Centre for International Experience

Climate and Clothing

Toronto's climate ranges from near tropical in the summer (up to 35° C), to occasional lows of –20° C in the winter. Different kinds and weights of clothing are therefore necessary. Students who do not already possess winter clothing may wish to wait and buy it in Canada. Lightweight clothing, chiefly cotton, is popular in the summer. In the spring and fall when the weather is cooler, sweaters and a lightweight waterproof coat are useful.


Canadian students prefer to dress casually for classes and, indeed, for most occasions. Pants or jeans are acceptable for both men and women and the emphasis is on comfort and practicality. Clothing that is appropriate to the climate, is generally acceptable.

Winter Facts: How to Love Winter

Wintertime in Toronto may seem a little frightening if you've never experienced snow or cold temperatures before. The following will help you prepare for winter and possibly learn to love it!

You may also be interested in a 4th year international student's words of advice about winter for the newly arrived!

Q1. How cold does it actually get during the winter?

In Northern Ontario it can get as cold as –50˚C. The winter in Toronto however is much milder. The temperature doesn't usually go below –20°C and the average winter temperature is only –4.6˚C.

Q2. How do I get to and from school when it snows?

After a snowfall in Toronto the streets and sidewalks are cleared. It is often even safe enough to ride your bike. However, when walking, driving or biking there may be hard-to-see patches of ice (known as black ice) that can be very slippery. So, please take your time and be careful.

Q3. What is “wind chill”?

You will often hear two temperatures on winter weather reports in Canada—one is the actual temperature and the other is adjusted to include the wind chill factor. For example, the actual temperature may be -10˚C, but with wind chill it is -20˚C. This means that outside it will feel like -20˚C, even though the thermometer reads -10˚C.

Q4. What is frostbite and what causes it?

Frostbite occurs when your skin or tissues freeze like ice. The most commonly affected areas include the hands, feet, ears, nose and face. Some factors that increase the likelihood of frostbite are:

  • Long exposure to the cold
  • Very low temperatures
  • High wind chill factor
  • High environmental humidity
  • Wet clothing
  • Inadequate clothing
  • Clothing that is too tight
  • Ingestion of alcohol or drugs
  • High altitudes

Signs of Frostbite


Mild: Blanching or whitening of the skin. Go inside or warm up quickly! Your skin may become red and stay that way for a few hours. It may also swell, itch or burn while you are warming up.


Severe: Waxy skin with a white, greyish-yellow or greyish-blue colour, numbness, blisters, a feeling of the area being frozen or “wooden”. See a medical professional!


Q5: What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia occurs when your core body temperature drops below 35˚C (95˚F). Normal core body temperature is 37˚C (98.6˚F). To help prevent hypothermia, dress warmly and cover up!


Signs of Hypothermia


Mild: Shivering, goose bumps, numb hands, the inability to perform complex tasks with your hands. These are fairly common symptoms in the winter, but it is still important to warm yourself up as soon as possible.


Moderate: Intense to violent shivering, poor muscle coordination, difficulty speaking, sluggish movements, mild confusion or amnesia, signs of depression.


Severe: Shivering stops, blue and puffy skin, inability to walk, confusion, irrational behaviour, semi-consciousness or unconsciousness, erratic heartbeat and respiration. Death is possible at this stage.

You can safely go out in the cold for extended periods, if you are properly prepared. By dressing warmly and covering up any exposed body parts, you can prevent frostbite.


Q6: Keeping Warm — Which is better: one thick sweater or coat, or several thin layers?

Did you know that several thin layers of clothing are more effective at keeping you warm than one large, bulky layer? Layering your clothing also allows you to remove a layer or two if you find you are too warm—this prevents excessive sweating and ultimately keeps you warmer.

Q7: Keeping Warm — What are some examples of layering?

Thermal Underwear: This is worn underneath your regular clothing and is sometimes called long underwear or “long johns”. The best kind are made from insulating synthetic materials, because they wick moisture away from your skin.

Regular Clothing: Tank tops (sleeveless t-shirts), undershirts, t-shirts or thin long-sleeve shirts can be worn underneath sweaters, sweatshirts, cardigans or other shirts. You can also wear tights or leggings under your pants.

Socks: Wool socks or thermal socks will keep your feet nice and warm. You can also put a thin pair of socks underneath your wool socks for extra warmth, if it gets really cold.

Q8: Keeping Warm — Covering your extremities

When it's cold outside, it is very important to cover any exposed skin. This includes your head, neck, hands and feet.


Head: Wear a warm hat, hood, earmuffs, headband or face mask. Sometimes if you are wearing many layers but still feel cold, a hat on your head will warm you up!


