What to Pack for Montreal in Winter
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Montreal in winter can be a spectacular travel destination, as long as you pack for it. In the city, winter months are cold. Like, freeze your nose hairs, make your lips numb, phone battery killing kind of cold. I visited in December 2018 and it was -25C/-13F the whole time.
I’ve heard it said again and again that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. Get your packing right and you can enjoy perfect winter activities like attending Montreal en Lumiere, strolling through the old port, or the classic Montreal activity of queueing up outside a restaurant for brunch.
Montreal is a city with a vaguely European style with a Canadian twist. The women here make Sorels look sleek. So take a cue from them and learn to embrace the cold.
The single item on your Montreal packing list that has the power to make or break your trip is hands down your winter coat. I love a packable down jacket for some winter travel but for Montreal in a deep freeze, you need to bring out the big guns. Look for something waterproof, with a hood, and the longer the better. The pinnacle here would be a Canada Goose Rossclair Fusion Fit parka, but it’s not necessary. There are lots of good parkas out there at a range of price points, but I encourage you not to be too thrifty and wind up sacrificing function and comfort.
You may experience some warmer weather in the 0C/32F range during your winter trip to Montreal so, if you have space and the forecast is calling for it, I’d recommend packing a second jacket, either a packable down or a buttoned wool coat.
You’ve got your parka, now you need to protect your feet. Don’t try to be a hero. Get yourself some warm, waterproof boots, with good traction. I saw more than a few local women rocking the Sorel Joan of Arctic fur trimmed boots and you know what? They looked good. They weren’t shivering and stomping their feet trying to get feeling into their toes.
Another good boot option for something a bit sleeker looking and easier to pack and wear indoors are the Ugg Kesey boots. I bought a pair for myself this winter and have been loving them for their traction and casual look.
If you plan on attending any concerts, jazz clubs, dance clubs, or anything other extended indoor event with a coat check, you’ll also want to pack some indoor shoes. Montreal has one of the largest connected indoor pedway systems so it’s entirely possible to leave your hotel, do some shopping, go for dinner, and go see the Canadiens play at the Bell Centre without setting foot outdoors. So pack a nice pair of loafers, ballet flats, Oxfords, or heels. Go ahead, pack two.
After coat and boots, the next most essential item to pack for Montreal in winter is a good hat, scarf, and mitts combo. You may dread hat head but wearing a hat is one of the best ways to keep your whole body warm. Pick up a super trendy knit hat with a furry pom-pom to fit right in.
Ask any traveller and they’ll tell you how great and versatile scarves are. Go for something thick that you could both wear like a shawl indoors or wrap around your face outdoors.
For hands, I prefer mittens since I suffer from Raynaud’s syndrome, which means my hands and feet really hate the cold.What you gain in warmth, you lose in dexterity, so the choice is up to you. A nice compromise are fingerless gloves with a flip top that lets you use a phone (let’s face it, those smartphone gloves are always cumbersome), tie your boots, fish bus fare from your purse. Whatever you go with, just make sure you pack a pair and a spare. No one wants to wear wet mitts.
If you plan to partake in outdoor activities beyond hopping between shops or waiting for transit then you might also want to consider packing a lightweight base layer to go under your clothes. Merino wool is one of the gold stars for warm base layers, but you can also look for more wallet friendly synthetics like the HeatTech line from Uniqlo. Other alternatives could include sock tights under your jeans, or fleece lined leggings.
Rather than packing bulky, heavy sweaters, no matter how cute they are, keep your layers light when travelling to Montreal this winter. Fabric choice will really help here. Natural fibers like cashmere or merino can keep you warm without bulk making you and your suitcase happy.
Your boots should be doing the bulk of the work keeping your feet warm but you’ll want to throw a pair or two of wool socks into your bag. You can either go with the classic Canadian grey wool sock with the red stripe or something more hardcode like an Icebreaker or Smartwool hiking sock. Wear these on days where you plan to spend hours outside, not for window shopping or pub hopping.
Beyond clothing, there are two other things to consider when packing your bags for a getaway in Montreal: dry air and ice.
With snow often comes ice and slippery walking conditions. Montreal does a pretty good job of clearing their sidewalk but it never hurts to take extra precaution with a pair of ice grips for your boots. They pack up small and can even fit in your travel purse. This is a classic “better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them” item. We may have free healthcare in Canada but no one wants a broken ankle on their vacation.
Dry air can cause cracked lips, itchy skin, and flyaway hair. I recommend packing a few dryer sheets in a Ziploc to deal with static electricity caused by dry air. There are specialty sprays and products out there but I’ve found that a swipe of a Bounce sheet works just fine for me and also works on my clothes.
One other thing I’d consider tucking into my purse would be reusable hand warmers. Not only can they keep your hands toasty, but they can warm up your smartphone battery if your phone dies mid-photoshoot. It happens.
For skin, be sure to wear a facial moisturizer with SPF to battle the drying effects of winter air. Also keep some cream-based body moisturizer (not water-based lotion) in your day bag along with a protective lip balm with SPF. I’ll often wear a swipe of lip balm underneath whatever lip colour I’m wearing that day, just for the extra protection.
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.
So get on your gear, grab a hot chocolate, and get ready for an incredible winter vacation in Montréal.
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