If you’re wondering what to put on your Banff hiking list you’ve come to the right spot. We love living and exploring in the Canadian Rockies. Every day brings something new and exciting to explore, however the Canadian Rockies are serious mountains and coming unprepared for them could lead to you having an uncomfortable (or worse) time.
We’ve put together our favorite packing list items for the Canadian Rockies. This list is meant to be good in any season, for many different levels of activities. Whether it’s hiking or just wandering around exploring the town of Banff and it’s surroundings here are the things to consider for your trip.
A Word About the Mountains
The town of Banff and Canmore and nestled in the middle of the mountains. At all times you are surrounded by the beautiful Canadian Rockies. This means that whether or not you on top of a mountain or down in town that the weather can change at a moment’s notice.
Even in the summer, it can get quite cold here and the secret to being comfortable is layers. Your best chance of getting ideal summer weather is visiting Banff in July and August. You can see the best time to visit Banff here.
Since the Canadian Rockies vary in the season you’ll want to consider what time of year you are visiting. If you are traveling in the winter (mid-November – mid-May) you should take note of our special winter packing list information at the bottom.
The Essentials for a Canadian Rockies Trip
If you’re not going on an overnight backpacking adventure a daypack should be more than enough to hold your belongings. No matter what you do in Banff you will want a daypack to hold your belongings. My daypack usually consists of a shell jacket, down jacket, hiking poles, bear spray, snacks, water, gloves, chapstick, a buff, first aid kit, navigation, and an emergency blanket.
I love Camelbak daypacks. They are sturdy and fit well on my back with a proper suspension system. This is the Women’s Sequoia 22. The backpack has a stretch overflow pocket, trekking pole attachments. and air support back panel, dual-wing belt, and is built for smaller torsos (I am short.) Their packs are lightweight and sit on the back so well. Cameron has the Fourteener, which is equally amazing.
While I like having a water bottle on my hikes I like having a water bladder even more. A bladder keeps me drinking regularly since I never have to stop hiking and take out my bottle. It’s always readily available when you need it. A bladder is always always always on my hiking gear list.
You should consume at least two liters a water a day while hiking in the Canadian Rockies, often this means you either carry two bottles of water. The better option for carrying that much water on your treks is to carry a water bladder. A water bladder additionally allows you to carry extra water if needed.
I always have a baseball cap in my bag in case the sun gets too intense in the summer. I’ve been out too many times without one and my forehead gets too toasty for my liking – even with sunscreen. A baseball cap protects against that and I highly recommend having one in your bag. This should be on any backpacking packing list.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time hiking in the sun at elevation. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes. Sunglasses are particularly important if you plan to visit any glaciers or high alpine passes as sun reflection from the snow is damaging to your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses; however, we love ours and will never buy cheap ones again. Polarized glasses are great at enhancing vision in bright environments and removing glare from windshields and the water.
I bring a Buff on every trip out in case my ears get cold or I want to have one to cover my face, which happens more often than you may think. We have a collection of buff headwear and bring them everywhere. They’re great for a multitude of reasons such as sun/wind protection, a scarf, headband, or an ear warmer.
We always have one in our suitcase or hiking backpack no matter the destination and consider it one top travel and hiking accessories. I imagine most people have one or two of these by now, but if you don’t it’s time to invest in at least one good one.
Banff Packing List: The Clothing
Both Cameron and I have Fjallraven’s well known Keb pants and they are ideal for the mountains. Fjallraven’s Keb pants are a mountaineering staple. I’ve been asked numerous times on Instagram and in person what brand my pants are, and I feel confident recommending them to anyone. They are seriously SO GOOD.
They keep me warm throughout most of my hikes and are windproof. When I am too hot at the base of the mountain, I am able to unzip the sides for airflow. These are, without a doubt, my favorite women’s pants to hike within the mountains.
If you think it’s going to be a cold day you can easily wear long johns under these as well.
Honestly, I rarely hike in shorts, even in the summer. The weather is too unpredictable where I live, and always a little chilly. Plus, if I fall in shorts you can almost guarantee I’m going to cut myself.
BUT I know it’s not like that everywhere, and I definitely see the need for shorts in hot weather. I have the Fjallraven High Coast Trail Shorts and they are just as comfortable as the Kebs! They are an essential backpacking clothing item to have.
I have six Outdoor Research Echo shirts and rotate them on all my hikes. They are lightweight and moisture-wicking. Seriously, you don’t want to be stuck with a cotton shirt while hiking. Cotton traps all your sweat and then when you get cold it becomes a problem.
Outdoor Research shirts provide full coverage with their long sleeve collections, but you won’t get hot under the sun. These shirts are built with UPF sun protection, AirVent™ moisture management, and ActiveFresh™ odor control technology.
