Top 20 Banff Winter Essentials: Your Banff Winter Packing List

Author: Celine Brewer

Last Updated:

Banff National Park in winter is a pristine playground of snow-covered landscapes and fun adventures. Whether you’re hitting the slopes or seeking quiet solitude in the snowy wilderness, proper gear is essential for an enjoyable trip to Banff in winter. Your Banff winter packing list should ensure you are prepared for any weather!

Winter is one of our favourite times in Banff National Park. Spending time in a winter wonderland followed up with hot cocoa by a fire makes for the perfect winter day! Our family loves to get outside in the winter, whether that’s cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, downhill skiing or finding the best winter hikes in Banff.

In this article, we’ll share with you the essential items to pack for your Banff winter excursion. From warm layers to essential footwear, our guide will ensure you’re fully equipped to embrace the beauty of the winter season in Banff National Park.

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Temperatures in Banff in Winter

First, let’s look at what type of winter weather you can expect when visiting the Canadian Rockies.

It’s important to know that while Banff weather information will give you some generalizations, you need to be ready for anything. Winter temperatures can dip well below -30°C or they can rise to +10°C thanks to the chinook winds we get in the winter. Chinook winds are warm and dry. The warm air can bring a sudden increase in temperature. Wind chill is also a big factor, as the wind can cause temperatures to feel much colder than they are.

Keep in mind that different areas of the park can also experience different temperatures and precipitation, especially between the town of Banff and higher elevations.

Brewer family having hot chocolate outside after a fun Banff winter activity

The coldest month in Banff National Park is typically January. During January, temperatures in the park can drop to their lowest points, with average high temperatures ranging from -8°C to -1°C (17°F to 30°F) and average low temperatures ranging from -15°C to -10°C (5°F to 14°F). Typically, February will be the snowiest month. That being said, every year is different. The temperatures and snowfall vary significantly from year to year.

Here are some approximate average temperatures for each of the months from November through March:

  1. November: Highs typically range from 0°C to 6°C (32°F to 43°F). Lows typically range from -8°C to -2°C (18°F to 28°F).
  2. December: Highs range from -7°C to 0°C (19°F to 32°F). Lows range from -13°C to -7°C (9°F to 19°F).
  3. January: Highs range from -8°C to -1°C (17°F to 30°F). Lows range from -15°C to -10°C (5°F to 14°F).
  4. February: Highs range from -5°C to 1°C (23°F to 34°F). Lows range from -13°C to -8°C (9°F to 18°F).
  5. March: Highs range from -1°C to 6°C (30°F to 43°F). Lows range from -10°C to -5°C (14°F to 23°F).

It’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast closer to your travel date for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Banff Winter Packing List

The weather in Banff can be quite cold in the winter and it can also be quite unpredictable. For those reasons, layers are always recommended. A good layering system is essential to stay warm in the colder temperatures. The basics of a good layering system are a base layer that wicks moisture away, a middle insulating layer and an outer layer to protect from wind, rain or snow.

Here’s a list of essential items for your Banff winter packing list that we recommend to be well-prepared for cold temperatures and snowy conditions:

snowshoeing in Banff National Park

1. Insulated Waterproof Winter Jacket

A good winter jacket is going to be the most important part of your winter packing for Banff. There’s a very large range of options for a winter jackets that fit into any budget. You’ll need to determine which winter activities you want to do in Banff to determine which type of winter jacket is best suited for your trip.

Some options include an insulated ski and snowboard jacket for the days on the slope, an extra warm insulated parka for extra cold days, a hybrid jacket that works for those high activity days or an insulated jacket that’s perfect for walking around town.

While this sounds very technical and confusing, you’re really best to get a warm winter jacket that will work across all your activities. While I love a long parka for walking around town, it’s not great for snowshoeing so if I had to pick one jacket, I’d pick my warm insulated winter jacket.

Down Parka

If you plan to spend most of your time sightseeing around the Banff townsite, up the Banff Gondola, at Lake Louise, and other similar activities, you’ll probably want to go with a nice long parka that will keep you warm! Look for one that is longer and had a hood to keep you warm.

