Oh, winter in Canada. It’s the stuff of plenty of jokes but it’s my reality. And you know what? I actually love it. Winter in Canada is actually pretty awesome. Sure it long, cold as hell, and I spend what seems like half of my days shovelling but there’s something truly magical about a Canadian white Christmas. Or even those January nights where the streetlights shine on the fresh-fallen snow making it look like diamonds. Not to mention that it’s perfect for skiing, snowboarding, or even tobogganing. All you need is to dress properly and trust me when I say, you need proper winter clothes for Canada.
Why Packing Winter Clothes for Canada can be Tricky
Packing for Canada in the winter can be pretty difficult for travellers from warmer destinations. Why? Well, most countries just don’t have clothing that is warm enough for our winter temperatures. For example, take a winter coat. I live here and I have three depending on the temperature. A lighter one for those days where it’s hovering around the freezing level. A wool one for those 0C to -20C temperatures and then a heavy duty ski coat to get me through those -40C days.
Yes, that’s right. I said -40C. That’s the kind of weather that you can make your own snow with.
Sure, you may live somewhere that has cool winters and maybe even sees snow, but unless you are visiting from Siberia, chances are you have never felt anything close to -40C degrees. Which probably means the cold-weather gear in your local stores isn’t going to cut it.
But, don’t worry.
Plenty of my top suggestions for winter clothes in Canada can be purchased online from Amazon- making it easy to pre-order ahead of time so you can land here in the Great White North as prepared as possible. Here are my winter must-haves.
Packing List for Canada: Winter Edition
Warm and Waterproof Winter Boots
When it comes to winter clothes in Canada, I’d say boots are probably the most important investment. After all, if your feet aren’t warm and dry then you’re going to be miserable trying to explore. A good pair of winter boots is definitely worth the investment. Though, they don’t have to cost a fortune either.
My go-to boots for winter here in Canada are Bogs. Are they super stylish? No. Are they super functional? Hell yes. They are waterproof, which is perfect for that gross, winter slush that accumulates on the roads and paths and the insulated ones are good for those freezing temperatures.
A Winter Coat
Another absolute must for winter clothes in Canda is a good coat. You want something warm, breathable, but also water-resistant and windproof. There is no shortage of winter coat options here in Canada. Some are 3-in-1 type coats while others are heavy duty thermal ones. Consider what you plan on doing during your winter visit to Canada before choosing the best style for you. Brands that I love and recommend include Columbia, Helly Hansen, and North Face.
Snow pants are really only required if you plan on taking part in lots of outdoor activities and winter sports such as skiing, tobogganing, snow-shoeing etc. Or, if you are someone who gets really cold easily, you may want to pick up a pair for exploring outside of the cities. Snow pants are great in keeping you warm as well as dry. As with winter coats, I suggest Colombia, Helly Hansen, and North Face brand snow pants.
Thermal Base Layers (Aka Long Johns)
Thermal layers aren’t required if you are just going to be around Canada’s cities. But, if you are going to be spending a lot of time outside, or partaking in winter sports, then they are a must for winter clothes in Canada. Especially for something like skiing or snowboarding where you really don’t want to be super bulky so you can manoeuvre better. You can get both thermal tops and thermal bottoms available in both short or long sleeve options. I personally prefer the long sleeve option.
Why? Because- Canadian trade secret here- mittens keep you WAY warmer than gloves ever will. Whether you are on the hill and need some ski mitts or walking the street and just need something warm and fluffy, mittens will always do the job better than gloves. Why? Well, they keep your fingers together rather than separate them which helps with the warmth.
Seriously, I have 29 years of experience. I know.
There is no shortage of mittens to choose from and really, you can’t go wrong. If you are planning on partaking in winter sports you will probably end up wanting two pairs: a basic pair for the streets and then a warm pair of ‘ski-mitts’ that are waterproof and extra-insulated. These can be pretty pricey for mittens, but trust me; if you plan on being outside a lot you will need them.
Insider tip: If you aren’t doing a bunch of winter sports and just need something for around town, The Bay sells the famous red ‘Canada Mittens’ every year that were made famous in the Olympics. These are a classic pick for basic warm mitts to explore plus they make for a fun souvenir. And no, and they are not ‘for tourists’- Canadians wear them too!
A toque is what we Canadians call a winter hat (beanie, for a bunch of other countries) and having one is an essential item of winter clothing in Canada. There are a million and one different types and styles so you can really find something to suit you while staying warm. A definite must for winter clothes in Canada!
Scarf or Neck-warmer
Another must-have winter accessory is a scarf or a neck-warmer. Both do the job just fine, though I’d recommend neck-warmer over a scarf for winter sports just because it’s easier to pull up and keep your face covered and protected against the cold. If not, a scarf will do the job just fine and can be a little more stylish and add some fun colour to your wardrobe. If you want to go with the Canadian look, go for a red and black buffalo plaid print.
Warm, waterproof boots are essential, but so are good, thick socks. Merino wool socks are perfect for both men and women, and a must-have if you plan on being outside all day. Try these unisex merino wool socks.
After a day from the cold weather, you may want to have some warm socks at home too. I love reading socks on the winter days to keep my feet warm.
Ultra-conditioning Lip Balm
Cold, dry weather makes your lips crack very easily, so keep them conditioned and moisturized with a good quality lip-balm. My winter essential is Burt’s Bees Ultra Conditioning Lip Balm. It’s all natural with no added flavours or fragrance- so men, you have no excuse not to use it too!
Warm mittens are essential, but sometimes you just have cold hands, especially if you are the type of person that really feels the cold. Having a pack of these hand warmers with you can be really handy when you are out exploring.
Being Stylish with Winter Clothing in Canada
Style and fashion are usually important for travel right? I mean, you have to look insta-worthy, don’t you?
Um no. Not here.
Looking good goes out the window when it’s -40C because it’s way more important to be warm and not get frostbite. So if you think you look too bulky, or your boots and too clunky, or that toque messes up your hair. Trust me- NOBODY CARES. Being warm wins and looking warm and cozy ensure way more appreciative (and jealous) looks than looking cute and cold. If you want something to make you stand out a bit, choose a colourful coat, scarf, or toque.
Final Considerations for Packing Winter Clothes for Canada
The above-listed items are my top recommendations for enjoying (and surviving) winter in Canada. However, please note that winter in Canada is not the same across the country. Where Ottawa and the surrounding areas see temperatures of -40 and huge blizzards, Vancouver rarely gets snow and instead is wet and rainy during the winter. You’re not going to need heavy boots and coats for that. So do take the time to do a bit of research for winter weather based on your itinerary.
Winter in Canada is cold, snowy, and icy but it’s also one of the best times to visit. Just make sure you come prepared with the proper winter clothes for Canada’s weather. As we say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!