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Don’t be afraid to visit Canada in the winter. It’s a great time to visit, especially for those who love the outdoors. You can go dog sledding, ice skating, snowboarding, skiing, and even see the northern lights. But if you want to take part in these outdoor activities, you’ll need the right winter clothes for Canada to make your time an enjoyable one.
If you don’t have the proper winter gear, you’ll end up freezing and not be able to enjoy the incredible adventures Canada has to offer! But with the right equipment, winter can be a magical time to visit.
After living through decades of Canadian winters in Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Alberta, I’ve learned a thing or two about what to wear in Canada in winter that I’m going to share in this post.
Winter temperatures in Canada
During winter in Canada, temperatures can get extremely low depending on where you go. While I was visiting Yellowknife to see the northern lights in February, the temperatures dropped to -44 degrees Celsius at night! During the day, it was about -30, which is also what I experienced most days living in Alberta.
That said, I find the winter in the prairies and northwest territories much more bearable than what I grew up with on the east coast in Newfoundland because it’s drier, less windy, and has way more sunshine.
Over on the Atlantic coast in cities like St. John’s and Halifax, temperatures are actually a bit warmer, but it often feels worse because of the wind. That bone-shaking of cold. In Newfoundland, it’s common for temperatures to go above freezing and then fall back down, which creates a slushy mess.
Montreal and Ottawa also experience frigid winters, while Toronto tends to be milder. Your best chance of escaping the extreme cold in winter in Canada is in Vancouver, but instead, you’ll get plenty of rain so you need to be prepared for that too.
If you’re planning to visit Canada in the winter, here’s what to pack.
Winter Clothes For Canada
Winter Coat for Canada
Getting a proper winter coat for Canada changed everything for me. I suffered through cold Newfoundland winters wearing cheap winter jackets for years until I finally invested in a quality one.
If you are going to spend any time outside, a thin jacket just isn’t going to cut it.
Parkas are the most popular choice of jackets among locals. It’s based on what the Caribou Inuit wear to face the frigid Arctic temperatures and typically features a hood lined with fur or faux fur that helps keep the wind and snow out of your face.
Other features you want in a winter jacket are for it to be insulated, breathable, water-resistant, and windproof. Get a jacket with zippers rather than buttons to help prevent wind from getting in through buttonholes.
I got my blue winter jacket from Sicily Clothing upon recommendation from a friend, and it was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. It was not cheap, but I’ve been using the jacket since 2015, and it’s still keeping me warm to date. And I get compliments on it all the time!
If you want to save money, check out some thrift stores in Canada like Value Village to look for a second-hand jacket. You can find some quality jackets there for half the cost!
Thermal layers, sometimes referred to as long underwear, base layers, or long johns (so many names), are key to surviving Canadian winters. Call them what you want, but essentially, they are thin layers of thermal material that you wear under your clothes.
They come in different materials, and as a general rule, thicker materials will keep you warmer. I love merino wool which is lightweight and perfect for traveling. Go for a plain color like black or grey, otherwise, the bright colors may look strange mixed with your other clothing.
Bring at least one pair (a long sleeve top and bottom) for your trip to Canada, and it will make all the difference!
Fleece and Sweater
If you’re in frigid temperatures, you’ll need to layer up with another fleece sweater under your jacket. While hiking in Yellowknife, I usually had three to four layers under my coat: a regular t-shirt, base layers, and a fleece sweater.
Regular cotton sweaters won’t cut it; you’ll want something thick and durable. I used these sweaters from Patagonia, and it really helped protect me from the cold. As a bonus, fleece sweaters are so comfy and warm to wear!
Winter Boots For Canada
Winter boots are essential for Canada. If your feet are cold and miserable, you’re going to have a bad time. As soon as your feet are cold, so is the rest of you.
Plus, our roads can be icy and snowy, so you’ll need something that has good traction. Trust me, a good pair of winter boots is worth the investment in Canada.
