Last updated: February 2nd, 2020
Oh, Canada. Massive, beautiful, and incredibly diverse, not only with its people but also with its nature and geography. It’s one of the wildest countries on Earth, and yet it’s such an easy place to travel around and explore. It’s home to four incredible and totally distinct seasons – Spring, summer, fall, and winter. It’s one of the few countries on Earth where summers can reach temperatures of 40 degrees Celcius and then switch to the exact opposite just a few months later, with temperatures reaching lows of -40 degrees Celcius in the winter.
However, despite the alarmingly cold winters, Winter in Canada is one of the most spectacular times to visit. With sparkling snow blanketing some of the most dramatic scenery you can imagine, it really is a winter wonderland for the senses. My mother-in-law, for example, who is from Mexico, came here one winter for the first time. Up until then, she had seen white winters only in the movies. One day, it began to snow. Big snowflakes fell slowly from the sky. One of these snowflakes landed in her hand. She noticed the intricate artwork that it had and started to cry. She saw snowflakes in the movies but didn’t know they were actually shaped like that. Yes, each snowflake is unique and very beautiful. Winter became her favourite time to visit, despite the frigid temperatures.
We live near the Rocky Mountains and so the winter is an incredible time to get out and do some world-class skiing, winter hiking, snowshoeing, or just walking the magical streets of a place like Banff. However, if you’re visiting Canada from a warmer country or maybe even moving to this wonderful country, you probably have no idea what to wear or what to pack. Well, you’re in luck. That’s what this article is all about.
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Tips for Winter Holidays in Canada
Before we get into the actual clothing though, we’d like to share some initial tips to help you prepare.
Where are you visiting in Canada?
Most of Canada is quite cold in the winter. However, the temperatures can vary quite a bit. For example, if you’re visiting Vancouver or Vancouver Island, you likely won’t see super cold temperatures. Most likely, it’ll be somewhere between +10 degrees Celcius and -10 degrees Celcius with a lot of rain and overcast. If you’re visiting Northern Canada, it can be very extreme with temperatures reaching -40 degrees Celcius or even colder. In fact, those temperatures can even hit places like Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. It’s difficult to say what they are without checking the weather forecast a week or two in advance. Either way, it’s helpful to know where you plan on visiting.
What activities do you plan to do?
Although being warm is important, the type of clothing you need will vary greatly depending on what you’re doing. For example, if you’re planning to simply walk around the cities, you might not need to dress as warm as you would if you plan on going skiing. In the cities, you can easily find shelter inside a shop or a restaurant, whereas if you’re outside doing activities, you might be in the elements for a longer period of time. In Canada, almost anywhere indoors is heated. Houses, malls, stores, restaurants, taxis, and buses are all heated and warm. So, the only time you’ll deal with the cold weather is when you’re outdoors.
Weather forecast in Canada
It’s a good idea to check the weather forecast in Canada as often as you can. Typically, it’s fairly accurate within a week or two, although winter storms can seemingly come out of nowhere. In places like Calgary, we get a natural phenomenon known as Chinooks. This warm wind comes from the Rocky Mountains and acts as a blanket over the city. It can make temperatures rise dramatically. One day it can be – 20 degrees Celcius and the next day it can be +10 and sunny. The snow starts to melt and it feels like spring. The next week, we might get a huge snowfall and everything is cold again. You just never know. However, we recommend checking out The Weather Network. Visit the website or download the app. Input the cities you’re visiting and monitor. It will help you prepare before and during your Canadian winter adventure.
Dress in Layers
One of the most important ways to dress is in layers. This means having different layers of clothes. This is more important when doing winter activities such as skiing and snowshoeing. By wearing layers, it allows you to stay warm but to also shed some clothing when you begin to feel too warm. When we go skiing, we always wear thermal underwear as a first layer, normal clothes (such as jeans and a warm fleece sweater) as a second layer, and then a winter jacket and possibly even snow pants as a third layer. Then, of course, there are things like toques, earmuffs, gloves, socks, and boots, which we’ll go into below.
Winter Clothing for Canada Travel
There are a lot of different types of winter clothing in Canada. From thermal underwear to toques and earmuffs, there are so many things you can wear to stay warm during the winter season in Canada. Let’s go over them below.
