Dressing for a Calgary winter


With temperatures ranging from -30ºC to +10ºC during winter, how you dress will make all the difference to how comfortable you survive outside.

The two somewhat conflicting pieces of advice I received about dressing for winter here were

  1. Get a really good, big jacket
  2. Always dress in layers

The first piece of advice, I found out was not actually that great of an idea. If you’re wearing a heavy weight jacket, you’re probably not going to want much beneath it, as any movement is going to make you hot and sweaty. So this means that jacket is either going to be off or on. In -20 or colder, you’re gonna be absolutely stoked to have that jacket on. However when it’s a bit warmer, say -10.. that jacket is going to be overkill, you’re gonna get hot, and there’s gonna be shit all you can do about it other than open it up to some cool air, or take it off.

This leads onto the second piece of advice - which I have been and will continue to follow. Wear layers, and carry extras.

I have already experienced days that start off at -16ºC when I’m walking to catch the bus, and warm up to +4ºC or higher when leaving work - and vice versa. Being able to add or remove layers to account for these massive differences from Chinook winds really is invaluable.

Now that we know that layers is the way to go.. The question is what layers, and how much? There aren’t many resources online about how to dress for such weather, and so hopefully this can be an aid.

Let’s go in reverse order starting at

5ºC to 0ºC:

This one’s easy, and if like me you’ve come from New Zealand winters, you’ve probably already got it down.


Lets take it down a notch.

0ºC to -5ºC

Depending on wind, this is probably still easy.

If it’s windy, add a wind-breaking soft shell (could just be a rain coat), and consider more protected shoes.


-5ºC to -10ºC

This is the inconvenient range. It’s bordering on getting by in your standard comfortable wear, and not getting by. My go to in this scenario is as follows

I’ve been getting by with a goose down Patagonia puffer jacket for this kind of weather, however any puffer jacket is likely to do, and they can certainly be had for cheaper than Patagonia’s prices. The puffer jacket is very nimble and light, and easily compressed into a backpack if you’re feeling a bit warm or you head inside.

-10ºC to -15ºC

Alright. Now it’s cold. At these temperatures, you don’t want to be outside for long without at least a little preparation. If you’re noticing a pattern here, it’s that as it gets colder, I’m changing some layers for warmer bits, and adding more pieces of clothes. You might also notice jeans have been fine so far - which surprised me. At this point, there are certainly people who are going out still with only jeans - but they are much more accustomed to the cold and brave/stupid. Time to up the ante

-15ºC to -20ºC

Up to here, it’s been pretty comfortable. Admittedly, once you start nearing -20ºC, things get uncomfortable if you’re outside and not moving much. If you’re sitting and waiting for a bus, for example, it’s gonna start feeling a bit shitty. You should take this temperature seriously and dress for it. If you’re without warm footwear or gloves, you ought to start thinking about how to get inside and keep warm. Frostbite is your enemy.

-20ºC to -30ºC

By now you should have an idea of how this is going. The lower negative 20s are much the same as the previous bracket, but the upper negative 20s to negative 30 is just shit. If you don’t have to be outside, just don’t be outside. It is seriously cold, and you’re going to pay for it if you’re not dressed right.

Make sure you have windproof mittens over some warm gloves, or some heavy weight, wind proof standalone mittens or gloves. At these temperatures, it’s not going to take long to get into trouble in your hands.

My loadout for combatting these temperatures from top to bottom follows;

What this ends up looking and feeling like, is your whole body covered apart from some opening for your eyes. It might sound ridiculous, but if you’re going to be outside more than a minute or two, it’s necessary. By now, most people out are looking like this. Some people will be wearing snow goggles or similar if there’s wind or snow.

I hope this is a useful resource for those going into cold weather for the first time. However, these loadouts might not be perfect for you, which is why, going back to the second point, it’s important to carry extra layers. Even if it’s just another sweater, if it gets colder than you expected, you will be very thankful for your foresight.

- Andrew