If you need some guidance on what to pack, check out our Banff winter packing list. It’s best to come prepared because winter in the Canadian Rockies can be frigid. Winter in Banff can alternate between 3-5C to -40C, the same in both Celcius and Fahrenheit.
Never fear the most extreme temperatures happen only a few times in the winter. Plus, with proper packing and the right clothes, we rarely let the cold deter us from enjoying the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. You’ve probably heard this before, but the key to staying warm is layers. This means a solid exterior layer in the form of a warm jacket.
The last one is super important as the wind can pull the heat away from your body and leave you feeling much colder. Read on to learn what we recommend packing for Banff in the winter.
Banff Winter Packing List
Here is a short rundown which includes ski/snowboarding gear and winter fun clothes. We’re pretty active individuals and love winter sports, so you’ll find a good mix of lifestyle clothes and technical apparel for winter weather. This packing list is just to give you an idea of what’s helpful to pack for Banff in the winter. Of course, you know your wardrobe best!
- Winter Parka
- Down Jacket
- Casual Pants
- 1 x Top Base Layer
- 1 x Bottom Base Layer
- 2-3 x Wool Underwear
- 2-3 x Wool Socks
- 1 x Mid-Layer Jacket
- 1 x Insulated Jacket
- 1 x Snow Pants
- 1 x Mitts or Gloves
- 1 x Balaclava
- 1 x Buff Headwear
- 1 x Goggles (if skiing or snowboarding)
- 1 x Helmet* (if skiing or snowboarding)
Dress For Your Winter Activities
Just because there is snow on the ground doesn’t mean you can’t be active in the winter. We’re big winter sports fans, and there are many things to do in Banff in the winter. Some of our favorite things to do in the winter are ice skating, snowshoeing, ice climbing, snowboarding/skiing, and even a nice winter hike.
We suggest you pack for an active winter holiday. That means technical clothes like down jackets, shells, softshell pants, and thermals. Banff is a small mountain town, and locals dress casually or in technical mountain gear. There is no need here for your trendy jackets, dress shoes, or fur coats.
Winter in Banff lasts longer than in most parts of the world, and snow is often on the ground from October to May. Banff is a cold place, and we’ve seen snow every month of the year. Below are the average temperatures in winter in Banff to give you a better idea.
As we stated earlier, these are just the averages; however, Banff is notorious for its Chinook winds which cause wide temperature swings where one day will be a mild 32°F/0°C the next can drop down to a bone-chilling -22°F/-30°C.
Weather is unpredictable much further out than a week or two, so you should pack and plan for freezing cold temperatures in the winter.
- November: 33° / 17° F or 1° / -8° C
- December: 23° / 7° F or -5° / -14°
- January: 25° / 7° F or -4° / -14°
- February: 32° / 11° F or 0° / -12°
- March: 39° / 18° F or 4° / -8°
Clothes To Pack For Banff
Winter Parka Down Jacket
A winter jacket is great to pack if you have one handy. We wear heavy-down parka jackets that have a hood for when we’re running errands in town or walking around the neighborhood. It’s great for most people who come to Banff to pack at least one heavy winter jacket. These are great for sipping hot chocolate at Lake Louise, a horse sleigh ride, or even going for a dog sled when you’re not very active.
We strongly prefer down jackets as they provide a lot of warmth, but the real key here is a jacket with some weight that will help block the wind and insulate. When we travel with our bulky parkas, we wear them on the plane as an oversized winter jacket can quickly eat up half your luggage. Our jackets are from Triple Fat Goose as we need something that will handle the coldest days here.
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We take a light, packable down jacket on almost every trip and use ours all the time around Banff. It’s a really versatile piece of clothing because it can pack down and travel in your suitcase. It’s great for mild days in the early season around October/November or in the springtime from March to May and beyond.
If you’re really feeling the chill, a packable down jacket can also act as an excellent insulator/mid-layer. That’s also great if you go skiing or snowboarding. The versatile coat can also be worn if you’re cross country skiing, ice skating, or snowshoeing. Our favorite down jacket is the Arc’teryx Cerium Hoody.
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I’ve recently fallen in love with sweaters from Hatley! Particularly their Landscape sweater which I just got my hands on this winter! You can either order them online, or pick one up at the Hatley/Little Blue House store on Banff Avenue.
This sweater has a boxy fit, but is super soft and comfortable for any nice day out in the mountains. It’s best for wearing out to dinner or a light Banff winter adventure in the evening, as it’s so nice you won’t want to ruin it with any hardcore activities like hiking.
This comfy cardigan is stylish enough to pair with any nice jacket and look, but also low key enough that you won’t be out of place in the mountains!
