Post Summary: The Essential Banff Winter Packing List For Your Next Canadian Vacation
Gearing up to experience those bucket list winter activities in Banff?
From Lake Louise ice skating to snowshoe hikes and nightly walks around the snowy town of Banff, there are endless things to do in Banff during the colder months!
But with the brisk chill in the air comes the need for layers…and lots of them. Where in the world do you begin when packing for a cold climate? How can all these bulky items manage to fit in one small suitcase?
It may seem a little daunting at first, and we don’t blame you for thinking this way! When the temperatures drop into the negatives, it can be a little overwhelming to know what to pack for Banff in the winter.
This is where we come in! We’ve traveled to Banff in all kinds of conditions, and we’re sharing exactly what you should pack to keep warm and have fun.
The Ultimate Banff Winter Packing List For Your Best Trip Yet
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First of All…Let’s Talk About What To Expect When Traveling to Banff In Winter
Banff in the winter is a unique season to come and visit. In fact, we think it’s one of the best times to visit Banff because of the plethora of activities that only this season provides.
In this blog post, we’re sharing what to expect in the winter season in Banff, including the best Banff packing tips for cold weather, and information on what to expect in the Canadian Rockies.
Average Temperatures in Banff in Winter
Expect snow on the ground starting anywhere from late October to November. It will stay well until April, and even May if it’s a cold year! The average temperatures in Banff during winter are as follows (in Fahrenheit):
- November: High is 33 degrees, low is 17 degrees.
- December: High: 23 / Low: 7
- January: High: 25 / Low: 7
- February: High: 32 / Low: 11
- March: High: 39 / Low: 18
However, keep in mind that these are winter AVERAGES. Temperatures can vary greatly, so it’s important to keep an eye on the weather reports before you head to Banff for your winter vacation. When Berty and I went in early March, the temperature got all the way down to -15 Fahrenheit!!
Driving Tips In Banff
Driving around Banff in the wintertime takes a little bit more patience and skill. Winter road trips can be risky, but with proper planning and preparation, you might just have the best road trip of the year!
Snow, ice, and stormy weather can be an added challenge, so it’s important to take extra precautions when driving during this season. Don’t have any experience driving in the snow? Here are some helpful tips to help you have a safe trip:
- Give yourself plenty of extra room between you and the car in front of you.
- Pack an ice scraper and brush in your car to use after a heavy snowfall. Make sure to COMPLETELY remove all snow before driving! It also helps to bring a winter car emergency kit for quick problem solving on the go.
- Watch out for black ice. Black ice looks similar to a bare road, but has very little road traction. Avoid sudden turns with your car and take your time changing lanes and turning.
- Make sure to pick up a Banff National Park Pass – you’ll need one daily to get in and out of the park.
- If it’s right for you and your group, consider travel insurance if you plan to participate in higher-risk activities.
Types of Winter Activities
Even though hiking, wildlife spotting, and visiting beautiful Banff photo spots are a highlight of the summer, you can actually do those things in the winter too…with a little seasonal twist.
Instead of hiking, grab a pair of snowshoes to hit the same trail. Instead of spotting bears and moose off the trails, you can find unique Banff photo spots of them gathering in the valleys and meadows below from your car. And those beautiful Banff waterfalls? Go visit them in the winter to watch ice climbers scale up those frozen falls!
Want to see more? Check out 20+ epic winter activities to do in Banff!
OUTERWEAR For Banff In The Winter
Outerwear. The stuff that does all the hard work. It protects you from harsh winds, freezing temps, and keeps you dry. The name of the game for this layer is waterproof, so look for materials like Gore-tex that will keep you dry. Here are some of our favorites for your Banff winter packing list:
Snow Pants (The non-bulky kind)
Because we love being outside in the winter season, we’ve learned there are two types of snow pants. The first is the ultra-waterproof, Gore-tex, flared pants that are an excellent choice for skiing and snowboarding. These are great if you are rolling around in the snow, or trekking through deep snow.
