Because of the current state of the world, we weren’t able to flee yet another Canadian winter this year – and as we navigate it, we figured we’d help some newcomers, especially those coming from warmer climates preparing for a winter in Canada.
Whether you’re moving to Canada, coming for a visit, or if you’re a Canadian who wants to see what we may have missed, here are our 50 tips on how to survive a Canadian winter.
Wait – first, a quick geography & climate lesson:
Let’s first go over something very important, which is that every Canadian province and territory is going to host a different winter. For a general rule of thumb: the west coast is warmer, the east cold is colder, and the northern part of the country is definitely the coldest.
As someone who’s been to every province and territory in Canada in the winter, let me tell you that the temperatures in places like Iqaluit and Yellowknife really drop.
Here is a general idea of how chilly each of the provinces & territories can get:
New Brunswick -25
Newfoundland and Labrador -28
Northwest Territories -50
British Columbia -20 in some parts, -10 in some, 0-4 degrees on the island or lower mainland.
That said, there is no escaping some type of winter in Canada, as even Victoria BC (Canada’s warmest winter destination) has lows of around 3 degrees celsius, which, yes, is warm for Canada, and you’re due to experience a wetter winter on the west coast than the rest of Canada.
Still curious about some of the main differences between major provinces? Find our write up here on living in Ontario vs. living in BC.
With that (slightly) covered: here are 50 winter pieces of advice for surviving a Canadian winter:
How to Dress for a Canadian Winter
- Layering is your best friend
The best way to get good at layering is to practice. The best place to start is your first layer. Tank top, t-shirt, long sleeve, sweater, jacket, and keep adding until you’re warm enough!
- Invest in good footwear & tall boots
Many people have two pairs of daily shoes, one for commuting then a different pair to switch into once you get to school or work. So don’t fret – you don’t have to wear your big, bulky boots all day. If you’re going to invest in anything, we suggest that it’s footwear.
- Make sure your shoes are weather-proofed
You can buy waterproof spray at the store for less than $15 CAD. Don’t skip this step! Remember those nice boots you just invested in? Make sure you make ’em last.
- Tuck your pants into your boots & sleeves into your gloves
Honestly, there’s nothing worse than getting snow in your jacket or boots.
- Don’t double layer your socks
Many people think that wearing two pairs of socks will make your feet warmer. False! The second pair will compress your feet, which will cut off circulation and will actually make your feet colder. Blood flow is important here, people! Moisture is your worst enemy, so make sure your feet can breathe.
- Mittens are better than gloves for keeping warm
In gloves, your fingers will warm each other up. Keep ’em close!
- MEC is a great store to get high-quality winter clothes
Our two favourite stores for high-quality winter clothes are MEC and Mark’s – and the best part is, they’re everywhere.
Other things that you should have on you at all times:
- Lip balm
Don’t forget it at home. It’s dry and your lips will crack.
You wouldn’t forget to pack sunglasses on your way to the beach in the summer, although during a Canadian winter, this is something some people may overlook. It’s still sunny in many places, and the snow can be blinding. Bring your favourite sunnies!
Another Canadian winter hack is to always have sunscreen on you. Contrary to instinctive belief, you can still get sunburnt in the snow – especially if you have fair skin.
Especially if we’re going on a long walk, we don’t leave the house without tissues. Your nose will be runny, and sometimes your eyes will water too.
- Hand / toe warmers
While you’re at MEC or even Walmart, pick these up on your way out. They have been a game changer, especially for winter camping in Canada.
- Thermos for your warm drinks
One of the best ways to keep warm is to drink hot drinks or soup. Having a really great thermos is a nice way to keep your drinks warm & your body cozy.
- Spikes for hikes
If you’re venturing off into the Canadian wilderness, pop a pair of spikes into your hiking backpack before an adventure. Spikes will prevent you from slipping and falling on the ice, especially at the top of those beautiful snowy mountains.
On that note, let’s talk about spending time outside in the snow…
- Know that winter sports can be expensive
If you’re coming to Canada for a winter and you want to try it all: snowboarding, cross-country skiing, playing hockey, tubing, skating, joining a curling league – ummm .. ok. Number one, you are amazing and you should TOTALLY do all of those things – but number TWO, ensure that you’re looking up the prices and really understanding how much these sports costs. Winter sports are typically the pricier things to do here in Canada, so don’t crush your own dreams & save up before you come!
- Be aware that the sun sets early
Shorter days means less time in the day, so plan your activities in the morning
- If you have the chance to see the northern lights, absolutely go see them
One of my favourite memories from my travels across Canada was seeing the northern lights at 1 a.m. in Yellowknife. Honestly, if it’s not on your bucket list already, add it now!
- If you’re going up mountains, make sure to know about Canadian wildlife and their prints
Before climbing any mountains or going snowshoeing in the trees, make sure you are aware of what is living in the bushes & what to do if/when you come across them
- Bring snacks and always eat before you go out for the day
If you’re looking to survive a Canadian winter, this may be the best tip. Eating keeps your metabolism going strong, and you’ll need a good snack to ensure your body is staying nice and warm.
- Travel with a friend when you can
Getting stuck in the snow or getting lost in the cold is no joke
- Always tell someone where you’re going
When you’re going out to play in the Canadian winter snow, it’s always smart practice to tell somebody where you’re going and when you expect to get back. This is especially true if you’re going up to play in the mountains – as many of these areas don’t have phone service. Also, a great excuse to text your mama!
- Be prepared to get warm & even sweat
It can get really hot & sweaty doing Canadian winter activities. This is why layering is SO important. When you take off that big bulky sweater, you want to be wearing something underneath. Get ready to get warm!