It doesn’t have to break the bank and could be something like this Isla II Womens Long Down Jacket from Mountain Warehouse or this Women’s Winter Jacket from Decathlon. If you get cold easy and want something extra warm, this Fjallraven Expedition Long Down Parka is ideal though it might be overkill on some of our warmer winter days!

Similarly, Mountain Warehouse makes decent men’s winter jackets that are highly rated, warm and won’t cost an arm and a leg!

Celine Brewer owner of Travel Banff Canada laying on frozen Johnson Lake in Banff in November.

Insulated Jackets & Shells

For more active winter activities, I’ll usually layer up with just an insulated jacket and even a soft shell jacket. Then I can remove the insulated jacket and keep the windproof shell on (which breathes better), while still having my insulated jacket for stopping or when I’m not working as hard.

In Canada, MEC has a lot of great choices for winter jackets. It’s similar to REI in the USA. If you don’t live in a cold climate, you may not want to spend a ton of money on winter gear. For that I highly recommend checking out Decathlon and Mountain Warehouse, which both have decent gear that will keep you warm.

Black Prince Interpretive Trail - winter hiking kananaskis

2. Insulated Waterproof Pants

Similarly, you’ll want insulated waterproof pants for days on the slopes or for heading out on a snowshoe adventure. You’ll want them to be warm and waterproof. Some added features to look for are venting (especially important if you’ll be sweating) and built in gaiters to keep snow out of your boots and pockets!

Again, the type of pants you choose will depend entirely on your activity. If I’m skiing or out playing with the kids in the snow, I might go for fully insulated, waterproof pants. For walking around town, skating or even a short hike, a pair of fleece lined leggings might be good enough if it’s not too cold out. If I’m heading out on a snowshoe or cross country ski, then I’ll probably wear base layers and a type of shell pants over top.

Brewer family playing in the snow

3. Thermal Base Layers

For winter weather, it’s usually better to opt for clothing made from materials specifically designed for cold and wet conditions. Wool, down, and synthetic materials like fleece and high-performance fabrics like Gore-Tex are often better choices for winter clothing because they provide better insulation, moisture-wicking, and protection against the cold and wet.

Cotton has a tendency to absorb and retain moisture, including sweat. In winter, when staying dry is crucial for warmth and comfort, cotton’s moisture-absorbing properties can lead to dampness and discomfort. Wet clothing can make you feel much colder in cold weather because it draws heat away from your body.

Pack a wool or synthetic base layer as part of your layering system, including tops and bottoms. These can go under your regular clothes, or even under your winter jacket and snow pants. You may want to use a mid-layer for added warmth depending on the weather.

When we are getting ready for heading out on a winter day, we all wear our base layers every time! They work at keeping us warm and wick that sweat away when we are working hard! They are definitely worth it!

Kari Traa, Smartwool and Icebreaker are some of my favourite choices for women’s base layer tops and base layer bottoms. Again, places like Mountain Warehouse and Decathlon have good options at much cheaper prices. Since I wear mine so much, I take advantage of sales at the end of season.

Similarly, for men you can find Smartwool and Icebreaker base layer tops and base layer bottoms.

Celine Brewer cross-country skiing in Banff National Park
Down to my base layer while cross-country skiing.

4. Mid-Layer for Warmth

While you don’t want it too be too bulky, packing a fleece or lightweight down jacket that can be worn under your winter jacket is a good idea for those especially cold days. This insulating layer in combination with your base layer and winter jacket is the best layering system for those extra cold days.

If you are doing something active like snowshoeing, you can remove your top waterproof layer so you don’t overheat. You’ll have it ready to put back on when you stop for a break or if the weather changes.

Celine Brewer winter hiking in Banff National Park

5. Waterproof, Insulated Gloves or Mittens

Keeping your hands warm is essential. Pack a pair of waterproof, insulated gloves or mitts for everyone. My preference is for mitts over gloves, since your fingers together help keep them all warm. If you will be taking a lot of pictures, I recommend getting a pair of glove liners so you can keep your fingers warm while changing the settings on your camera.

For activities like fat biking in Banff, gloves are the only way to go since I need to be able to operate the controls on my bike!

