Dressing for Canadian Winters

A full-length parka, seal skin boots and a muskrat hat may feel like what you need to stay warm during your first Canadian winter. But unless you’re one of the few people living in the far northern reaches of the country – you’ll be over prepared and a little too warm.

Separating myth, humour and fact can be tricky for newcomers when it comes to Canadian weather. While it is true that arctic regions of Canada are amongst the coldest in the world, most people live in temperate climates – where winters are cold but summers are hot. For example, it is not unusual for areas of Ontario and Quebec to have weather reaching -35°C (-31°F) in January or February, but come July and August, temperatures can soar above 35°C (95°F).

In the Great Lakes region (which includes  the cities of Toronto and Hamilton), the weather is moderated by the lakes and temperatures remain relatively consistent – with average overnight low temperatures of -6°C (21°F) in January and February and average daily high temperatures of 25°C (77°F) in July and August.

Ontario is blessed with may large lakes include four of the five Great Lakes, so weather can change rapidly and without warning. It’s best to always be prepared, and as many naturalized Canadians know, to layer, regardless of the season.

Staying warm in the winter isn’t about the heaviest clothes, but the right clothes. Here are some simple tips to help you stay warm and safe:

  • Stay layered: You can always take a layer of clothes off if you get warm, but when you’re out in the cold, you can’t put on what you have with you – so be prepared when you leave the house. Typical winter layers include a long-sleeved shirt covered by a sweater or vest, then a warm coat. Wearing long underwear (tight cotton pants) beneath pants and adding snow pants (sometimes called ski pants) on top is common, as is wearing multiple layers of socks. Consider thin but warm synthetic materials that will wick away moisture but keep body heat in instead of overbearing (and increasingly unpopular) choices like fur or wool.
  • Stay covered: Exposing skin can be dangerous when temperatures begin dropping below freezing. Even a thin layer of clothing (like the accessories mentioned below) can add a measure of safety.
  • Stay dry: The quickest way to catch a cold – or hypothermia – is to get wet and exposed to frigid air. Many coats, vests, pants and boots are available in waterproof or water resistant materials.
  • Stay accessorized: They look great – scarves, hats and gloves. But they’re also essential to staying warm and safe in a Canadian winter. The best part is they’re affordable and available just about everywhere you look.

Staying prepared will not only assure you a great experience in the Canadian winter, but keep you safe, as well.

Header photo: WInter Festival, some rights reserved by Joe Ross