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Vancouver Travel Tips: Packing List & What to Wear

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Outside, it looked like dawn would never come. We dressed and ate in the early morning’s dark, packed our bags, and left our Airbnb apartment that had been home for the past four days. Our taxi idled at the curb.

Right before we pulled into the train station, our taxi driver said with a sleepy glance in the rearview mirror, “It’s been hell getting around this area lately. Roads have been blocked off. This actor, Ryan Reynolds, has been shooting a movie here. Right down there…” he pointed out the window.

I looked but was too late to see what he was pointing at other than a dark, deserted alley that looked nothing like a movie set.

“Did you say Ryan Reynolds?” I said.

(Aka the actor who delivers lines in a perfectly snarky and sarcastic manner. Who has an astounding depth of acting potential. Who is incredibly, incredibly good-looking. But I digress. Back to my story.)

“Yeah, they’ve been shooting in the early morning hours. Surprised they aren’t right now. Oh, here we are. Need help with your bags?”

We paid, grabbed our backpacks, scooted out of the slick leather backseat, and walked into the enormous empty train station to catch the Amtrak south to Seattle.

Our last day in Vancouver, a romantic, if sometimes damp, city with a charming personality that popped out at unexpected times like a shy bookworm emerging with a witty remark or laughing glance. I was tempted to skip the early morning train ride down British Columbia’s oceanic coast to hunt down a celebrity and do tiptoed walk-bys to see how tall he really was. (Come on, celebrity stats are like footballers’ stats: 95% padded.)

But, our train was leaving in under three minutes and my persuasion skills are rusty before 8am and coffee, so I followed my husband to the train tracks, carrying our Chinese leftovers in a Tortuga daypack, already wishing I could return to Vancouver.

Things You Should Always Pack

Vancouver is like Seattle’s foreign cousin. The two cities feel alike in their devil-may-care, cool-kid attitude. But Vancouver has a grown-up edge in its Olympic Village, French influence, and large Chinatown. This city deftly combines metropolitan flair and love of nature.

Vancouver is also Canada’s wettest and foggiest city. A feature that only adds to its mystique.

For your trip to Vancouver, make sure you pack the following items into your pack in addition to your basic packing list or what you’ve packed for the cruise you may be boarding:

Waterproof, Windproof Layer

For Vancouver, pack a jacket that is waterproof and windproof. Rain is a regular occurrence  here, and Vancouver is right next to the ocean so the breeze whipping inland can bite. I wore FlyLow Gear Vixen jacket with an extra-large hood; it was perfect.

A Daypack

You’ll want a good, sturdy daypack to hold your treasures as you wander Vancouver.

Comfortable Shoes

Vancouver is very walkable city. Pack comfortable shoes with well-padded soles to explore Olympic Village, or wander down to charming Gastown neighborhood with one of the world’s last steam powered clocks. Opt for a more athletic pair if you’re planning to hit day hikes outside the city, like Dog Mountain or St. Mark’s Summit.

Layers

A moist cold burrows deep into your skin on damp days in this city. Wear layers to combat against Vancouver’s quickly changing weather and wet cold. When I visited in April, one day was driving rain, but the next day was sunny and 60. Wear layers to shed and put back on as the weather changes.

Vancouver is a casual-cool city. My go-to outfit was a pair of dark wash jeans, a long sleeve shirt, waterproof jacket, and leather shoes. I never felt out of place or underdressed anywhere I went.

Quick-Dry Clothes

Since Vancouver is Canada’s wettest city, opt for quick-drying clothes — not dense denim or sweaters that soak up water — to stay warm and comfortable. If you go on a whale watching boat ride, your quick-drying clothes will be welcome as waves splash over the boat’s sides.

Sunscreen

Whether you’re out on the water or wandering the Olympic Village, you’ll want some sunscreen.

What to Pack in April, May, or June

In the spring, pack for warmish 60 degree days with scattered sunshine beating back the layers of fog. Pack for rain and wet conditions.

For spring in Vancouver, I’d recommend packing:

  • A small umbrella: Although Shawn might disagree
  • Warm wind and waterproof jacket: Spring is cool and wet
  • 1 scarf: You’ll use it
  • Sunglasses & Dramamine:  Early spring is prime orca-spotting season in Vancouver; go on a whale watching tour and catch the orcas’ major migration along the west coast of Vancouver Island
  • A warm festival outfit: June marks the beginning of summer festivals with the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival and Festival d’ete
  • Waterproof, comfortable shoes: Wet piggies spell disaster and a horrible mood

What to Pack in July or August

Welcome to summer in Vancouver. And to the city’s sunniest days all year. Expect gorgeous weather of 70-ish degree days and nearly 10 hours of sunshine each day. Finally, no more fog.

Get out and enjoy Vancouver’s natural scenery with a day hike to Garibaldi Lake outside Whistler or explore Stanley Park.

In July and August, be sure to pack:

  • Shorts: 70 degrees is not quite hot enough for shorts, but go ahead, bare those knees if you dare
  • Swimsuit: For hitting English Bay Beach’s volleyball courts, or venture up to Third Beach for some swimming
  • Sunglasses: Glare off the ocean is strong in the summer; pack your Ray Bans
  • Festival outfits: Summer means a slew of festivals like Greek SummerFest and Vancouver Chinatown Festival; pride week is at the end of July
  • Light jacket: Nights get chilly when the warm sunshine fades
  • 1-2 pair of pants: You’ll never go wrong with pants in Vancouver, ever

What to Pack for September & October

Dwindling sunshine in the day and increasing rain showers signal the beginning of winter. Temperatures can peak around 80 degrees, but expect most days hovering around 60 degrees. October is the rainiest month in Vancouver, so settle in for relaxing days sipping coffee and snacking on crepes.

Plan to pack the following for a trip to Vancouver in September and October:

  • Waterproof and windproof jacket: Noticing a pattern?
  • A warm hat: Seize the lingering days of summer with a kayaking trip; or stay warm while wandering Granville Island
  • Layerable outfits: Fall is flighty with temperatures and you’ll be shedding and adding layers throughout the day

What to Pack for November Through March

Expect fog and rain: This is winter in Vancouver. Temperatures rarely rise above low 40s, but you’ll feel colder thanks to the rain and chilly, constant wind. Snow doesn’t happen very often in Vancouver, but you might see a couple inches of white powder on the ground.

For winter in Vancouver, be sure to pack:

  • Warm jacket:  Wind + wet + possible snow = need I say more?
  • Ski gear: If you’re planning to hit Whistler Mountain‘s terrific ski runs. Plenty of shops in Vancouver rent ski and snowboard equipment.
  • Boots or sneakers: Opt for waterproof, leather boots that cover your ankles
  • A scarf:  Heck, pack two
  • Umbrella or rain coat: Simply put, winter equals rain in Vancouver

TL;DR

If you’re trying to figure out what to pack for Vancouver in October through April, your packing list stays roughly the same. Make sure to always bring:

  • Warm windproof jacket
  • Plenty of warm layers
  • A daypack
  • Sunscreen
  • Comfortable shoes

In the summer (July and August), break out your sunglasses and shorts but bring a warm jacket for cool nights. For rainy spring, pack your waterproof jacket, umbrella, and scarf.

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