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Layering up Kids for Cold Weather

It’s coming.

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: Layering.

Want specific gear recommendations? Check out our huge list here!

Layering up Kids for Cold Weather
Kids layered up for active skiing

Why Layer?

Layers allow pockets of air between clothing layers to help trap heat and keep kids warm. Of course, layering also allows kids to remove a jacket or fleece when they are too warm to avoid sweating.

Here’s a rule of thumb for winter weather dressing: Put babies and children in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions.

The quality and quantity of your layers DO matter. Too many layers may cause sweating which in turn makes kids more susceptible to the cold and wind in their now-wet clothing. See below for suggestions on what to use for layering.

Layering up Kids for Cold Weather

Stay Away from Cotton

Cotton is a HUGE no-no in cold weather conditions. Cotton not only absorbs (and holds onto) cold rain and snow, but it also actually absorbs sweat in dry conditions too.

And when you’re cotton clothes are wet, YOU’RE wet….and very cold. It’s best to make a small investment in non-cotton clothing and keep your kids warm and safe.

Layering up Kids for Cold Weather
Taking a break from skiing (base layer + fleece mid layer)

What Layers?

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 Layering Sandwich

Layer one: Base Layer (and the most important layer!) 

This is the layer that goes right next to the child’s skin. If you have a sensitive child, make sure they love how it feels!

  • Why they need it: To wick moisture away from their skin
  • Gear suggestions: Wool socks, base layer (wool or polypro) and a balaclava
  • How to wear it: Fitted and right next to their skin
Layering up Kids for Cold Weather

Layer two: Mid Layers

This is the layer that you can really customize depending on how cold it is outside.

  • Why they need it: insulation
  • Fleece pants and top or, for colder days, use down pants and jacket. There are also some great wool mid layers we recommend.
  • How to wear it: Close to the body, but not restricting movement. Remember those air pockets are good!
Layering up Kids for Cold Weather

Layer three: Outer layer

  • Why the need it: To keep dry and protected from the wind
  • Warm and waterproof boots, jacket/pants or suit shell to protect from the wind and moisture
  • How to wear it: Loose so room for all those layers and to allow easy movement

Don’t forget the Extremities

Face and Cheeks

Use a fitted wool or fleece 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.

Layering up Kids for Cold Weather
Wearing goggles for extra warmth


For little hands that get cold easily (and especially for kids that are sedentary in a backpack, ski pulk or Chariot), add hand warmers.

For safety, 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.


Always, always, always use wool socks.  It is a worthwhile investment for cold climates from the very beginning.

If your child’s feet get wet, the wool will keep them warm. Layering cotton socks is counter-productive and should be avoided.

Make sure the boots are not too snug. It is best to err on the side of too big than too small since the air pockets keep them warm. This is especially important for neoprene boots.

Layering Babies

Layering up Kids for Cold Weather

As mentioned before, add an extra layer than what you are wearing to sedentary kids (in a backpack, trailer, etc.)

Check the temperature of a baby by feeling the nape of their neck.

Protect them from the wind! A covered trailer makes it easy to add and take away layers as needed and keep them from biting wind.

Babies should be in diapers that wick moisture away from their skin. We LOVE our cloth diapers, but always opt for disposable for long winter adventures.

Extra Tips

Have a bag of dry clothing ready in the car for after winter excursions. You’ll be happy you had it if the need arises!

Pack warm drinks (for older kids, of course). Our kids may love winter particularly for the hot chocolate awarded after cold days playing outside.

If your child’s teeth are chattering, it’s time to head inside right away!

Looking for specific gear recommendations? Find our updated list here!

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© 2013, 2019 Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.


  • Amelia lives with her husband and five young children outside of Jackson, WY in Grand Teton National Park. As a mom, she quickly learned that the secret to sanity was to spend more time outside where tantrums don't see quite so bad. Amelia started TMM in 2012 to help encourage all families (including her own) to get outside, no matter the weather. Due to the necessity of having to keep so many kids warm and happy, she has become an expert in kids' gear and loves being able to share it with others.


Monday 6th of March 2023

Thank you for this helpful article! What I struggle with is that I tend to run hot sometimes, so I don't always trust myself as a comparison to how many layers. should put on my kid. Is there any way to know temperature wise how many layers your toddler should have? We have a Reima snow suit for our little one...but I'm always worried I will either not put enough layers, or put way too many.


Saturday 18th of March 2023

So every kid is different....but checking their extremities and back of their neck can help you see how warm they are. The general rule is one more layer than you would put on yourself.

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