Packing Light: or how to keep warm for a winter trip


As promised, perhaps more of a threat, this will be a list of gear – not winter sports gear, just the basics needed when travelling on a budget to a winter location. No easy feat to pack light when everything is bulky. It is a good thing I am not planning to fly anywhere on this trip. Just looking at my handwritten list – old school all the way when I first start researching a new adventure – has me reconsidering if I really need all that stuff.

A note about outdoor winter activities: it appears some of the higher end accommodations provide the necessary gear through rentals. Guests pay for rooms using credit cards, ergo, no worry about anyone walking off with a winter coat, boots or whatever else they might not have brought I will not be using a credit card. Lesson although a nuisance, bring back my winter clothes every year from Ontario!

Daunting task – My reasoning seems sound, the weight and bulk may change my mind. Some of the items are always included when I travel.

  • Osprey Sirrus 36 – lightweight, no need to worry about stowing it in the baggage car.
  • Ultra Light Down Throw – from Quilts Etc
  • WAci ultra quick dry towel – from Home Outfitters
  • Emergency kit – I still have to go through this to pull out the important items and decrease bulk
  • Travel coffee press and coffee – perhaps the most necessary item! Small flashlight
  • Medicine for one week – after I dropped several pills while waiting at a taxi stand in Chengdu, China I always take extra with me. Perhaps I should look into the likelihood of avalanches that could close the railway in March.
  • Day pack – to stuff my thermos, food, etc. into while on the train; emergency kit, food and water if I become foolish enough to attempt a hike along one of the trails. Such an endeavour will need some extremely serious thought; I am prone to meeting up with bears.
  • one book – possibly one I can just leave behind, as difficult as that is for me to do
  • electronics – iPad, iPhone and chargers; camera. I always use my iPhone but dropped it when in ON which means the necessity of a back-up, after all, I am going to be in the Rockies!
  • toque, (2?) mittens, gloves, scarf (I did mention I left all my major winter wear in Ontario)
  • Boots – my conundrum is that they do not have great grips, only figured that out recently, and my icers are, of course, with my winter gear.
  • Winter socks – 4 – 5 pairs, I will break down and buy some
  • Light socks – 4 – 5 pairs, anything to ensure I do not get cold feet
  • slippers – I hate wearing outdoor footwear when sleeping
  • 2 pairs warm joggers (outer layer)
  • 4 pairs leggings (they will double as pyjamas)
  • 3 long sleeve light shirts (also doubling as PJs)
  • 2 sweaters – or should it be 3? My handwritten note asks if I even have that many.
  • fleece jacket and Mac in a Sac waterproof jacket (the latter is to keep my dry) I also have a heavy duty, knit sweater I am considering as an extra layer. I already know it can withstand -15c wind and cold.
  • basic toiletries

In addition, I am considering purchasing gaiters and another set of icers to keep me from getting snow in my boots and slipping. As for keeping warm, I cannot decide if I should just eat the cost and buy some Merino tops – sales are on now – or hope what I do have will be warm enough. My preference is to just buy sleeves, similar to what cyclists wear.


After writing my list I had to take Mozzy to the vet – we do this every two weeks – which usually means some talking about his routine, when I will be away, that sort of thing. One of the staff said that a great place to look for winter coats is at second hand stores! So I did. I found a coat at W.I.N. a not for profit store that helps women in need. It might not be perfect for -30 C weather but I think it might suffice for the five days I need something to keep me toasty.

Best of all, it has a hood and is long enough to cover my upper legs. All for the insane amount of $18! For the time being my daughter can borrow it, she who came home from Taiwan to a snowstorm. If I think of it as the equivalent of five coffees, (not fancy ones) I can justify leaving the coat in Jasper for the next unprepared person.

Side Trip to Jasper

Via Rail's the Canadian making its way through forests overlooked by the Rocky Mountains between Jasper and Vancouver. As a bonus, travelling long distances by rail gives you the opportunity to read a novel or two, do some crossword puzzles or simply meet other passengers and make new friends. (CP PHOTO/ HO/ Via Rail)

As if I did not have enough snow in Ontario the month I was there, and now, in the Garden City, where golfers never take a day off, we have had too many days of snow, where am I heading in a month?

The Rocky Mountains, where glaciers meet the highway, the daytime temperature average is -1.6 C to slightly above 4 C. Basically what we have in Victoria now, when we should be seeing cherry and plum blossoms. I will not be surprised if it will be unseasonably cold when I arrive in Jasper.

I have no idea why Jasper, Alberta, in Canada, suddenly popped into my head the other day, but it did. Perhaps it was when I received a notice about excellent Discount Tuesday Escape Fares for Via Rail, or it might have been while reading the Blog of another solo traveller. Whatever grabbed my attention, decision made, train tickets purchased and hostel booked.