Neck: Wear a turtleneck shirt or scarf. Some winter coats come with hoods or high collars that also help to keep your neck warm.


Hands: Wear a warm pair of gloves or mittens. Mittens are warmer, but limit what you can do with your hands.


Feet: Wear warm socks and boots that cover your ankles. Make sure your socks and boots aren’t too tight, as this can actually make you colder!

Q9: What is a tuque?

A tuque is a knit winter hat.  Some types are fitted to the shape of your head, some have a floppy top that hangs down with a soft tassel or pompom at the end and some come down below the ears and have strings—all of them keep you warm!

Q10: Keeping Warm — What should I consider when buying a winter coat?

Basic things to think about when looking for a winter coat:

  • Your budget.
  • Your tolerance for cold temperatures.
  • How long you will be in Canada.
  • How much time you will spend outdoors.


Q11: Keeping Warm — What makes a good winter coat?

Your choice of winter coat will depend on the factors covered in Q10, but here are some features of winter coats to keep in mind.


Outer Shell: This should be a wind & water resistant fabric (e.g., nylon). This is especially important if you plan on participating in winter sports.


Inner Lining: This should be an insulated fabric like fleece.


Size & Length: Take into consideration how many layers you will be wearing under your coat and whether or not your coat will be able to accommodate them. Your coat should still cover your wrists when your arms are fully extended. Consider also the length of your coat—a longer coat will keep you warmer than one that stops at your waist.

Buttons & Zippers: Can you move freely and sit down comfortably with your buttons and zippers done up? How much of your neck is covered when the coat is done all the way up?


Collar & Hood: If there is a collar and/ or hood, does it protect the back of your neck? If the hood is too small, it may come off easily. If the hood is too big, it may prevent you from seeing and hearing properly. Many hoods have an adjustable strap running up the back or drawstrings at the front, so that you can get a better fit.


Drawstrings: If there are drawstrings at the waist or neck of the coat, make sure they aren’t too long as they may get caught in various places.


Cold Drafts: Cold drafts can enter your coat through the sleeve openings, the top or bottom of the coat, through the zipper or buttons or through the fabric itself. Make sure your coat does not gape and that it is made from a tightly knit or wind resistant fabric.

Q12: What is a parka?

A parka is a heavy winter coat with a hood. It covers below your hips, zips up to cover your neck and sometimes covers your mouth and nose. A parka is usually lined with down (feathers) or another insulating material that helps maintain warmth. The hood is often also insulated and is sometimes lined with fur along the outside edge of the hood to help protect your face.


Q13: How can I adjust to the winter environment?

Here are some common problems that arise in the winter, along with proposed solutions.

Problem: Lack of fresh air.
Solution: Go for a short walk outdoors.


Problem: Dry heat.
Solution: Use a humidifier or place some plants in the room.

Problem: Dry skin.
Solution: Drink lots of water and regularly apply skin cream and lip balm.


Problem: Changes in temperature & shock to the body.
Solution: Wear lots of layers. Remove or replace layers as you move between colder and warmer environments.

Q14: SAD – What is SAD?

SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is a mood disorder associated with episodes of depression, which is thought to be related to seasonal variations in light. The most difficult months for SAD sufferers are usually January and February.

Q15: SAD – What are symptoms of SAD?

  • Severe bouts of feeling down (feeling unhappy)
  • Low energy
  • Problems with sleep and appetite
  • Loss of interest and reduced concentration
  • Extreme fatigue (feeling tired)

Q16: SAD – How to combat SAD

  • Spend some time outdoors.
  • Use brighter lights at home.
  • Laugh!
  • Go for a jog.
  • Maintain a healthy mental and physical lifestyle.


Q17: What are some activities I can do during the winter?

  • Indoor or outdoor ice skating
  • Skiing and snowboarding
  • Winter carnivals
  • Trip to Niagara Falls
  • Tobogganing in city parks

Q18: When can I expect the first snow?

The first snowfall in Toronto usually happens toward the end of November, but it is very light and usually melts away the same day.  Cities north of Toronto, like Barrie for example, may get their first snowfall toward the end of October.  In Toronto, heavier snowfalls usually happen between December and February, although it does not snow every day.  Snow season usually finishes by the end of March.

Q19: Where can I look up the weather forecast?

The Weather Network and Environment Canada both have websites where you can check the weather and weather trends. In addition, The Weather Network has a twenty-four hour television channel on cable television.

You can also find weather reports in the daily newspapers and on television and radio news casts.



Climate and Clothing

Living in Toronto means living in a city of vibrant neighbourhoods. You can imagine Toronto as a quilt with different cultures contributing to its fabric.