- Never eat snow in an emergency – it can dehydrate you
If you want to try a bit (no shame, we all did it as kids) – make sure the know is fluffy and bright white.
- Educate yourself about hypothermia and frostbite
Again, knowledge is power! It’s always smart to know about the risks & symptoms before venturing off into the abyss.
- Don’t melt your boots over the fire!
If you’re fortunate enough to be winter camping in Canada, or anywhere else with a campfire, it may be your first reaction to go put your toes near the fire. Be aware that the bottoms of your boots are made of rubber, and make sure you’re not melting that expensive footwear! We have seen too many nice pairs of boots get harmed in the making of this tip.
- Hang your clothes in a wet room & never over your boots
When you get home, your clothes may not look that wet – but if there’s even a sliver of snow on them, rest assured…. they are wet. Hang them accordingly! Place a rubber mat underneath & never, ever place your boots under your drippy jacket.
First time tips for driving in the winter:
- You’re going to have to wake up earlier in the winter months to warm up your car
Yep, it’s true. Every Canadian knows that you’ll have to wake up a little earlier for work or school in the winter months to get that car started up and de-thawed. Hey, it’s nothing crazy – just be ready for it!
- Never use hot water to heat up your cars windshield as you can shatter the glass
Need we say more? This would be a very expensive headache. Don’t do it!
- You will need an ice scraper for your car
Something in the back of every Canadian’s car is an ice scraper / snow brush. Luckily, you can pick them up for cheap, sometimes even at the dollar store! We don’t suggest using other tools (such as a shovel) as you can scrape your car easily without the right tool.
- On heavy snowfall days, everyone drives a little bit slower, so just drive as you are comfortable
And take extra lessons if you’re not ready! Your confidence on the road should be your #1 priority.
- Black ice is a thing – so be aware of it
Look it up and always be aware of the driving conditions & how to react behind the wheel
- Always have a blanket & emergency kit in your car
- Make sure you have the proper snow tires on your car
We figured we’d mention it as it may not be a thing in some countries. Here in Canada, we have to switch out our seasonal tires. Winter tires are an absolute necessity, and in many places, a legality.
- Check your tire pressure!
Lower temperatures = lower tire pressures. If you don’t know how to check it, don’t worry – a quick Google search will help you. Don’t skip this, though, because you’ll want to check your tire pressure a lot more often in the winter.
- Ensure you have the correct windshield washer fluid
When buying windshield washer fluid, ensure you are topping up with the right stuff. The bottle should tell you what temperature your fluid is graded for.
If you aren’t driving, there are still some things you need to know:
- Even busses can be late in the winter
This is especially true on snowfall days. The driving conditions can be worse after a big storm, and busses are not exempt! If you’re commuting to work by transit in the Canadian winter months, a good tip is to always leave early, especially if there was a big snow dump the night before.
- The sidewalks will be covered in salt
… and the salt can get your shoes dirty! As per our previous tip, just make sure your shoes are weather-proofed. With most materials, you can just wipe the salt off your shoes with water.
- Don’t leave the house with wet hair in the winter
In cold temperatures, your hair will freeze. Blow dry your hair before you leave the house. We all learned it the hard way.
- Keep your hands out of your pockets when walking
During the winter in Canada, slipping on the ice is a very, very common problem. We still do it all of the time! A good Canadian winter tip is to keep your hands out of your pockets, so you don’t land right on your face when it inevitably happens.
- Be sure to consider the windchill factor before leaving the house
You’ll notice that all of the weather networks will provide you with an actual temperature and then a wind chill (or on some apps – it will say “feels like”) temperature. This second temperature is the more accurate temperature reading, and we suggest dressing for the colder one.
- Alcohol can make you feel warmer, but you will lose heat more rapidly
Keep this in mind when choosing to walk home from the bar. Don’t fall for the illusion, you’re not as warm as you think!
… and speaking of what you’re putting in your body…
- Make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D
We recommend taking a supplement or eating vitamin D rich foods throughout the winter, especially if you’re coming from a bright & sunny country!
Some final tips for everybody:
- Expect your electric bill to go up in the winter months
Living comfortably can be a little pricier in the winter – it’s all good! Just be ready for it!
- Know that your household heater will be less expensive than an electric heater
Some people may think that using a tiny little electric heater will be cheaper than using your household heater – but that’s actually not true! Those little plug-in heaters use a lot more power than you may think.
- Know your rights if you’re renting
Some landlords may ask you to be mindful of the heat that you’re using, which is totally fair. That said, you will know the difference between someone kindly asking you to be mindful vs. someone telling you to straight up never touch the thermostat. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t use a reasonable amount of heat, as your comfort & safety comes first.
- Prepare for the occasional power outage during a snowstorm
During a heavy snowfall, the power is known to go out! Always have candles and flashlights on hand so you’re not fumbling around in the dark – especially in more remote areas.
- If you have hardwood or tile floors, lay a carpet down and get a nice pair of slippers
Cheap & easy Canadian winter hack to stay warm!
- Wool will always be your friend
Blankets, sweaters, socks – you name it. You’re going to fall in love with wool.
- Don’t lick anything cold
Your tongue will get stuck and it will hurt. Take the lesson from the movies and the folks who have done it before you … don’t do it.
- Know your Canadian lingo
A knit hat is toque, Tim Horton’s is timmies & a tobbogan is a sled 😉
Most importantly – have fun! Winter in Canada is an absolute blast. We hope that you take these Canadian winter tips with you so that you stay safe & have the best winter ever.
Thinking of moving to a warmer area in Canada? Read our article here on moving to Vancouver.
Did you know that we think that Kelowna has the best winter in all of Canada? We have a full writeup of our experience living in the Okanagan Valley here.
If you’re trying to decide between BC & Ontario, this article may help you out!