When winter descends on the mountains, a world of outdoor possibilities opens up. Snow blankets the terrain and lakes freeze over, leaving us with umpteen options for exploring the ‘cooler’ side of Banff National Park.
Yet, while wintertime is heaps of fun, there’s nothing worse than a day cut short because you can’t feel your toes anymore. It all comes down to dressing and packing properly so that you can make the most of your time outside.
Before you strap on those snowshoes or clip into your bindings, take some time to gear up with the right stuff:
WHAT TO WEAR
Staying dry and warm is essential to enjoying the outdoors, especially if you’re exerting yourself. The best way to accomplish this is to layer your clothing:
- Inner: Have a moisture-wicking layer against your skin to keep you dry. Try merino wool or polypropylene.
- Mid: Have an insulating layer on next if you require extra warmth. Some jackets come with built-in insulation, but I prefer to wear a thicker fleece under a thinner outer layer to help control temperature.
- Outer: Have a waterproof/breathable layer on the outside. This keeps the warmth in and moisture out, without trapping your own vapour that needs to exit.
Here’s what’s in my kit:
- Long underwear set (shirt and tights)
- Snow pants, lightly insulated (on a milder day, this could simply be a shell pant)
- Fleece or insulating mid-layer
- Waterproof/windproof/breathable shell or ski jacket
- Puffy jacket that packs down small - great for when you stop to take a break
- Moisture-wicking socks (keep those feet dry!) + an extra pair
- Gloves or mittens (a lightweight pair and heftier pair)
- Neck-warmer or balaclava
For footwear, a pair of waterproof, high-cut hikers may be sufficient for most outdoor activities in Banff National Park. For snowier terrain or colder days, bring insulated snow boots. Finally, don’t forget the footwear you need for your chosen sports!
Use a comfortable backpack to store your belongings, and take time to adjust the straps and ensure a proper fit.
WHAT ELSE TO PACK
- Lip chap - Put one in your jacket pocket to keep it handy. Mountain air is refreshing, but dry, and your lips will thank you for bringing this along.
- Sun screen - Sure, maybe only your face is showing, but the UV rating in Banff is generally high. Slather on sunscreen with good SPF before you hit the slopes.
- Heat packs - These will become your new best friend if your fingers or toes ever get too cold for comfort. Simply open, shake, and wait until they warm up.
- Water - On a mild day, have a bottle of water handy, especially if you’re exerting yourself. On a frigid day, your water is likely to freeze (unless it’s insulated), so opt for something hot. Either way, avoid a bladder with a tube – tubes can freeze even if the water in the bladder has not.
- Thermos with hot drink - There’s nothing like opening a thermos of hot, steaming liquid on a cold day. Not only will it quench your thirst, but it’ll also warm you up from the inside out. Hot and sweet (like hot chocolate) is best to help keep the cold at bay.
- Food - Bring high-energy snacks that aren’t prone to freezing. Tricky, I know, but one hack is to put some in your jacket, close to your body. Trail mix and sandwich wraps are great options, as is a thermos of hot soup and noodles. (See also ‘Stove/fuel’ below).
- Flashlight/headlamp - In the mountains, the sun goes down sooner than you think. Have a light on hand and pack extra batteries (keep these in your jacket to keep them warm).
- First Aid kit - Always have a well-stocked First Aid kit amongst your group.
- Map/guidebook - Place these in a Ziploc bag to keep them from getting wet.
- Avalanche gear - You should only venture into avalanche terrain if you know how to navigate it and if you know what to do in the case of a slide. If you do venture into this kind of terrain, don’t forget your beacon, probe and shovel.
- Bear spray - Headed out in springtime? You might think it’s crazy, but bring along a can of bear spray for your group. It’s best to be prepared for when they wake up from the den. Carry this on the exterior of your pack or hip belt.
Optional, but highly recommended:
- Gaiters - These add warmth and keep the snow from sneaking into your boots.
- Micro-spikes - Depending on where you’re headed, pack a pair of spikes for your boots. They are incredibly grippy, even on hard-packed ice.
- Stove and fuel - For a longer day out, you might like to consider bringing along a way of warming your food, or at least boiling water for a dehydrated meal.
- Cellphone - Cell service is patchy in the national park, but in the case of an emergency it may come in handy. If you’re headed into the backcountry or on a more advanced hike, consider purchasing a SPOT device (or similar), which allows you to communicate no matter where you are.
WHERE TO GET GEAR
Whether you’re looking to buy or rent outdoor gear, stores in Banff and Lake Louise are ready to outfit you:
Banff: Monod Sports, Snowtips-Bactrax (rentals), Ultimate Ski and Ride, Banff Adventures (rentals), Soul Ski and Bike (rentals), Atmosphere. SkiBig3 Adventure Hub (rentals and purchases), Chateau Mountain Sports
Lake Louise: Wilson Mountain Sports and Alpine Social Rentals (Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise).
WHAT TO EAT
You’ll want high-energy food for the trail, plus some much-deserved treats (I love gummy bears)! In addition to a well-rounded lunch, I also love “grab and go” food that is easy to eat as I move, such as nuts or trail mix, dried fruit, and homemade granola bars. If you can’t prepare your own food, a number of take-out options are available in Banff and Lake Louise: