Top menu

What to Wear in Canada in Winter

what to wear in canada in winter

Ah, Canada. Beautiful, huge, and diverse, it hasn’t taken much for me to fall in love with it all over again in these past few months. Despite being born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, I actually haven’t spent that much time in Canada over the past decade or so; with the exceptions of a few stints here and there over the years, I’ve mostly been abroad. I also haven’t spent that much time in Canada in winter, unless I was home for Christmas. So in coming back to Canada for three months in some of its coldest months, even I, a Canadian was stumped. What do I wear in Canada in winter? I mean… I wanted to be warm, but I also wanted to be cute, you know?

what to wear in canada in winter

And although Canada is MASSIVE – seriously, it’s the second biggest country in the world – I’ve found that there are some basic rules for what to wear in winter, no matter where you are in the country. Sure, some provinces and territories will be a lot colder than others, and some will get more rain than snow (I’m looking at you, coastal BC), I wanted to cover at least the basics of how to dress in Canadian winters. I’m sure a lot of you reading will be like, duh, I’m from Idaho, but after being on a tour with forty Australians, some of whom had never seen snow before, I felt the urge to write about it.

what to wear in canada in winter

And again, while there are definite variations in winter in Canada, the general rule is that you’ll need warm winter clothing from October/November until March/April. This can vary depending on where you are and when – it has snowed in October in Winnipeg before, and it has also snowed in May – so it’s always best to check the forecast for the week ahead and plan accordingly, especially if you are travelling to more remote places or to very touristy places (like Whistler or Banff) where buying a warmer jacket will set you back a pretty penny.

what to wear in canada in winter

So without further ado, here’s what to wear in Canada in winter. I am focusing pretty heavily on clothing to wear while participating in winter activities, but even if your trip is fairly city-based, it’s still good to take a lot of this advice to heart. Your regular outfit of jeans, sneakers, and a leather jacket will most likely not cut it if you fly into pretty much any major city in Canada in the dead of winter… trust me. I was a teenager in Canada. I am pretty sure the majority of my teenage years just consisted of me saying, “Mum! I don’t need a scarf!! I’m fine!!!” and then shivering until the brink of hypothermia at the bus stop. Don’t be like me at 16, I beg of you.

what to wear in canada in winter

Please note that this post includes affiliate links, and, in this particular article, I was given some clothing to review. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they like my what to wear posts but would appreciate links to clothing I’d recommend, so I’ll try to do that from now on. As always, though, I would encourage you to try to shop locally whenever possible; my favourite travel wardrobes are always those that include a lot of the local clothing and jewellery!

What to wear in Canada in winter:

what to wear in canada in winter

1. A Jacket (or three)

“Wowwwww,” I can just hear you saying while rolling your eyes, “How original.” But yes, it’s true – no matter where you are in Canada in winter, you are going to need a really good, comfortable, warm jacket. If you are going to spend any time at all doing anything in the snow – think skiing, snowmobiling, skating, even just building a snowman – you are going to need something beyond your average city-appropriate outerwear (so as cute as it is, your peacoat probably won’t make the grade in this situation).

Unless you are planning to spend most of your time in a West Coast city like Vancouver, I can guarantee you that you will need a reliable, practical jacket while in Canada in winter. For the record, I have been in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia in winter, and I have lived in Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. Trust me: just buy the warm jacket, OK? In Manitoba this winter, I experienced temperatures that dropped down to -37 degrees Celsius, while in The Rocky Mountains of Alberta, it got down to -15. You can read more about what temperatures to expect in winter in Canada here.

what to wear in canada in winter

My biggest struggle was finding a jacket that could withstand those temperatures but still look reasonably fashionable. It just so happens that, around that time, the outdoor clothing company Kathmandu got in touch with me about reviewing some of their clothing. Normally I turn these kinds of requests down, but I knew I’d be in Canada for three months and I knew their products would really come in handy (if they worked, that is). I opted for this jacket, which is both long and down-filled, and hoped that it would not only keep me warm but leave me feeling somewhat stylish (I liked how it came in at the hips). It ended up being the perfect jacket for outdoor winter activities in Canada; I wore it in freezing conditions all over the country, and not once did I feel cold. I had held off buying this kind of practical jacket for years, but it turns out – surprise! – they really are ideal for frigid, snowy temperatures. You’ll want to find something similar for your time in Canada.

