Difference between a Parka and a Jacket

Wondering which is better to fight off the cold? You’ll see these two words thrown around a lot in online catalogues or in magazines. Check out our guide to find out which one will best suit you, no pun intended.


parka vs jacket
A typical parka

A parka is a type of coat with a hood usually lined with real fur or faux fur. The hood does a great job of protecting the face from extreme cold and wind. Also known as an anorak, the parka was first made by the Caribou Inuit using seal or caribou skin, and was mainly used for hunting and kayaking in the freezing temperatures of the Arctic. A regular coating of fish oil is commonly applied in some anoraks to keep it water resistant.

A parka made by the Caribou Inuit people
A parka made by the Caribou Inuit people

An anorak is somehow different to a parka in a few ways. Commonly worn without an opening at the front, anoraks are water-resistant, pullover jackets with hoods. They are sometimes made with drawstrings around the cuffs and waist. A parka is a coat for cold weather that extends down to the knees and is stuffed with either down or synthetic fibers; it also often has a fur-lined hood.

An anorak

The US Air Force adopted the parka during the 1950’s for flight crews assigned in extremely frigid areas. Called the snorkel parka, it features an attached hood and a 3/4 length. The design was copied and mass produced for the civilian market, and it became quite popular. Modern parkas are designed to be light, comfortable and fashionable, and are often worn for winter sports activities, e.g. skiing.

Casual jacket

A jacket is an upper body garment which usually comes down to the waist or just below; it usually has sleeves and closes up on the front or side. It is normally less warm than a coat by design. The jacket is made to be less fitted, lighter, and less insulated. While some jackets have become fashionable, others are used as protective clothing.

The word jacket can be traced back to the Middle French word jaquet, which directly translates to a small tunic. It is now known as jaquette in Modern French. In the US, native speakers often use the words jacket and coat interchangeably.

There are so many kinds of jackets out there and they are used for many purposes. From baseball jackets with collar, waistband, and zippers at the front, boleros worn by women and bullfighting matadors, to the flak jackets worn by bomb disposal experts, jackets have indeed made their way to our closets as well as our backs.

Parka vs Jacket

What’s the difference between a parka and a jacket, then?

A parka was designed by Caribou Inuits to fight off the harsh Arctic weather. Well-insulated and often water-proof, it reaches almost down to the thighs in length and has a hood lined with fake or real fur. Jackets are waist length garments for the upper body with sleeves and can be buttoned or zipped up at the front or sides. They are also designed as a less warm garment than a parka, with light, casual versions available for summer, and elegant designs worn for formal occasions.

The parka was designed to fight off the cold and is still worn today for that purpose, although it has become fashionable to wear the parka in the winter. There are so many kinds of jacket out there; it has come to be a more fashionable and versatile garment for both men and women through the years, and can be worn at any time of the year.

Comparison chart

Parka Jacket
Extends down to the thighs, sometimes almost to the knees Usually reaches waist length or extends just below the waist
Heavy and bulky, except in modern high-tech versions Less insulated and lighter
Designed for the extreme cold and wind, and for winter sports Serves many purposes and seasons