How do I prepare for winter?

Winter can be harsh. You'll need the right clothes, and you'll need to know when it's too cold to be outside safely.

What's winter like?

If you’ve recently arrived in Canada from a country with a warmer climate, you might be wondering what to expect from winter. It’s not uncommon in Canada to have days where temperatures drop as low as -30° Celsius (-22° Fahrenheit), freezing rain makes the roads as slippery as skating rinks and the snow piles up to your knees. But that doesn't mean you have to be stuck indoors the whole time!

As long as you dress right and keep some important safety information in mind, you can still get out there and enjoy everything the season has to offer—from skiing, skating and sledding, to building your very first snowman.

Get the right winter clothes

As soon as the temperatures start to drop, you’re going to need a good winter jacket for day-to-day wear. You can buy one at any department or sporting goods store, or second-hand at a thrift shop. If you can’t afford a winter coat, there are also agencies in most Canadian cities that distribute coats and other winter clothes for free. Ask your local settlement agency or do a search online for details.

Wherever you get your coat, look for something that’s waterproof and well-insulated. You’ll also need warm mittens or gloves, a scarf and boots. A winter hat is essential, too, since a person loses most of their body heat through the top of their head.

Dress in layers

If you’re planning to do any kind of exercise outdoors—including skiing, skating, or even just a lot of walking—it’s a good idea to dress in thin layers underneath your coat. Not only will thin layers of clothing keep you warmer than one thick sweater, but they’ll also prevent you from sweating too much (something that can make you wet, which will make you even colder!) You’ll also be able to remove a layer if you start to get overheated.

Know when to stay inside

On winter days, watch the news or listen to the radio before going out. You’ll want to know about any approaching snowstorms, freezing rain or extreme cold alerts. When you hear these warnings, it’s a good idea to change any plans you might have had for outdoor activities or unnecessary travel and to take extra care to dress warmly, even if you’re just walking to school.

Watch for frostbite

Frostbite happens when a person’s skin freezes as a result of being exposed to low temperatures. It usually affects fingers, toes, ears and noses. The first sign of frostbite is when skin becomes red and swollen and feels numb. After that, it can get grey, pale and blistered. If you think you may have frostbite, the first thing to do is to get inside! Don’t rub the skin. Instead, use warm (but not hot!) water to slowly warm the area. If the numbness doesn’t go away, see a doctor.

Know the signs of hypothermia

When a person’s body temperature drops below what is needed to function normally (35°Celsius or 95° Fahrenheit), hypothermia can set in. This can happen even on a day that isn’t especially cold if a person gets wet and is exposed to the wind. Someone with hypothermia will shiver badly, slur their words and may become clumsy or confused. If you think you or someone you know has hypothermia, get inside as soon as possible. Call 911. Remove any wet clothing and wrap the person in warm blankets while you wait for help to arrive.