What to pack for a trip to Canada in Winter
Travel wardrobe clothes: Coats, scarves, boots, gloves, hats
What you pack for a trip to Canada in Winter or other cold climate travel, such as northern USA, Europe or southern South America in winter is basically the same as for any trip, with a few modifications.
And you may not have to pack any winter outerwear at all:
- If you are packing for travel to a cold climate, such as Canada or northern U.S. in winter, consider buying a really warm winter jacket or coat when you arrive at your destination. The cheapest place to buy temporary a winter wardrobe is often a charity shop; if you don't want to take your new winter clothing home with you when your trip ends, then simply re-donate it to the charity. Gloves, scarves, and heavy sweaters (jumpers) can also be bought cheaply at these shops, or on sale at large department stores (see below for names).
- If you will be staying with friends, ask them if they have winter clothing you can borrow for the duration of your stay. Most people who deal with winter usually have spare winter gear.
- If you are traveling to Antarctica or climbing Everest, or skiing in the Rockies, then your tour operator will have a list of suggested winter clothes and sports gear.
TIP Check for weather conditions in the city you will visit: in google, type in weather Vancouver or weather Calgary and the current 5-day forecast pops up. Winter weather varies from year to year, and Vancouver and Calgary might be having a warm winter, and you likely don't need heavy outerwear for the trip if you will be in an urban environment.
Winter Clothes, Jackets, Coats, Parkas, Boots, Scarves, Mitts and Gloves
Canadians generally have warm winter wardrobes. Rather than take pictures of my closet contents, I've linked to appropriate pages on Amazon.com wherever possible to show what type of clothing I am talking about.
Winter Jackets, Parkas and Coats
Generally, winter coats are either Tech (waterproof, windproof such as snowboarding jackets) or Down-filled (warm but drafty, and not waterproof). If you get only one winter coat, consider what conditions you are most likely to encounter and buy accordingly.
- Outdoor Activities - Skiing Snowboarding Walking, get Tech
- Transit, Car Train Bus travel: Consider down wear.
Winter jackets and coats ideally should have a hood, in case you forget a hat. If the hood is detachable, you can wear it in warmer weather of Spring and Fall. Choose coats with storm cuffs (elastic or rib knit inserts at wrist to keep sleeve tight to arm to keep out snow and wind).
- Down filled coats and parkas are warmest, but the feather /donw makes them really bulky for packing for travel. Down coats / parkas are rarely waterproof or even water-resistant If tyour jacket gets wet in very cold weather, you will be very cold, too. See some down coats, jackets on Amazon: Down-filled-Coats and Jackets -- longer jacket styles keep your waist and hips warm. This is important! My own down-filled coat is very much like this one -- Jessie G. Women's Down Parka Coat. You'll notice that the colors of winter downfill coats are generally black or brown. They seem a bit drab, and Canadians do tend to look alike in winter outdoor clothing, but dark colors don't show dirt as much. You can make up for drab with a bright scarf and gloves.
- Tech ski / snowboard jackets are streamlined in style to allow free movement for winter sports (skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc.), and made from waterproofed fabrics, with features like storm cuffs and waistbands to keep out snow and cold winds. See Amazon: ski/snowboard jackets; read the product features for each item, like this one: Women's Snowboard Jacket.
- Cloth / Fabric Coats and Jackets: These are fine for Fall and Spring weather, or for dressy occasions in Winter, as long as you have warm scarves and hats to wear with them. They are simply not as warm as parkas. These fabric coats may be fine for warmer parts of Canada, such as Vancouver.
- Down Filled Vests: These are another option to wear over heavy sweaters or light jackets to give added warmth when it's cold outside. See down vests.Ones with hoods attached or detachable add to the versatility of these vests. They can also be worn under roomier jackets to keep you warm. Great for shopping in malls (tend to be really hot in winter), so you don't have to carry around a heavy coat.
- Stay Dry in Sleet: When temperatures are close to the freezing mark, you can try an umbrella like this one -- Clear dome umbrella -- in a dome shape. NB In really cold weather i.e. well below freezing, it will not be 'wet' snow' so you won't get wet.
