You’ve come to the right spot if you’re wondering what to put on your Banff packing list. There’s no need to stress over what to bring with these tips. In this post, we make some recommendations on what you’ll need and what you should leave at home.
We’ve put together our favorite packing list items for the Canadian Rockies. This list is meant to be good in any season for many different levels of activities. Whether it’s hiking or just wandering around exploring the town of Banff and its surroundings, here is what to pack for Banff.
A Word About the Mountains
The Canadian Rockies are notorious for rapid weather shifts and frigid temperatures. Even the summer months can see cold weather and snow at elevation. We have seen it snow here every month of the year, yes, even in August! With rapid weather shifts, the secret to comfort is layers. We recommend you pack something warm no matter the time of year.
However, most days in the summer are perfect weather for shorts and a t-shirt. We regularly take dips in the frigid lakes and enjoy paddleboarding in a bathing suit. The best summer weather in Banff is in July and August yup there are only two months of summer.
Seasons vary a lot here, so you’ll want to consider what time of year you plan to visit. If you visit in the winter (mid-November to mid-May), you should prepare for cold weather and snow. Temperatures in January drop to -30C and sometimes even -40C (that’s the same in Fahrenheit).
There are also a ton of sports to enjoy, so make sure to pack your gear too! Our place is full of biking, snowboarding, trail-running, hiking, climbing, and mountaineering gear. Whatever you plan to do while in Banff, make sure not to forget your sports equipment — you can also rent a lot here.
Learn more about the best time to visit Banff in this article here!
Banff Packing List: The Clothing
- Bathing Suit
- Rain/Shell Jacket
- Down Jacket
- Wool Hiking Socks
- Athletic Shoes
- Casual Shoes
One of the best things to do in Banff is to tackle the plethora of hiking trails and mountain scrambles. Almost everyone comes to Banff to enjoy the wonderful hiking so you’ll want to pack a pair of hiking pants.
We swear by Fjallraven’s well-known Keb Trousers as they’re rugged, comfortable, and look awesome. However, we recommend prAna’s Stretch Zion for men and Halle Pants for women for more versatile hiking pants.
For walks around town, dinner, or drinks at the bar we recommend a pair of jeans. Banff is very casual, and there aren’t a plethora of fine dining restaurants and no clubs to wear nice clothes.
Our Recommendations For Hiking Pants
Hiking shorts are great in the summer when it finally arrives. You’ll likely regret not packing a pair if you visit Banff in the peak summer months. We love shorts for low elevation hikes, walking around town, or relaxing by the lake. If you plan to tackle more challenging hikes or scrambles, we recommend you wear pants. On warm days hikes at high elevations can still be frigid.
For hiking shorts, we love the women’s Fjallraven Nikka Shorts and the Men’s Arc’teryx Aptin Shorts! I recommend everyone pack a pair of shorts for the summer, but you’ll rarely pull them out at any other time of year as it remains cool year-round.
Our Recommendations For Hiking Shorts
Think about packing a bathing suit no matter the season! The Canadian Rockies may be just about the furthest thing from a beach destination, but there are plenty of places to use a swimsuit. On a summer day, you can hang out with the locals at Johnson Lake or Quarry Lake.
However, most likely, you’ll want to take advantage of your accommodation’s pool or hot tub. Consider checking out the Banff Hot Springs or driving out to the Radium Hot Springs if you don’t have access to a pool. Either way, you’d likely regret not having a swimsuit in your luggage.
We recommend you pack at least one hiking shirt. Our favorite is the Outdoor Research Echo line, and we pretty much wear them on all our hikes. It is best that you do not wear a cotton shirt on hikes in the Rockies. Cotton absorbs moisture and remains wet, which can cause hypothermia in the mountains in extreme cases.
The Echo shirts provide full coverage with their long sleeve collections, but you won’t get hot under the sun. These shirts are built with UPF sun protection, AirVent™ moisture management, and ActiveFresh™ odor control technology. I’d suggest two hiking shirts for your trip to Banff and the Canadian Rockies. Wool shirts are even more effective and comfortable, but they come with a higher price tag.
See Our Recommendations
Mid-Layer / Sweater
When you’re on the trails, you often come across cold temperatures in the mountains. A comfortable sweater is a great way to remain warm in the mornings and evenings. There are a couple of options for hiking mid-layers. You can choose from a fleece, thermal, down jacket, or softshell jacket. It depends on what you find comfortable and the weather on the trail.
For a most versatile sweater like the Patagonia Better Sweaters is perfect. It’s a slim-cut fleece with a soft lining that moves well with your body, while the outer material feels tough and shows little to no wear. However, there is a plethora of options and rarely a wrong choice.
Along with a mid-layer for the hiking trail, pack a cute sweater to wear around town. A nice sweater is comfortable in the evenings almost any time of year in the Rockies. They feel perfectly appropriate for an evening meal and walk.