what to wear in canada in winter

But because I’m a true Canadian at heart, one jacket is never going to be enough. While the Kathmandu coat was perfect for outdoor activities, I also like to have a jacket that is a bit more cosmopolitan and looks nice for going out at night. I wore the “Cocoon Coat” from Aritzia and loved that it was both stylish and warm (although I wouldn’t want to go rolling around in the snow in it).

what to wear in canada in winter

Another tip for finding stylish, warm jackets to wear in Canada in winter? Head to thrift shops. I personally shop at Value Village, a thrift chain across Canada. I have one winter coat I wear all the time that was purchased more than a decade ago, while this past season I bought one black fuzzy winter coat for eight dollars (eight dollars!) and a belted leather bomber (don’t judge) for a mere twenty bucks. If you have some time to spare and want to do some shopping, I highly recommend buying a vintage or secondhand coat – they’re everywhere in Canada.

what to wear in canada in winter

Of course, if you’re a skiier or snowboarder, there are jackets specifically designed for you. I can’t speak much on these – I don’t ski or snowboard – but this list has quite a few good options for the necessary gear. A lot of Canadians wear Canada Goose coats, so they’re worth looking into (but very expensive!).

what to wear in canada in winter

There actually was a fire in there, I’m not just posing

2. Sweaters

Without a doubt, you are going to need a few sweaters for your winter in Canada. While these are fairly easy to buy just about anywhere, I’d recommend going for at least one heavier sweater, preferably one made of wool. I’ve picked up a few yak wool sweaters while in Nepal, but more recently in Canada I wore a turtleneck sweater similar to this one. They’re pricier, yes, but you get what you pay for: it really is worth the price. You’ll notice that, unlike packing for warmer climates where you can buy a few cheap cotton dresses, it makes so much more sense to spend a little bit more money on high-quality items so that you’re guaranteed to say warm while in a Canadian winter.

I’ve recently also discovered the warmth of cashmere – yeah, I’m kinda posh now, apparently, or maybe just old – and I can also recommend getting clothing with a bit of cashmere blended in (the company Kit & Ace has lots of nice options).

what to wear in canada in winter

3. Jeans and trousers

If you’ve read one of these guides of mine before, you know that I very rarely recommend bringing jeans, and usually bring only a pair or two of trousers on my travels if I think I’ll be hiking or doing something active. Well… I’ve crossed over, my friends. I’ve finally found a few pairs of jeans (all from the Gap or ASOS) that fit me quite well, and I can say that they’ve been lifesavers while in winter in Canada, because I got too cold wearing only skirts. If you go for trousers, again, make sure to invest in a heavier fabric, not something that will provide absolutely no protection from the cold or the wind.

what to wear in canada in winter

Although I still definitely wear my usual skirts and dresses if I am going out at night or if I know I won’t be outside for that long, wearing long trousers or jeans is totally the way to go to stay warm in winter in Canada for everyday wear. Keep in mind you won’t want to wear jeans or trousers while you’re doing any serious winter activities (see below for my tips). I also sometimes layer tights or long underwear under my jeans if they’re baggy enough.

If you DO want to wear skirts and dresses while in Canada in winter, make sure to invest in a few pairs of warm tights to wear under them, tights like these ones. They’re expensive, yes, but they’ll last a long time and are MUCH better than the typical cheap stockings or tights you’d buy for everyday use. One more tip: wool tights are much more likely to ride down your body, leaving you with the dreaded drop-crotch feeling. I always, always wear black bicycle shorts or, if I know I’m having that extra slice of cake (so, every day), Spanx on top of my tights to prevent them from riding down.

what to wear in canada in winter

4. Long johns

Oh yes. Long johns, or long underwear, are THE BEST. Invest in a good thermal pair of tights or long johns to wear under your jeans/trousers OR to layer (I layered a thermal pair of tights under long underwear UNDER snowpants to stay warm). I can recommend these thermal leggings by Kathmandu. You’ll need them or something similar if you’ll be in the cold and snow for long. Alternatively, going for the classic long johns (apparently these are only made for men, but hey, we women have legs, too) is another great option for layering.

