What to wear for Canadian winter

The Canadian winter is cruel my friends. When the temperatures can easily reach -30ºC (-22°F) you need to be extra careful with what you wearing. Without the right clothes your experience in the great white north might turn into a nightmare.

When I decided to travel to Canada in February I had no idea what to wear for Canadian winter. I was quite worried because I live in Rio de Janeiro and I had no proper winter clothes. One thing about living in a tropical place is that the temperatures don’t vary that much. We have winter temperatures around 20ºC (68°F) , which is great, and summer temperatures around 40ºC (104°F), which is awful.

Winter in Canada can be really fun. It’s a winter wonderland with all kinds of winter sports, winter festivals, and spectacular views. I hope this post helps you to pack properly to enjoy all that Canada has to offer.

The Layers

As you might have heard a thousand times, the secret is to dress in layers. It’s important to be able to remove some layers if you feel too hot or add more layers if you feel too cold. Whenever I leave the hotel I always carry a backpack with me. Inside I always carry an extra fleece jacket to use in case of need.

Base Layer

Merino wool is hands down the best material for the base layer. I learned it the hard way. I own two synthetic base layers and they are crap compared to merino wool. The synthetic fabric is itchy, smelly and don’t keep me warm enough. When I put them I feel uncomfortable all day and I can’t wait to take them off. Do yourself a favor and invest in a good quality merino wool base layer. The merino wool is thin and soft to the skin. It’s not itchy and does not smell. You will even forget that you are using it.

To choose the most suitable to your needs you should be attentive to the fabric’s weight.

Ultra-lightweight – 150 – 170 g/m2  – Suitable for all seasons
Lightweight – 200 – 230 g/m2  – For moderate cold conditions
Midweight  – 240 – 280 g/m2  – For colder conditions
Heavyweight  – 320- 380g/m2  – For extreme cold conditions

For everyday activities I recommend the Icebreaker Midweight Base layer in merino wool. I used the Tech Top Long Sleeve Half Zip and a Vertex Leggings.

Mid Layer

Don’t worry too much about the mid layer. If you a have a good base layer and a good outer layer you will be fine with whatever you choose to wear in the middle. You can wear a cute sweater, a fleece jacket or a sweatshirt. Always prefer breathable materials if you can. Avoid cotton. Remember that every time you enter somewhere you will be taking off your parka, so wear something nice.

Outer Layer

This is the most important layer. A good parka should be windproof and waterproof but it should still be breathable. There are some important points you should look before buying a parka:
– Removable adjustable hood
– Seam sealed to be windproof
– Outside pockets for you to put your hands
– Double zipper to accommodate unzipping the bottom for sitting

A good parka will be the most expensive item you will have to buy. But don’t even think about buying a cheap coat that doesn’t do the job. Quality is essential. For extreme cold conditions a down parka is recommended. The down is highly compressible but retains its shape once it’s uncompressed. Take a look at the fill power of the down. The higher the number the better the quality of the down insulation used. High fill power means that the jacket will weigh less, and will be more compressible, since it has less down in it. In other words, higher fill power down allows for better warmth-to-weight ratios.

I chose the Canada Goose Trillium Parka because it is indicated for temperatures between -15ºC (5°F) to -25ºC (-13°F). Most of the days the temperatures were in that range so I just needed to use a t-shirt under the parka. If the temperatures were lower than -25ºC (-13°F) I added more layers to keep me warm. This parka can easily keep you warm in -30ºC (-22°F) if you use a fleece jacket as mid layer. If it gets even colder you can use a base layer underneath.

The coat’s length should also be considered. Most people prefer to wear a knee length coat with a long boot. That’s a very good option. But I prefer mid-thigh length because I feel more comfortable sitting and moving around and I still have my entire torso covered. The double zipper allow me unzip the bottom to sit comfortably.

Usually it’s comfortable to wear jeans with the merino wool legging underneath. There were some days though, when it was snowing heavily and it was -34ºC (-29.2°F) outside. Everyone was wearing ski pants, and I did the same. My Columbia Women’s Avalanche Bomb™ Ski Pant is very warm and comfortable. It’s seam sealed, insulated, waterproof and breathable.

Acessories

One thing I noticed as soon as I arrived was that my beanie wasn’t doing the job. The cold arctic winds were passing through holes in the wool and freezing my brains out. To keep my head nice and warm I bought a fleece lined beanie. It was the best thing I did.

Another thing I noticed is that  instead of wearing a scarf I found out that a neck warmer works best for me. I feel less constricted and more comfortable. The neck warmer is also useful to put over your mouth and nose when it’s colder. But it’s not practical to use the neck warmer or your scarf to cover your face during the entire day. After 30 min or so the fabric is soaked wet with the vapor of your breathing. If the temperatures are extremely low and you feel like you face is freezing you should use a balaclava. When there’s risk of frost bite you should use one to protect your face against it. A good balaclava has breathing holes in the mouth and nose for increased ventilation.

The hands and feet are complicated areas. Most of the days I used ski gloves but I still felt cold. It was a problem to take pictures with my frozen fingers. Everytime I had to use my phone I had to take the gloves off. My hands froze in a instant and they took forever to warm again. To avoid this pain there are smart phone friendly gloves that you can use under your ski glovesThat way you won’t expose your skin to the cold. If you can spend some extra bucks buy down filled gloves instead of normal ski gloves. When nothing else works it’s good to have a hand warmer with you.

To keep your feet warm is essential to keep them dry. Wet feet means cold feet. Good quality winter boots are waterproof, have good isolation from the cold ground and good traction. The icy streets are very slippery, buying boots with a good grip will avoid you some awkward falls. Look for the boots that have tags with temperature ratings. For me I chose the Joan of Arctic™ Soreal Boot that was suppose to handle -32ºC (-25.6°F). I like this boot because it has a removable felt inner boot that kept my feet dry longer. I also I bought the Icebreaker Merino Wool Hike Socks because it handles the moist.

Don’t forget to bring your sunglasses! In a sunny day the snow shines so bright that it hurt your eyes.

What to wear for Canadian winter

Soreal winter boots

What to wear for Canadian winter

My everyday winter outfit – Temperature of -15°C (5°F)

What to wear for Canadian winter

Winter outfit for extra cold days – Temperature of -34°C (-29.2°F)

Shopping Advise

  • Look up the average temperature of the city you are going for the month you are going

Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver have very different temperatures during the winter. If you’re going to Vancouver during the winter you don’t need to worry about freezing to death but I can’t say the same about Montreal. Do some research before you go so you don’t buy unnecessary things.

  • Shop at big stores

Big stores have more products so you have more chance to find what you want. One of the reasons I loved Sporting Life was the size of the store.

  • Ask for the help of the sales people

Don’t be afraid to ask the salesperson for some advise. Explain the purpose of your purchase so they can help you choose the best for your needs. Canadians are know for being nice

  • Look up the forecast before leaving the hotel

Canadians always see the forecast before leaving the house and you should do the same. Temperatures can drop dangerously low under the influence of an arctic blast, or you can get caught in a snowmageddon like the one I experienced in Ottawa. That way you can dress accordingly.

  • Make a budget

Good quality winter clothes are expensive. Resist the temptation of buying cheap clothes that won’t protect you from the cold. Don’t throw your money away. It’s a good idea to make a list of the items you need to buy. Look up their price beforehand so you can plan your clothing budget. Try to stick to your list.

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