I don’t travel without a shell jacket and I don’t hike without a shell jacket. They are so easy and light to pack up there is no reason to not have one in your day bag. You should always be prepared for a chance of rain when you are hiking. When it comes to hiking clothes the best investment you can make is in a quality shell jacket.
They’re tremendous at protection from the elements like rain, wind, sleet, and even snow. A rain or shell jacket should be on every packing list if you plan on going hiking around Banff.
My hiking shell jacket has come in handy so many times. Many places where it wasn’t supposed to rain and completely unexpected. The Arc’teryx is waterproof, windproof, breathable, and made with Goretex Pro. It’s not just good for traveling and rainstorms but is a protective shell against all levels of weather. I can even wear it in the winter as a waterproof shell over my down jacket.
A mid-layer is essential on any Banff packing list. Mid-layers are a tremendous way to provide insulation in a lightweight manner. These range a lot by activity and the season and can include everything from down jackets, synthetic, fleeces, flannels, softshell jackets, and even hoodies.
I prefer a mid-layer with a hood, but it’s not completely necessary. My main mid-layer in the summer is from Outdoor Research. The refuge Hybrid Jacket is extremely comfortable, Water-Resistant, Wind-Resistant, Lightweight, quick-drying, and breathable.
In the winter I usually hike with my down jacket as a mid-layer as it’s a bit warmer.
If warmth is more important to you than weight, you may want to think about the Feathered Friends Helios Vest. This hardcore down vest features 4.8 ounces of 850-fill down, Lycra armholes, and hem, as well as an insulated draft tube behind the zipper. This means that frigid air has no chance of making it through this beast of a vest.
While it may not be best for climates with a light chill, it is perfect for the extreme cold when you still want the mobility of a vest over a jacket. It is slightly heavier than most down vests, weighing in at approximately 11 ounces, but when arctic weather hits, you will be more than pleased with your investment, and willing to carry the few extra ounces! You can see our favorite down vests here.
I ALWAYS have a down jacket with me on every single outing I go on. They are essential to backpacking and wilderness travel. It’s a just in case jacket that I usually end up wearing when I reach the summit, and it gets cold and windy.
Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint – Feathered Friends, Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater, REI Coop Down Jacket)
We’ve tried a few different brands, but recently settled on Kora as our favorite pair of thermals. It may be best for us as we need something technical when we snowboard or climb mountains to wick away moisture from our bodies.
Kora makes high-performance technical clothing out of quality Yak Wool from the Himalayas — warning they are high priced. However, their technical abilities have far outpassed traditional wool or synthetic materials we’ve used. Bring thermals for any trip in the winter.
We’ve learned to love our feet with a good pair of merino wool hiking socks. You will want to keep your feet nice and dry while you walk around. Most importantly, wool socks stay fresh for several days as they have natural antimicrobial properties.
We travel with a couple of pairs of the Darn Tough Merino socks and our feet have never felt cold or wet. As a bonus, they’re produced in Vermont!
Smartwool also makes hiking specific socks that are perfect for long days in the mountains. Consider good socks a necessity for your Banff packing list.
This should really go without saying, but any woman should be hiking in a sports bra. Of course, it’s completely up to you, but you’ll want something that is light, nonconstricting, moisture-wicking, and will hold your boobs in when you’re hiking.
My favorite new sports bras are from Yogavated! They are so incredibly comfortable and supportive, perfect for days out.
Underwear isn’t the most exciting thing to talk about in terms of men’s hiking clothes. However, they’re an important part of your wardrobe and a poor pair of underwear can ruin a hike, especially a multiday trek. We don’t just use this for hiking around Banff, but also for traveling in general since I don’t always have access to a washer.
Women have specific hygiene needs in the backcountry. To prevent bacterial infections it’s important to avoid wearing cotton underwear. Smartwool makes its Siren series of wool underwear that are amazing for their moisture management and antimicrobial properties. You have the option of thong and bikini which really depends on the type of pants or shorts you’re wearing. I own both, but the bikini obviously offers a bit more protection.
In terms of Men’s underwear, Cameron loves Saxx underwear. If you’re unfamiliar with Saxx the underwear has a small pouch for your business. After, extended use I can say it’s a phenomenal feature that works perfectly. There is no need for adjustments when putting them on and off. The result is exceptional comfort that does an effective job of pulling away moisture and heat.
Hiking Shoes for the Canadian Rockies
Boots are important footwear essential. First,, you’ll need to determine what kind of boots you want. Lightweight boots are great for elevation gain, while leather boots can be great for long days on a trail.
If I’m on a short backpacking trip sometimes I prefer to wear my trail runners. Trail runners are great for those days when I want to move a little faster and run down the mountain. They are much lighter than hiking boots, but don’t provide the ankle support that boot does.
