Planning a trip to Canada in winter? I recently traveled to Alberta, Canada to experience the city of Edmonton, Lake Louise, Banff and Jasper National Park in winter and participated in all kinds of winter activities from snowboarding to ice climbing and spotting wildlife in Alberta.
Since it can get very cold in Canada in winter with freezing temperatures from -5 to -30 degrees Celsius (23 to -22 F), it’s necessary properly to pack for winter travel. Warm clothes to wear in extreme cold weather conditions, not only in Canada, but this winter packing list can basically be used for all countries with these cold temperatures.
In this packing for winter travel blog, I will share my packing tips to keep warm while traveling in Canada in winter and I will point out clothes that should be included on your packing list! You will read about what to wear in winter, what to wear in snow and how layering will keep you warm in extreme cold weather conditions.
To start with, the most important winter travel packing tip is to bring many layers, as layering is a crucial part of cold weather clothing and the best way to keep warm during all outdoor winter activities!
See also my winter in Edmonton travel guide for a complete list of epic winter activities.
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Ever heard of the three-layer principle?
This clothing system consists a base layer that transports moisture away, a mid-layer for insulation and an outer layer that protects you from wind, rain and cold. Together, they will keep the warm air close to your body and you will have enough freedom of movement. The movement is very important because of all these fun winter activities like ice climbing, ice walks inside canyons, spotting wildlife, stargazing, visiting the ice castles, snowboarding, snow tubing, skiing and much more.
Base layer of merino wool to manage moisture
The base layer is your first layer, which is in contact with your skin. It regulates your body temperature and keeps you dry while you become moist or when sweating – it’s called 'wicking'. The most common materials in base layers are polyester, merino wool, cotton, nylon and silk.
My personal preference is merino wool and more specific the 100% merino wool clothing of Dilling. This high-quality wool from the Merino sheep does an excellent job distributing heat evenly across your body.
Why Dilling? Apart from their high-quality organic clothing it’s a sustainable brand that cares about where the material comes from and how it’s produced. Because they care about the welfare of the sheep, they traveled to Patagonia to see the production and working conditions with their own eyes and they have an eco-friendly dyehouse that holds the Nordic Swan Ecolabel.
No harmful chemicals are used and therefore their clothes are also suitable for sensitive skins. You can read more about their sustainability on their website.
Most people often think that all wool is itchy, but my Merino wool thermal underwear from Dilling is really silky soft and not itchy at all! It’s perfect material to wear for your outdoor winter activities because it will keep you warm the entire day and it has an excellent breathability. Another reason why I love to wear Dilling’s merino wool is because it protects against the smell of sweat; most synthetic base layers become smelly as soon as you start sweating, but that’s not the case with this merino wool. Just perfect. Wool also has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than synthetic fabrics.
My base layer consists of a merino wool hipster, a (long sleeve) t-shirt, long legging (long johns) and socks.
Warm but light mid layer for insulation
The second (mid)layer needs to be soft, warm and airy for optimal insulation. This is the layer what is worn over your base layer and under your outer shell. The thickness of this layer varies in accordance with the temperature and weather. A good middle layer is made of for example wool, polyester or fleece.
It’s recommended to avoid cotton mid layers; they will retain moisture which can lead to you getting cold. Popular mid layers are hoodies, vests, soft shells or in extreme cold an insulated jacket.
During the winter activities in Canada, I wore a Merino wool mid layer with half zip in combination with a wool terry hoodie – all from Dilling. All these products are very comfortable and kept my body warm!
Another great mid layer I used was the Atom LT Jacket from Arc'teryx. It’s a high-quality synthetic insulated and very lightweight jacket ideal as a layering piece for cold weather activities. This jacket is definitely not cheap, but in my opinion really worth the money since I wore it almost all the time over my merino wool layer(s).
This warm mid-layer features composite materials that provide balances warmth and breathability. The arms and torso are fortified with Coreloft™ insulation and the side panels and underarms feature smooth faced, air permeable fleece stretch for ventilation. The wind and moisture resistant outer shell extends stand-alone usability.