My go-to boot for Canada in the winter are Sorels. They design fashionable footwear with key features such as seam-sealed waterproof technology, extreme traction, and insulation that will keep your feet warm and dry.
They have boots insulated to -20 without socks, and the bottom part is made of thick rubber, offering waterproof protection and traction on ice.
If you’re only visiting Canadian cities like Montreal and Toronto, you can get away with ankle-high boots. But if you plan to go outside of the city and do any winter hiking, you’ll need high boots to get out of the snow.
When choosing your winter boots for Canada, look for something comfortable with a thick, warm lining, and make sure to pair them with a pair of warm socks.
To go with your winter boots, you’ll need a quality pair of warm socks that will keep your feet dry. You can’t get away with regular socks in a Canadian winter; you need something with thermal protection.
I swear by merino wool socks. Their thick cushioning will keep your feet warm, and the wool blend is naturally breathable and odor-resistant.
You should also pack some regular socks to layer on below your merino wool ones. However, be careful that your feet still have room to breathe while layering socks.
On a winter hike in Yellowknife, I found my feet freezing and realized it was actually because I had layered on too many pairs of socks and was cutting off the circulation in my feet.
If you’re playing in the snow, your feet are inevitably going to get wet, so pack 1.5x as many socks as you normally would so you can layer up and change them out. After a cold day outside, there’s nothing more comforting than putting on a fresh pair of warm, cozy socks when you get home!
Winter accesories: Mittens, Hat, and Scarf
My favorite winter gear! Hats and scarfs are where you can make your winter outfit cute and stylish, but at the same time, you need practical gear to keep your hands, neck, and face warm. You can get by with a cheaper scarf and hat (especially if your jacket has a hood), but don’t skip out on the mitts.
Get something that’s both insulated and waterproof, especially if you plan to play around in the snow!
Another Canadian winter accessory that I love is a buff. It keeps your neck warm, but you can also pull it up over your face to avoid being exposed if cold wind comes.
If you only plan to visit cities, you can get away without snow pants. But if you plan to take part in lots of outdoor activities and winter sports such as skiing, tobogganing, and snow-shoeing, then you’ll want a pair of these!
While they aren’t the most stylish item of winter clothing, they are extremely practical. You’ll be happy to have them if you’re out on the slopes all day or just wanna make some snow angels.
Other essentials for winter in Canada
Here are some other items you may want to pack for winter activities in Canada.
Ice cleats – If you plan to do a lot of winter hiking, or even just walking outdoors, a pair of winter cleats or ice grippers will ensure you don’t slip on the ice. Yaxtrax is an excellent brand.
The cold, dry weather can make your lips crack very easily, so you’ll need to keep them moisturized with a quality lip balm like Burt’s Bees.
Hand and feet warmers – While warm mittens and socks are essential, sometimes you just get cold hands or feet, especially if you are on a long hike outside. In case that happens, these hand warmers can be a life-saver.
A good pair of sunglasses with UV protection. The white snow makes everything much brighter, so you’ll be blinded without a good pair of shades.
If you’re renting a car and driving on the frozen roads, make sure to keep the car packed with basics – a snow brush, a shovel, extra blankets, food, water – just in case of emergency!
What to do in Canada in winter
- See the northern lights in the Northwest Territories or Jasper National Park
- Visit a Christmas market – the one in Toronto at the distillery district was named one of the best in the world.
- Go skating in the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, one of Ontario’s top winter destinations.
- Go snowboarding or skiing in the Rocky Mountains, and indulge in hot springs afterward.
- Winter hiking, just about anywhere in the country!
- Dog sledding in Canmore
- Ice climbing in Banff National Park
- Attend a winter festival like Carnival du Quebec in Quebec City
- Look for polar bears in Manitoba
I hope this post could help plan what to wear in Canada in winter. It’s a fantastic time to visit, as long as you’re prepared for the elements!
Planning a trip to Canada?