Knowing what to wear in Canada in winter makes all the difference. Snowshoeing, skating, exploring, and just generally going outside is miserable when you don’t have the right gear! Only with the right clothing, products, and tips can winter be fun.
It can be so tempting to just stay inside, and wait it out until spring for those of us who live here – but that’s nearly 6 months. Much too long to stay indoors for! My preferred method is to take a lot of care and invest in what I wear in Canada in winter, so that I can go outside and enjoy all that winter has to offer. Ottawa is home for me, and there are so many wonderful things to do in Ottawa in winter! It’s also one of the coldest Canadian cities, and the city this guide is primarily based on. If you’re ready for winter here, you’re ready for winter anywhere in Canada.
Visitors – if you’re planning to travel to Canada and you’re not from somewhere that traditionally has winter, know that having the right things to wear in Canada in winter is essential to enjoy your trip. Don’t skimp on warm clothing! Consider gear in your budget when planning a winter trip to Canada.
What to Wear in Canada in Winter
There are some things that you’re going to wear in Canada every day, no matter what you’re up to. Mittens, toques, and scarves are essentials in the cold weather! Here are my favourite brands/ recommendations:
- Mittens: for going out to skate, snowshoe, or walk around in the winter you need a good pair of mittens! My favourite are cable knitted mittens. I have this pair from The North Face.
- Toque: visitors, you may use the word “beanie” for winter hats. The Canadian word is “toque,” and you need one! Once again, anything knitted will do, and it’s best if your toque is lined because some Canadian cities have a lot of cold winds in the winter. The warmest toques that I own are actually hand-made, by Ottawa locals that sell their knitted ware in the Byward Market!
- Scarves: a scarf or neck warmer is a great idea, always. My favourite scarf is an unbelievably warm lambswools scarf. Mine is from this website, that makes lambswool scarves with different tartans. It is probably the single warmest thing that I own. If tartan isn’t your style, check out some other options here.
- Socks: wool socks are everything in winter. Get socks that come up a few inches above your ankles, so they don’t come off in your boots!
Having a warm wear in Canada in winter coat is essential! Just FYI, the right winter coat will run you upwards of $200 CAD/ $150 USD. Look for something that is quilted (and therefore insulated) instead of something that is fabric-based. If you feel/ look a bit like a marshmallow… that’s the one. Get a coat that goes down to your knees! Unless you plan on wearing snow pants all the time (not something that I want to do, personally) then coat that covers down to your knees is a must-have. Ski jackets are great for skiing, skating and snowshoeing with snowpants, but if you’re just walking around exploring a festival or market in Canada, a long coat is the way to go.
Having the right pants can go a long way! I’ll start by saying that jeans run cold in the winter, so if you’re planning to be out for any notable amount of time, opt for something else. Here are my favourite winter pants, both casual and active.
- Thermal Pants: A pair of thermal hiking pants is one of the best purchases you will ever make. I bought this pair right before my trip to Iceland and now wear them all the time. They’re perfect for any winter activity where you don’t want to get all bundled up. These pants are one of my favourite things to wear in Canada in winter. When I go skating, I usually just wear these. They’re good to about -10C. Plus, they’re water resistant with sealed pockets!
- Fleece Leggings: a warm, versatile item to wear in Canada in winter that looks great with boots is fleece leggings! This is great option to wear in Canada in winter for a more casual winter outing, like exploring a market or going out to eat.
- Snow pants: going tobogganing, or sledding? That’s when you need snow pants! Brands like The North Face, Colombia, and Helly Hansen make great snow pants for adults. These brands are all available at MEC.
Having the right winter boots to wear in Canada in winter is yet another, super important thing to bring. I have owned many pairs of winter boots through the years, and my favourites have been from Sorrel and Kamik. Globo carries a lot of great winter boots brands!
Here’s what you’re looking for in a pair of winter boots: no ankle boots, no heels. Waterproof, lined, good to at least -25C. I typically go for the plainest colour possible (grey, beige, black) because winter boots are expansive. You probably won’t buy more than one pair, so I like to get a colour that goes with everything!
Layers are going to be your best friend in Canada in winter. It’s also a more efficient way to pack, because thinner, warm layers take up less space than a bulky sweater. Bring a sport quality base layer, and some long sleeved shirts and sweaters so you have a few different bases to choose from.
- Long sleeve shirts: get a good collection of long-sleeve shirts and cozy sweaters! My go-to outfits in the winter usually include a tank top underneath a cozy sweater, or just a really thick sweater. My coziest sweaters have come from Gap.
- Base layer: a wick-away base layer will keep your warm and help keep sweat cleared away from your body if you’re doing something active. Great for skating or snowshoeing!
Winter Skin Care
If you’re anything like me, your skin takes a beating in the winter. The cold, dry air can leave your hands so dry that it’s painful, and your lips extremely chapped. Here are my favourite products for skin + body care in the winter, to help add back and seal in some moisture. Canada in winter can take a toll on your skin, but these products will help!
- Hands & Feet: the True Blue Spa line by Bath & Body works is, without a doubt, the most effective set of hand and foot creams that I have ever found. These products are only available online, so you will have to order them. The hand cream contains paraffin, which seals moisture in to your skin. Wash your hands in lukewarm water, then slather some of this on and dry hands will be a thing of the past. True Blue Spa has slowly been offering less and less products so I’m looking for a replacement, but so far nothing compares.
- Lips: I have two favourite products for lips: one is Blistex Lip Medex,which is great for reliving sore lips and serious dryness. The other is Eufora Soothing Lip Moisturizer, which is (sadly) often out of stock online because it’s so awesome. Add it to your wish list, because once you get it you’ll never go back. This product is amazing, and lasts a long time!
- Full-body: for moisturizing anywhere else on your body like elbows, knees, full-body (except your face), I have two recommendations. Glaxal Base is safe and perfect for anyone with sensitive skin, or skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema. The harsh winter can sometimes bring out the worst in your skin, and that’s when this is the way to go. Their branding is also totally gender neutral, just plain white and blue containers. I also love Aveeno’s Daily Moisturizer. It’s unscented and contains oatmeal, which is great for soothing itchy, dry and irritated skin. Another favourite that is more guys-friendly is the Tea Tree Oil line from The Body Shop. If you are prone to any irritation or blemishes on your back (which breaking a sweat in winter gear will definitely make worse), the body wash from this line is great for clearing that up.
- Hair: for winter hair repair, I love Macadamia’s Oil Deep Repair Mask. It contains macadamia, organ, tea tree, and chamomile oil, along with aloe and algae extract and it’s free of harmful chemicals. The instructions say a few minutes, but I leave it in for upwards of an hour in the winter. Outside of using that as often as once a week, I my regular shampoo and conditioner in the winter the Exotic Nectar Argan Oil Shampoo & Conditioner from Live Clean. I find that oil-based hair care products are less drying in the winter!
- Face: I stick to my regular daily moisturizer and night cream in the winter (currently using the Positively Radiant line from Aveeno) with one twist... a little bit of extra virgin coconut oil. This is usually most effective after you cleanse your skin, so the oil can actually get in re-hydrate your skin rather than just coating over dirt and grime.
What are your favourite winter items or skin care products?