Winter in Montréal 101: How to dress for the cold
Canadians are world-renowned for being nice. But Canadian winters? That’s a different story. In Montréal especially, the winters can be mean, freezing, and occasionally, hilariously cruel. So if you’re planning a move to the Great White North, and Montréal in particular, here’s a step-by-step for getting the perfect gear for the winter season ahead. (And to reassure you that Canada has more seasons that just winter, check out this article on Weather in Canada.)
STEP 1: GET YOUR WINTER JACKET
If Canadians were stranded on an island and could only bring one item, most would pick their winter jacket. It’s the first line of defence against the biting temperatures and piercing snow. Fashion-wise, you won’t be turning many heads—those heads may be too frozen to turn anyways. But picking the right jacket is key for an enjoyable (read: manageable) winter season.
So what kind of jacket should you get? Let’s start with the basics.
There are three types of insulation materials used in jackets, each working to trap your body heat and keep you warm.
- Down Feathers: When it comes to natural warmth, Down Feathers are cream of the crop. With their loose structure and lightness, they effectively capture warmer air inside without weighing you down. Check the tag for a higher “Down Fill” count for increased insulation—anywhere between 600 and 800 Down Fill should do the trick.
- Synthetic Fibres: Some companies have manufactured a way to mimic the effect of down with little fibres wrapped in plastic. Although they may not be as warm as down, these jackets are typically more water-resistant and cost-effective than their feathery counterparts.
- Pile Fabric: Otherwise known as “fleece”, pile fabric works to insulate warmth like the wool hide on sheep. This material is inexpensive, durable and water-resistant; unfortunately, where you win in price, you might lose in overall warmth.
Any awesome winter coat will come with a host of features to keep you warm and comfortable. Here’s what to look for in the ultimate Canadian coat:
- Hoods are good – Hoods will always come in handy, whether you’re waiting for the bus or hitting the slopes.
- Keep those cuffs tight – Make sure the linings around the wrist cuffs and waste fit snugly, so they help keep out the cold.
- Waterproof = foolproof – This one is a no-brainer. Double check the tags to make sure your coat can handle those frozen water molecules (A.K.A Snow, for those who didn’t take high school chemistry).
STEP 2: GRAB YOUR BOOTS
Trucking through mounds of snow and slippery ice is no easy feat, especially if your feet feel like numbed blocks of cement. With the right pair of boots, you can keep all 10 toes warm, dry, and ideally, feeling like their normal selves. Not sure what to look for? Look no further:
Types of Boots:
It’s always important to get the boots that fit your life. For those casual winter wanderers, a simple pair of Winter Boots will work fine. These boots are insulated, water resistant, and have great traction. They typically rise to about ankle height, ensuring they stay versatile for a variety of indoor or outdoor activities.
But if you’re trekking up mountains (in nature, or the mountains of snow on your driveway), you’ll want a pair of Pac Boots, which have a thick rubber shell around the foot, not just on the sole. The height of the boot usually climbs up your leg towards the calf area, so even if your winter troubles run deep, you’ll be covered. They may not be easy on the eyes, but they’ll be miracle workers for your feet.
Inner Boot Lining:
In winter, your feet usually get the raw end of the deal. Unlike your upper body, you can’t really layer with socks; it’s bulky, and frankly, a little weird. What you can do, however, is pick some inner lining that help keep your feet feeling cozy. Sheepskin is comfortable and truly effective at retaining heat. And while some boots come standard with a sheepskin sole, you can easily pick up an extra pair from Amazon or a local retailer.
Manufacturers often give their boots a “temperature rating”— a loose guide for how low the temperature can go while still keeping your feet warm. Although the temperatures can fluctuate throughout the season, your best bet is to pick a boot that is armed and ready for the worst-case scenario. Invest in a boot with a temperature rating of at least -30˚C, so you’re covered when Montréal winter takes a turn for the coldest.
STEP 3: SLIP ON THOSE PANTS
If you’re looking to truly dive into winter fun and make some snow forts, snowmen, or even hit the slopes, you’ll likely need a pair of snow pants to go along with your stellar winter outfit. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Snow pants that can’t keep out the snow are like umbrellas with holes in them. They won’t do you much good, unless you really have a thing for drenched clothes. For pants, waterproof ratings typically fall between 5,000 and 20,000 mm, where the higher the number is, the drier you’ll be. When it comes to Montréal winters, we recommend grabbing a pair between 10,000 mm and 20,000 mm, with a super water resistant fabric like Gore-tex®. Your legs will thank you in the long run.