Keep in mind these are also cosy to sleep in… but most homes and hotels in Canada are very well insulated, so stay quite toasty at night!

what to wear in canada in winter

5. Snow pants

Again, if you are planning on spending any time in the snow whatsoever, you are going to need snow pants during a Canadian winter. The great thing is, once you buy a pair of these, they’re usually good for life (or at least for many years). A durable, warm pair of snow pants will normally run you at least a hundred dollars, but they are an essential part of winter dressing. Buy something insulated and waterproof, much like these ones. Now is not the time to scrimp – I find my legs, especially my upper thighs, are the first parts of my body to get cold even if I’m bundled up.

what to wear in canada in winter

Wearing pretty much every single thing on this list (including an extra jacket) to snowmobile in Big White

6. Thermal tops

If you know you’re spending a day outside in the Canadian winter weather, the absolute best thing you can do is layer your clothing. Layering is KEY to staying warm, and hey, if you start to get hot while skiing or tobogganing (it happens!), you can always remove a layer. Much better to be able to take something off than wish you had something else to put on!

If you’ll be spending the day outside, I recommend layering something like this thermal top under your sweater. Long-sleeved t-shirts will also work, but best to go for something specifically made to keep you as warm as possible.

Another tip? If you bring lots of “under” layers like thermal tops, you won’t have to worry about washing the heavier stuff that often, meaning you’ll only need to bring a couple big sweaters vs. lots of lighter, easier-to-wash thermal layers.

what to wear in canada in winter

what to wear in canada in winter

7. A toque

You will absolutely, definitely, 100% need a toque when you visit Canada in winter. A toque, you say?! A toque is what we call a beanie or wooly hat in Canada. Fairly easy to come by in the country, it’s still best to go for one that totally covers your ears and one that won’t let any wind through. I was a big fan of the fake fur one I’m wearing in most of these photos purchased from H&M years ago, because it was super warm and also pretty fun to wear. Roots also has some very cute ones!

what to wear in canada in winter

8. A scarf

Again, you want to go for a durable scarf made of wool, fleece, or another material that is guaranteed to keep you warm. I tend to choose larger, almost shawl-like scarves, because I like being able to wrap them multiple times around my neck and shoulders.

If you’ll be spending lots of time in a frigid temperature, I recommend adding a fleece neckwarmer underneath your scarf.

what to wear in canada in winter

9. Mittens

One of the biggest mistakes I saw many of the Australians I met last month in Western Canada make was that they almost all brought gloves. And I know – mittens seem kind of childish, right? The thing is, in so many cases, mittens will keep you SO much warmer than gloves. With mittens, your fingers are able to move about and work together to keep themselves warm, as opposed to being wrapped individually. A lot of Manitobans wear “garbage mitts” – this actually just might be a Manitoba saying coined by the Raber company – and I can tell you: these are the best mittens around. Super warm, locally made (and made by hand!), and built to last a lifetime, I love my pair of Raber mittens. I mean, the RCMP has worn them, so you know they’re good.

Again, if you’re skiing or snowboarding, you may wear different accoutrements – just something to keep in mind.

what to wear in canada in winter

10. Socks

Um, yes, you’ll need to wear socks in winter in Canada. Again, splurge a bit and buy some very thick socks meant to be worn in cold weather, and be prepared to double up if need be. Just make sure, when you are wearing your thick socks and your winter boots, that you can still move your toes… this will help prevent frostbite and keep them nice and toasty!

what to wear in canada in winter

11. Winter boots

It is very, very difficult to find stylish winter boots, trust me. A lot of Canadians wear Sorels in winter, although I found a pair of Steve Madden winter boots and, with the exception of one -20 night when I stood in a line outside for over an hour (we Canadians are hardcore like that), my feet were warm for the entire winter season. I can’t find a link anywhere online for them, so the best thing I can say is make sure you really test the boots you choose out in the store or at home before wearing them outside; they need to be snug but not too snug. They should also be fake-fur or fleece lined, and I highly recommend buying some that are waterproof. Great traction on the bottom is an absolute must as well, because where there’s snow, there’s ice.

