What to Wear Hiking in Banff National Park

Author: Dan Brewer

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Banff National Park is home to some of the best hiking in the world. The rugged landscapes of the Canadian Rockies are incredibly beautiful and are a joy to explore on foot. As you plan your trip, you are probably wondering what to wear hiking in Banff National Park. Not to worry, I’ve got you covered in this post.

I’ve lived and hiked in-and-around Banff National Park my whole life, so I have a good deal of experience in what to wear hiking in Banff. Due to a wide variety of factors, your hiking clothes are not as straightforward as just wearing t-shirts and shorts. Read on to discover the best strategy for choosing your hiking clothes for Banff National Park in every season.

Sarrail Ridge Hike - Kananaskis

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Once you have your Banff hiking clothes figured out, check out our list of the best hikes in Banff National Park!

What are the Best Hiking Shoes for Banff?

Choosing the right hiking shoes is one of the most important clothing decisions you will make for hiking in Banff. If you wear the wrong kind of footwear, your feet will ache and you’ll have a miserable day hiking in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

I’ve done a lot of hiking in Banff over the decades, so I have a lot of experience hiking in all kinds of footwear. Below, I’ll share with you my thoughts on the best hiking shoes for Banff based on my real-life experiences on the hiking trails in Banff.

it takes about 90 minutes to hike to the summit of Ha Ling mountain near Canmore
Hiking boots for Ha Ling Peak in Canmore, AB.

Your footwear choices for Banff National Park include:

Normal Shoes

If you are visiting Banff National Park and only want to do some light hiking, you probably don’t need to invest in new hiking shoes. I say this as many of the popular hikes in Banff (like the Johnston Canyon hike or the Tunnel Mountain hike) can be easily done in normal, everyday shoes.

The smooth surface of the paved boardwalks at Johnston Canyon do not require any special hiking shoes.
The elevated boardwalks at Johnston Canyon are easy to walk on.

To appeal to a wide variety of Banff visitors, these popular Banff hiking trails have been groomed to remove large rocks and tree roots making it easy to hike in your everyday shoes.

Sorry for the lack of pictures of me modeling normal shoes on a hiking trail. I can’t find a single instance where I wore normal shoes on a hiking trail in Banff. I just don’t do it.

A visitor could easily wear normal shoes on the easy hiking trails at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff National Park.
Easy walking trails at the Cave & Basin National Historic Site.

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If you are looking for hikes you can do in your normal shoes, why not start with these easy hikes in Banff National Park.

Hiking Shoes

A good pair of hiking shoes is the best bet for most hikers in Banff. The best hiking shoes are lightweight, waterproof and have grips made for hiking in Banff’s mountainous hiking terrain. Due to their comfort and versatility, I estimate that we wear hiking shoes on over 70% of our Banff hikes.

the kids from the TravelBanffCanada.com family enjoy a different view of Peyto Lake from the Bow Summit Trail.
The kids wearing hiking shoes at Peyto Lake.

Hiking Boots

Sturdier hiking boots with high ankles are your best choice if you plan on doing any serious hiking in Banff National Park. Hiking boots are tougher and more durable than hiking shoes, with better ankle support and even better grips.

Due to their solid construction, hiking boots are usually heavier than hiking shoes, making them a bit too much for average day hikes in Banff. I estimate I wear hiking boots on 30% of my hikes in Banff.

I wore hiking boots while hiking Wenkchemna Pass near Moraine Lake, Banff.

Closed-Toe Hiking Sandals

I love my Keen sport sandals and have been wearing them for over 15 years. These sporty sandals are nearly perfect for moderate summer hiking in Banff. They are lightweight, keep your feet cool, have good grips and dry quickly.

For hiking in Banff, it’s important your sports sandals have a closed toe, to help prevent toe injuries from kicking tree roots and rocks along the trail. I’ve had multiple toe injuries while wearing open-toe sandals on our travels around the world, so please trust me – closed toe sandals are the way to go!

The only complaint I have about hiking in sports sandals is that small rocks frequently get inside, requiring the occasional stop to empty them out.

a young girl sits on a rock admiring the Silverton Falls after a short family hike in Banff National Park.
My daughter wearing sports sandals on the Silverton Falls hike.

I don’t actually wear my sports sandals very much while hiking in Banff, but I do wear them a lot when I go hiking on my travels. They are great multi-purpose footwear when traveling to a warm destination in hiking season.

Footwear to Avoid While Hiking in Banff

Flip Flops: Hey – I get it… I love wearing flip flops, especially when I’m travelling in summer. But, I recommend leaving them in the car before hitting the Banff hiking trails. Hiking in flip flops is a highly unpleasant experience, especially if there is some elevation gain involved, or if there are plenty of rocks and roots on the hiking trail.

High Heeled Shoes: You’d be surprised at the number of people we see hiking in high heel shoes in Banff. Each and every one of them were hating life – don’t do it.