Outer layer for weather protection against wind and rain
The outer layer is your third layer and functions as a shell to protect you against wind, rain and snow. With a good outer layer, you will definitely remain dry and warm. You don’t want your other layers to get wet, so this layer is crucial in rain and snow! A good outer layer has to be water and wind resistant and it also has to give you enough freedom of movement during your winter activities in Canada.
I personally found these features in clothing from Arc'teryx, a Canadian brand. Their relationship with W.L. Gore is one of the reasons they are able to craft the best durable outerwear and their philosophy is guided by the belief that durability is the strongest path to sustainability, something I definitely agree on.
On my winter trip to Alberta, I wore a kind of soft shell tight, the Trino Tight from Arc’teryx. The tight is perfect for winter activities because it’s windproof (Gore Windstopper®), water resistant and really breathable. It’s a relatively thin tight, what makes it a very comfortable training tight for windy, cool, damp conditions and therefore a perfect tight to wear for all kinds of winter activities in Canada. Another tight I wore was the Gore X7 Partial Gore-Tex Infinium with a tighter fit that hugs close to the body to minimize air resistance and reduce bulk.
For a coat I wore the long Seyla hooded down coat from Arc'teryx. The Seyla Coat keeps you really warm and a water repellent face fabric keeps moisture at bay. The coat suits comfortable and is also quite stylish for wandering through the city.
Heading to Jasper National Park in winter? It was my favorite tourist destination on our 2-week trip to Alberta. More about it: Things To Do in Jasper National Park in Winter.
4 Must have winter accessories
Apart from your layers, you need a few essential travel accessories to beat the cold weather. Make sure you have gloves or mittens, a scarf and a beanie, earmuffs or ushanka-hat to protect your ears! People who participate in winter sport activities often also wear a face mask and goggles.
For the winter activities in Edmonton and Jasper National Park I wore a merino buff from Dilling as a neck warmer which is very functional because its small, light and warm. You don’t want to overheat, so choose your winter layers and winter accessories smartly.
2. Gloves or Mittens?
Because I’m a photographer and my hands get cold very quickly, I definitely need decent, warm and comfortable gloves or mittens. In the past I tried many different gloves and mittens and until now I couldn’t find the right ones that kept my hands warm. I basically prefer mittens since they keep my hands warmer than gloves but they are not always very efficient to wear during winter activities or photographing wildlife.
After some research I found photography gloves from Vallerret, especially designed for adventurous cold weather photographers. How awesome is that? I was dying to test them out on my winter trip to Alberta. I was given two different pairs: the Skadi Zipper Mitt PSP and the Ipsoot Photography Glove.
The Skadi Zipper Mitt
is a 2-in-1 glove that gives you the warmth benefits of mittens including the flexibility to operate the dials on your camera, whether you need one finger or four, you just open the zipper of your mitt. Under the mitt, you wear a power stretch thermal liner, a great base layer for extra warmth inside your Vallerett Photography Gloves.
The liner is touch screen compatible and provides both performance and durability. Even if you wear these liners by themselves, they will keep you warm in lighter winter conditions, however I really needed the outer mitten to keep my hands warm in Alberta’s winter wonderland. The extra features of the gloves, like flipping the thumb cap to adjust the settings of your camera and a storage part for a SD card and microfiber lens wipe on the back of the mitt, are perfect for a photographer.
RELATED: Spotting Wildlife in Alberta in Winter.
The Ipsoot Photography Glove
The Ipsoot ergonomic photography glove including 100% merino wool inner is a heavy-duty glove that provides extra protection against cold, from the backcountry powder to dark nights shooting the Northern lights. Just like the thumb at the mitts, the gloves provide Flip-tech finger caps and magnets to keep them open. The combination of goat leather and 2Ply Twill creates a durable and water-resistant shell with excellent wind protection.
