didn’t have enough photos! Also want to see photos of your belongings before it gets into the bag! Thanks for the entertaining posts.

  • Linda

    I wish I had thought out the coat situation better when I went to France in October. My coat was very pack able but just not warm enough or water proof.. I was not prepared for the rain I had… Lesson learned !

  • shirley Scholz

    I bought an Eddie Bauer down filled coat with fur trimmed hood that I wore when recently to Quebec City, Quebec. Loved the feel and light weight when walking in the cold winds about the city. Made sure it covered my butt and it cut the wind and of course the neck scarf.

  • Carole

    I agree with judykr that layers are the answer. Take something soft and warm like a down jacket or vest or even fleece ( if you don’t mind looking very PNW) to wear on the plane and on non-rainy days. Also take a lightweight, hooded raincoat that is large enough to fit over your warmer layer. I used this solution on a trip to Tuscany last spring. I used both pieces often, and packed them in my single carry-on bag when warm weather arrived.

    • sarahinitalia@yahoo.com Post author

      I have done that in the past, layering is a good strategy. I was looking for a magic coat that could be all of those things to simplify.

  • JudyKR

    I am leaving in 2+ weeks for Rome and Sicily also and have the same dilemma about the weather. It has been warm there (50-65F for highs), but I am concerned about rain. Two years ago I bought a lightweight synthetic jacket at REI that has a zip off hood and sleeves and packs into its own pocket. It was perfect with a light weight wool sweater for northern Italy in March, though we didn’t have rain, and I think it will keep me warm on the Etna excursion. I have been contemplating taking an umbrella, but you’ve got me thinking of the weight of everything I pack. I’d love to run into you in Sicily!

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