In the largely indoor sport of oneupswomanship, real fur, especially mink, sable or chinchilla, offers a great advantage; no one wearing a synthetic fabric, however stylish the coat or jacket, is in the running. This extends to the partially outdoor sports of après-ski and outdoor dining at fashionable ski-resort restaurants.

However, from the purely utilitarian perspective of keeping warm and dry while actively engaged outdoors, is there a fur that outperforms any synthetic material or combination of synthetic materials (i.e., layering) on the market, and if so, which fur and for what sport or activity? (Ignore considerations of cost; any synthetic on the market will be cheaper than almost any natural fur.)

I remember reading that reindeer hairs are shaped in a way that cause them to trap air extraordinarily well; a garment of reindeer skin is thus an outstanding insulator. (Anyone: feel free to expand on this in an answer.)

Thus, while I dislike the use of fur merely for display or to signify wealth or status, I am open to information that fur outperform synthetics for prolonged activity (or inactivity such as waiting at a seal hole) in extreme conditions. Weight and flexibility should be considered as factors as well as insulating properties and water repellancy. Whether modern synthetics and design match fur even in extreme conditions is also of interest; relevant would be what Himalayan climbers and modern Antarctic explorers use.

This question is prompted by an article in The Washington Post on the Canada Lynx.

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    I'm really surprised by the statement indoor sport of oneupswomanship, real fur, especially mink, sable or chinchilla. I have literally never seen anyone wearing fur! Is this a North American thing? There is a lot of anti fur sentiment in the UK (and large parts of Europe in general). Anyone wearing real fur apres ski is likely going to get a lot of funny looks (if not outright abuse)
    – user2766
    Jan 17, 2018 at 15:18
  • @Liam See this ad for a real mink coat from Bergdorf Goodman. If you don't like it, you can return it for free.
    – ab2
    Jan 17, 2018 at 18:41

1 Answer 1


TLDR: If you're in extreme Arctic conditions fur does have an advantage.

There is this study on the Inuit's Fur Parkas

ABSTRACT: The traditional clothing system developed and used by the Inuit is the most effective cold weather clothing developed to date. One of the key elements used by the Inuit is a fur ruff attached to the hood, hem, and cuffs of their parkas. This paper determines why the fur ruff is so critical to the effectiveness of cold-weather clothing, especially in protecting the face, without impeding movement or view, so essential to the Inuit hunter. To quantify the effectiveness of this clothing, heat transfer was measured on a model placed in a subsonic wind tunnel. The wind velocity and angle to the wind were varied. A boundary layer forms on the face, and heat transfer was measured across that layer using thermocouples. Different fur ruff geometries were examined to determine which was most efficient. The experimental results were combined with data collected using ethno-historical methods since 1970 by 2 of the authors. The traditional headgear proved to be the most efficient. The lowest heat transfer was found for the sunburst fur ruff geometry at different angles of attack and wind speeds. This unique combination of scientific and traditional Aboriginal knowledge provides a holistic perspective on new insights into the effectiveness of cold-weather clothing systems.


The face must be exposed in order to see for hunting or travel. It is therefore essential to minimize facial heat transfer for frostbite prevention and survival. Not only does the Inuit parka ruff, which is worn behind the cheek bones, allow the wearer to see while hunting and traveling, it also drastically reduces the amount of hoar frost that otherwise builds up around a hood if worn in front of the cheek bones (as is the case with southern-style hoods). This frost build-up impairs vision and acts as a conductor, drawing heat from the face, thereby increasing the possibility of frostbite.


The superior effectiveness of this piece of clothing has been known by Inuit hunters and seamstresses, who have thrived for thousands of years by creating polar ruff designs that provide protection against the cold, windy arctic climates; it is quantified for the first time in this paper. The sunburst fur ruff design is truly a remarkable ‘time-tested’ design. Source

There is also what Canada Goose who makes fur coats says.

Why we choose fur.

No matter where they’re worn, many of our products are designed and built to protect against the elements in the coldest places on Earth – places where exposed skin can freeze in an instant. In these environments, we believe that fur is the best choice. Having fur trim around a jacket hood disrupts airflow and creates turbulent air which helps protect the face from frostbite.


Regarding Everest

In addition to a banquet, the AAC took the anniversary year to get some gear from the 1963 expedition in a studio for a photo shoot. This included a jacket made by Eddie Bauer that's among the most iconic in the history of outdoor sports.

Bright red and equipped with a fur ruff on the hood, the jacket was state of the art in its day. It was insulated with enough down to be protective to minus-85 degrees.

Whittaker kept the jacket packed away for most of the ascent in 1963.

It was too warm until the climbing team got high on the mountain's face.


From the NPS page on caribou skin clothing,

Inland mountain Eskimos experience one of the world’s most extreme winter climates—temperatures of 55 degrees below zero or colder, often with gale force winds and blinding snow. Despite these daunting conditions, Eskimo people carry on with their daily life of hunting, fishing, gathering firewood, traveling, and camping. The key to their success and survival—above all else—is warm, effective, brilliantly designed and expertly made clothing.

The Eskimo people make their warmest clothing from caribou hide—a material that evolved over millions of years in the Arctic environment, providing caribou with unequaled insulation against penetrating cold and gales. Caribou hair is hollow, so it traps insulating air not only between the hairs but also inside them. Clothing made from this material is extraordinarily warm, lightweight, water repellent and durable.

An Eskimo hunter dressed in traditional clothing was completely wrapped in caribou skins. His parka —a hooded jacket invented by Eskimos—was made of caribou skin and worn with the fur inside. For deep cold and storms, a second parka could be worn over the first, with the fur side out. A wolf or wolverine fur ruff around the hood created a little pool of warmth that protected the wearer’s exposed face. Unlike other furs, wolverine also easily sheds the frost that collects from a wearer’s breath.


Caribou skin boots (kamik) are durable, extraordinarily warm, and nearly as lightweight and supple as the most comfortable slippers. No modern materials can match the combination of warmth and light weight of caribou skin boots.


Caribou skin boots, socks, and mittens—meticulously crafted by women in the village—are still regularly worn by Nunamiut people and are regarded as superior to any commercially made substitute.


Perhaps the strongest testament to the ingenuity and effectiveness of traditional Eskimo clothing is seen in the iconic bright red parkas with fur ruffs, worn by Antarctic researchers working in the coldest places on earth.


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    +1 Good case for a fur ruff to protect the face, especially if fur is fairly easily available. But I haven't seen many fur ruffs in pictures of Everest climbers. On rereading the answer, I think the key is that the material and geometry of the fur ruff is advantageous for hunting -- it gives protection with a wide field of view. People on Everest may not need the wide field of view.
    – ab2
    Jan 17, 2018 at 0:21
  • The downvote is not mine - in fact I upvoted it. The downvote may be because the 1963 Eddie Bauer fur hood was before modern synthetic fabrics and is thus of only partial relevance. The material you added on caribou and wolverine is more pertinent, especially if the statements are about recent clothing choices. Ditto about the Antarctic researchers. IOW, you start out talking about a 1963 garment, and it is not clear how recent the rest of the analysis is. This is an editorial critique, meant to be helpful.
    – ab2
    Jan 25, 2018 at 1:33
  • @Sue that’s the point of quoting it Jan 26, 2018 at 3:55

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