The second kind is the water-resistant style, meant for being outside in sweatier situations like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, and ice climbing. This type is what we prefer, because it’s much lighter, looks similar to regular pants, and gives you the ability to layer for added warmth. Get The Sporthill Traverse II Pants Here.
Down Coat (Small + Lightweight)
Sometimes, you’ll need a lightweight but warm coat to travel to and from destinations and to use for sweaty winter activities. No need for a bulky down jacket in these situations, so this is why we recommend a nano puff jacket.
The North Face makes one of our favorites – the Thermoball Eco Hoodie that keeps us super warm without all the bulky size and weight. It’s also perfect for layering, so you CAN wear it under that big parka for extra protection against the elements.
Large Parka (Bulky + Super Warm)
The large parka is going to be an excellent choice for wandering around town, doing low to mid-level activities, and photographers who are shooting long exposures (because they are standing around outside for quite a long time).
Winter Trip Inspiration: Try wearing a parka to searching for those photography spots in Jasper National Park and the Icefields Parkway of pristine lakes, wildlife, and snowy mountain roads.
Parkas will provide you with maximum warmth and the most bulk. They are an excellent outer layer – just make sure to pick one that’s waterproof for the most protection in winter weather.
More Coats For Your Banff Winter Packing List
Still not sure which coats to add to your Banff winter packing list? We break down some of the most popular styles and brands in our winter coats post – check it out below!
LAYERS for Your Banff Winter Packing List
Winter layers are probably the most important pieces you will pack on your Banff winter packing list. Done well, these winter layers will trap warm air between the clothing, thus keeping you much warmer, for much longer.
Here’s the trick with layering clothing correctly:
- Wear a sweat-wicking base layer.
- Layer it with a fleece or insulating mid-layer.
- Top it off with a waterproof shell outer layer (which we just covered above).
Finally, leave some space in between the layers. No need to keep them tight against one another. The more air space you have between each piece of clothing, the warmer you will stay!
Here are our top picks for each layering category below. Make sure to pack at least one of each in your Banff packing list!
The most important aspect of base layering is its sweat-wicking properties. When choosing your perfect base layer for your Banff winter packing list, consider the types of activities you will be participating in.
Materials like merino wool or synthetic fibers will pull the sweat from your body, keeping you warm and dry. They also can be anti-microbial, which means you can wear them multiple times between washes without them getting stinky!
Note: Stay away from cotton fabrics, as it can hold on to water (like a sponge) and keep you cold and wet.
Fleece Quarter Zip (The Insulating Layer)
My favorite layer is the insulating layer. This one provides you with nearly endless options. Things from small down jackets to fleece pullovers work for this layer, and it all depends on the kind of winter activity you’ll be doing.
One tip we have is to find an insulating layer that has pockets. This way, if you peel off layers during your activity, you still have access to storage for your phone, keys, and other small items.
We discussed these above in the “outerwear” section. Scroll up to read it again!
FOOTWEAR To Pack For Banff In Winter
We have a three-shoe rule on our winter trips. Snow boots, slippers, and town shoes. Generally, this quantity of shoes is sufficient enough, especially if you’re trying to pack for a winter trip in a carry-on suitcase. Yes, some exceptions can be made, but here are our favorites for our Banff winter packing list:
There are a few things to look at when finding the right snow boot for a Banff winter adventure. First, make sure they are waterproof. Second, ensure they are insulated. This duo (waterproof and insulated) will allow you to spend all day outside without worrying about your feet getting cold and wet!
We currently wear these ones from Columbia and they are an essential part of our Banff packing list!
Nothing is better than slipping on a pair of comfy shoes after a long day of playing outside in Banff! Depending on your preference, these can be as cozy as these extra fluffy ones from Ugg, or these perfect outdoor/indoor ones from Teva.
Just like we discussed earlier in layers above, the same applies to your socks. We suggest a sweat-wicking thinner sock like these ones from Icebreakers as a liner and then a bigger/heavier-weight sock like these ones from Smartwool to keep your feet toasty warm all day.