If your hands are always cold (both my husband and daughter often complain about cold hands), then I would pair them with these beaver fur hand warmers by Aurora Heat for some added warmth. My daughter started putting these in her mitts and the complaining stopped. While they aren’t super cheap, you’ll use them over and over again! Use TRAVELBANFFCANADA to save 10% on Aurora Heat hand and foot warmers.

What about heated gloves? Heated gloves are pretty amazing, but they come with a price tag to match. I’ve also found that the gloves themselves aren’t great at keeping your hands warm unless you have the heat on. So they aren’t ideal if the batteries die and unfortunately, the batteries don’t last that long. I recently tried a pair for a fat bike excursion and they didn’t last longer than 2.5-3 hours. If you go this route, I highly recommend having a spare battery!

Celine Brewer and son having hot chocolate on a winter day in Banff

6. Wool or Synthetic Thermal Socks

Similarly, for your feet you should be avoiding cotton socks. Cotton can soak up water (sweat) and make you cold, unlike wool which will wick the moisture away and can still provide warmth even when wet. We have several brands of socks that we really like. My favourite by far are the Darn Tough socks. I have several pairs ranging from thick socks that I use for winter hiking to thinner options for summer hiking.

I’ve also recently been trying out Silverlight winter socks and so far I’m pretty happy with them. I’ve worn them on a few winter walks and they don’t move around at all while keeping my feet warm. They worked well at keeping my feet warm during a fat bike ride and while cross-country skiing.

Another favourite are Smartwool socks. We all have a pair of Smartwool socks for skiing, except my husband who has recently been enjoying his heated socks.

Just like for your hands, you can pair the Aurora Heat beaver fur foot warmers with your wool socks. Tuck the warmers into your socks (don’t worry, they compress down so you’ll hardly notice they are there) and they will work to keep those toes warm! I like that they keep the body heat you are already generating where it should be, around your toes! Use TRAVELBANFFCANADA to save 10% on Aurora Heat hand and foot warmers.

Dress in layers while hiking in Kananaskis in Spring - Yates Mountain Trail in March

7. Waterproof, Insulated Winter Boots

Also very important is a pair of waterproof, insulated boots. On those extra cold days, you want to be able to continue exploring with warm, dry feet. There’s nothing worse than when your toes start to hurt from being so cold!

I’m currently wearing a pair of Keen Revel IV High Polar Waterproof Winter Boots. They work so well for all my activities. The toe box is wide, which allows me to wear heavy socks, plus it’s stiff enough that it doesn’t hurt when I tighten my snowshoes around my toes. They are high enough that I’m not constantly getting snow in them plus they work for winter hiking and fat biking!

Keen insulated winter boots for Banff packing list for winter.

8. Gaiters

If you aren’t going to wear waterproof, insulated pants on your adventures, then you’ll want a pair of gaiters to keep snow out of your boots. Gaiters will go over your boots to just below your knee. They are perfect for keeping snow out of your boots!

9. Micro-spikes

While you can easily rent snowshoes or micro-spikes in town, we use our micro-spikes so much that they stay in our car for any time we need them. If you plan to do any winter hikes, these are essential. While snowshoes work well immediately after a big snowfall, many of the popular trails become packed down enough that you won’t need heavy snowshoes.

two hikers descend an icy slope using safety ropes on the winter hiking trail to the massive Green Monster Waterfall in Kananaskis

Micro-spikes are ideal for any hikes, super icy pathways (though cheaper versions can work for just around town) and especially for any ice walks. I always recommend Kahtoola Microspikes for adults and these High Stream ones for kids. We’ve been using them for YEARS, without a single complaint!

We recommend using traction devices for Chester Lake winter hiking

10. Warm Hat (Toque)

While we know the myth that you lose most of your heat through your head isn’t true, it’s still important to keep your head and ears warm with a warm hat (or toque, as we Canadians call it).

While I love a nice fashion toque, keep in mind that anything with a pom-pom won’t work under a helmet if you plan to ski or even go on a fat bike tour. So bring a backup to keep your ears warm for more active adventures.