If you’ll mostly be in cities, you can definitely get away with a more stylish boot – think a riding boot, or, my favourites, Doc Martens – but you’ll still want to wear warm socks. If you’re wearing a leather boot, make sure to spray them with protective spray before subjecting them to the cold and snow.

12. Makeup and jewellery

So I’m sort of lumping these two together here, but as I usually address them, I thought I’d do the same for this list! In general, you can wear exactly the same makeup and jewellery as you’d wear at home when you’re in Canada. However, if you’re going to do any sort of winter activity outdoors, I’d recommend leaving any valuable jewellery in the hotel safe. Trust me, if you drop an earring or a ring in the snow, it’ll be lost forever.

what to wear in canada in winter

As for makeup, I wear the same makeup pretty much all year round, although my skin gets very, very dry in winter, especially in places like Manitoba where the air is naturally drier. I recommend lots and lots of moisturiser – I’m a fan of Aveeno and Body Shop products, including their body washes. Good lip chap is a must, and if your feet get really dry like mine in winter, a foot mask is necessary (and disgustingly fun). Finally, you wouldn’t think it, but you should definitely wear sunscreen while out in the snow all day, as the snow reflects the sun and often results in sunburns. C’mon now, this look is not a good look on anyone (and that’s not even mentioning the damage to your skin).

what to wear in canada in winter

So, I know that this list sounds like it’s for an expedition to the North Pole or something (please do not follow this packing list if you are actually doing that, FYI… if you’re spending any time outside overnight in a Canadian winter, that would most likely require expedition gear), but the fact remains that it is so much better to be over-prepared for the cold than under-prepared. This list is primarily for outdoor activities, but if you’re in the city you’ll still probably wear some version of this (boots, jeans, a sweater, a jacket, scarf, and mittens). The ultimate goal is to feel comfortable and warm, because you really don’t want to risk frostbite or hypothermia, not to mention how much being cold can really ruin your holiday.

what to wear in canada in winter

As I participated in a lot of winter activities this year – tobogganing, snowshoeing, zip lining, snowmobiling, long walks, as well as visiting ice castles and even dining on the ice in -25 degrees Celsius – I wore some version of these items of clothing a lot all winter, and I can happily report that I was very rarely cold.

Bottom line: don’t worry too much about the fashion side of things while dressing for winter in Canada. Trust me, everyone else will be wearing their warmest gear, too. Focus on staying warm and staying happy, and you’ll be just fine.

In conclusion, my packing list for a recent two-week trip across Western Canada in January looked like this:

-three jackets (one extremely warm and down-filled, one for warmer/city days, and one leather bomber, but this was excessive; the first would have been fine on its own)

-two warm, heavy sweaters (one black and one white turtleneck)

-four long-sleeved thermal/warm tops (two were nice enough that I could wear them out in the evening with a skirt)

-two pairs of jeans

-one pair of thermal leggings and one pair of long johns

-one pair of snow pants

-one pair of winter boots and one pair of lighter leather boots for going out at night

-two hats/toques

-two scarves

-two pairs of mittens (one I wore every day, with one in my suitcase for backup… we all know mittens are easy to lose!)

-one fake leather skirt (I’m fancy like that)

-two pairs of warm tights

-seven pairs of wool socks

-a bunch of duster/kimono jackets (OK, these didn’t make the list, but I’m obsessed)

Have you been to Canada in winter? What would you add to the list?

Make sure to check out the other What to Wear posts, including packing lists for Thailand, Cuba, India, Kenya, Colombia, and more!

, ,

25 Responses to What to Wear in Canada in Winter

  1. Sarah March 1, 2018 at 3:00 am #

    I just want to say I LOVE this post! I was just commenting to a friend how I’ve been upgrading some of my winter apparel, and especially as I get cold easily I read the reviews and hone in on the ones that say they’re Canadian because then I can trust when they say that something will actually keep you warm! Reviewers based in South Carolina I don’t trust for winter apparel recommendations!