I tested both types of photography gloves and found them both really warm with nice features for photographers or for smartphone users. During my winter trip in Canada, photographing the outdoors, I found the 2-in-1 Skadi Zipper Mitt the most convenient one because I found the lpsoot glove a bit too ‘heavy-duty’ for my small hands operating the camera.
Because you can open the zip of the mitt to use all your fingers wearing a warm thin liner underneath, the mitt was just perfect. Although I sometimes got cold hands when I left the zipper of the mitt open too long. That’s why I would like to test if their Merino liners or the Primaloft/Merino combo provide more warmth than the power stretch pro liner.
These Vallerret photography gloves are the best gloves I wore since a long time and I’m totally in love! I would also recommend these gloves to non-photographers because they are perfect for smartphone users as well.
3. Insulated snow boots
Make sure you bring warm winter boots! Having cold feet is the last thing you want to worry about! The best cold-weather boots have to keep you warm, dry and protect your feet from snow. Most of the winter boots will have rubber soles. If you plan on trekking through snow, you want a taller boot that'll also keep your calves warm and protected.
Sorel Boots are probably the most popular type of winter boots. Their boots are lined with micro fleece on the inside what makes them exceptionally warm and they are waterproof with rubber soles. That’s exactly the reason why I wore Sorel boots. These boots are also great for hiking, especially in snowy or wet conditions.
By the way, warm boots aren’t the only thing you’ll need to keep your feet warm. Bring warm wool socks! I was so happy with my Merino wool socks from Dilling. My feet stayed warm all the time, even on the coldest night, snowshoeing our way through Elk Island National Park under a sky full of stars.
4. Hand and foot warmers
Since I was not really used to winter activities or extreme cold conditions, I also brought several hand and foot heaters. To be honest I only used them one time! Probably because of the layering technique and good fabrics of clothing and shoes. It didn’t get too cold either I must admit, but I would always put them on my winter travel checklist.
Hardcase suitcase to pack for Winter in Canada
Packing for a cold winter trip can be more challenging than packing for summer as you need more, and thicker clothes to keep you warm! The LEVEL8 checked luggage suitcase is perfect to pack for a winter trip to Canada and fits a lot of clothing plus bigger stuff!
The design of the suitcase differs from other suitcases because the wide trolley system enables a maximized base that offers more packing space. It also makes it more suitable for big stuff, like my sturdy Gitzo Tripod. I don’t always take my large heavy tripod, but when photographing outdoors in these cold Canadian winter conditions, I like to use a sturdy tripod. In this lightweight and durable scratch-resistant hard-shell suitcase, the tripod fits perfectly in an upright position with enough space left for all my layered winter clothing.
The ultimate winter packing list for Canada
My complete winter travel packing list of clothing I wore during my winter activities in Alberta, Canada including links to shop these must have items yourself.
Base layers all from Dilling:
- Merino Wool Hipsters
- Merino Wool T-Shirt
- Merino Wool Long Leggings
- Merino Wool Socks
- Merino Wool Long-Sleeved Half Zip - Dilling
- Terry Hooded Jacket - Dilling
- Arc’teryx Atom LT Jacket
- Merino Wool Multifunctional Scarf (or Buff)
- Skadi Zipper Mitt PSP Photography Glove
- Lpsoot Photography Glove
- Wool Wash - for all your wool layers
Ready to pack for your upcoming winter trip?
I hope this blog with cold weather dressing tips including a winter travel packing list was helpful for you! Curious about our winter trip to Edmonton, all the cool things to do in Jasper National Park, Lake Louise and Banff? Check out our articles about traveling to Canada in winter or go here for our 2-week Alberta itinerary.
Don't waste money on high roaming costs, buy a prepaid sim card for Canada on arrival or before your trip. Click the link for more info.
Do you want to keep up with my future travels for Traveltomtom? Follow my Instagram account @ourplanetinmylens for all travel adventures and travel photography. Safe travels and keep warm! Enjoy Canada