Canada is known for many things: our politeness, our beautiful scenery…and our cold weather. According to the Magical Planet website, Canada ranks as the fifth coldest country in the world, with average winter daily temperatures ranging from -15 to -20 C and extremes of -40 C before wind chill.

Extreme temperatures are not uncommon here and exposed skin will freeze in as little as 10 minutes in temperatures of -28 C and below, according to Environment Canada. Knowing how to safely dress can quite literally be a matter of life and death.

Surprisingly, the best way to stay warm is not with a big, bulky, heavy jacket. In fact, layers are the best and most efficient way of keeping warm. In a 2013 CBC article, Eric Clifford, Mountain Equipment Co-op’s outreach coordinator gave advice on layering. Nina Arcon from also noted how to layer.

Arcon suggested wearing three layers, with the first layer next to your skin being a thin, moisture-repelling fabric such as silk, nylon, or polyester. According to the Mayo Clinic, cotton fabrics should be avoided, as they can absorb up to 27 times their weight in water. This means that not only do they take forever to dry, but they can make you colder ( Examples of a good first layer are leggings or long underwear and a turtleneck.

Next is your insulating layer. This is where you want some of your bulk, but take care not to over-layer. Layers are designed to trap air and keep you warm. Too many layers or worse, layers that are too heavy, can cause you to sweat, drawing heat away from your body and lowering your core temperature. This layer could consist of a warm sweater and sweatpants. Avoid jeans if possible, as denim is made from cotton, which does not repel wind and therefore will not be effective in keeping you warm.

The third layer will protect you from the elements, so use waterproof or windproof materials. Clifford recommended not relying on the manufacturer’s temperature ratings, as they can be subjective. Your best bet is to speak to a sales associate and describe your expected outdoor activities. Sedentary activity means creating less blood flow, so you may need heavier clothing. If you’re more active, wear thinner layered clothing that regulates body temperature to stay warm.

Clifford also suggested covering your head, hands, ears, and feet. He said earmuffs are good and mitts are warmer than gloves. And don’t forget your feet! Look for waterproof shoes or shoes with a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane.

Keeping warm starts from the inside out. Be sure to have a hearty breakfast if you plan to be out and active in the cold. According to Clifford, “If you’re eating, it helps get your metabolism going and it helps keep your heat going. Not eating enough if you’re feeling under the weather can also make your condition worse and even more susceptible to the cold.”

It’s not just the average person who needs to take care in these frigid temperatures. The homeless are especially vulnerable when the temperatures drop. A lot of shelters become overwhelmed during freezing weather, and it is often the day hours that are the most critical, when it is simply too cold to be outdoors.

Devin Komarniski, the Bissell Centre’s manager of marketing and communications, said, “Gloves are the most difficult for us to keep stocked up. They go fast when the first cold snap hits. Jackets are the next most important, which we also need in children’s sizes to stock our family closet. Boots are hard to come by as well, but so important. The running sneakers that a person acquired in the summer just won’t cut it in -20 and lower. Sometimes people are left with no option.”

The Bissell Centre, Boyle Street Community Services, and Hope Mission are accepting any and all winter clothing, including socks, long underwear, mittens, toques, boots, and jackets. Socks, mittens, and blankets are most needed and often the least donated items.


Bissell Centre

780.423.2285 ext 111 or

Boyle Street Community Services


Hope Mission

780.422.2018 or

Featured Image: It’s important to dress properly for our prairie winters. | Pixabay