It’s a word that’s popping up more and more: anorak. But a quick survey of the brands making anoraks reveals that there’s not quite a consensus on what exactly an anorak is — some are hooded pullovers, some have quarter zips, and others, equipped with full-length zippers, appear to be no different from what one might normally call a jacket. Regardless of the form they come in, one thing is certain: anoraks are trending.
Given the recent popularity of this type of jacket, it’s probably due the clarity provided by a definitive explanation of what exactly makes an anorak an anorak. For that, we look to the weatherproof layer’s origins. The word anorak comes from the Greenlandic annoraaq, which translates roughly to “wind.” Wind, and cold, are exactly what the first anoraks were designed to protect against. Inuits made these using animal skin, often from seals and caribou, which had to be cured, stretched, and treated with oils in order to turn it into a water- and wind-proof layer. Now, Gore-Tex and ripstop nylon do that job for us, much to the chagrin of seals and deer everywhere.
But still, what exactly is an anorak, and how is it different from a jacket? According to the Autumn 1975 issue of Backpacker, an anorak “is a hip-length, hooded, pullover outer garment,” which “features a short zipper at the hood.” The all-knowing Wikipedia agrees that the anorak, in contrast with a parka or jacket, is characterized as a “pull-over jacket without a front opening.”
So there you have it. An anorak is a hooded pullover — if it zips all the way open, it’s not an anorak. The Inuits lined theirs with fur for extra warmth, but technical anoraks these days can be stuffed with down and synthetics, or lack any insulation and simply act as a water- and wind-proof shell layer.
Thinking about ditching the zipper? Here are our five favorite anoraks that you can get today.