My favorite trail runners are the Hoka One Ones Speedgoat 4. They’ve lasted me years!
Banff Packing List: If Your Camping
Hiking Backpack with Raincover
If you’re doing any multi-day hikes you will need a good hiking backpack. A proper hiking backpack supports the weight of your load and should hold everything you need for a trip in the great outdoors. A good hiking backpack should be comfortable, have a nice design, proper material, and be the correct volume and weight for your trip. We break down all the best hiking backpacks here.
Our new favorite hiking backpack is made by Gregory. The Gregory Baltoro Gregory backpack is a workhorse designed to be used and abused. The Baltoro/Deva is designed to carry a heavy load without breaking your back on the trail. It has a superior suspension system with plush padding and a great organization. If you’ll be on extended thru-hike trips and don’t mind sacrificing a pound or two, this is your ideal hiking backpack.
MSR Hubba Hubba Tent
You’ll need a tent if you’re camping in the Banff backcountry. Since you’re backpacking you will need something ultralight. Our go-to is our MSR Hubba Hubba 2 backpacking person ten.
The Hubba Hubba is a top seller for MSR. It’s ultralight and has a super-fast setup system. This tent is waterproof and ultra-durable for any mountain adventure. It’s a great size for two people and there is even extra space to move around.
NeoAir Uber Lite
You’ll want a sleeping pad under you while you sleep. Not only is it more comfortable, but it provides insolation that you’ll need to stay warm. The ground gets very cold in the wilderness, even if it’s summer. Without a sleeping pad under you, your body will take in all that cold.
We travel with the new NeoAir Uber Lite. It’s good for backpacking since it only weighs 8oz and you can blow it up in under two minutes.
A pillow is a backpacking essential for a night of good night sleep in the mountains. Therm-A-Rest makes durable pillows from upcycled foam. These pillows are soft and expand large enough for a comfortable rest.
Therm-A-Rest Sleeping Bag
Don’t go into the backcountry without a sleeping bag. Even in the summer, it gets cold at night and you’ll need a proper sleeping bag to provide you with the warmth you need. We personally have the new Vesper 20F/-6C Quilt. This is an awesome comfortable sleeping bag featuring 900-fill Nikwax Hydrophobic Down. It’s ultra-light and good for overnight backpacking trips.
It’s not always safe to drink water from rivers and streams. We previously used the Lifestraw Go for all those times during our travels when the water is questionable.
However, over time we became annoyed with the water bottle as the filter aged and clogged. Plus the Lifestraw leaks when it is on its side. We now switched to the Grayl Ultralight Purifier. It’s a simple design that is effective and does not leak making it a hiking essential.
Most importantly it is a purifier, not a filter. The Grayl water bottle system purifies water vs. filters which removes viruses and virtually removes all threat of waterborne illnesses. The only drawback is it costs double the Lifestraw Go.
MSR PocketRocket Deluxe
This is the latest burner from MSR who have been designing these burners for ages, and the Deluxe is their best one yet. It’s not the lightest burner on the market, but at only three ounces, it’s pretty close. It’s a significant update to the old RocketPocket 2 with new recessed burner holes, regulator, a piezoelectric lighter, and pot supports. The result is a burner that is easier to light, burns consistently, and handles wind very well that feels nothing like its predecessor.
In use the burner is exceptional, and it’s easy to deliver a consistent temperature whether boiling water or simmering to cook food on a pan. Most impressive is the sheer amount of heat the burner throws our boiling water faster than any other cooker we’ve used. It also comes with a small stuff sack that fits well inside your cook kit.
Other than the typical drawbacks to canister burners, the PocketRocket Deluxe didn’t always light on the first ignition click (nit-picking here) and could stand to be a little more fuel-efficient. Altogether, it’s likely the best backpacking stove, and I love it to use it when we’re hiking in the mountains as it handles wind surprisingly well.
Utensils, Plates, and Cups
Look for lightweight plates, utensils, and cups so you can enjoy your nights in the backcountry. Don’t pack more than you think you’ll need though – this stuff gets heavy.
The idea of going a day without coffee is sacrilege. There are a number of options for making coffee while backpacking so it’s tough to choose the best one. Our personal favorite is a small drip coffee maker from GSI, called the Ultralight.
It’s easy to clean, makes the perfect coffee, and doesn’t even weight a full ounce. A lot of people rave about the Aeropress, but we’re not fans of all the parts and the fact it’s a lot heavier than drip coffee options — we’d say it’s better for car camping.
The traditional way of hanging food over a tree in a nylon sack is not always effective. Many people have lost food in this method which can be a serious drag on multiday trips. The alternative is to use a bear canister which is an airtight container meant to remove any scent of food.
We have one bear canister and have used it on shorter treks around the Canadian Rockies, especially with the high population of bears in the area. There is a downside due to the weight, bulkiness, and inefficiency of stuffing food in a hard container.
