SUMMER

General

The mountain weather is very changeable.  Weather forecasts for this area are unreliable.  Regardless of what the weather forecast says, you could experience temperatures anywhere from 30°C (90°F) down to around the freezing mark.  You also could encounter rain.  Mountain weather can change from one hour to the next, from one valley to the next.  To cover all of these eventualities you need layers, layers, layers:

  • sturdy, supportive sandals
  • shorts
  • short-sleeved shirts (one or two of the athletic type, lightweight tops are quite good as a layering piece and wash and dry quickly)
  • socks
  • running shoes (trainers) or, better still, trail runners that, while they are lightweight, have beefier treads for better footing 
  • long pants / trousers (if you happen to have the kind with zip-on / zip-off legs, you will find them very versatile)
  • long-sleeved shirts
  • a fleece jacket or a sweater (jumper)
  • hooded, waterproof jacket to serve as an outer shell
  • daypack in which to carry your jackets when they are not in use
  • sun hat
  • sunglasses
  • sunscreen
  • insect repellent
  • water bottle (refill it from your hotel tap; do not drink untreated water from lakes, rivers and streams)
  • small, foldable cooler so you can buy sandwiches in the morning before you leave town
  • camera to snap photos of all that beautiful scenery 
  • backpack-style baby carrier if you have an infant or toddler
  • A foldable walking stick for walking on the many unpaved trails (even if you are only a sightseer, not a hiker)

Useless

  • umbrella (too cumbersome in the forest)
  • baby's stroller or push chair (useful in mountain resort towns but hopeless on uneven mountain trails)

Restaurants

All restaurants in the mountains are casual at lunch time.  That is, it is common to see people wearing hiking boots into restaurants during the day.  Moderately priced restaurants also are casual at dinner time.  Even at restaurants selling $30-40 steaks, you will see most people wearing jeans and sneakers or hiking shoes.   Expensive restaurants, on the other hand, are smart casual in the evenings.  If you will be attending a New Year's Eve bash at an upscale hotel, you'll want slightly dressier attire - a coat and tie if you're a man and a cocktail outfit if you're a woman.

Hiking

  • polyester t-shirt
  • lightweight fleece top (a light sweater would work too)
  • water- and wind-proof jacket (e.g., Gore-Tex)
  • wool socks
  • hiking boots
  • sunscreen
  • sunglasses
  • hat
  • camera
  • water
  • shorts or long pants / trousers or pants with zip-on/zip-off legs, according to personal taste
  • walking stick
  • lightweight,collapsible cooler

 This list of hiking gear was inspired by this discussion thread on the TripAdvisor forum. You may also wish to consider the traditional " ten essentials" to pack for safe hiking (map, compass, first aid kit, waterproof matches, extra clothing, hat, rain gear, extra food, knife, flashlight), and to review the best way to minimize your impact on the national park.

Cotton kills

The reason that cowboys wear jeans is that they live in relatively dry climates.  If they lived in cold, wet climates, denim would kill them.  

When cotton gets wet -- from rain or perspiration -- it loses its insulating properties, and it takes a long time to dry.  Wet cotton wicks heat away from the body, and that causes hypothermia.  

If you want to undertake some serious hikes when you're in the mountains, you are better off going with synthetic fabrics.  And, of course, layers. 

Never, never expect conditions to be the same at the end of your hike as they are at the beginning of your hike.  If you set out in sunshine, you could end up in rain and, especially at high elevations, even snow. 

 

TRANSITIONAL MONTHS

If you will be travelling in the Rockies during the transitional months leading up to or away from summer -- late May / early June and September / early October -- you can rely largely on the summer packing lists. These lists are predicated on the fact that the mountains can get down to the freezing level even in July and August.  However, because of the increased possibility of encountering cooler weather in the transitional months, it would be prudent to "beef up" the summer packing lits with a warm hat, gloves and an extra sweater (jumper) or long-sleeved polar fleece jacket. 