    Also, I really appreciate the links to specific products! When I was looking up what to wear for a winter trip to Europe (where I was planning to be outside most of the day and evening), so many articles were just “bring some sweaters!” and it’s like… yeah, that’s a broad category with quaity and warmth ranging from heavy duty to almost nothing! And especially when you’re investing in good quality gear (good down jackets and warm snow boots aren’t cheap!), you want to make sure you’re not wasting your money on something that just looks like it’s made for winter.

    • Brenna Holeman March 1, 2018 at 11:36 am #

      Aw, that’s so great, thank you Sarah! I’m so glad that you liked the post. I hope you find all of your new winter gear very soon 🙂

  2. Lorri White March 1, 2018 at 4:04 am #

    It’s hard to believe this post was written by someone who has spent any time outdoors in a Canadian winter.

    1. Given the dozens of quality Canadian clothing manufacturers, you suggest an Australian/New Zealand company? That creates low to mid quality gear? And doesn’t distribute in Canada?

    2. Jeans. Anybody who spends any time outdoors knows that the last thing you wear is jeans. Cotton has no insulation value and once it gets wet it takes forever to dry. You want to wear wool (if you want to look dressy) or preferably a pair of polyester technical pants that will look great, move easily, dry quickly and when teamed with wool or polypropylene (not cotton) base layer will keep you warm all day.

    • Brenna Holeman March 1, 2018 at 11:45 am #

      Hah! It’s hard to believe this comment was written by a Canadian, because it is so unnecessarily rude.

      1. I say explicitly that I was given a jacket to review. Considering Canadians make up a very small portion of my audience, and that this guide is written for those visiting Canada, doesn’t it make more sense to talk about a jacket that’s easy to find abroad? I’d feel very disingenuous recommending a jacket I hadn’t actually tried (and not sure where you’re getting “low to mid quality gear” from – I, as well as everyone else on my Western Canada tour wearing Kathmandu, were extremely warm the entire time). I also recommend Canada Goose, Kit and Ace, Raber, Sorel, Aritzia, and Roots… all Canadian companies.

      2. I thought I was quite clear about when to wear jeans. I do not recommend wearing them to do winter activities, but after growing up in Manitoba and spending the last three months there, I can tell you that everyone I see (and everyone I know) wears jeans for everyday wear. I can’t find trousers that fit me properly, so jeans it is.

      I’m sorry my post aggravated you so much, but as someone who grew up in -40 winters, I stand by my words.

  3. LC March 1, 2018 at 12:46 pm #

    I LOVE winter fashion, but tend to borrow other’s clothes whenever I go anywhere super cold, so I never end up looking as stylish as you do in all these photos! Definitely going to take your advice re the mittens next time I’m in sub-zero temps – they look real cosy.

    • Brenna Holeman March 1, 2018 at 1:23 pm #

      Thank you so much, LC! Yes, I totally recommend those mittens – they’re the best.

  4. Stacy March 1, 2018 at 1:28 pm #

    Everything in this post is so spot on! I’m a lifelong Minnesotan, or as my mom likes to say, the Land of Three Winter Coats. Because you totally need them! A dressier, wool one; a lighter weight one for average cold days; and a damn-is-it-really-that-cold super warm one 🙂

    • Brenna Holeman March 1, 2018 at 1:30 pm #

      Aw, thanks so much, Stacy! So glad that you enjoyed the post, and glad to hear that it got the Minnesota stamp of approval. 🙂

  5. Linda March 1, 2018 at 3:23 pm #

    You are spot on with every single suggestion, Brenna. As a hard-core Canadian, spending almost all my winters in Manitoba or Ontario, I have bought and worn a number of your recommendations. I especially appreciate that you make it easy to look warm AND stylish. This post is a really great one for anyone thinking of visiting Canada in winter (and I say “come on over, you’ll love it)!

