The old saying in Banff goes, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 20 minutes.”
Alberta temperatures are notorious for their unpredictable fluctuations. I once got sunburned during my school lunch break, yet walked home the same day in a hailstorm.
When travelling in the Rocky Mountains you never know what the weather will do next.
So what should you pack when you visit Banff? Here are a few tips.
Winter brings huge dumps of the white stuff, making Banff a bucket list destination for many ski and snowboard enthusiasts. When you are properly dressed you will be able to enjoy the snowy outdoors in comfort.
To survive the chill, you will need warm boots that are waterproof and insulated. Wear thick socks underneath and your feet will stay cozy and dry.
A local tip – when walking in the snow, tuck your jeans inside your snow boots. Otherwise, when you take them off the bottoms of your pant legs will be soggy and cold.
Dress in warm layers. The temperatures can change dramatically in one day, so you will want to be able to add or remove layers. Remember, if it is -20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) or below there is a risk of frostbite, so cover up your hands and ears with gloves and a hat. A woolly scarf is a great accessory – wrap it around your face to keep your cheeks and nose warm.
Get waterproof ski pants. They’re essential whether you plan on snowboarding, tobogganing or making snow angels. Ski pants keep you from getting soaking wet as you play in the snow. When cotton jeans get wet they will wick heat away from your body and can cause hypothermia.
Winter weather in Banff is dry. Bring some moisturiser and lip balm so that your hands and lips don’t become chapped and raw.
Spring + Fall – The Shoulder Seasons
In the transitional seasons of April to June and September to October the weather will be a confusing mix. You’ll experience lovely sunny days and wintry conditions – sometimes within a few hours. You may experience all four seasons in one trip, so it can be difficult to pack.
You won’t need the extreme snow clothing, but still bring different layers for whatever Mother Nature throws at you. A long sleeve shirt as an underlayer, with a mid-weight fleece on top is a good idea.
Add a lightweight waterproof layer if it starts to rain. Bring along a warm hat and a scarf. Or, buy yourself a souvenir “Banff, Canada” toque at one of the many tourist shops!
Banff is as sunny and gorgeous in the summer as it is harsh and chilly in the winter. When the July and August sun beats down on the Bow Valley, the temperatures can soar to the mid to high 20s. Yet, the mercury can plunge when the sun dips behind the mountains, so don’t forget a lightweight jacket.
Bring mostly shorts and t-shirts. However, also pack lightweight long pants to protect your legs from mosquitoes and from scratches when hiking in the brush. You’ll want to bring along sandals for those hot summer days, but also sturdy hiking boots for venturing out on the trails.
Sunblock, sunglasses, insect repellent and a hat are essentials. Plus, bring your swimsuit for splashing around in the Banff hot springs or a scenic local lake.
One thing that you really don’t have to bring while staying in Banff is exceptionally fancy clothes. Unless you are staying at the Banff Springs Hotel and are attending a wedding or a banquet, the dress code for Banff is quite casual. In the restaurants in the evenings you will be fine wearing jeans and other laid back clothing. There’s no need to bring your stilettos or your sparkly evening gown.
If you plan on going trekking on one of the mountain trails during your visit to Banff, what should you bring along?
First of all, make sure that you have good hiking shoes or boots with sturdy soles. The mountain trails are rocky and uneven and you don’t want to be hiking them in flip flops.
You should bring bear spray along with you, just in case. However, ideally you should avoid encountering a bear at all. Hike in numbers or join a small guided hiking tour. Make sure that you leave no food or other scented products like soaps and toothpaste out around your campsite at night. Also, make lots of noise while hiking, the bears will hear you coming and leave the area. Here are a few more tips on bear safety in the Rocky Mountains.
Bring along a small first aid kit as well, which is handy for patching up scratches and blisters. Also, bring plenty of water with you so that you can stay hydrated. The tap water is safe to drink in Banff, so you can bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up anywhere you go. However, don’t drink from the streams or lakes as you don’t know whether the water is safe or will cause stomach issues.
Shirts made from polyester and other sports fabrics are best for hiking. They wick the sweat away from your skin, unlike cotton which will become wet and will cling to you.
Also, don’t forget to bring your camera and a pair of binoculars in case you spot some wildlife during your hike!