Choosing a Coat for Spring Travel

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I can no longer stay silent.  I’ve recently read some travel blogs that are giving incredibly bad advice for spring coats.  It’s upsetting because the wrong choice in outer wear can really, really, really negatively impact your comfort on a trip.  The wrong coat will have you end up a soggy mess, huddling in your hotel room waiting for the rain to stop.  On the other end of the spectrum you’ll end up dragging around a big bulky coat that will slow you down.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Pick the right coat and your travels are enhanced, not degraded.

Spring travel presents challenges in outer wear

Spring travel presents some of the biggest challenges a traveler will face.  The quickly changing seasons create many obstacles for a traveler:

  • Sudden outdoor swings in temperature from freezing to hot and humid, or swings from hot to snowing.  All in a matter of hours!
  • Soggy ground from rains and melting snow
  • Sudden storms with driving rain or sleet
  • Gusty winds
  • A large difference in temperature inside Vs. outside.  This means packing the jacket while indoors.

Features of a poor spring coat

Guard against the following characteristics in a spring coat.  You’ll pay the price if you don’t!

  • It is heavy.  A coat that weighs 3 pounds (1-1/2 kg) is never a good choice if you have to carry it around on a hot day.
  • The coat is water-resistant, not water proof.  It will leak after a few hours of rain.
  • It has a fur hood.  Not only is it inappropriate for warm days, it adds extra weight to the garment.
  • It has a heavy lining.  A lining adds weight to the coat.  It also adds warmth to the coat so you can’t use it on warm days.  Bulky linings hinder layering for warmth on cold days.
  • A poor coat is bulky.  How will you store it if the weather warms up during the day?
  • It has no hood.  You’ll need to keep your head warm / dry some other way, such as a hat or umbrella.  If you are like me you’ve managed to leave the hat and umbrella back in the hotel room where it is useless.

Features of a great spring coat

Look for these features when shopping for a spring coat.  The sales tag lists the details for the coat.  When shopping on-line, look at the details section or specs section of the web page.

  • It is waterproof (not water-resistant) to handle touring outside in spring storms.  A water-resistant coat will soak through after a half day outside, limiting your trip.  Compare this to a waterproof coat which keeps you warm and dry.
  • It has taped or welded seams to prevent leaks.  Seams are always a leakage point in coats.  Taped or welded seams prevent leaks in an all-day rain.
  • It has a hood for rain / wind protection.  Some coats have detachable hoods that store in a pocket.  Others have roll-up hoods that store in the collar.
  • It  is packable so you can store it on hot days or when inside.  Most packable coats are thin and unlined.  The lack of lining also keeps the coat lighter.  A truly packable coat will actually roll up and store in your day bag.
  • It is light so your back doesn’t get sore from hauling around excess weight.  A good packable coat weighs less than one pound (1/2 kg).
  • The cut is loose enough so that you can wear a sweater or fleece under it for warmth.  Layers are a key to temperature control.  A coat needs to have generous room in the arm pits and shoulders to accommodate layers.
  • It comes with a performance guarantee.  These coats are expensive and a good manufacturer stands behind their product.
  • Lastly, it needs to look nice.  I prefer trench coats because they define the waist, giving a feminine touch.

The best coats for spring travel

So are there coats out there that fulfill all the requirements above?  The answer is a resounding yes!  You’ll pay a little more for them, but you’ll be able to wear them for years.  I’ve found that the best coats come from manufacturers that have a background in mountaineering.  They understand that a coat is your primary defense against the elements.  In the US I would suggest looking at Patagonia, Marmot, REI, Columbia, Mountain Hardware.  How about you?  Do you have a favorite?

Spring Coats