Wool Scarves for Winter
Handmade Soft Alpaca Natural Fiber Scarf - Marble Gray would be really warm (a friend knit me an alpaca wool scarf, so I know!). This one is in trendy gray, if you suit that color next to your face. Here's one in shades of brown Handmade Pure Alpaca Dark Espresso. Generally, wool is warmer, so if you are coming from Australia to Canada in Winter, bring along your wool scarf (I know you have one!)
Silk Scarves for Winter Outerwear
I have a light silk scarf (silk can be really nice and warm!) I wear around the neck of my down-filled coat, and it works wonderfully. I also wear a wide wool scarf that can be pulled up over my face on really cold days (minus 20C to minus 40C). See Amazon: silk scarves. Silk is nice as it's not bulky at all.
In very cold weather, your scarf should be long enough so that you are able to wrap it around your face, and fasten it to keep it in place.
Hats, Touques [Tuques] Caps and Hoods
You can lose up to 50 percent of body heat through your head, so cover it up when out in the elements, especially during the winter time. Frostbite on ears is not nice, either. And if you wear metal earrings, they will transfer cold right through your earlobe (or other exposed part that is sporting metal jewellery). Look for a warm hat of some sort, and if you really don't like the hair-flattening effects of a close fitting hat, then do be sure to have a hood with drawstring closure attached to your parka or winter coat.
Here are some styles you can also see on Amazon: a good range, and I've worn most over the years: hats and touques
Gloves or Mittens?
Gloves (separate finger holes) and mitts (separate thumb hole only) work differently too. Mitts can be warmer, as you can make a fist of your fingers inside the mitt for body heat; With gloves, your fingers and thumb are on their own! See winter mittens - some hats here, too, to match. I have some like these -- waterproof polar fleece THINSULATE mitts - note the features. See winter gloves. Leather goves are lovely too, and with a warm lining, will work for winter travel, but are not suited to snow sports. In less than frigid weather, light wool or acrylic knit gloves at the Dollar stores work fine.
Winter Boots / Snow Boots
Fashion boots and winter boots are two entirely different things. You can wear fashion boots outdoors in winter if you go from warm car or cab directly into warm building. But should your car break down, or should you have to walk outdoors in winter cold, snow, sleet, then your fashion boots will be useless. They are not made for outdoor winter conditions. Do what Canadians do: Wear your winter boots and carry your dress shoes or fashion boots in a shoe bag, then change when you get to your destination. At the very least, put your winter boots in the car in case you really need them.
Winter snow boots are not that expensive, but pricier boots may have more features, such as being waterproof. Most winter boots should be treated with a waterproofing spray or cream, unless factory waterproofed. Since salt and the like are used to melt snow on many city streets and sidewalks, there can be a lot of wet slush to walk through, and that will soak your feet. See Amazon for some winter snow boots. Mine are similar in style and features to this one - Salomon Women's Deemax 2 Dry Winter Boot, and they've lasted about 5 years so far. But here's the thing: If you will only be in Canada a few weeks or months in the winter and then return home to a warm warmer climate, it may not be worth it to buy a whole new wardrobe. Second hand footwear is not a good option, so look for a style that you could still wear at home, say in Melbourne or Sydney, in Australian winters, and not look like a dweeb (no fur trims, etc.)
Where to buy winter wear in Canada?
I checked several local retail outlets and department store during the pre-Christmas winter outerwear sales when prices are up to 40 percent off suggested retail. If you are in Canada then, check The Bay, Sears, Zellers, etc. Down coats and jackets were priced from $80-$150 or so. Designer winter coats were still full retail, priced up to $350 in these stores. Another retailer I always check is Winners., similar to TJMaxx in the U.S.
A good down filled coat should last years. I had a men's down fill parka from The Bay that was still going strong after 15 years, though by that time a teenage boy had taken it over. [I was living in Alberta at the time, and the winter temps fell below minus 20C for 4 months: I'd have wrapped a gaggle of geese around me it they'd have kept me warm!]