To abide by Leave No Trace principles you should always wash yourself and dishes with biodegradable soap at least 200 feet away from a water source. Then pour wastewater into a cat hole 6 to 8 inches deep. A few drops of this goas a long way.
Banff Packing Accessories
A towel should be on everyone’s backpacking checklist who plans to spend the night outside in Banff National Park. Not only are they good for rinsing off at night, but also for those times you want take a dip in an alpine lake!
If you’re going into the backcountry or hiking during the spring or fall you should definitely plan on packing gaiters. Gaiters protect your legs from getting snow in them. There is definitely snow year-round in some parts of the world. Make sure to do your research to determine if they’ll be snow where you’re at.
We both have gaiters from Outdoor Research and love them. OR makes all sorts of great backpacking gear.
It’s a good idea to bring a small mat to sit on during breaks if you’re in the mountains. The stone and ground can often be much colder than the air so it conducts heat and will make you cold.
A pad can serve a lot of purposes to like backrest, pillow, cooking surface, or a place to change your clothes. We bring the Z Seat on many of our backpacking trips and appreciate the comfort when we want to just relax and enjoy the view. They are light though so make sure they don’t blow away. It’s best to keep them inside your pack, instead of the outside on a windy day.
You’ll 100% need a headlamp on any Banff camping trip. They are helpful if you are hiking before sunrise or after sunset, and for strolling around camp.
We have several headlamps, but one of our new favorites is the Black Diamond Spot. It took several recommendations online before settling on this one because of its affordable price and durability.
It delivers 325 lumens, costs $40, and will likely last a decade or longer sweet deal if you like to spend time outdoors. Whether it’s a short trip or long one, a headlamp is always on my backpacking packing list. Having one could save your life!
If you have plans to take part in a long day or multi-day hikes around Banff or Kananaskis Country a pair of hiking poles are a great way to save your knees and prevent injuries. If you’re on a full day of hiking in the mountains you’ll gain and descend a lot of elevation. So, it’s easy for your legs to get tired and a pair of hiking poles will pay off. Although I don’t always need hiking poles, they are always in my pack. I almost ALWAYS end up using at least one while I’m descending a mountain.
Black Diamond is a company dedicated to mountain sports and has worked hard to craft wonderful products. I personally use the Black Diamond FLZ Hiking Poles, but there are some other great poles out there produced by companies like REI and MSR. “Z” poles are fantastic as they’re lightweight and can be stashed inside a backpack should you not need them.
Unless I am hiking in leggings I need a belt to secure my pants. The newest one I just got is a Jelt Belt. Jelt is a women-owned social enterprise that produces belts made from 100% recycled plastic bottles with an innovative patented flat buckle that won’t show a bump under tops or tees.
Both Cameron and I have a few of these bad boys and they are SO much better than regularly clunky belts.
I have a pair of Outdoor Research gloves in my hiking pack at all times. They are great for when you are scrambling and I always end up using them at some point on my hike or any backpacking trip. I never want to come back with bloody hands and they protect against that.
It gets cold at night in the mountains. A warm hat can make or break your comfort. No one likes a cold head and ears so stick one in your backpack just in case. A nice is one of those backpacking necessities.
Banff Hiking Food
Snacks are an essential part of your backpacking checklist. Pack some high calorie snacks for your hike on the trail. Popular options are dried fruit, energy gels, bars, or balls, jerky, nuts, or even a Snickers. Hiking at elevation can burn a lot of calories so it’s important to maintain your glucose levels.
It’s advised to eat as much as 200-300 calories per hour of exercise. If it’s a long day on the mountain you can always bring a packed lunch with a sandwich and high calorie like dried fruits. (I’m pretty much a kid and still love a peanut butter and jelly sandwich).
If you’re on a long multiday hike where you are carrying everything on your back with you will need to bring lightweight food with you.
Mountain House makes high-quality, freeze-dried meals that actually taste good. You just add water and you’ll have a quick hot mail for the trail.
They also come in great in a backpacking emergency situation, making them a hiking must-have. A few bags of this could save your life!
Emergency Supplies and Safety for Banff Hiking and Backcountry
A helmet should always be used if you are rock climbing, bouldering, or scrambling up places where there are lots of people or high probability of rockfall.
Seriously, it doesn’t take a big rock to fall on you in the mountains – best case scenario it will hurt, or worst case scenario – death.
You also never know when a cheeky mountain goat will kick some loose rocks down below, so a helmet is always a good call. Both of our helmets are from Black Diamond.
This is where preparation for spending a night out in the wilderness comes into effect. If you’re on a short loop around town it’s probably not necessary, but any significant hike in a national park or wilderness area presents the risk of spending the night outside.