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We love a great flannel that acts as a casual mid-layer for sitting around a fire. It’s a look that’s good for mild days around town or dinner. The thick cotton is cozy and provides a lot of warmth.
We have a pretty sweet flannel lined with thermals from California Cowboy if you’re after something new. However, any warm shirt will do that feels comfortable under a parka or down jacket.
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A casual pair of hiking pants for walking around town is great to pair with a sweater or wear during winter activities. If we’re going for an easy hike like the climb up Tunnel Mountain, cross country skiing, or a snowshoe on a mild day, we rarely wear a pair of snow pants and instead use a synthetic pair of pants with thermals underneath.
These pants can vary a lot from basic hiking pants to more technical softshell pants. They’re more comfortable and less goofy than bulky snow pants. It’s best to go with whatever synthetic pants you have at home.
There are a lot of pants we recommend for travel, but some of our favorites come from prAna. Look for pants that blend hiking and everyday life well. These pants should handle moisture and block out the wind better than a pair of jeans.
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A quality base layer is made from a natural fiber like wool as it has excellent technical advantages. Wool can resist odor, wick away sweat or snow, and provide a lot of warmth. If wool is cost-prohibitive, choose thermals from a polyester or nylon blend.
Do not wear a cotton base layer as cotton pulls body heat away and remains wet for an extended period. After testing, we’ve found Smartwool’s Merino 250 to be some of our favorites. They have tremendous comfort and performance.
Base layers for your legs are great for walking around the town or for any winter activity you may enjoy. You don’t want to wear your ski pants to the bar, but jeans may be too cold. However, if you slip on a pair of thermals underneath, it makes life a lot warmer. When purchasing, make sure to note size charts as top and bottoms sizes can be different. Consider your base layers one of the top priorities when packing for Banff in the winter.
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For any trip in the winter, it’s a good idea to pack a few wool socks for your days out exploring or skiing. Similar to thermals, opt for a material such as wool or synthetic for your socks. Do not wear cotton socks when doing any activities out in the snow like snowshoeing, hiking, or skiing. It will almost certainly lead to cold feet.
For most, any pair of wool socks or warm synthetic socks will do the job. However, if you plan to ski, it’s a good idea to try out some ski-specific wools socks as they have attractive features.
Opt for a medium or slim sock. Loose or bulky socks can trap moisture and bunch up, which results in cold feet. On that note, do not wear two pairs of socks as they will also trap moisture. The key to warm feet is dry feet! Smartwool and Darn Tough both make some awesome ski socks that will keep your feet happy.
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You aren’t going to trudge around town in a pair of sneakers. Pick up a pair of functional but stylish boot that has a high ankle to prevent snow.
We have a pair of Sorel Caribou boots for deep snow days in Banff. However, most winter snow depths aren’t bad in town, so a sturdy pair of boots will work perfectly well. These shoes are often more than you’ll need, but they are fantastic and cute.
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Casual Gloves or Mitts
I suggest bringing at least one pair of casual gloves or mittens for just walking around. I personally like the ones that have touchscreen fingertips. It’s also common for many ski-specific mittens and gloves to come with liners that work well for casual use around town.
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Toque or Beanie
You’ll definitely want a way to protect your ears and head from the cold. A hat is one of the best ways to retain body heat. We just got some hats from Toques From The Heart, which makes some tremendously comfortable, warm, and excellent quality hats. The best part is the company gives away a toque to a Canadian in need with the sale of every hat.
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What To Wear For Sports & Skiing
This is a general overview of what to pack for a trip to Banff for skiing. These items are also a good idea for many winter activities you can enjoy around Banff in the winter, like skating, snowshoeing, dog sledding, or ice climbing. If you want a more technical overview of what to wear skiing or snowboarding, check out our post that covers more detail.
We recommend expert riders, skiers, mountaineers, and ice climbers utilize a shell system. However, they likely don’t need our recommendations for shell gear—it’s Arc’teryx if anyone’s curious. Most casual skiers and riders do not need to invest in $2,000 outfits, so we recommend more value-packed insulated jackets for visitors.
A jacket is the most critical item to pack for a ski trip. A lightly insulated jacket with a waterproof shell and snow skirt is best for most skiers and riders. We ride with a shell jacket for our resort wear jacket that contains light insulation from Picture Organic Clothing.
It has many sweet features such as wrist gaiters, a snow skirt, and a helmet-compatible hood. The Bio-Sourced exterior shell on the jacket has performed beautifully and kept us dry on deep days in Jackson Hole, WY, and Snowbird, UT.
Another great option is the Columbia Whirlbird IV Interchange Jacket, as it provides excellent value. Granted, it doesn’t have any of the performance or sustainable cred like Picture. We are big fans of Columbia due to its accessibility and reliable products. As a side note, every ski jacket should be helmet compatible and have a snow skirt as a minimum. If it’s your first time, don’t go out and purchase a new jacket. Wear your best winter jacket and accept you’ll probably get some snow down your pants.