 

WINTER 

Skiing 

Don't be a fashion victim! It is possible to look fashionable and stay warm--up to a point. Beyond that point lies hypothermia and frostbite. Don't go there--if you must look like the Michelin Man to be comfortable and enjoy skiing, do it.  Your goal is to stay warm and dry, and the key to that is layers.
  • polypro long underwear
  • wool or silk blend socks
  • turtleneck in a comfortable, breathable fabric, such as cotton or silk
  • insulated ski pants, either bibbed or at least high-waisted, so that the snow doesn't go down the back of your pants when you fall
  • warm, thick fleece pullover
  • windproof shell
  • fleece "bandana", worn around your neck or in your pocket, to use as a face mask in a pinch
  • helmet, which will keep you really warm and would be wise for a beginner (or actually for anyone). or warm toque (cap or beanie) of wool or fleece (if you're not wearing a helmet)
  • on really cold days, a down jacket to go over all of the above
  • properly fitted boots (tight boots = cold toes = misery)
  • ski gloves or mittens
Nice to have :
  • toe warmers for your ski boots; these are little pouches of stuff that you unseal and stick in the toes of your boots; they act like little heaters for about four hours, and then you need to replace them with fresh ones
  • leather ski mitts are much warmer than ski gloves, which is why most women use mitts, while men are macho and wear gloves. Also, you can tuck a handwarmer inside your mitt and keep your fingers warm.
  • a neck warmer keeps your neck warm all the time, and you can always pull it up over mouth and nose if they start to get cold. Knit cotton neckwarmers are easier to breath through than fleece ones.
  • polypro helmet liner (not a toque), combined with your helmet, will keep your head toasty on the coldest days

This page on clothing for dogsledding has a different perspective on winter clothing, with some additional tips and information.

Apres-ski

Very laid back and casual. Jeans with a nice sweater are entirely appropriate for the vast majority of restaurants.

Most of the infornation on what to wear for skiing came from this discussion thread on the TripAdvisor forum. 

Non-skiers

  • synthetic or silk long underwear - tops and bottoms
  • wool pants / trousers
  • cotton pants / trousers, for example, jeans or corduroy pants
  • long-sleeved shirts - turtlenecks are good for layering 
  • sweater / jumper - wool or fleece
  • parka - hooded, thigh-length jacket insulated with down or Thinsulate 
  • mittens or gloves - mittens are warmer than gloves 
  • scarf or neck warmer
  • toque (pronounced "tuke", rhymes with "fluke") cap or beanie - can be fleece or wool or, warmest of all, boiled wool. To reduce scratchiness, look for wool toques with a cotton browband inside.
  • wool socks
  • boots that are rated down to -30º C or colder - the ones that are lined with felt are warmest  - Sorel is a popular brand name - but if you want to pack lightly, a suitable compromise may be insulated, ankle-height running shoes such as LL Bean's snow sneakers
  • sunglasses - you would be surprised how bright sunlight is when it reflects off snow
  • lip balm and moisturizer to protect your skin from the dry air

The interiors of Canadian buildings are well heated.  When you're indoors you'll probably be comfortable with a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and perhaps a sweater. 

If you arrive in Canada without the winter clothes you need, you can buy them in Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton.  Stores that offer good value for money include Mountain Equipment Co-op and Mark's Work Wearhouse.  Stores in mountain resort towns also carry the merchandise you need, but they tend to be a bit more expensive.   

Mountain air is dry air

For some visitors, a stay in Banff will expose them to much drier air than they are used to at home. This can be a blessing in the summer;  Banff's highest humidity rating ever was 33 on the Humidex scale, which is considered only somewhat uncomfortable. But visitors who will be skiing for several days may experience some discomfort from the dry, winter air. Comfort measures include:

  • chapstick or lip balm for dry lips
  • eyedrops - essential for contact lens wearers, and can be helpful for other visitors as well. Contact lens wearers may also find it helpful to rewet their lenses at noon.
  • skin lotion or cream (some swear by George's Special Dry Skin Cream, created by a Calgary pharmacist)
  • a hard candy (not necessarily a throat lozenge) can help with dry throats
  • light petroleum jelly applied inside the nose helps when things get really dry