Celine Brewer and children having lunch while sitting in snow in Banff

11. Hand and Foot Warmers

Carrying around hand and foot warmers is a great idea in the winter. Having that extra little bit of warmth will make all your Banff winter activities more enjoyable!

We are big fans of the hand and foot warmers by Aurora Heat (save 10% using TRAVELBANFFCANADA at checkout), which are eco-friendly, sustainable and so much better than the single-use hand warmers.

Aurora Heat Hand Warmers

12. Scarf or Neck Gaiter (Buff)

On a cold winter day, the number one item that always gets packed in my bag is a buff. A scarf would certainly work as well, but I find that a buff is so versatile. I can use it just to keep wind from getting in my jacket, as a face covering or even to replace my toque if it doesn’t fit under a helmet.

My favourite buff in the winter is a polar buff, these have one side that’s fleece, which I much prefer to use as a face covering since it’s looser and easier to breathe through. Every member of our family has one of these and we use them frequently!

This is one of those items that I highly recommend you pack. Even if you don’t end up using it, it won’t take up a lot of space.

Celine Brewer skiing at Sunshine in Banff

13. Sunglasses

The snow on a sunny day is blinding! The sun reflects off the snow multiplying your exposure to harmful UV rays. Protect your eyes with a good pair of sunglasses and ski goggles for skiing.

sledding in Banff with Kids

14. Sunscreen

Similarly, you’ll want to protect any exposed skin from those UV rays reflecting off the snow. After a full day on the slopes without sun protection, you will be sunburned! Don’t forget lip balm with SPF too!

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15. Lotion and Lip balm

Trust me when I say you’ll feel the dry air as soon as you land in Calgary. Pack lip balm with SPF, because you’ll be using it daily in our dry winter air. If your hands get dry, you’ll want to pack some hand lotion too.

16. Day Pack

Bring a day pack to carry essentials, such as water, snacks, and extra layers. Having an extra layer for when you stop for lunch along the trail can keep you from getting too cold. It’s also nice to have a place for your layers when you get too hot while snowshoeing or enjoying a winter hike.

Local Tip: I also pack one of these for lunch stops to avoid getting wet from sitting in the snow. It’s nice to be able to sit for lunch and still stay warm.

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17. Insulated Water Bottle or Thermos

You want to make sure you have enough water for all your winter activities. Bring an insulated water bottle that can keep your water from freezing. Even better is to bring a thermos that you can fill with tea. Small collapsible cups like these work well if you pack a small thermos with hot chocolate or tea. You can easily hold on to them even filled with a hot drink!

Don’t forget the snacks! High-energy snacks (trail mix, energy bars) are the best for on-the-go fuel.

Banff winter packing list

18. Portable Charger

You’ll be surprised how much faster your phone will lose battery power on those extra cold days. Rather than worrying about not having enough battery to continue to take pictures all day, you can pack a portable charger.

19. Camera and Extra Batteries

The mountain scenery is so spectacular, you’ll want to pack your camera and lenses. Don’t forget the spare batteries (and bring an extra along on your daily outings) as the batteries can die quickly out in the cold. Also pack a weatherproof camera cover and a lightweight tripod (especially if you want any night or long exposure shots).

Woman taking picture at Surprise Corner in Banff.

20. Swimsuit

At the end of a day playing out in the snow, there’s nothing better than a visit to the Upper Hot Springs or getting into the hot tub at your hotel. Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit!

Kids sitting in snow during an easy snowshoe in Banff National Park

Winter Driving Essentials

Weather you are driving to Banff National Park or renting a car, you should have an emergency car kit in the car that includes blankets, a flashlight, non-perishable snacks, matches and candles. You should also have a snow brush with an ice scraper in the car.

Depending on where your adventures will take you, you might want to invest in some maps and guidebooks for the area. If your adventures are going to take you well out of service area, a satellite communicator device is worth having (or know how to use SOS via Satellite on the latest iphone models). You never know when you might find yourself in need of assistance.

Winter Gear

Most of the winter gear you’ll need (snowshoes, microspikes, skis/boots) can be rented right in the town of Banff or Canmore, depending on where you are staying. If you have the gear and are driving, you can pack your own.

Banff Winter Activities

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Banff Winter Packing List
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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.

As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.