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Work Jacket Buying Guide

Narrow down your options here

The weather’s getting chilly and that flannel shirt alone isn’t cutting it any more. It’s time to layer up with a jacket, especially if work has you outside for most of the day. But which jacket should you buy? Which features should you be on the lookout for and which should you avoid? Work ‘N Gear experts break down the anatomy of a good work jacket in our Work Jacket Buying Guide.

Here are three of the most important things you need to consider when buying a work jacket:


Yes, Laws. The first and most important thing to consider when looking for a new work jacket is whether or not your job, or the government, places regulations on what you are required to wear while you’re on the clock.

For example, many contractor positions require workers to wear ANSI-rated high-visibility outerwear at all times to be in compliance. Other positions may require that your gear is flame-resistant from head to toe. Look up which regulations, if any, you’re required to follow before deciding on a jacket. Remember these regulations are in place to keep you and your coworkers as safe as possible while you’re on the job, so don’t ignore them.

What kind of work do you do?

Laws aside, if you don’t need a specialty high-vis or flame-resistant safety jacket, consider what you will be doing in it and how that will affect the features you’re looking for in a jacket.

Work in security, military operations or similar occupations? Consider a tactical jacket with extra hidden pockets for concealing and an inside loop for your ID card like the Berg Insulated Jacket from Helly Hansen.

Are you outside swinging an axe, lifting heavy things or otherwise moving around a lot? Look for jackets with gussets under the arms, pleated elbows and/or a bi-swing back for extended range of movement. These features allow you to swing around, raise your arms and bend your elbows without making your jacket rise up on your torso, exposing you to the winter chill.

What's the weather like?

This will determine the exterior material as well as any insulation. Let’s go through the most popular options:


Cotton Duck: Easy to clean and durable woven cotton fabric that is resistant to ripping and tearing. One of the most popular exterior materials for work jackets. No relation to actual ducks. Sorry. One of our favorite jackets in this category is the Carhartt Duck Active Jacket.

Nylon: Wind- and water-resistant and easy to clean. Lightweight and durable, but not as durable as cotton duck. If you hate the sound of “swishing” as you swing your arms, nylon is not for you.

Polyester: Less “swishing” sound than nylon but still lightweight. Not as easy to clean.


Down: The most efficient and lightweight insulation available. Often described using “fill power,” which relates to the “fluffy” quality of the down but not necessarily the warmth of a jacket. The higher the fill power, the better the down is at trapping air. Beware water, though: when down gets wet, it becomes useless.

Synthetic or Polyester: A bulkier insulation that is not as efficient as down, but is better (though not great) at insulating when wet. Choosing synthetic insulation over down can save you money too, as it’s often less expensive. Try RedKap's Heavyweight Parka on for size.

Other weather-related features you may want to consider:

Hoods: They add bulk, but will help keep you protected from the elements. You can opt to buy a jacket with a detachable hood, or you can buy a completely hood-less jacket and purchase a snap-on hood separately to fit your precise needs.

The Details: Adjustable cuffs, drawstrings at the bottom of a jacket, hood closures, Velcro fasteners, zippers and storm plackets are all features designed to keep the elements out where they belong. Consider one or more of these features if you work in windy environments.

Final Considerations

Strength: Look for details that indicate the durability of the jacket as a whole, such as specialized stitching and taped seams.

Weight: Heavyweight jackets and parkas are designed for the harshest work environments and often feature storm flaps, high collars and a longer length to cover your backside. Midweight jackets are less bulky and are designed to hold up in less severe weather, while lightweight jackets and rain shells often feature waterproof breathable exteriors or a durable water repellant (DWR) and allow for a full range of movement.

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