If you’re gearing up for your first winter in Canada, it’s normal to feel excited and nervous. While winter is gorgeous and gives us the holiday season to look forward to, it’s still undoubtedly harsh. Good quality clothing is essential to beat the cold, and there are many factors that go into picking the correct gear capable of handling the sub-zero temperatures, winds, and unpredictable snow storms we experience in the Great White North.

Check out our eight tips to help you stay warm and toasty through your first winter. Bonus? We even have suggestions to snag the best finds on a tight budget!

Don’t skimp on winter jackets

Jon Snow in HBO's Game of Thrones looks unhappy during cold gusts of wind during winter.

As a student, the prices for winter jackets may seem shocking, but if there’s anything you should never skimp on, it’s your trusty coat. Winter temperatures in Toronto generally have highs of 4 °C to 1°C, to lows of -1 °C to -6 °C. However, that’s without taking into account wind chill – the impact of gusting winds that seep into every gap in your clothing to rob you of warmth.  These winds, which are frequent during winter, can drop wind chill values into the minus 20s.

A good windbreaker can be a lifesaver in these conditions, as it acts as a barrier against the biting winds, helping you stay warm and comfortable during your daily commutes and outdoor activities.

Look for down jackets or heavy-duty insulated jackets

Congolese-born British vocalist and songwriter Miss Baby Sol wraps herself in a warm puffer jacket.

To keep warm even in the chilliest conditions, buy down jackets that are insulated with 550-650 fill power down, which is high-quality enough to keep you warm but still affordable. If you prefer a vegan cruelty-free option, consider heavy-duty insulated jackets made from material such as the 3M™ Thinsulate™ featherless fill. Choosing other cheaper material, such as standard polyester, won’t keep you as warm.

Layering up… just embrace it!

A scene from "A Christmas Story" movie features a child being bundled up.

Another ‘fun’ part about winter is layering. Welcome to your fashion style for the next four months… chic marshmallow. Layering is crucial to staying warm, especially if your jacket is not the best quality or you expect to be outdoors for extended periods. To layer up, begin by wearing a thermal shirts and inner wears, then wear what you normally would, and top it off with your jacket and a wool scarf to keep your face and neck warm.

Gloves and mittens are essential for winter

The character Moira Rose from Schitt's Creek gestures sarcascially with the text "We'll have to find you some mittens" seen below.

Trust me on this… you do NOT want to be stuck outside your door fumbling for your keys with frozen, numb fingers. During particularly cold days, it’s essential to keep your hands warm (hint: just shoving them down your jacket pockets won’t always be enough). Ensure you buy a pair of wool gloves or fleece-lined mittens to keep your fingers warm and nimble.

Try on snowshoes before buying them

A cat frantically digs through snow during winter.

While it does snow a fair bit, Toronto doesn’t get as much snow as other parts of the country. This means ankle-high or mid-calf-high snow shoes are good enough to keep your feet warm and dry. Don’t be me, overprepared “for the worst” and waddling around in knee-high snow boots in class! Ensure you try on your snow shoes or boots to make sure you’re comfortable in them. Buy shoes that are insulated with fleece or Thinsulate material for the best protection.

Waterproof, water resistant, water repellant, what?

A weatherman remarks "We are just getting hammered!" while reporting in gusting wind and rain.

Getting caught outdoors while it’s snowing can leave you feeling like a wet and cold mess – unless you find a jacket that can resist rain or snow. Always ensure your jacket and boots are waterproof (the best protection) or at least water repellant (medium protection). Water-resistant gear (least protection) can protect you during a quick dash across the street but will get soaked within the hour and is not suitable for the entire winter.

Consider thrifting your winter clothes

Macklemore in thrifted winter coat riding on a bike.

We know good quality winter gear is expensive, and that’s where thrifting can save you a lot of money. Check out sites like Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace or Karrot and visit thrift stores for pre-loved clothing. Start early if this is your strategy, as it can take some looking to find the perfect quality and fit. Alternatively, if you’re able to hang on until Black Friday, you’ll find great deals at affordable prices.

To navigate winter like a pro, it’s important to think long-term, since you’ll be wearing these pieces of clothing or footwear like a uniform everyday for months. Ensure that you love the colour and fit of whatever you buy, and carefully read return policies if you’re buying online. With these tips in mind, we wish you a warm, beautiful and fun winter!

Feature image by Andrew Gook via Unsplash

Want to thrift all your winter clothes but don’t know where to start? Check out Toronto’s top five thrift stores for students on a budget.

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