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Essential Hiking Clothes for Banff National Park

Understanding Banff Summer Weather

As we begin to look at what to wear hiking in Banff, we need to understand the typical weather you will encounter during the main hiking season.

Visitors are drawn to Banff in the summer by great weather and long sunny days. Hikers looking at the average summer temperatures for Banff, may be tempted to think that you could easily get by hiking in just shorts and a t-shirt, but there’s more you need to know.

An 8-year old boy in hiking shoes enjoys his family hike on the Bow Summit Trail.
A beautiful day to hike the Bow Summit Trail!

In the summer, Banff enjoys average daily highs of 22°C, but it can get up to 30° occasionally. Couple this with the higher UV exposure at elevation, and you’ll need to protect your skin from the sun.

The average daily lows are 6°C, but it can get dangerously close to zero at times. Although it’s very rare, it can even snow in Banff during the summer!

Dan Brewer of the Travel Banff Canada blog, wears a hat and sunglasses on the Saddleback Mountain hiking trail.
A sunny day on the Saddleback Mountain Trail near Lake Louise.

And to make matters more complicated, the middle temperature of 14°C can feel vastly different in different conditions. 14°C can feel beautiful and warm when the sun is shining and the wind is calm, but it can also feel very cold if the clouds roll in and the wind starts blowing.

The typical day in Banff in the summer is beautiful and warm, but the weather can change rapidly and without warning. You need to be prepared for anything while hiking in Banff.

The bottom line? The variable mountain weather makes it hard to know what to wear for hiking in Banff National Park, even in summer. 

Wildlife Safety

When hiking in Banff National Park, you are responsible for your own safety. Before hitting the hiking trails we highly recommend you read our 10 Essential Banff Hiking Tips for information about bear safety, trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures.

The Best Banff Clothing for Hiking in the Summer

With lots of variability in Banff summer weather, it’s a good idea to build some flexibility into your hiking wardrobe to suit most conditions. When hiking in Banff, dressing in layers is always a smart strategy.

The following are your essential hiking clothes for Banff in summer:

Hiking Jackets

The reality of hiking in Banff in the summer means you’ll likely be taking your jacket on and off throughout the day. Anytime the sun disappears (behind a cloud, a mountain, deep tree-cover, etc.) the temperature drops and the wind picks up, making it feel much cooler than you’d expect. In these conditions, you’ll be glad you had a good hiking jacket with you.

In my experience, it doesn’t rain a lot in the summer, so a proper rain jacket is likely unnecessary. A hiking jacket that is lightweight, water and wind resistant is the perfect mix for hiking in Banff in summer.

short easy hike in Banff around Cascade Ponds
Cascade Ponds, Banff.

Hiking Shirts

Wearing a light t-shirt on a warm summer day in Banff feels amazing. When the Banff weather forecast calls for sunshine, I wear a t-shirt almost all the time. Likewise, Celine loves to wear tank tops while hiking to enjoy the warm Banff sunshine.

Due to the higher altitude, the UV levels in Banff are approximately 15% higher than at sea level, which means you will burn faster than usual. You may wish to consider a lightweight long sleeve shirt with good UV protection if you burn really easily.

The Brewer kids from the Travel Banff Canada blog, walk alongside the Tokumm Creek in-between Marble Canyon and the Paint Pots.

Also, long sleeve shirts provide increased non-chemical protection against mosquitos – a good consideration if you are hiking in Banff during peak mosquito season which occurs in late June to early July.

Hiking Pants

If it’s warm and the sun is shining, nothing beats wearing shorts while hiking in Banff in summer.

Due to the unpredictability of the Banff weather, we recommend wearing lightweight, convertible pants just in case the weather gets cold or if the the mosquitos get annoying.

Dan Brewer, owner of TravelBanffCanada.com, wears convertible hiking pants while hiking Wenkchemna Pass Trail in Banff, Canada.

If you aren’t a fan of convertible pants, a good pair of full-length lightweight pants made with a breathable material can still be very enjoyable on a warm day.

Hiking Socks

Wearing the right hiking socks is just as important as wearing the right hiking shoes. Look for a pair that are tall enough for your hiking boots, has good cushioning and wicks moisture (merino wool socks are especially good for this).

Two of our favourite brands for durable hiking socks are Darn Tough (who doesn’t love these fun designs and that they are guaranteed for life!) or these Silverlight Socks (they had me at “stink-free”!).

Hiking Hats

A good, lightweight hat is an effective way to protect against Banff’s higher UV ray exposure. It doesn’t have to be fancy – I typically use a baseball hat, but you can certainly get something more fashionable or with a wider brim all-around.

Taking pictures of the glaciers near lake louise
The Plain of Six Glaciers Trail in Lake Louise.

Sunglasses

Banff National Park enjoys a lot of sunny, blue sky days in summer. The glare from the sun can get pretty intense in the mountains and wearing sunglasses with UV protection is recommended.

Celine Brewer, owner of TravelBanffCanada.com, wears sunglasses while hiking Mt. Yamnuska,
Celine wears sunglasses on Mt. Yamnuska, Kananaskis Country.