Unlike your stylish fall and summer jackets, a winter jacket is typically much better insulated and/or waterproof. It’s safe to say that no matter where you’re visiting in Canada, you’ll probably need a winter jacket. The type of winter jacket you buy will likely depend on what you’re doing. As mentioned above, if you’re just walking around cities, you can maybe get away with something lighter. If you’re skiing in the Rocky Mountains or spending a considerable amount of time outdoors, you’ll likely need something more robust. If you’re thinking about trying to get by without a jacket, maybe you should learn a little more about temperatures in Canada first. Cold weather is nothing to fool around with. It can cause serious harm such as frostbite or even death.
We’ll talk about clothing materials towards the end of this winter guide, but you’ll likely want something that’s waterproof with some combination of polyester, fleece, wool, or down. However, when buying down, please only buy products that are listed as sustainable. As nice as down is, it often comes from horrible factories in China that cause so much pain and suffering to the Geese ghat provide the feathers.
Sweaters are the lifeblood of Canadians. Even Justin Bieber is often seen in a hoody (a sweater with a hood). We wear them all the time. They’re perfect underneath a jacket, great for wearing indoors, and for warmer days, they may even be en0ough for walking around. Sweaters come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some are very thin and some are as thick as a jacket. It’s a good idea to have more than one, but I’d recommend buying at least one that’s fairly thick and/or made out of fleece or wool. This material is much warmer than cotton.
Pants (Jeans, Trousers, etc)
For pants, you can typically wear standard clothing such as jeans. If it’s a colder day, you may want to put something under them (such as thermal underwear) or over them (such as snow pants). Otherwise, we don’t often wear anything different in terms of pants.
Quite possibly the best tip we can give you is to buy a set of thermal underwear, which some people call Long Johns. These are tight-fitting specialty clothing that goes over your underwear but under your main layer of clothes. You can buy both the bottoms and the tops to cover both your legs and your upper body. They are tight and are designed to keep your heat close to your body. If wearing jeans is too cold on your legs, these will change your life. For skiing, we always wear thermal underwear under a good pair of snow pants with no jeans at all. They can be as cheap as $10 and as exp[ensive as $100 (maybe more) but you get what you pay for. If just walking around a city, a cheap pair will likely be okay. If you’re outside getting into adventure, you may want to pay a little more for a quality brand.
While snow pants are not needed for most city trips, if you’re planning doing activities in the snow such as skiing, snowboarding, or other winter activities, these are a great investment. They’re basically an insulated shell that goes over your jeans and/or thermals and will keep you from getting wet. They also can be cheap or expensive but generally are waterproof, windproof, and fairly warm. They can be as cheap as $40 and as expensive as $1,000. We live in Canada and go skiing throughout the winter. Our snow pants cost $150. This will get you a good brand such as Helly Hansen, Columbia, and North Face. For $40, it would be some unknown brand from Wal-Mart.
No one on Earth likes cold feet. Often times, the areas of your body that get cold first are your feet, hands, and head/face. A good pair or two of winter socks will make a world of difference for your little toes. Another option might be wearing two pairs of normal socks. However, you can get a decent pair of warmer socks for $10-20. These will usually have some sort of blend including wool. If you want to invest in a good pair of socks, you may want to look at Merina Wool. This type of wool is warm, thin, and more odorless than other materials. this means they won’t stick as quickly and you can wear them multiple times without having to wash them.
Another good thing yo have is a pair of winter boots. Now, I’m a bit of a weirdo according to my wife. I grew up in NORTHERN CANADA and never had a good pair of winter boots. the only time I’d wear some (often borrowed) would be for outdoor expeditions of some sort. But for walking around in the city, I just wore a decent pair of boots. However, just like a decent pair of socks, winter boots can be the difference between having a great time outdoors in the winter or being miserable with cold wet feet. A decent pair of winter boots will be insulated and waterproof. With so much snow on the ground, your feet will be the first things to get wet. Wet and cold do not mix well. I recommend getting some sort of decent winter boots, especially if you’re going to be spending time in the snow. Other things you to look for is some sort of insulation for warmth and good traction to keep you from slipping on ice and snow.