If you plan to spend some time snowshoeing in Banff, gaiters are going to be essential for your Banff packing list. These are basically a waterproof layer that wraps around your snow boots and pants, preventing snow from entering your shoes.
They keep your feet dry and allow you to run through powdery snow without fearing wet socks! Get our favorite Black Diamond Gaiters at Backcountry.com here.
Also commonly called Yaktrax, Microspikes help you walk on icy surfaces. These contraptions wrap around the bottom of your shoe and line your sole with sharp wire or studs, kind of similar to a pair of cleats. These are absolutely essential to keep your balance on those slippery Johnston Canyon winter trails.
Choose a pair like these ones from Kahtoola that are easy to put on, and keep you balanced the entire way.
If you plan to get outside to go snowshoeing around Lake Louise or take local trails to places like Tunnel Mountain, it’s always smart to bring a pair of hiking poles. We like these hiking poles from Black Diamond that are super lightweight and have great grip and work in all seasons! (Helloooo Banff summer trails!)
ACCESSORIES For Your Winter Banff Packing List
Gloves AND Mittens
Now, there’s an art to glove layering. As photographers, we are constantly in a battle with wanting to stay warm, but also want to have easy and convenient access to handling our camera. This is where the double glove method comes in.
First, layer with a liner glove like these ones below. Secondly, layer it with an insulated glove. Take off the insulated glove to handle your camera when necessary.
Buffs are a great, versatile piece for your Banff winter packing list to keep your face and neck warm outside. Also called a balaclava, these multi-functional pieces can protect you against harsh winds and sun exposure.
Similar to a buff, scarfs can be a way to protect yourself from the chilly outside weather. Scarfs can be a little bit more of a stylish accessory than buffs, which is why I prefer one that comes in lots of colors like these from Fjallraven.
Hat / Toque Beanie
A winter hat can be as functional or as fun as you’d like it to be! Choose a brightly colored one (like these awesome colors from COAL) or a super lightweight, performance-based one like this one from Arc’teryx.
You may think that the sun has gone to hide for the season, but that’s definitely not the case! The sun can actually be reflected by the snow, making it more difficult to see in the winter than in the summer! The Rocky Mountains are at a high elevation, which also means your skin is more susceptible to increased sun exposure.
Make sure to choose a polarized pair like these from Sunski to reduce reflection from things like water, snow, and reducing eye strain.
SKINCARE For Winter Weather
SPF 50+ Sunscreen
You may be bundled up, but that doesn’t stop the sun from coming to wreak havoc in the winter too! On clear winter days, the crisp white snow can reflect the sun and cause sunburns on exposed skin. Slather up with a 50+ UPF sunscreen stick with moisturizer to keep your skin happy all day long.
Sometimes a regular sunscreen won’t cut it. When the wind is ripping through Johnston Canyon or you find yourself in a blistering snowstorm, a petroleum jelly like Vaseline can give your skin an extra layer of protection against the harsh Banff winter weather.
Lips are even more susceptible to changes in weather. Use a natural lip balm product like Burt’s Bees (they come in tons of different flavors too) to protect your lips!
We swear by Climb On!, but you can get extra-strength hand lotion at any local drugstore, too.
Ahh, hand warmers have come to save the day! Hand warmers can give you that extra boost of warmth when your hands are extra cold.
Keep your skin and your body hydrated during all those fun Banff winter activities! We actually like to bring two – a thermos, like this one from Stanley, for hot drinks like cocoa, and a Hydroflask (that comes in TONS of colors!) for water!
So, what’s next? What do you do in Banff in winter?
Now that you’re all packed and ready for Banff, what kind of winter activities can you do here? Read some of our favorite things to do in this magical part of the Canadian Rockies!
- Go Ice Skating on Lake Louise
- Take A Johnston Canyon Ice Walking Tour
- Take The Sulphur Mountain Gondola To See The Sunset
- Explore Canmore In The Winter Time
- Go Dog Sledding In Banff National Park