All about winter gear to survive the Canadian cold

During my first days in Ottawa, after moving from Peru, I didn’t have proper winter clothing to face the horrendous temperatures that hovered around minus 20 C. I had no idea how I would put up with those harsh days. It must have been the excitement of feeling snow for the first time in my life that helped me cope.

Besides, I was more worried about getting my kids warm clothes than buying any for me. So for a week I used simple leather black boots. I have a sharp memory of not being able to stand being outside for very long because my toes started to hurt and get numb.

You have to feel the Canadian winter in situ to have a good idea of what it is like. I couldn’t imagine before coming here that my teeth would hurt because of the cold when I smiled on a windy day!

I know how scary the idea of moving is for a new immigrant, especially in the middle of winter, to a city where the temperature can drop to almost minus 30 and it feels like almost minus 40 with the wind chill. What are you going to need to wear to survive that extreme cold. That is what one asks oneself!

If those are your fears, this post is for you. I’m going to tell you what are the basic items you need to have to avoid suffering from the cold.


This is the most indispensable piece of clothing to have in order to survive a Canadian winter. Parkas, or winter coats, are made to keep you warm at minus 20 or minus 30 and they come in a variety of materials and prices.

The best ones are made of down (goose plumage) and are also the most expensive ones. Some parkas feel heavier than others and that’s because of the down weight. The heavier, the warmer. The prices for these parkas range from $700 to $1,000, but some go for more than that.

There are, however, alternatives to down, such as synthetic insulating materials like PrimaLoft or Thinsulate. These materials are high-tech synthetic insulation, and are used in outdoor activity clothing. The best thing is that they’re cheaper, and can cost about $160 dollars or more.

If you’re not going to spend a lot of time in the outdoors, like working outside, or if you don’t need to take public transportation because you have a car, you really don’t need to spend a lot of money for a down-filled parka.

A synthetic one would be good enough if you put on other warm items like a wool sweater or thermal underwear. Besides, a down parka is usually too hot to wear indoors. If you enter into a mall or if you’re inside your car, you might feel uncomfortably hot with your down parka on.

Snow pants or cozy leggings

It’s generally thought that the legs can tolerate more cold or that it’s not really important to cover them. Besides, good parkas usually cover the thighs. That’s why my first winter in Ottawa I wore just jeans and something light under that to go skating or tobogganing with my kids, but my legs were always cold.

So for my second winter, I bought snow pants and that was the end of my suffering! I could go skating or walking in the snow feeling warm and cozy. They cost me some $120.

For my third winter, I made another valuable acquisition: cozy leggings. They have a warm inside lining that protects your legs from the cold, and best of all, you don’t look as fluffy as you do when wearing snow pants. Price: some $25 or less.

Cozy leggings


Much of the cold enters through the head. That’s why it’s important to wear a tuque – a Canadian word – in cold weather. These are knit caps that provide warmth to the head and ears. I became very fond of buying matching tuques for my winter jackets.

Price: $20 on average.

Scarf or neck warmer

Protecting your neck from the cold is a big issue in terms of comfort. I didn’t realize this until I bought a neck warmer. How warm I felt! It’s a long, closed tube of fabric that you slip on and off over the head.

They’re perfect for outdoor activities so you don’t have to worry about the item getting out of place, like with a scarf. And kids usually need a neck warmer to play during recess outside when at school.

Price: $15 or $20 on average.

Neck warmer

Gloves or mittens

The first parts to suffer from the cold weather are the hands. If you don’t have proper gloves or mittens and you’re outside, then your fingers are going to hurt, then they are going to get numb, and then turn red.

So, it’s key to have a good pair of gloves or mittens if you’re going to be exposed to the cold. Mittens, unlike gloves, have no separation between the fingers. Some think that mittens help keep in the heat better.

At first, I wore a pair of insulated gloves but they really didn’t work well for me. It was a different story when I bought a pair of mittens that were made of 50% down. They’re really warm! They cost me some $26 on sale. Whenever I’m going to be outside in the cold for a long time, I wear my mittens and I’m a happy camper!

Prices vary. From $20 for the cheaper ones to $150 for the most expensive.


Snow boots

If you have cold feet, you should get a good pair of snow boots. Not only will they keep your feet warm and dry, but they also have a tread on the bottom to prevent you from slipping in the snow or ice. If you wear them with thermal socks, you’ll feel comfortably warm.

The prices vary. You can find snow boots on sale for $90, but they usually cost an average of $150. The expensive ones could be some $300.

You can find all these winter clothing items in stores like Simons, Hudson’s Bay, Sail, Sport Chek, Winners, Marshalls, or Walmart, for a cheaper alternative.

The cheapest option, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, is Value Village, or other thrift stores.

I hope you find the information useful. If you have more questions or worries, please feel free to leave a comment. Take care.

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13 thoughts on “All about winter gear to survive the Canadian cold

  1. Great summary Carla, here are some more tips from my exprience.
    Pants: jeans are also very bad because the fabric gets rapidly very close, then freeze your thighs. I sometime wear just a waterproof layer on top of my real pants to cut the wind, like hiking pants.
    Tuque: it needs to fit your head tightly, otherwise they lose effectiveness on windy day. And you can get cold burn on the ears if you ignore to cold there, it is not just an urban legend.
    Mitains: some people complain about their mitains and glove, but it is because they are losing too much heat from a thin parka or uncovered head. The body is bright and will sacrifice first limb extremities before the inner organs; thus having better gear on the rest of your body can help the end parts.
    Scarf/neck: again, you will rarely feel your neck freezing, but your heat is flying from there. Cover this region and feel warm everywhere.
    Boots: thickness and insulation of the sole are very important, especially if you have to wait for the bus, because cold get from the ground up. Unfortunately, you usually just notice that once you start using your boots… For young kids, it is also better if you can remove the lining of the boot, so you can make them dry faster after a day of playing in the snow (even recess at school).

  2. And if you don’t have enough money, you can go trough with a second hand store, maybe is not what you like, but will help you a lot and you don’t need spend a lot of money.

  3. Hey dear, where did you bought the warm leggings? I havent found them in walmart or Costco. Please give me some seller stores here.

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