Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Winter Coat

As far back as I can remember, I’ve hated shopping for clothes! Yes, I know that to many, that would make me a disgrace to my gender, but here’s the deal. My arms and legs are about an inch longer than the average female. That makes finding things that fit a challenge! The average pants barely reach the top of my ankles. Sleeves rarely even reach my wrist.

The last time I bought a winter coat was about 8 or 9 years ago. I went to at least fifteen stores and tried on at least fifty – yes fifty - coats before I found one that was long enough in the sleeves, that also fit well elsewhere and was going to be warm enough for a Winterpeg winter!

The last couple of years, that wonderful coat was beginning to lack in warmth. It had done its job well over the years, but definitely needed to be replaced by something warmer. Either that or I move to a warmer climate. As appealing as that may be, it wasn’t realistic. I knew that the inevitable coat hunting would begin again this past fall.

So, in mid October I finally got up the courage to hit the stores! This time however, I hoped things would be different. This time I would START with the store where I’d found the last one - Mountain Equipment Co-op!

I explained to the staff person that I needed something that would keep me warm while walking outdoors or standing at bus stops in -40C but that would also be long enough in the sleeve to keep my Amazon arms warm. I also told him the short version of the last coat hunt.

He handed me a down filled coat. I liked the style, but needed a size larger. When I tried on the larger size, it fit perfectly! Even the sleeves were long enough! I stood there in disbelief. Was it really possible that I’d found THE coat on the first try? It seemed too good to be true, but I bought the coat and also wondered how I would turn this abbreviated hunt into a full blog post!

When I got home, I went to the MEC website to check out the coat. Lo and behold, the ratings weren’t great for the seemingly perfect coat. Several reviews, stated that the insulation around the seam of the arm/shoulder was severely lacking. Oh dear. Then again, most had not stated what activity they were doing when they noticed the chill. I’d have to wait and see.

The weather stayed fairly warm through the rest of October and well into November so it was over a month before it was finally cold enough to give the coat a try. The first day I wore it, it was about -15C. I felt the chill, but wondered if I was also projecting the chill due to the reviews I’d read. I wore the coat 3 or 4 more times over the next few weeks, but sadly, the reviews had been correct. As time went on, the arms got colder. The last day I wore it was December 15. It was -11C with a wind chill of about -21C. A rather balmy winter day in Winnipeg, but my arms were freezing! I might as well have been wearing a spring jacket! I was not amused – or happy!

On Monday, December 19 – two months after the purchase, I took the coat back to MEC. As it happened, the same staff person who had helped me find the coat was at the checkout when I went in. He asked how the new coat was working out. I told him my tale of chilly woe. He assured me they would take it back and exchange it for something else or give a full refund if I couldn’t find anything else. He took the coat and had another staff person take me to the coats to find something else.

I tried on a 3 in 1 jacket that would have been okay, but they would have to order in my size and it was almost $100 more than the one I was returning. I then tried on a Frostbreaker Parka. It was a lighter weight jacket but also $125 cheaper than the one I was returning. With the money I’d save, I could buy a really good quality hoodie to wear underneath it (or any other jacket) for layering and therefore better warmth. I tried on several hoodies and settled on a Women’s B-Line in XL.

Of course, there was a hitch to this plan. They didn’t have the women’s XL Frostbreaker in stock! The main distribution centre was also out of stock, but there were a couple of other stores in Eastern Canada that did have an XL. They could order it in, but it would take 2-3 weeks (over the holidays). If the weather stayed warm that would be okay but what if it got cold before it arrived? What if it didn’t fit as well as I hoped? Then what would I do for a coat? What to do!?!

The, oh so helpful, staff person suggested that I get a men’s medium in the meantime and then just exchange it when the women’s XL came in. I can do that, I asked? Yup, I could return the original coat from October that day, then get the men’s style (identical except for the material covering the zipper on the opposite side) and use it until the one I wanted arrived.

WOW, I knew that MEC had great return policies and service but hadn’t realized it was that great! Almost nobody lets you return something that long after the fact – without a major hassle or an additional charge of some kind! Then again, I shouldn’t have been that surprised. When I’d been there in October, I mentioned that one of the strap closures on my backpack (purchased at MEC in late 2002) was broken. They offered to fix it and only charged me for the replacement piece – less than a dollar. It only took a couple of minutes for the guy to fix it!

So, I bought the hoodie and the men’s jacket. It wasn’t that cold over the next couple weeks, but I did wear it without the hoodie and only a lightweight long sleeve sweater underneath. It was more than warm enough. The online reviews were also good.

I picked up the women’s XL Frostbreaker on Tuesday, January 10. I also exchanged the women’s XL B-Line hoodie for a men’s L B-Line as I felt the women’s size would be a bit too snug under any of my bulkier sweaters. The men’s large would give me more flexibility in what to wear.

The exchange went smoothly – and was just in time for the onset of our real winter weather! It has only been a few weeks, but so far so good! I have worn the coat with the hoodie in -30C with a wind-chill near -40C and been quite comfortable! Granted, I was only out in the elements about 10-15 minutes at a time but I was not freezing!

I still don’t like shopping for clothes and I’m no big fan of winter either but at least I won’t be freezing when I do have to face the elements!!


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