Winter will be here before we all know it (or you may in the midst of it like we are…), and the key to happy kids outside is keeping them warm. While the techniques may change just a little depending on the age of the kids and how well they are able to keep themselves warm, the basic idea is the same: Layer.
We strongly believe that the base layer is the most important layer to get right (and spend the money on.) It should never be cotton, fit rather snugly and wick moisture away from your child’s skin. The next most important layer is the outer layer which is what keeps the wind and moisture off of them. That mid layer can be “fudged” a little – we stick to down, heavy polypro, wool or fleece, but it doesn’t have to be the highest quality.
The Great Kid Sandwich:
Layer one: Wool socks, base layer (wool or polypro) and a balaclava **again, this is the most important layer**
Layer two: Fleece pants and top or, for colder days, use down pants and jacket.
Layer three: Warm and waterproof boots, shell to protect from the wind and moisture
- Use a balaclava to keep little cheeks warmer. You can add another hat on top of it, but it is the most effective way to keep the most skin covered.
- Add ski goggles on top of the balaclava for even more coverage.
- For little hands that get cold easily (and especially for kids that are sedentary in a backpack, ski pulk or Chariot): Use a liner glove + a waterproof outer glove (no thumb needed) and sandwich a hand warmer in between. Be sure no skin is peeking out and touching the hand warmer directly.
- Stick with wool or polypro base layers. <– this one is HUGE
- Always, always, always use wool socks. If your child’s feet get wet, the wool will keep them warm.
- Add an extra layer than what you are wearing to sedentary kids (in a backpack, trailer, etc.) However, TOO many ineffective layers are completely worthless and actually can make kids colder.
Our favorite gear for layering kids up:
**This list is not exhaustive, but merely reflects our own personal preferences and what we recommend to our family and friends. Many of these links are affiliates. They help you find the products quickly and offset the cost of the blog (and a teeny bit of the time and work that goes into it) very minimally. Thanks so much for clicking through them to purchase.**
- Smartwool Socks (best prices at Sierra Trading Post): While we have found that they don’t hold up as well as other brands we love as adults, they are the best we have found for little kids. While I am always looking, I have not found any other brand that makes a quality wool sock for kids younger than 4. **If you know of one, please let me know!**
- Point6 socks: For kids aged 4-5+. Historically, they break down much less than Smartwool and last longer. The only downsides are they don’t come in smaller sizes and they are thicker (which can be annoying to some kids…like mine…who have a hard time wearing them and putting on their own footwear.)
- Patagonia Baby Capeline 3 Set: Great polypro and comes in sizes that fit the youngest of babies. It’s not cheap, but really does hold up and can be passed on and resold when you are done using it. Note: Patagonia for kids tends to run really big….
- Wee Woolies Merino Wool Baselayers/Pajamas: I just discovered this brand this year and am soooo impressed. Merino wool is never cheap, but this is the most affordable and quality brand I have found. While a set here runs about $55, you could expect to pay well over $100 (even for a 1 or 2 year old) through any other company for wool. It’s made in Canada and can be purchased at Mountain Baby (shipping to the US is totally reasonable). Our kids wear it for both pajamas and base layers. It holds up to washes great and is very cozy. They are a fitted style (which means warmer kids) but the tops are long so you can tuck them into the bottoms. Can’t say enough good about them!
- Bula Balaclava: A more extensive review coming on this one, but another great find at Mountain Baby. It fits kids well, has some fun designs and makes a HUGE difference for head warmth.
- Patagonia Baby Synchilla hat (this style is on sale on their site): This one is light (hence the reason we listed it in the base layer section) but totally covers the head, fits great under helmets (ski or bike) and keeps kids warm. It is not windproof either, so needs to be layered over if in harsher conditions. The boys wear theirs daily.
**This is the layer that is least important in the grand scheme of things. Save money here by just using what you have. Thrift store fleece finds are great! However, here are our favorites anyway. Also see below for a great sale happening right now for the Patagonia stuff**
- Patagonia Puff Ball Jacket: This is a great mid layer, but also works as an outer layer too unless conditions are really wet. It isn’t bulky, either, so that really helps. While I haven’t tried this one yet, I noticed the Nano Puff is on sale right now and would be a great mid layer.
- Polarn O. Pyret Fleece Pants: While any fleece pants or shirts work, these ones are great.
- Terramar Geo fleece 3.0 (linked to the best prices at Sierra Trading Post): Terramar’s mid to heavy weight line for kids is great. It is really reasonably priced, holds up to tons of abuse and washing and is the thickest line for kids I have found. While there are some products available for kids as small as 2T, most of it comes in an XS size and up (which fits starting at age 4-5).
**The key to this layer is to keep moisture out.**
- DucKsday Rainsuits: These really are our top gear pick for this season. They are light and not bulky, stand up to tons of heavy abuse and can be layered under as much as you need to.
- DucKsday Mittens: Super waterproof and great coverage. For those kids that like to play in the puddles with ice. Or is that only my kids??
- Stonz Mittz: See my tip above with using these for layering. The larger sizes also have extremely long cuffs that literally go to the kids’ elbows. This means absolutely no snow sneaking in! Warning – at first glance, they will seem HUGE, but once you get them on their hands you will see the long cuff is just deceiving. More bulky than the DucKsday ones, but they do have a bit more of a grip on the balm which helps for hanging on!
- Stonz Booties: These are best for kids that are just starting to walk, but Stonz does make an XL size in some select styles that do fit our 4 year old with a size 11 foot. They’re another great way to add layers and sandwich hand warmers in between (because the boots are not stiff). They are also great for helping new walkers that really struggle with a stiff boot sole.
- Julbo Ski Goggles: We love these ones for little faces. While I have yet to find any company making teeny tiny ones for kids under 1 anymore (Banz used to), them being a little big just means extra coverage.
- Boots: We’ve had luck with ICEPOP toddler boots by Kamik, the Muck Hale and Rover IIs and KEEN Kalamazoos.
- Hats: Anything that is thick and has great ear coverage. Our newest favorite is the reversible hat from Stonz. Super thick and covers faces and ears well. More of an in-depth review coming on that one too…
- Definitely check out the Patagonia sale happening right now on their site. The kid stuff is at good prices (and count on it being able to be handed down or re-sold when you are done) and they have free shipping on orders over $75 until December 10th.
- We always find great deals at Sierra Trading Post.
- REI’s Pre Holiday sale starts Friday.
- Check out consignment, Craiglist and eBay. The brand name gear (especially Patagonia, etc.) tend to be resold in great condition.
More Resources (along with the previously-posted reviews we linked to above):
Dressing Kids for Winter (our 2012 edition with some picture explanations)
Baselayer Options for Adults (previously published here)
6 Tips for Staying Warm on Outdoor Winter Adventures by Meghan Ward
How to Layer Kids up for Ski Season Infographic by Go Adventure Mom
Ski Schooling: Layering and Clothing Specifics by The Kid Project
Life after Summer in the Rockies (Canadian-Specific Post) by Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Getting your Kids Ready to Play in the Snow – video by Nature for Kids
Many companies have generously provided us this gear in order to facilitate this post over the years, most per our request. However, as always, the opinions expressed here are completely and honestly our own and are exactly what we tell our family and friends. You can find my full disclosure here.
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