Winter can be a cruel time of year on the Canadian prairies. With frigid temperatures and snow on the ground for at least five months of the year, it’s tempting to hibernate until the worst has passed. However, staying inside is neither practical nor recommended. At least knowing how to dress for wintertime in this part of the world means you can continue with your daily routine as well as get out and about and experience what the great outdoors has to offer at this time of year.
Practical Dressing for a Canadian Prairie Winter
Anyone who’s experienced winter on the Canadian prairies will know that it can be a brutal time of year. As an example, the average daily temperature in December, January, and February in Winnipeg, the capital of the Canadian prairie province of Manitoba, is -15°Celsius (5°Fahrenheit) — and that’s before you factor in any wind chill. With temperatures this low, and snow on the ground for at least five months of the year, it’s tempting to hibernate until the worst of winter has passed. However, that’s probably not the best course of action, nor the most practical. After all, we all have to carry on with daily tasks. Furthermore, it’s important not to hide away inside just because the temperature has plummeted and there’s snow on the ground. Because even if winter activities such as skiing and skating don’t appeal, you should at least spend some time out of doors to combat feelings of isolation and seasonal depression. And provided you dress appropriately, then there’s no need to make too many adjustments to your daily routine.
Very few of the items of clothing and footwear you wear inside the house are practical for spending any considerable time out of doors in wintertime in this part of Western Canada. While they may be sufficient for a quick dash from indoors to your car parked a few blocks away, your regular clothes probably won’t keep you adequately warm if you spend any longer outside. And if you’re not warm then you won’t be comfortable. Therefore, you need to have suitable boots and outerwear. Even if you’re not going to be doing anything more strenuous than walking, you’ll need a pair of warm walking boots. As for outerwear, a knee-length coat means you won’t have to wear thermal tights (long johns) under your pants unless it gets seriously cold, i.e. below around -22°C (-8°F). A down-filled parka is ideal for a winter coat as it covers your lower half, keeps you well insulated, and is light in weight. Some of the best brands for winter outerwear include The North Face, Canada Goose (whose gear was originally designed for scientists working in Antarctica), and Mammut. As for boots, look for the brands Merrell, Sorel, and Columbia Sportswear.
Practical dressing doesn’t just mean dressing to stay warm when it’s cold outside. It also means dressing appropriately for what you’re going to be doing. For example, if there’s any chance of falling in the now, if you’re sledding with your kids for instance, then wear water proof pants and a jacket. In addition, if you’re exercising and your body’s going to heat up, then dress in layers with a moisture-wicking base layer next to your skin.
The Base Layers and Accessories
If you’re walking to work then you will need suitable footwear to wear inside once you get there. However, if you’re going to be inside for only a short time, there are some boots that won’t make your feet sweat meaning that you won’t need to change. The right socks can make all the difference in this respect and are an important winter accessory. SmartWool produce socks that help prevent your feet from sweating in boots when you’re inside and keep them warm when you’re outdoors.
As for what to wear under your coat, layers are the best way to dress. Provided you wear a warm base layer then you’ll probably need nothing more than a wool sweater or polyester fleece as a mid layer under your coat or jacket. Reputable brands for winter base layers include Icebreaker, SmartWool, and Patagonia, all of which produce fine wool base layer tops and tights/long-johns, as well as a range of mid layers and outerwear suitable for cold climates.
Essential items when venturing outdoors include a pair of gloves or mittens, a hat, and a scarf (or if you’re doing something that may make wearing a scarf impractical, then wear a neck gaiter or a thick roll-neck sweater under your coat). One of the must-have accessories for winter in the prairies is lip balm. Keep this with you at all times as your lips will quickly dry out when you’re outside in the cold, dry air. You may also find that your nose runs when you’re outside because of the extra work it has to do to warm the air that’s inhaled which in turn causes more fluid than usual to be produced. Therefore, keep a handkerchief or Kleenex with you when outside.
At the beginning and end of winter, due to increased daily temperatures followed by freezing at night, there’s a fair amount of ice around, which can deter even the most ardent outdoor enthusiast. If you feel a little unsure walking when there’s ice around, then invest in a pair of cleats (ice grippers). These contraptions fit over the soles of your shoes and give you traction on icy surfaces. Reputable brands include Yaktrax, Stabilicers, and Sure Foot Get-A-Grip.
It’s difficult to be stylish when you’re dressed in multiple layers and flat boots, and your nose is red and constantly running, But it’s not impossible. Don’t overlook brands that market their products for the more serious winter dresser. Both Merrell and The North Face produce winter boots that are both stylish and practical. And Icebreaker, SmartWool and Patagonia all have clothing in attractive designs and colours to enable you to look good while keeping warm.
A word of warning: Be very careful when wearing heels when there’s snow and ice around. Even if you’re venturing only a few blocks outside you could still fall and injure yourself. Always change from your indoor footwear to something that’s more appropriate for outdoor winter conditions. Remember, a plaster-cast is a difficult look to carry off even for the most stylish of dressers!
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