    • Brenna Holeman March 13, 2018 at 12:20 pm #

      Thank you so much! I always love when you comment on my blog xoxo

  6. Cate March 1, 2018 at 4:10 pm #

    I so love and appreciate these what to wear posts! Keep it up! Next week I am heading to Vancouver Island for whale watching, hiking, exploring outdoors, and just bought new hiking boots, and plan on bringing both a rain coat, a heavy coat, and a hate, scarf, and gloves! Hopefully I still look cute! You certainly did!!

    • Brenna Holeman March 13, 2018 at 12:21 pm #

      Thank you so much, Cate! I hope you had a fantastic time in Vancouver – it’s such a beautiful place.

  7. Mark March 1, 2018 at 5:31 pm #

    Great post, solid recommendations from someone who’s obviously experienced a few winters on the prairies! Seeing as it was our first full winter outside of Canada in a few years, following you on this trip was a little nostalgic. That being said, I don’t plan to spend another winter in Alberta for quite some time!

    • Brenna Holeman March 13, 2018 at 12:22 pm #

      Thank you so much, Mark! And yeah, I get it, ha ha! Those winters can be brutal if you have to endure months of them…

  8. Katie March 2, 2018 at 8:39 am #

    This list could apply to Italy right now! Wah. Our town has the first big snowfall it’s gotten in 6 years, and I went out yesterday and realized I have no proper footwear for this. None. My only option was low-cut boots with low heels and no traction because they were waterproof. I might not go all-out on my winter gear considering this is rare, but I do need to get myself a decent pair of boots.

    • Brenna Holeman March 13, 2018 at 12:23 pm #

      Oh god. Footwear is always my BIGGEST pain! I feel like I can never find cute, practical footwear, so I’m with you. Hopefully Italy is nice and warm now 🙂

  9. Paige March 3, 2018 at 11:38 pm #

    This post made me oddly nostalgic for winter in upstate New York where I grew up! Not that we don’t get *ahem* delightful winters in Boston, but long johns were always a must for doing anything outside in the snow! Also, my dad (who’s French Canadian) insists on wearing his bright orange toque embroidered with a picture of a deer everywhere in the winter (despite the fact that he’s never hunted anything ever). Would definitely recommend such a hat for “that friend” who always wanders off in crowds. : ) P.S. The spanx over wool tights suggestion might have just changed my life and professional wardrobe, as I own exactly zero work trousers and spend most of my winter life shivering at bus stops on my way to the office. Also can’t wait to hear more about the trip–I want to make it to Western Canada sometime in the next couple of years!

    • Brenna Holeman March 13, 2018 at 12:24 pm #

      Thank you so much for the comment, Paige! Yes, that wool tights + spanx combo has often been a lifesaver for me. I like the sound of your dad’s toque, ha ha – definitely one to stand out in a crowd! 😉

  10. Becky March 11, 2018 at 10:52 am #

    Canada looks stunning but also pretty cold thanks for those helpful tips! That packing list in the end is a great idea 😀

    • Brenna Holeman March 11, 2018 at 6:49 pm #

      Thank you so much, Becky! I’m glad you liked the post 🙂

  11. Kayla March 13, 2018 at 12:16 am #

    This is actually super helpful! I’m one of those Australian’s that has barely seen snow (once on a family trip to the ‘snow’ which was more like settled sludge, and once when it randomly started snowing in Berlin but not even enough to settle on the ground) so I’d pretty much be you at 16 – I don’t think I’ve ever actually owned a scarf!

    • Brenna Holeman March 13, 2018 at 12:25 pm #

      Thank you so much, Kayla! I hope you find your winter wonderland soon 😉

  12. Maira March 14, 2018 at 11:24 am #

    Love the post, super helpful tips!
    Thanks for sharing Brenna 😊

  13. Jessica March 17, 2018 at 11:29 pm #

    You couldn’t of written this at a more perfect time! I’ve just accepted a job in Manitoba and will be moving there from Australia in June! The concept of -20C is so foreign to me that I’ve been laughing a little manically every time someone asks me how cold it gets in the winter.

    • Brenna Holeman March 18, 2018 at 4:15 am #

      Oh wow – that’s very exciting! Great that you’re arriving in June… there’s so much to do in the summer in Winnipeg. I’m sure you’ll love it!

Leave a Reply