If you’re wondering what to put on your Banff packing list you’ve come to the right spot. 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 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 it’s surroundings here is what to pack for Banff.
A Word About the Mountains
The town of Banff and Canmore are both nestled in the Canadian Rockies. This means that whether you plan to be on top of a mountain or down in town the weather can change in a moment’s notice. Even in the summer, it can get quite cold here so it’s best to come prepared with some warm clothes and rain/snow protection.
The secret to being comfortable is to pack several layers. If the cold scares you off that much, the best chance to receive ideal summer weather is to visit Banff in July and August. You can see the best time to visit Banff here. Seasons vary a lot here so you’ll want to consider what time of year you plan to visit. If you are traveling in the winter (mid-November – mid-May) you should come prepared for cold weather and snow. Temperatures in mid-winter can swing down 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 bike, snowboard, 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 too!
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 has to be the plethora of hiking trails and mountain scrambles. So be sure to pack a pair of hiking pants for your trip. We swear by Fjallraven’s well known Keb Trousers. Fjallraven’s Keb trousers are an outdoor staple for Norwegians and have treated us well on our adventures. They are heavyweight and deliver a serious ruggedness that can handle sharp rocks, crampons, or a branch. More importantly, the fit is tremendous and they feel so comfortable when moving uphill or climbing up a rock chimney.
They are my favorite pair of pants and they look like awesome adventure pants! Keb Trousers are pretty specific, but if you’re looking for a more standard pair of hiking pants check out the Outdoor Research Ferossi Pant, prAna Stretch Zion, or the Colombia Silver Ridge. For walks around town or going out to the bar it’s tough to go wrong with a classic pair of jeans.
Hiking shorts are great in the summer when it finally arrives, that is for the two months that we receive. We love shorts for low elevation hikes or hanging out around town. However, if you’re going to tackle more challenging hikes or scrambles you may want to leave them at home.
We have 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 at any other time of year, you’ll never pull them out as it remains cool year-round. We’d be pretty sad to miss out on the great summer weather when it does roll around come summertime.
Think about packing a bathing suit no matter the season! The Canadian Rockies may just about the furthest thing from a beach destination there are a plethora of places to make use of your swimsuit. You can head out on a SUP hang out with the locals at Johnson Lake or Quarry Lake on a summer day.
However, most likely you’ll want to take advantage of your accommodation’s pool or hot tub. If you don’t have access to either consider checking out the Banff Hot Springs or take a drive out to the Radium Hot Springs.
We recommend you pack at least one hiking shirt. Our favorite is the Outdoor Research Echo line and pretty much wear them on all our hikes. They are lightweight and moisture-wicking. Seriously, you don’t want to be stuck with a cotton shirt while hiking. Cotton traps all your sweat and then when you get cold it becomes a problem.
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 for your trip to Banff and the Canadian Rockies
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.
Our Patagonia Better Sweaters are perfect fleece sweaters, especially for a mid-layer. 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. A loose base synthetic layer such as Stryka Hoody from Arc’teryx is great for chilly hike days or if you’re backpacking. Of course, a wool-based thermal like the Smartwool Merino Sport 250 is tremendous. My last recommendation would be the Ascendant Hoody from Outdoor Research which is my favorite!
In addition to a technical sweater for the hiking trail pack a cute sweater to wear around town. We have a plethora of sweaters from around the world, but we picked up a number of great ones from Marine Layer in recent years.
A vest is a tremendous way to offer some mountain style and keep warm. We have a number of 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 classic mountain look and a great way to fight off a chill is a comfy flannel. 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. That being said 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 it’s what I most commonly use, 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’re going to see a lot of sun on the trail so it’s important to protect yourself. My favorite hats are the LoPro Trucker hats from Patagonia.
I don’t travel without a shell jacket and I don’t hike without a shell jacket. They are so easy and light to pack up there is no reason to not have one in your day bag. You should always be prepared for a chance of rain when you are out in the mountains. Getting wet and rained on while on a mountain sucks, and it can also be extremely dangerous in cold temperatures. Seriously, a rain or shell jacket should be on every packing list if you plan on going hiking around Banff.
My hiking jacket has come in handy so many times. The Arc’teryx Zeta FL is waterproof, lightweight, windproof, breathable, and made with Goretex Pro. It’s not just good for traveling and rainstorms but is a protective shell against all levels of weather. I can even wear it in the winter as a waterproof shell over my down jacket.
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 its 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 great packable down jacket on just about any hiking trip. When you’re dealing with the mountains and wide 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.)
On those truly cold 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 underneath jeans or regular pants for walking 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 we snowboard or climb 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!
Underwear isn’t the most exciting thing to talk about in terms of packing for your trip to the Canadian Rockies. However, they’re an important 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 being 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.
Shoes for 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.
I do not recommend everyone has seven different options so choose a shoe that best fits your everyday needs. For most hikers, I would say that is a trail running shoe as it is capable both on and off the trail so you get plenty of use. 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 own body health. Do you have previous injuries or are you prone to rolling your ankle?
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. Boots are also a lot better to carry weight on multiday camping trips.
Trail Running Shoes
We both have up the Hoka One One’s Speedgoat 4 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 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 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. 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 here with the wrong footwear on a trail where a slip could equal serious injury or death.
You don’t need to pack all athletic shoes for your time in Banff. We love to wear a more relaxed shoe 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 a good idea 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 have plans 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 important they’re the best value on the market for hiking boots!
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 hold 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 here is to opt for the right 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.
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 yea, 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 a nice 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.