When temperatures drop at night it presents the very dangerous threat of hypothermia or frostbite. An emergency backpacking blanket is a light and small item to keep in your pack.
If you’re visiting Banff in the summer and plan to venture anywhere outside of the main shopping area of town you need bear spray. Bear spray is your last defense before a bear attack. We wear ours on our hips so it can be accessed in two seconds.
Remember bear spray is useless if it’s inside your backpack. If you follow proper bear precaution you hopefully will never have to use bear spray. Travel in groups, make lots of noise, and don’t store any food in your tent!
Never a bad idea to have a compass on any backpacking trip.
We spend a lot of time in the Banff backcountry which means we are disconnected and far from a cell phone signal. This brings a lot of risk in case of an emergency. The Garmin Inreach allows for us to have a GPS for navigation which keeps us safely on the trail.
Then should the worst ever happen we have an emergency button through Inreach that notifies search and rescue should we ping the satellite. It’s a lifesaving device, that also does nifty features like send short messages and even allow for friends and family to track your whereabouts when you’re on the trail.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit should ALWAYS be in your backpacking checklist. It is an important backpacking essential and could save your life in an emergency. We go on every hike with an emergency first aid kit in our bag.
Here is what we recommend you pack in a basic first aid kit for day or multi-day hiking trips.
- Ibuprofen — NSAID. Treats pain, fever, swelling.
- Tylenol — Pain reliever that does not thin blood in case of a concussion or open wound.
- Benedryl — Bites, stings, allergies, and a sleep aid.
- Pepto Bismol — Antimicrobial that helps treat stomach issues.
- Imodium — This is is used to prevent dehydration in the event of diarrhea, but should be avoided as it does cause constipation. Not necessary on a day trip.
- Antifungal Cream — Not necessary on a day trip, but it’s good for your hiking first aid kit to prevent rashes. Of course, this is best minimized with proper clothing and moisture management.
- Bandaids/Gauze — Great for cuts, blisters, or scrapes.
- Medical Tape — This is great for compression to reduce swelling, building a splint, or stabilizing a rolled ankle.
- Antibiotic Ointment — Use the disposable packets as it helps save weight with only one or two in your bag.
Having fire starter can help you in an emergency, it’s worth having a few on you in the backcountry.
It’s a good idea to carry with your supplies to start a fire should you need one. We like to carry a disposable butane lighter, but it’s also possible to carry sturdy waterproof matches in a container. It’s also a good idea if you’re in wet conditions to carry some kindling that can be used to start.
Nothing sucks more than getting burned outside and not having any relief from the sun. Stop the burn before it happens and put on sunscreen.
A knife or multi-tool is really helpful for just about anything, and could really get you out a pickle in the wilderness if need be. We can’t hike into the mountains with a box of tools, but a Leatherman makes for a good substitute.
Ever since I developed the habit of carrying one in the film industry it has stuck. I’ve tried out a few brands but always come back to the Leatherman brand name. Just remember to always take it out of your hiking backpack when flying as it won’t make it past security.
After using about a half dozen different versions of the Leatherman I still love one of their cheapest models. The Wingman has all of the basic necessities and spring-loaded pliers that feel great in the hand.
During peak summer the mosquitos are out to play and can really ruin a fun night around the campfire. It may is worth putting a small bottle on your hiking packing list.
Banff Packing List Extras
We have a GoPro with us at all times in the wilderness. They are great for grabbing that quick photo or video clip in the mountains. The new GoPro Hero 8 has a stabilizer and we use it all the time on the peaks to grab stable footage. I love that it’s light and the battery lasts for a few days!
If you want to take stellar photographs on your Banff trip, you’re going to have to get past the phone camera. We have the Fuji X-T3 and love it! This beautiful and reasonably priced camera is both weather-resistant and mirrorless. It is easily the best ASP-C camera on the market and gives a run at many of the full-frame cameras.
After all, is a full-frame camera really a necessity? In my opinion, not at all! We love photography, posting to Instagram, and posting on this website so we always have a camera on us on any hike.
Peak Designs Clip
You can see this clip on the photo to the left. It hooks onto your hiking backpack and provides instant access to your camera. This is has been one of our favorite additions to our camera equipment and hiking outfit. The Peak Design capture clip allows for a camera to be clipped on to your backpack strap or belt. It has to be one of the best accessories we’ve ever used for carrying our camera.
The clip feels secure and robust with a straight forward design that makes switching straps easy. We’ve brought it on several hikes around the Canadian Rockies now and it has changed the way in which we photograph hikes. The access it provides to your camera is so much better than a camera strap that allows a camera to swing and banging into everything.
It’s super handy and a must for anyone who wants to carry their camera on hikes, but not have to fumble around in their bag every time they want to take a photo.
