How do I dress for winter in Calgary?

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The weather in Calgary can change very quickly throughout the year and even in the same week. Winter in Calgary is particularly rough, due to how cold it can get. This guide is intended to help new immigrants adjust to the cold weather in Calgary and learn how to protect themselves from falling ill to the chill. Before heading outside, it is always a good idea to check Environment Canada or The Weather Network for weather warnings and advisories and to learn what the forecast is for the day.

How do I dress for winter in Calgary?

During winter the temperatures in Calgary are usually below 0°C even during the sunny middle of the day. Because of the city’s location and close connection to the mountains, it is just as common to feel a chinook (warm winds) as it is to experience a blizzard (heavy snowfall), and either can happen from September to May. Just because the day starts out warm and sunny doesn’t mean that there can’t be snow before the end of the day. For your own safety during the winter it is important to carry several of the following pieces of clothing, otherwise you might find yourself injured by numbness or frostbite (a freezing of the skin).

Layering (wearing multiple pieces of clothing on top of each other) is very important for the winter months. While it might seem like a good idea to go out and buy one big coat, the weather in Calgary changes very quickly, meaning that you might end up overheating (or freezing) when you take that coat on and off. What works best is to put on many different sets of clothes at once, such as a:

  • Base. Something that fits tight to your body. This can be a wool sweater or pull-over. Average price: $30-70.
  • Insulator. Most often seen as a “puffy” jacket, filled with real or synthetic materials to keep you warm. Average price: $35-90.
  • Shell. A wind-proof and water-proof coat, usually with a hood. Average price: $100-160.
  • Toque. A Canadian hat that is very good for cold weather. Average price: $15-30.
  • Gloves. People will sometimes ignore getting proper gloves, but when the weather gets really cold you’ll feel it first in your hands. Average price: $15-30.
  • Warm boots. It’s not enough to keep your feet warm, but you need to make sure you don’t slip on the ice and snow outside. Average price: $80-150.

    An example of proper layering.

Material Do’s and Dont’s:

  • Do wear fleece, down, and wool. Cashmere is excellent too but is expensive. Clothes made of these materials or blended with them help keep the cold out by insulating. Be sure to pair fleece with a wind-resistant layer and down with something that will keep water out.
  • Do cover up with something made of waterproof material such as nylon or polyester. Most jackets and coats will list on the label whether it is waterproof or water-resistant. You can ask a store employee for assistance here.
  • Don’t wear thin clothing unless you are wearing many layers of clothing. You will be too cold otherwise.
  • Don’t wear cotton blend clothing. Cotton holds onto moisture, meaning that the snow will soak right through, leaving you feeling very chilly! Keep in mind that jeans are made with cotton, so in the winter consider wearing sweatpants or snowpants over them.
  • Don’t expose your head or hands. Heat escapes these areas most quickly, leaving them cold. For a similar reason, be sure to protect your feet in the winter time.

When the temperature drops even lower, you may also want to look into some these items:

  • Hand warmers. Some hand warmers are re-usable, while others are one-time use. Be sure to read the package and follow the instructions and you’ll have extra help in keeping your fingers warm. Average price: $15-20.
  • Long underwear. Also known as thermal underwear or “long johns”. While they may be a little hard to get on and off if you are travelling around the city, they are very helpful in keeping the chill out on the worst weather days. Average price: $50-75. Alternatively, you may use a tight synthetic long sleeve shirt and pants for this purpose.
  • Snow pants. These pants act as both a insulator and shell when worn over your regular clothes. Used most often when the weather is really cold, or you want to go skiing or hiking. Also great for kids who are playing in outside in the snow. Average price: $60-130.
  • Scarf. Wear this long piece of fabric around your neck to provide additional warmth. Scarves can also protect your eyes, nose, and mouth from cold temperatures. Average price: $15-30.
  • Earmuffs. Wear thermal earmuffs over your ears to protect them from the cold. They’re great alone or with a scarf if you don’t have access to a toque. Average price: $15-30.
This girl is wearing earmuffs, a scarf, and gloves for extra protection.

If you’re on a tight budget, there are still several options available for good quality winter clothing:

  • Thrift shops such as Value Village, Goodwill, and The Salvation Army sell secondhand clothing. This includes warm shoes, long sleeved tops, leggings, jackets, and coats of all types.
  • Department stores such as Walmart, Target, Winners, and Costco offer clothes that are just as good as the big brands for a much fairer price.  The same goes for outlet malls.
  • Payless ShoeSource is the number one location for affordable shoes.
  • Purchase winter clothes in the off season. Stores tend to lower the price of winter items/put them on clearance during the spring and winter seasons.
  • Link up with your community. Several local groups tend to run winter clothing drives and swap meets. A list of Albertan charities that offer free and discounted clothing can be found here.

CIES Guides are a volunteer-led project made possible through contributions from the community.

Thanks to Colyn deGraaff for help with this guide. If you want to suggest a correction to this guide, or want to submit one of your own, please contact us.

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