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 skiing in the mountains, wandering the streets of Old Quebec City in winter, and experiencing a Canadian white Christmas. Or even those January nights where the streetlights shine on the fresh-fallen snow making it look like twinkling crystals. 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. So read on to figure out what to wear in winter in Canada.
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Why Figuring out What to Wear in Canada for Winter 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 in advance, 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-have for your Canada packing list.
Packing List for Canada: Winter Edition
Warm and Waterproof Winter Boots
When it comes to figuring out what to wear in Canada, I’d say boots are probably the most important things to buy. 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. Plus, if you get the insulated ones like I have, they are ideal for freezing temperatures.
A Winter Coat
Another absolute must for winter clothes in Canada 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 and remember, like the boots, a good winter coat isn’t cheap but it is a good investment (my ski jacket was over $500). Brands that I love and recommend for winter in Canada 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 30+ 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!
What to Wear in Winter in Canada: Tips from this Canadian
One of the things you will be quick to notice when you experience winter in Canada is that the need to look fashionable and instagram-worthy quickly goes out the window. Staying warm is top priority here! If you are concerned about your Canadian winter outfits then opt for accessories like scarves and mittens in patterns and colours to add some pop to your outfit. Speaking of being cute for photos, remember that camera batteries die really quickly in the cold! Make sure to bring spare batteries for your camera or a power bank for your phone while out exploring!
Another couple of things to keep in mind are what to wear under the winter layers I mentioned above. I suggest long sleeves or sweaters under winter coats. You will probably want to avoided hooded sweatshirts as the hood can feel pretty bulky.
Oh, and for any ladies who like to wear leggings. Get some fleece-lined ones (yes, they exist!)
Final Considerations For Your Canada Packing List
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 might be cold, snowy, and icy but it’s also one of the best times to visit. Just make sure you come prepared. Following this list of what to wear in Canada in winter will help. As we say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!
A Note on Travel Insurance in Canada
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.