With winter looming I wanted to give some advice on how to dress your little one’s if you are traveling to a desination with chilling temperatures. Since we only lived in NY for 1.5 winters with Jordyn I am not really an expert on this. I never knew how to make sure she wasn’t too cold or too hot so we we never did any outdoor activities during this time. Today’s Travel Tip Tuesday post comes from Sabrina Carlson of Mama Wild and Free, and fellow mom of The Adventure Mama’s initiative. She is much more of an expert on this topic. Enjoy!
In the outdoor adventure community we have a saying, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.” All you need to know that it’s true is one outing spent in soaked cotton socks with insufficient layers, or one night spent in a crappy sleeping bag. You will never want to repeat that mistake again.
Children too, need to be comfortable in any kind of weather if you want them to have fun and if you want them to ever want to do it again. Nothing makes a kid lose interest in travel, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, or any other activity faster than being cold and uncomfortable.
For ultimate warmth and ease of packing, nothing beats layers. One big puffy outer layer alone will have less R-value than three thinner layers, and be harder to pack. This is because insulation works by trapping thin pockets of air between each layer, especially the one next to your skin, which is warmed by your body heat. The more layers there are to trap those air pockets, the warmer you and your kiddos will be.
Start with the base layers top and bottom. We have another saying in the outdoor community, “Cotton Kills”. When wet, the fibers of cotton lose their insulating properties completely. It then sits against the skin drawing heat away from the body at a rapid rate causing discomfort and eventually hypothermia. So stay away from the cotton “waffle” thermals or using cotton PJ’s as base layers. Opt instead for a synthetic like capilene or polypropylene, silk, or merino wool. You can find fairly basic versions and stores like Dicks Sporting Goods or Sportsmans Warehouse. Various online retailers will have options too. To find merino wool or silk you will want to look at higher end retailers like Columbia and Patagonia. It is tempting to skip this part figuring it won’t matter buried under so many other layers of clothing. Don’t. This is the foundation for warmth and comfort for the rest of the layers. One inexpensive option you may already have is microfleece pajamas. Thin micro fleece works well as a cozy base layer. Just know that two piece jammies will make diaper changes or potty visits a lot easier than the zip up footie jammies.
Next comes the mid layer. Thankfully you can usually find a mid weight fleece that works well at places like Target or Walmart. Check the kids active wear section. Merino wool sweaters are also a good choice, though it will often be more expensive than fleece and kids grow out if them really fast. Patagonia and Columbia also make wonderful kids fleece options. If you will be putting snow pants over your kids’ bottom half, you might not need a mid layer on the bottom. Or, if you are not expecting soaking snow, just cold air, a water resistant non-cotton pair of hiking pants over the base layer might also work. If it is extremely cold and you want an extra bottom layer, a thicker pair of fleece jammie bottoms will work perfectly.
Next comes the outer layer. If snow play is what you are after, get a waterproof snow pant and coat from a reputable company. Unfortunately the discount store versions will leave your child wet and you sad. Discount snow gear will only keep the wet out for about 15 minutes before it starts to soak through. Here again, Patagonia and Columbia are industry leaders in the kids outdoor wear department. Obermeyer also makes a great ski suit that will last two seasons. They call it the iGrow system. Since kids typically grow mostly in length from one year to the next, the iGrow has an additional thread in the arms and legs that can be removed the second season to add extra length.
If snow play is not involved, you could add an outer coat to your base and midlayer and call it good. One strategy I have used to save packing space and add versatility is to have a rain coat one size larger than my child needs right now. I put that over his base, and mid layers, possibly with a thicker fleece over the mid layer. This way we have the option to layer down or layer up in response to the temperature and/or rain and snow forecast.
Last but not least, you must attend to the extremities. After carefully planning base, mid, and outer layers, don’t drop the ball on good socks and gloves. Just like the rest of the body, feet won’t do well wearing cotton in the cold either. The #1 best choice for feet is Smartwool. These socks are soft, comfy, warm, and last forever. If your child is particularly sensitive to wool, there are synthetic ski and hike socks available but the options are fewer.
Mittens and gloves are a source of constant frustration. Gloves bunch up and are impossible to wriggle tiny fingers into. Mittens are really the only options for young children but many of them are not worth the fabric they were cut from. The Marmot Split Mitt will save your sanity. It opens all the way up to make putting them on a breeze, they are completely waterproof, and the longer cuff means that less snow will be able to sneak between the coat and the mitten. When your kids are old enough to switch to fingered gloves, do yourself a favor and don’t buy the kind with the waterproof layer and insulation layer all in one piece. A glove that has a separate liner and waterproof shell won’t bunch up the very first time you wash them rendering them effectively useless.
Last but not least, BOOTS! This is one area where I have never had a problem with the discount store version. The basic snow boots I find at Target for my son seem to work well for keeping feet warm and dry for snow play. You might look into nicer boots like the kids Keen snowboots if you have older children who plan to do lengthy periods of snow shoeing or hiking in them as the cheaper boots will begin to lose comfort for walking a lot of distance.
If you get overwhelmed just remember the basics: No cotton. Several thin layers will be warmer, and will pack easier than one thick layer. Good waterproofing is key.
The cost of outfitting a growing kiddo for cold weather can feel a little intimidating, but remember that it will pay you back in happy kids who want to adventure again the next day.
Sabrina Carlson is a mama on a mission to tell postpartum depression where to shove it while living a life of adventure, travel, joy, and meaning as a parent, and hoping to inspire other moms that they can too. She blogs at Mama Wild and Free, can be found posting pictures of her wild and wonderful life on Instagram , occasionally inspires on Facebook, and is currently learning that Pinterest is a great tool for adventure planning and vision boarding, and isn’t just for overly complicated craft projects.