This will be a bare bones trip. I will travel economy class, that means no fancy meal service, most likely a viewing car will not have been added for the economy coaches, and sleep will be in the seat. I already know that blankets and pillows must be rented and food can be purchased. I will pack accordingly.

Fine, at least I am prepared…right? Not exactly. Rather than drag my sturdy, heavy duty winter boots and coat home, because of course we so rarely get snow past January at home, I left them in Ontario. Along with my warm winter socks. Probably my really warm Olympic mittens too. As for winter wear while in Jasper, I do have a lighter pair of boots that should suffice, plus enough coats and sweaters that I am not really worried.


I was not planning to do any major activities in the snow. I have one month to look things up, decide on a budget and make a plan. Or change my mind and cancel the tickets before the 24 hours cancellation period is up.

Next morning, I am still going. A little background research tells me that Jasper is 1,060m (3,480ft) – this worries me, I had altitude sickness in China before hitting 1000m, above sea level. Nestled in Jasper National Park, one of the four parks designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Jasper House was established as a fur trade outpost in 1813.

How on earth anyone determined such places has always fascinated me. It can only have been stumbled upon in the ever growing search for wealth in the fur trade. Getting to Jasper remains a test of endurance. Easier on the nerves is the train, so much easier to let the engineer follow the track. I have travelled by car, bus and train into and beyond Jasper, my preferred mode of travel will always be by train.

Expected budget for five days: 500 – 600 CAD As mentioned, this will be a bare bones budget. Looking at the dollar amount so far I already feel I am spending too much on a whim.

  • Via Rail Economy seats return: $292.00
  • Jasper International Hostel 48.62 (bunk bed in a 28 female dorm)
  • BC Ferries return 34.40
  • Public Transit 20.00 (this is an estimate)

Next list, gear.

Be a Tourist at Home


Home is where the heart is. Home is where we can let down our hair. Home is familiar. Home is far too often taken for granted. Of course I am talking about beyond the walls of where one resides. Travelling can be in your own back yard or across an ocean, each having something to take home a memory of a time well spent. Some activities are familiar, annual events, others are opportunities to join like minded individuals in the pursuit of music, art, dance or some other form of artistic indulgence. Today I had the pleasure of being a spectator at a cultural event and a choir performance.

My morning started with leftover, store bought, Chinese food. I was determined to celebrate Spring Festival the night before even if it was only with a dinner for one. Not nearly as wonderful as celebrating with a sumptuous meal in China but it made me feel good. Then it was off to Chinatown for the annual Chinese New Year Lion Dance and parade, a Dragon Dance, and various performances. All outdoors of course. In the rain.


The celebration starts at The Gate of Harmonious Interest, in the oldest Chinatown in Canada (second oldest in North America), on the very popular Fisgard Street. Although I could not find a source for how many years the festival has been held I am confident in saying most likely minimum 25 years as I took my children to see the lion dances when they were young. (We would eventually see these in China)

We arrived later than planned which meant I could not see anything. I did get a sneak peek at one of the Lions hiding from the rain behind a set of red doors. The cabbages were strung from lintels, red lanterns crisscrossed above the heads of onlookers and a sense of anticipation hung in the air. There is always a thrill that runs through a crowd waiting for the first snap, snap of firecrackers, the black, slightly greasy smell of spent gun powder.


Unfortunately the weather got the best of me, I managed to stay long enough to hear the bells, gongs and drums for the dragon dance but did not remain for the lions and their prancing, playful lunges to eat the cabbages and gobble the red envelopes. As one may surmise, I have been attending such festivities for many years.

A hasty retreat to a local Chinese bakery, where I encountered far more patrons at one time than I would on any other day, to buy a BBQ pork bun and two glutinous balls filled with beef. This is a rare treat for me that I had no intention of missing out on. It was rather sad to think I no longer relish standing in the rain, waiting in anticipation, with such a diverse, united, happy mass of people. (I have no idea how many makes a mass, but the sidewalks of Fisgard Street were filled). My Chinese cravings, cultural and gastronomical, were sated.


Then off to listen to the Starlight Pops, a local choir, and their four piece combo. This concert featured the Disco era. Sad to admit this, but I recalled most of the pieces. The audience clapped along, some were singing under their breath and a few intrepid souls took the invitation to dance in the aisles literally. I wonder if the church they use for their performances has ever had such raucous patrons in their pews before.

It is a United Church, I have no idea if rocking, or in this case, doing the bump (look it up all you young people) to Saturday Night Fever, is frowned upon or not. If I did not know one of the choir members and the guitar player in the combo I would have been easily tempted to do the hustle. Not that they would have been surprised.


Take a look at the events in your area. Step out of your comfort zone, go to an exhibit, a concert, a cultural activity. Be prepared to be dazzled at home just as when you are away. The experiences will enrich your life.