Toque and Earmuffs
A toque is what we in Canada call a beanie or a wooly hat. It’s a warm “hat” that goes over your ears and head. They come in a variety of styles,.colorsd, and materials, but they are crucial to keeping your ears and head warm. They can also be quite cheap, ranging from $10 – $20. If you’d rather keep your hair nice (a toque will make it flat like a pancake), you can also opt for earmuffs. These are just for covering your ears but come from behind your head, leaving your head and hair untouched. The only problem is that your head can still get cold.
Another option is to buy some sort of balaclava. They look like those masks people rob banks in. However, they are very important pieces of winter clothing, esp[ecially for winter activities or very cold days. They are like a toque (often made of cotton, fleece, or wool) and cover your entire face and head, except for your eyes. I always wear them skiing because going down the mountain at 60 km/h is very cold on the face.
Gloves and Mittens
Another very important of Canadian winter clothing is a pair of gloves. Your hands will be the first thing to get cold. Not only are hands mostly bone and skin, but they’re also the body part you use the most, whether it’s holding on to your phone, camera, or a guard rail. Even if you simply buy a cheap $10 pair of gloves from Wal-Mart, they will help you a lot. However, just like most winter clothing, gloves and mittens can range in price quite a bit. What you buy will depend on the activity. If you plan to get wet (such as skiing), then a waterproof glove is the best option. If not, just some sort of warm material will help.
Although I rarely wear them, my wife loves them. They can be quite fashionable as well, but most importantly, they wrap around your neck and keep your body heat from escaping from the upper part of your jacket. You’ll definitely want to opt for something like wool or fleece but anything wrapped around your neck is better than nothing.
Extra Winter Clothing Items
When visiting stores to buy winter clothing, you’ll probably notice these little packets called “Little Hotties” or “Hot Hands”. These are made of iron powder, water, salt, activated charcoal, and vermiculite. You just open the packet, shake them, and they become very warm for a few hours. These can then be put inside your boots and/or inside your gloves to add extra warmth to your body. We don’t use them very often but if it’s really cold, they definitely help, especially if your gloves and boots are not the best.
Aside from dressing warm, there are some other things you might want to buy as well. For example, depending on where you are, winters can be quite dry. This means you might get dry skin. So, you might want to buy a good hand cream or body lotion. I personally love Aveeno. You may also want to buy some chapstick to keep your lips moisturized. Another thing to bring with you is a good pair of sunglasses. Just like in the summer, the days can be sunny. However, it can be even brighter in the winter because of the sun’s reflection off the snow.
Winter Clothing Materials
Another important step to finding winter clothing is the material they are made of. The difference between something made of cotton and something made of wool can be the difference between being warm or being frozen. We’ll touch on some of the most common types of materials below so that you know what to look for.
Everyone knows what cotton is. It’s everywhere. From socks to pants to sweaters to t-shirts and everything in-between, cotton is an important clothing material all over the world. However, when it comes to moisture, it is one of the worst. While wearing t-shirts and sweaters made of cotton might be fine, it’s definitely not a material you want for optimal warmth, such as with your thermal underwear. When cotton gets wet (whether by sweaty or snow) it doesn’t dry. It retains that moisture and that moisture will make you cold. Instead, you’ll want something like polyester or wool (merino wool is great) to help keep you warm and dry. When you look for thermal underwear, you’ll notice that the cheaper ones have a lot of cotton. This might be okay for city explorers, but if you’re looking to go skiing or partake in winter activities, you might want to invest more.
Although Polyester can be natural or synthetic, most of them are synthetic. They typically consist of a blend of both synthetics such as polybutyrate and natural chemicals or fibers. They tend to be much stronger natural fibers and are used in a lot of winter clothing, including thermal underwear, snow pants, and jackets.
Another very popular and warm material is wool. This textile fiber comes from sheep and other animals and is typically very warm to wear. It can usually absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling wet or sticky. It’s also a natural insulator and is breathable. However, many people don’t like wearing wool directly on the skin as it can be itchy.