A vest is a fantastic way to offer some mountain style and keep warm. We have many vests that range from technical down vests to comfy fleece vests like the Kuhl Flight Vest, pictured above.
As we’ve said, there is always a chill in the air here. A comfy flannel is a classic mountain look and a great way to fight off a cold. We’ve got a bunch in our closet, but the best by far is made by California Cowboy.
A cute hat is great in photos and for wearing around town. They are by no means practical when it comes to outdoor sports in the area. We do recommend packing a hat for hiking as it gives an added layer of sun protection.
I’m often in a ball cap, so I most commonly use it, but a well-designed sunhat with a wide brim is more effective. It’s all a matter of personal preference. On a sunny day, you’ll see a lot of sun on the trail, so it’s essential to protect yourself. My favorite hats are the LoPro Trucker hats from Patagonia.
We always recommend you hike and travel with a shell jacket. They do an exceptional job at protecting from the elements in the mountains. That could be everything from wind to rain or snow. I spend most of my time hiking in the Rockies with an Arc’teryx Zeta FL.
The lightweight shell is waterproof, lightweight, windproof, breathable, and made with Goretex Pro. It acts as a reliable source of protection from the elements. There is a good chance you may never see rain in the Rockies as it is a dry climate in the summer months. That being said, it is a necessary layer of protection if you intend to go on long hikes.
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There are only a few items we recommend everyone has, and one of them is a down jacket. A down jacket is a staple for travel and outdoor activities as it’s tremendously versatile. They pack down and fit easily in a backpack. However, despite their lightweight nature, they can offer a lot of warmth.
We always recommend you bring a down jacket on just about any hiking trip. When dealing with the mountains and vast temperature shifts, it’s a great way to keep warm without eating up too much space in your hiking backpack. My favorite down jacket is the Arc’teryx Cerium, as it manages to blend the perfect balance between lightweight, performance, style, and fit. No matter the month or season, it’s always down jacket season in Banff! (Psst – a down jacket also makes a great gift for hikers.)
See Our Recommendations
On those freezing days, we reach for our large down parka jackets. If you’re visiting Banff in the winter, a warm jacket is the one thing you do not want to forget. They’re pretty bulky and tough to pack, so we always wear ours on the plane when we travel.
One of the secrets to staying warm in the winter is a pair of thermals. It’s pretty cold here in the winter, so we’ll even slip on a pair of thermals underneath jeans or regular pants to walk around town. Yea, we’re not as tough as you might think when you feel the need to slip on “snow pants.”
We’ve tried a few different brands but recently settled on Kora as our favorite pair of thermals. It may be best for us as we need something technical when snowboarding or climbing mountains to wick away moisture from our bodies.
Kora makes high-performance technical clothing out of quality Yak Wool from the Himalayas — warning they are high priced. However, their technical abilities have far outpassed traditional wool or synthetic materials we’ve used. Bring thermals for any trip where you’ll be outside a lot.
We’ve learned to love our feet with a good pair of socks. You will want to keep your feet nice and dry while you walk around. Most importantly, wool socks stay fresh for several days as they have natural antimicrobial properties. We recommend wool socks all year. You can wear
Try to avoid cotton socks as they are well known to cause blisters since they slip, rub, and hold moisture. My personal favorites are Darn Tough merino socks, and my feet have never felt cold or wet. As a bonus, they’re produced in Vermont! We also love Smartwool and Farm To Feet!
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Underwear isn’t the most exciting thing to talk about in packing for your trip to the Canadian Rockies. However, they’re an essential part of your wardrobe, and a poor pair of underwear can ruin a hike, especially a multiday trek. We don’t just use this for hiking around Banff but also for traveling in general since I don’t always have access to a washer.
It’s best to wear underwear that wicks away moisture from your body for multiple reasons. The first is that moisture pulls away heat from your body when you’re in cold temperatures. However, more importantly, it keeps you dry in hot weather and reduces the risk of chafing or discomfort. I know chafing might sound a little comical, but it’s a real risk when the distance starts to add up — just ask any endurance athlete.
For men, I have a couple of pairs of Smartwool wool boxer briefs I’ve been hiking with for years now. For women, it’s all about personal preference, but the Patagonia Barely wool underwear comes in both bikini and thong versions.
Footwear In The Canadian Rockies
I could write dozens of articles on the best shoes for hiking. Truthfully there are a ton of variables when it comes to footwear. Things to consider are terrain, fit, style, and intended use. I have several different options for footwear when it comes to the trail, and I choose based on the day.
Choose a shoe that best fits your everyday needs. A trail running shoe is perfect for most hikers as it is capable both on and off the trail. That way, you get plenty of use out of your investment. Low elevation and easy hikes in Banff are on well-maintained trails, so a good pair of hiking shoes or tennis shoes are more than adequate.