Journal and Pen
Write your thoughts down at night before you go to sleep. Keeping a trail journey is a fun part of being in the wilderness.
If you want binoculars to spot birds or wildlife grab a pair of compact ones! We break down the best compact binoculars here.
Bushnell makes great budget binoculars and has long been making great binoculars and for all price ranges. The Bushnell 10×42 H20 Waterproof Binoculars have amazing HD clarity and quality optics for less than $100. Like all Bushnell products they are durable and have an O ring that is sealed for fog-free viewing.
The non-slip rubber provides a firm grip and the center focus knob is large enough to give you easy and seamless adjustments. It’s the perfect pair of binoculars for those who are unsure if they want to invest in a pricier pair of binoculars.
Backpacking Essentials: Health and Hygiene
If you’re doing any multi-day hikes or backpacking while visiting Banff you should take care of yourself! These are the backpacking travel essentials I always have on me.
- SPF Lipbalm
- Menstrual products
- Hand Sanitizer
- Toothbrush and Eco-Friendly Toothpaste
- Eco-Friendly Baby Wipes
- Sealable Bag (to pack it out)
- Sanitation Trowel
Banff Winter Packing List
It gets COLD in the Canadian Rockies in the winter. Come prepared for a proper Canadian winter here. A short rundown which includes ski/snowboarding gear and winter fun clothes.
- Down Jacket
- 1 x Top Base Layer
- 1 x Bottom Base Layer
- 2-3 x Wool Sports Bra
- 2-3 x Wool Ski Socks
- 1 x Mid-Layer Jacket
- 1 x Shell Jacket
- 1 x Shell Pants
- 1 x Insulated Jacket*
- 1 x Snow Pants*
- 1 x Mitts or Gloves
- 1 x Balaclava
- 1 x Buff Headwear
- 1 x Goggles (if skiing or snowboarding)
- 1 x Helmet* (if skiing or snowboarding)
Down jackets are great as they offer a lot of performance but still, have a trendy look. They come in a wide variety of styles and you can find trendy ones that look very fashion-forward. Down jackets here aren’t worried about minimizing weight so they’re often heavier and much warmer.
Triple FAT Goose makes good heavy duty winter down jackets.
There’s always room for a comfy sweater in our winter travels. Since we live in the mountains we’ve got a nice collection of wool sweaters. Sweaters are all about personal preference, but we love a classic wool sweater. This one from Fjallraven.
Top Base Layer
A base layer (thermal underwear). Your base layer is the layer of clothing touching your skin. Therefore you will want something comfortable and flexible. We strongly recommend a quality base layer made of a natural fiber like wool. We spend five months skiing every year so we’ve invested in yak wool layers from Kora, but that comes at a premium. A great advantage of wool is it’s odor resistance, I washed my yak wool layer once last year and we went skiing over 50 days.
For the average vacation or if it’s your first ski holiday I would recommend picking up thermals made from a polyester or nylon blend. You can find them on Amazon, at outdoor stores, or any cheap department store carrying winter wear. Do not buy a cotton base layer as cotton pulls body heat away from you when wet. Your base layer doesn’t have to be the most attractive thing in the world as it’s more or less underwear. Consider your base layers one of the top priorities when packing for a ski holiday.
Bottom Base Layer
Make sure to have a base layer for your whole body. The base layer for your legs is probably more important than the upper body. Remember to purchase thermals made from wool or a reliable synthetic material. Base layers for your legs are also great for walking around the town or a resort.
You don’t want to wear your ski pants to the bar, but jeans might be a little cold. However, if you slip on a pair of thermals underneath it makes life a lot warmer. The same size advice for your top applies to the bottom nice and snug. When purchasing make sure to note size charts as top and bottoms sizes can be different. (I wear a size small bottom and medium top.)
The other option is to consider is a 3/4 thermal bottom that stops at the calf. These short thermals are designed to stop above the ski/snowboard boot and reduce the chance of pain from scrunched thermals. It’s a more important consideration for skiers and their stiff boots because as snowboarders we’ve never experienced any discomfort.
In reference to ski socks, there are three elements to seek out in a pair of socks. First, you want to select a material such as wool or synthetic, not cotton. Do not wear cotton socks as they will almost certainly lead to cold feet. Wool socks aren’t that expensive and everyone likely has a pair or two in their sock drawer for everyday life.
First, you want to select a material such as wool or synthetic, not cotton. Do not wear cotton socks as it will almost certainly lead to cold feet. Wool socks aren’t that expensive and everyone likely has a pair or two in their sock drawer for everyday life.
If you aren’t a diehard ski fanatic any pair of wool socks or warm synthetic socks will do the job. However, an important second element in ski socks is the height. Ski specific socks are cut high up the calf so that they protect the skin from the boot. Many brands also offer dynamic panels on the heel and shin where pressure and abrasion are most likely to occur.