This is another type of wool that comes from Merina sheep. It’s actually much thinner and softer than regular wool, which makes it a very popular material to wear directly on the skin. You’ll find very high-quality socks and thermals made out of Merino wool because they’re also somewhat odorless, meaning you can wear them more and wash them less.
Fleece is similar to wool but is man-made, created using polyester or a blend. It’s popular due to its warmth and softness.
Where to Buy Winter Clothing in Canada
The unfortunate thing about winter clothes is that they can be expensive. If you’re only visiting once, it can be a pain to have to spend so much on clothes you may only wear once. However, there are a number of options for buying winter clothes, which we’ll go into below.
The cheapest option for finding winter clothing would be visiting a second-hand store. This is used clothing that people donate. You might find a jacket for $20. However, there’s no guarantee. Visiting a thrift store is like an adventure. You might find something perfect or you might find nothing it all. Sometimes the prices are very cheap and sometimes it doesn’t seem like a good deal. Still, if you have the time to visit, this might be a good option.
Sometimes as cheap as a thrift store, Wal-Mart can be a decent place to find cheap winter clothing. We recently saw jackets for as low s $50 and snow pants for as low as $40. We also saw thermal underwear for only $10. However, keep in mind that this is “cheap winter clothing”, which means it won’t be as warm as other, more expensive clothing. For example, the $10 thermals are made out of cotton mostly. This is not good if you’re doing a lot of winter activities and sweating. It might be good for just exploring a city though. Still, if you’re only here a week and don’t want to spend a fortune, this might be a good option.
Winners and Marshals
These stores can be a great way to buy brand name items for as much as 50% off. It’s all brand new stuff that the bigger stores couldn’t sell. However, it’s also “hit or miss”. You may find something and you may not. They have all sorts of brands and types of clothing, so you never know what you might find.
There are all sorts of sports stores around Canada, especially in touristy places like Banff. All of these stores sell high-quality winter clothing. SportChek, however, is one of the stores you’ll find all across Canada. They are everywhere and they often have very good sales. We recently visiting a SportChek and found a decent Columbia winter jacket for $100. We also found Columbia snow pants for $120. High-quality thermal underwear ranged from $50 – $70. We even saw good North Face shoes on sale for $120. It’s not as cheap as Wal-Mart but it’s also not super high end like some specialty winter shops.
Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC)
Mountain Equipment Co-op is a Canadian consumers’ cooperative that sells outdoor recreation gear and clothing exclusively to its members. Don’t worry though, it’s only a $5 lifetime membership fee. MEC is famous across Canada for its high-quality gear and passionate customers who love the outdoors. MEC operates in 20 cities and although it originally catered to mountaineers and climbers, it’s now much broader in its offerings, including clothing, ski gear, mountain bikes, and more.
Where to Rent Winter Clothes in Canada
To be honest, renting gear is quite hard to do. We’re doing more research in major cities, but as of now, we’ve found very few places. It can also be relatively expensive, costing anywhere from $10 – $20 per day.
University of Calgary Outdoor Centre
If you’re visiting Calgary, you can actually rent winter clothing and equipment from the University of Calgary’s Outdoor Centre. Rental prices can add up quickly, however, with jackets and pants starting at $10 each per day and insulated gloves costing $6 per day. If you’re spending a week or two, it may or may not be worth it. They do mention deals for multi-day rentals though, so it’s worth contacting them and getting a full price. It’s likely higher end gear than what you’ll find at Wal-Mart, so it might be a good option. In addition to clothing, you can rent skis, snowshoes, climbing gear, and more.
Aside from going shopping or finding a rental shop, there’s not really any other way to find winter clothing. There’s not many options for renting gear. However, if you’re going on an organized tour, you will want to ask them first. Sometimes they provide winter clothing and other gear.
Things To Do in Canada
Once you’re prepared for the Canadian winter, you’re bound to have a great time. Despite the cold weather, it really is a fun and beautiful time to visit. From some of the world’s biggest winter festivals to all the incredible outdoor activities, we love the winter in Canada.
For more ideas on what to do in Canada, you may like:
- Things To Do in Jasper
- Things To Do in Banff
- Things To Do in Calgary
- Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter
- Things To Do in Golden BC
- 22 Places to Experience Christmas in Canada
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