Base Layer (optional)

In the middle of an August hot snap, this is probably unnecessary, but if you are on a remote Banff hiking trail on a cool or rainy day, it wouldn’t hurt to throw a merino wool base layer into your hiking day bag.

A good base layer is very light, packs up extremely small, yet provides a lot of warmth. You never know what’s going to happen to the weather in Banff, so if your hiking choices are a little higher risk, there is little downside including a good base layer in your summer hiking clothes.

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If you plan on doing lots of hiking during your trip, check out our 5-day hiking itinerary for Banff National Park.

What to Wear Hiking in Banff in Spring

You can start to find some snow-free hikes at lower elevations in Banff in April. As the temperature increases and rain starts to fall, the mountain snowpack gradually melts in May through June.

Hiking in Banff in shoulder season can be very enjoyable if you are prepared for the more challenging trail and weather conditions:

  • The rain and melting snow can result in muddy trails.
  • There can be snow (sometimes surprisingly deep) on the trail at any time.
  • The sun is lower in the sky, meaning the sun is more likely to be hiding behind a mountain peak in the early morning and late afternoon. Without sunshine, the temperature drops noticeably.
what to wear for hikes around Banff Canada

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Knowing how to dress in layers is important for knowing what to wear hiking in Banff. You can read a good article on how to dress in layers here.

Taking into account these spring hiking conditions, I recommend the following hiking clothes for spring hiking in Banff:

Spring Hiking Jacket

A more robust jacket is recommended in spring. I recommend wearing something that provides a moderate layer of warmth but can be taken off and packed easily. It can get windy and rainy in the spring, so wind and water resistance are important features in your spring hiking jacket.

Enjoy views of Ha Ling Peak while hiking Miners Peak near Canmore
Miners Peak, Kananaskis Country.

Hiking Pants

While you can still wear a t-shirt or tank-top while hiking in Banff in spring, we recommend wearing heavier pants. Jeans are a decent choice, but heavier full-length hiking pants are a better option. It’s rarely shorts weather while hiking in Banff in spring.

Celine Brewer hikes a steep section of trail between Tower Lake and Rockbound Lake.
Celine wearing hiking pants on the Rockbound Lake Trail.

Base Layer

Dressing in layers is very important while hiking in Banff in spring. Be prepared to be dressing and undressing several times through your spring Banff hike. A good merino wool base layer is excellent for keeping you warm and dry on cool spring mornings. Alternately, you could elect to bring a warm fleece top.

an 8-year old boy enjoys views of Peyto Lake after an easy kid-friendly hike to the viewpoint.

This layer is very important for comfortable spring hiking in Banff. You may begin the day with all your layers on, ending your hike with only a t-shirt on and several combinations in-between. A good size hiking daypack is recommended to hold your layers.

Gloves and Hats

In addition to the warm base layer, a warm pair of gloves and a hat is recommended clothing for hiking in Banff in spring. These items pack down small and you’ll be very glad to have them if the mountain weather turns on you unexpectedly.

Warm clothing in fall are hiking essentials around Banff and Canmore

Warm, Waterproof Hiking Shoes

There can be a lot of mud and/or snow on the Banff hiking trails in spring. At a minimum, you’ll want to wear a good pair of waterproof hiking shoes or hiking boots. For hiking in Banff in spring, we recommend leaving your everyday shoes at home, even if you are walking on a popular hiking trail.

Mud along Taylor Lake hiking trail in Banff
Avoiding a muddy section on the Taylor Lake Trail.

Traction Devices

If your spring hike in Banff has any elevation gain or is on the north-side of a mountain, you stand a good chance of encountering snow or ice. If so, consider bringing traction devices (like microspikes) to slip over your hiking shoes.

We recommend using traction devices for Chester Lake winter hiking

What to Wear Hiking in Banff in Fall

By early September in Banff, the snowpack has largely melted. As fall progresses into October and November, your chances of encountering snow while hiking in Banff increases.

All of the spring clothing recommendations apply for hiking in Banff in fall with the exception of your hiking shoes. You won’t encounter as much mud while hiking in fall, so a waterproof shoe is less important, unless you are hiking in the rain or into a layer of snow.

an experienced hiker enjoys view of Lake O'Hara from a challenging hiking trail
Celine hiking Lake O’Hara in the fall.

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If you are looking for some fall hiking ideas, check out our list of great larch tree hikes in Alberta.

What to Bring Hiking in Banff National Park

Now that you know what to wear hiking in Banff, your next step is to ensure you have the proper equipment. Even if your plans are for some light hiking in Banff, it’s important you know what to bring hiking in Banff National Park to ensure a safe & successful outing.

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Now that you are all set for Banff hiking clothes, check out What to Bring Hiking in Banff National Park.

The plain of six glaciers trail offers a chance to see some lake louise glaciers up close

Recommended Tour

Want to enjoy some of the best hikes in Banff with a guide? Check out these Signature Banff Hikes from Discover Banff Tours.

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Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.

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