Snow pants come in three different varieties, each carrying a different level of warmth with them. There’s the insulated type, which includes an outer waterproof shell with a warm inner layer. These pants are considered the warmest, and are easily the most popular for all-around winter adventurers.
If you’re an active skier or snowboarder, you may want to opt for a pair of soft shell pants. Without an insulated inner layer, they provide increased mobility while sacrificing some of the warmth. Don’t worry, though. With all that activity from flying down the mountain, your legs will generate enough heat on their own.
Finally, there’s the 2-in-1 variety, which includes an outer waterproof shell and a removable insulated layer. These pants are truly flexible, giving you a quick and simple solution for any problem the weather throws your way.
In the world of pant essentials, boot gaiters are the most essential of all. Using an elastic band around the cuff of the pant, boot gaiters are the best way to keep snow from sneaking into your feet. Just snap those elastics around the boot and jump into the snow without a care in the world (except for caring how cold it is).
STEP 4: ACCESSORIZE
So you’ve got your basics covered and can officially say, “bring it on, Canadian winter” with some slight confidence. But before you get ahead of yourself, let’s finish off your winter package with some sweet accessories to keep you snug from head to toe.
Mittens vs. Gloves:
Your toes are taken care of. But that doesn’t mean we can forget about your hand-toes (otherwise known as fingers). You have two options here: mittens or gloves. But be warned: the choice isn’t as easy as it seems.
- Gloves are great for utility, keeping your fingers free to pick up gear, and even grip a steering wheel. The only downside? Your fingers are kept separate, so they’re all left to fend for themselves against the biting cold.
- Mittens, on the other hand, keep your fingers together so they’re happily generating warmth next to the other. Unfortunately, with your hands fixed into a permanent oval, you won’t have much luck with any work that requires some dexterity. Sometimes, the best solution is to grab a pair of mittens that have the best of both worlds: a warm mitten exterior with an inner lining of gloves that are easily accessed with a velcro flap.
Whichever type you choose, be sure to pick a waterproof material. Leather might look pretty snazzy, but won’t do much in the keep-your-hands-dry department.
Something for the Ears
Since your ears aren’t surrounded by layers of muscle or fat—unless you do ear workouts, which would be awesome—they face the cold with a pretty weak defence system.
That’s why it’s a great idea to grab a hat or earmuffs to keep your ears cozy. In Canada, the most popular kind of winter hat is a toque, which is typically knitted and has a pom-pom on the top. Super warm, and super Canadian. But if you’re looking for a more modern style, you can always go for a beanie, which covers the ears without a cute tassel on top. You can find both types at great Canadian stores like the Hudson’s Bay Company or Winners.
If you really want to take you Canadian winter expertise to the next level, it’s time to get a scarf. These long, rectangular strips of fabric are extremely versatile, and can be wrapped in a variety of ways for both fashion and function. You can even use them to cover your face when that Montréal winter hits a little harder.
STEP 5: EXTRAS, EXTRAS
When moving to Canada, winters can be serious business. So to make the season a little less dreary, some Canadians have fun with their winter gear, picking up some quirky “extras” to wear in the cold:
Nose warmers: Yep, we’re serious. No one likes a runny nose, and these funny-looking accessories keep your nose dry and clean when the weather gets a bit messy.
Beard warmers: Want to channel your inner lumberjack? These face warmers look just like a beard, giving you or your kids that burly Canadian look while protecting the cheeks and chin.
MONTRÉAL WINTER: ONE OF A KIND
As cold as it might get, winters in Montréal can be truly breathtaking. Soft blankets of snow cresting the streets, warm holiday lights illuminating the night. It is truly a winter wonderland. And if you’re into skiing, snowboarding or other winter sports, there are some incredible mountains in Quebec and Canada that are just waiting to be discovered. So get on your gear, grab a hot chocolate, and get ready for an incredible winter in Montréal.
For more information about Canada’s climate, check out ARIANNE’s blog on Weather in Canada. And for tips on how to get the rest of your Canadian things winter-ready, see our blog on prepping your home and travel plans for Montréal’s winter months. If you’re looking for specifics, here’s a popular article on how to prep your car for winter.
Of course, to get all these tips in one seamless, easy-to-use package, our Online Relocation Guides are loaded with valuable information that will help anyone moving to Canada make a smooth and successful transition to their new country, culture, and climate.