You should also be cognizant of your body’s health. Do you have previous injuries, or are you prone to ankle rolls? If you need extra support, do not hesitate to choose the best option for yourself. For most, these will be high ankle boots.
There has been a long debate on whether you need high-top boots or low-cut shoes to protect your ankles. Truthfully we own both types and like to wear high tops on muddy trails or areas with thick vegetation and shoes in warm and dry destinations. A still sole in boots helps carry weight on multiday camping trips.
Trail Running Shoes
We both have the Hoka One One’s Speedgoat 5, and they’re great on the trails. They’re pretty heavily cushioned, so they protect your feet from uneven or rough surfaces. The tread pattern is also not too aggressive, so they feel comfortable with gravel surfaces or the gym.
However, if you’re big on the actual sport of trail running, it’s pretty tough to beat the Salomon Speedcross 5. They have a diehard following and food good reason. The lightweight shoe is high on comfort, and the aggressive tread pattern ensures you always have a grip. We’ll burn through a pair of these each summer. Of course, you’re not a local trail runner until you’ve owned a pair of Speedcross.
As I stated earlier, Banff’s low elevation and easy hikes are on well-maintained trails, so a good pair of hiking shoes or tennis shoes are more than adequate. We mix it up, but if you plan to take any big mountain hikes/scrambles, PLEASE wear hiking-specific shoes or boots. Too often, people get themselves in trouble with the wrong footwear on a trail where a slip could mean serious injury or death.
See Our Recommendations
You don’t need to pack all athletic shoes for your time in Banff. We love to wear more comfortable shoes around town, but that does not mean we’ll put on dress shoes or heels. Instead, we go with a more relaxed boot or shoes like a pair of Blundstones or Jungle Mocs from Merrell.
When it comes to hiking, it’s tough to beat purpose-built synthetic boots as they are lightweight, breathable, quick-drying, and often waterproof. While hiking in the mountains, loose rocks are a real threat on the trails, and it’s a good idea to wear decent hiking boots or shoes.
I’d say wear what you’re comfortable with, but if you have plans to head to the wet areas, it would be good to bring a pair of high ankle boots. Ankle-high boots are for protection against thick brush, bugs, and loose rocks.
So owning a good pair of hiking boots will come in handy if you plan to explore different climates. We love the Merrell Moab II that comes in both women’s and men’s versions in addition to high and low-cut versions. They are not the most technical boot, but they’re always reliable and never give you a blister. I took a brand new pair on a backpacking trip and hiked 30 kilometers a day in them with no threat of blisters. Most importantly, they’re the best value for hiking boots!
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Sandals can be so incredibly nice for freeing your feet in the summer months here. Whether it’s an easy hike or you’re just walking around camp, it’s great to walk around in a pair of Teva’s or Chacos. We love them for long hikes where we may have to cross a stream or river.
They’re also great if you want to go for a canoe, kayak, or SUP on one of the great lakes in Banff. Good hiking sandals are on every one of the summer Canadian packing lists. Lately, I’ve joined the masses and fallen in love with Birkenstocks.
If you’re not going on an overnight backpacking adventure, a daypack should be more than enough to hold your belongings. No matter what you do in Banff, you will want a daypack to store your belongings. My daypack usually consists of a shell jacket, down jacket, hiking poles, bear spray, snacks, water, gloves, chapstick, a buff, camera, first aid kit, navigation, and an emergency blanket.
While not everyone needs an alpine pack, the key to take away is to opt for the correct size pack. I love a versatile size around the 30L mark. 30L gives enough room for gear-heavy days, but it’s light enough for light short treks or walking around town. If you don’t have plans for big hikes, any nice backpack will do the job.
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What You Don’t Need to Bring to Banff
Club Dresses: There are no clubs in Banff or Canmore. There is no need for a short clubbing dress. The best thing you’ll find here is a brewery or distillery where you would instantly feel out of place in a short dress.
Heels: There’s absolutely no scenario in the Canadian Rockies where you will need heels. Oh yeah, and don’t go hiking in them – that’s a bad idea.
Dress Clothes in General: Both men and women don’t need to worry about getting super fancy here unless you absolutely want to. If you’re going to an event, a sweater and black pants work just fine.
Bottled Water: The one thing that drives me nuts every summer are the grocery stores that sell cases of bottled water and the visitors that think they need to buy them. Not only is this a waste of plastic, but it’s unnecessary. You do not need to worry about the tap water here. It’s SO good, and the towns need to do minimal water treatment.
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The Banff Blog Facebook Group is your headquarters for the Canadian Rockies travel advice and information. Including hike info and off-season travel information. This is also a place where you can meet one another when you’re in need of adventure buddies.