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If you opt for a layering system, then a mid-layer jacket is where you’ll get the majority of your warmth. Mid-layers go on over your thermals and operate as a jacket for when you’re not skiing or snowboarding.
Even if you’re not skiing, it’s a good idea to pack a good mid-layer for versatility. These jackets come in a wide variety of fashions, and we have several different types for different conditions.
Down jackets provide excellent warmth in dry conditions, but they are expensive and lose insulation when wet. Synthetic down jackets provide slightly less heat than traditional down but can handle wet conditions well. The most affordable option is a fleece jacket, as it allows for plenty of warmth at an affordable price. It’s not technical enough for extreme conditions, but the average skier shouldn’t be out in adverse conditions anyways.
We both use synthetic down jackets from Arc’teryx as our mid-layers. The jackets are versatile, lightweight, provide excellent warmth, and handle moisture exceptionally. It’s tough to beat their classic Arc’teryx Atom LT Jacket. Another great option is the Better Sweater from Patagonia.
What Ski Pants to Wear?
There are three basic styles of pants to wear hardshell skiing pants, bibs, and insulated pants. Hardshell pants tend to fetch the highest price tag and offer the most significant technical capabilities but provide little to no insulation.
Bibs come in both shell and insulated versions and offer the most outstanding protection from snow. However, they are more expensive than pants and can be too warm for mild ski days. Insulated pants are friendly and generally the most affordable as they are entry-level pants. The insulation can make these pants the most restrictive or hot on a mild day.
We would advise that you need a lot less insulation in the legs than you would think. It’s not your core, and it’s where the vast majority of your movement comes from when you ski. Everyone’s body is different, so you should dress for what’s comfortable for you. For most people, we recommend The North Face Freedom pant for a tremendous value.
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Mitts or Gloves
Quality gloves will be your best friend on the slopes because no one likes it when they can’t feel their hands. Seriously, the main reason people don’t enjoy skiing or snowboarding is when they get cold. Many prefer mittens as they keep your fingers together and allow for less surface area to the cold. This means your hands stay warmer in mitts than gloves.
That being said this comes from two snowboarders. We know that many skiers prefer glovers so that they can separate their fingers more easily when dealing with their ski poles. It’s all personal preference, but if you’re prone to a chill I’d suggest some mitts. And at the end of the day gloves are one of the last things you want to forget about for your winter holiday. My go-to glove is the three-finger Fall Line from Hestra.
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It’s always good to pack some snow protection for your face. On sunny days we’ll go without anything, but more often than not we expect snowy conditions on the mountain. We generally switch between two different styles of face protection.
The primary for bad weather and cold days is a merino wool balaclava. We’ve tried a bunch of different balaclavas and it’s tough to get one that doesn’t collect tons of moisture before freezing to your face. As for the best warmth and performance we’ve found a wool balaclava can do wonders. Our next choice would be for a fleece one that can be bought for super cheap!
Unless you’re on a budget, don’t care, and taking a short weekend trip with guaranteed sunshine I would strongly recommend packing a pair of goggles. They are an essential part of your ski outfit and I consider it a lifeline. Goggles provide protection for your eyes and aid your vision on the mountain.
We have been long-time fans of Smith goggles for their unrivaled optics quality and performance in low light. Their latest goggles mag technology in their goggles for easy switches between low light and sunny days. Even if you don’t want to drop $200 on goggles, it is worth picking up a good budget option. For only $60 you can grab the Giro Roam that includes two lenses for low light and sunny days.
It’s tough to come by ski goggle rentals so opt if it’s your first time opt for the Giro Roams or order a cheap $20 pair off Amazon as it will save you a lot of headaches on the mountain.
Check Out This Article
Not wearing a helmet is a thing of the past. Do yourself and your noggin a favor and wear a helmet when you ski or snowboard. This applies whether you are a beginner or an expert. The great thing about helmets is they keep your head and ears warmer than hats too!
We rock the Smith Vantage Helmet as it’s considered one of the best helmets on the market. It provides robust protection around our head, plenty of ventilation, and a cozy soft interior.
After receiving a concussion last ski season, wearing a helmet, it’s not something I plan to forgo anytime soon. If it’s your first time traveling with ski gear carry your helmet onto the plane strapped to the outside of your backpack. Don’t worry if you don’t own equipment every ski rental shop should offer helmets.
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What You Don’t Need to Bring to Banff in Winter
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 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 truly unnecessary with the excellent water quality in the valley. worry about the tap water here. It’s SO good and completely fine. Please don’t buy bottled water here.