The last consideration is in terms of fit. Try to opt for slim-fitting socks, as loose or bulky sock can bunch up around the shin and ankle. As the sock bunches up it cuts off circulation and results in cold feet, plus general discomfort.
For the average ski trip packing list, I would suggest two pairs of ski socks and if it’s an extended trip (2+ weeks) three pairs of socks. If you’re worried about them getting too dirty just hand wash pairs in the sink and lay them by the heater. One last tip, always always keep your socks dry when you get ready. My socks are the last thing I put on before my boots. I’ve had days with cold feet because I walked into the hotel bathroom to brush my teeth or got sweaty driving to the ski resort… no joke.
This is your insulating layer and where you’ll get the majority of your warmth. They go on over your thermals and also operate as a jacket for when you’re not skiing or snowboarding. Mid-layers come in a wide variety of fashions and we have several different types for different conditions. The most common are down jackets, synthetic down jackets, Polartec jackets, fleece jackets, and synthetic hoodys.
The most affordable option we recommend for everyone is a fleece jacket, as it provides plenty of warmth at an affordable price. It’s not made to hold up to extreme conditions, but the average skier shouldn’t be out in adverse conditions anyways. We both use a synthetic down jacket from Arc’teryx as our mid-layer as it’s lightweight provides great warmth, and handles moisture well. I have the soon to be rereleased Arc’teryx Nuclei (Spring 2020) and Tasha has their classic Proton Hoody.
Shell layer (jackets/snow pants). Shell layers are made out of waterproof and usually windproof material. Premium jackets use a multilayered GORE-TEX. It’s the main layer that separates the wearer from the outside world. A good shell jacket should not only keep you warm but protect you from the snow/moisture.
The jackets we use are the men’s Arc’teryx Sabre AR and Women’s Sentinel AR shell jacket. These are top of the line jackets made with GORE-TEX and built to handle everything ski and snowboard. The tough jackets keeps us bone dry in adverse conditions and the brushed flannel interior feels great to the touch. If you want a more affordable option check out the REI Co-op Stormbolt GTX, Helly Hansen Sogn, or the Outdoor Research Skyward II.
If you have the right pair of pants you need a lot less insulation in the legs than you would think. Robust shell pants will keep you dry and protect you from the cold winter wind. These pants are most commonly a lightweight material like GORE-TEX that is water and wind-resistant. We have a couple of pairs of shell pants, but the big difference in the pants are those with insulation and without insulation.
To compliment our top jacket we went with the Arc’teryx Sabre Shell pants. Similar to the jacket they’re bomb-proof pants made for sending if off jumps and tackling steep lines in the resort or backcountry. They feature things like rear leg zips for ventilation when climbing mountains and kevlar enforced insteps to prevent cuts from crampons or ski edges. However, insulation only comes in the form of a thin flannel brushed interior. They aren’t designed for sitting around in the cold.
That being said there are a plethora of pants that are much more affordable and provide plenty of performance. You can pick up more affordable shell pants from a wide range of gear companies like Outdoor Research, REI, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, and Helly Hansen.
For the best performance, we suggest the three-layer system. The only problem is this can be expensive and a little cold for those that are just starting out with winter sports. Simply put an advanced skier tends to run hotter than a beginner as they’re moving faster, thus more body heat. If it’s your first ski trip consider picking up an insulated jacket instead of a shell and mid-layer.
An insulated jacket is often considered “resort wear” and it’s a perfect jacket for most to have as it works well in everyday life. Resort wear insulated jackets come in a wide variety of price points and you can even pick up some three-layer options that have multiple detachable layers. Of course, any generously cut insulated jacket can be worn with multiple layers to keep yourself toasty warm on extra cold days.
One of the best value options in the ski jacket world is the Columbia Bugaboo II Interchange Jacket. We’ve been long-time fans of Columbia for their great value with solid products. This jacket combines a decent shell with two detachable layers inside (fleece and down). Outside of that, you have a massive selection of insulated jackets to pick from we’ve personally loved jackets from Outdoor Research, Patagonia, Helly Hanson, The North Face, Stio, and REI. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The other obvious items for a ski and snowboard trip is snow pants. Snowpants are essential for anyone heading up the mountain. If you’re a weekend warrior or take one ski trip a year consider some decent pants like The North Face Freedom pants. They don’t cost an arm and a leg but deliver a heck of a lot of performance with a waterproof exterior and synthetic insulation.
If you want something even cheaper bargain shop around on Amazon or at your local department/sporting goods store. I spent several short weekend trips when I started snowboarding in $50 snow pants from a generic sporting goods store. They kept me happy and warm, enough.
If you plan on skiing or snowboarding in deep powder, which does happen on stellar days at Lake Louise and Sunshine, bibs are not a bad option in lieu of regular snow pants.
Bibs wrap around your entire body like overalls, which may sound restraining when you’re being active but they actually prevent snow from falling down your pants in the event of a fall in the snow.
We just recently started using 686 gear and love their fit, style, and overall durability of the pant. We’ve ridden powder a few times this season and can confirm that we stay completely dry in these bibs still!
Mitts or Gloves
Quality gloves will be your best friend on the slopes because no one likes it when they can’t feel their hands. Seriously, the main reason people don’t enjoy skiing or snowboarding is when they get cold. Many prefer mittens as they keep your fingers together and allow for less surface area to the cold. This means your hands stay warmer in mitts than gloves.
That being said this comes from two snowboarders. We know that many skiers prefer glovers so that they can separate their fingers more easily when dealing with their ski poles. It’s all personal preference, but if you’re prone to a chill I’d suggest some mitts. And at the end of the day gloves are one of the last things you want to forget about for your winter holiday.
It’s always good to pack some snow protection for your face. On sunny days we’ll go without anything, but more often than not we expect snowy conditions on the mountain. We generally switch between two different styles of face protection.
The primary for bad weather and cold days is a merino wool balaclava. We’ve tried a bunch of different balaclavas and it’s tough to get one that doesn’t collect tons of moisture before freezing to your face. As for the best warmth and performance we’ve found a wool balaclava can do wonders. Our next choice would be for a fleece one that can be bought for super cheap!
Unless you’re on a budget, don’t care, and taking a short weekend trip with guaranteed sunshine I would strongly recommend packing a pair of goggles. They are an essential part of your ski outfit and I consider it a lifeline. Goggles provide protection for your eyes and aid your vision on the mountain.
We have been long-time fans of Smith goggles for their unrivaled optics quality and performance in low light. Their latest goggles mag technology in their goggles for easy switches between low light and sunny days. Even if you don’t want to drop $200 on goggles, it worth picking up a good budget option. For only $60 you can grab the Giro Roam that includes two lenses for low light and sunny days.
It’s tough to come by ski goggle rentals so opt if it’s your first time opt for the Giro Roams or order a cheap $20 pair off Amazon as it will save you a lot of headaches on the mountain.
You aren’t going to trudge around town in your ski or snowboard boots. Pick up a pair of a functional, but stylish boot like Sorel’s Caribou boot. Of course, it all depends on where you’re headed. Some places are higher in elevation or receive more snow at the base than others so they require higher ankle boots.
Gloves or Mittens
I suggest bringing at least one pair of casual gloves or mittens for just walking around. I personally like the ones that have touchscreen fingertips. It’s also common for many ski-specific mittens and gloves to come with liners that work well for casual use around town.
Not wearing a helmet is a thing of the past. Do yourself and your noggin a favor and wear a helmet when you ski or snowboard. This applies whether you are a beginner or expert. The great thing about helmets is they keep your head and ears warmer than hats too!
We rock the Smith Vantage Helmet as it’s considered one of the best helmets on the market. It provides robust protection around our head, plenty of ventilation, and a cozy soft interior. After getting a concussion last ski season, wearing a helmet, it’s not something I plan to forgo anytime soon. If it’s your first time traveling with ski gear carry your helmet onto the plane strapped to the outside of your backpack. Don’t worry if you don’t own equipment every ski rental shop should offer helmets.
What You Don’t Need to Bring to Banff
Club Dresses: There are no clubs in Banff or Canmore. There is no need for a short clubbing dress. The best thing you’ll find here is a brewery or distillery where you would instantly feel out of place in a short dress.
Heels: There’s absolutely no scenario in the Canadian Rockies where you will need heels. Oh yea, and don’t go hiking in them – that’s a bad idea.
Dress Clothes in General: Both men and women don’t need to worry about getting super fancy here unless you absolutely want to. If you’re going to a nice event a sweater and black pants work just fine.
Bottled Water: The one thing that drives me nuts every summer are the grocery stores that sell cases of bottled water and the visitors that think they need to buy them. Not only is this a waste of plastic, but you don’t need to. worry about the tap water here. It’s SO good and completely fine. Please don’t buy bottled water here.
How to Use this Canadian Rockies Packing List?
Obviously you don’t need everything on this Banff packing list all in one go. These essentials are to give you ideas and recommendations for your Banff trip. We use all of these products on a regular basis while living in the Canadian Rockies, but not all at one time.
What works for a day hike will be different from a three-day camping trip. What is good for climbing mountains is different than what you need for walking around Banff.
To use this backpacking gear list effectively you need to consider your needs and go from there!
We Have an Entire Website on Banff!
We live in this beautiful area of the world and want to make sure you have an epic time in the wilderness. Check out The Banff Blog for more travel information.