A Cheat-Sheet for Dressing Little Kids for Cold Weather
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Fact: kids who have been inside for even more than a day or two start to drive their parents’ bananas. Whether it’s the mess or the mayhem, you can believe that more than a few parents are going to lose their collective shit after being trapped inside with their kids for even just a few days (maybe even hours). Also fact: getting cold fingers and toes while playing in the snow ruins the fun. Most people just do not appreciate losing circulation in their extremities. And while this is going to blow the minds of generations past, children are just little PEOPLE; except, of course, their brains aren’t fully developed, and therefore they can’t communicate what’s going on until it’s too late to correct course. It’s why they tell you they need to potty about 0.000000003 milliseconds before they pee all over the floor. They’re busy living their best lives and their physical comfort deteriorates without them even realizing it until they’ve melted into a puddle on the floor and you have no idea what is going on.
For the last 17 years, I have lived within a three-hour drive of the Canadian border. In my current location, we oscillate between weather that is too cold for snow, or the heavy, wet coastal slush, sleet, and freezing rain mess. We rarely have a nice, fluffy powder, and when we do, it’s usually followed by a period of days or weeks that come with five-minute frostbite warnings. We are no strangers to cold weather or cold cheeks, as we try to get outside every day that is above 15oF in winter (with babies this is more like 20-25oF+ with no windchill or precipitation). Luckily, I have come across a very specific combination of layers that keeps my kids dry, toasty, and playing happily – at least until one throws a snowball directly into another’s face, then all bets are off. If you were hoping I was going to share this very specific combination with you, it’s your lucky day! If you were hoping for a very vague infographic or summary to the tune of “add an extra layer,” this is not the post for you. No, today, I’m giving you the specifics of each layer we use, down to the brand and product and where to find them. Bonus: It’s January so most everything is on sale (consider buying a size up for next year). While reading this, keep in mind I am the proud parent of the “Goldilocks Girls.” I have one that runs super hot, one that runs super cold, and one that runs right in the middle. I keep all pieces and parts available in each size because hand-me-downs are a beautiful thing.
FOR THE BODY
For the first layer, I start with merino wool. I am a huge advocate of wool year-round, but especially in winter and most importantly as a base layer. Wool regulates body temperature, which means you’re less likely to have a kiddo that is either too hot or too cold. Similarly, it wicks away moisture, but even when damp, it provides warmth. Merino wool is machine washable and lasts nearly forever, which means the investment pays for itself. I have tried a few different wool base layers with my kids, and by far my favorite is Simply Merino. Simply Merino’s wools are superior to any other wool company we’ve tried. Simply Merino products are designed and manufactured in Vancouver, Canada. It’s a family-owned operation, and their attention to detail shows. Most people think of wool as scratchy or itchy, but merino wool could be confused with your favorite knit garment. I asked my oldest (and most sensitive) kiddo for a description of the “thin wools we wear” and her direct quote was “I like them. They’re warm and soft.” They even retain their initial softness after multiple washes, provided they are washed appropriately. With babies and smaller kids, I buy the pajama sets for their underlayer ($60 and $76 USD, respectively), and for my larger kiddo, I buy the thermal underlayer top and bottom separately ($37 each). My only gripes: shipping can be slow, and they are a small company, so production delays and sellouts occasionally happen (their direct-line customer service makes up for this).
FOR THE FEET –
Over the years, I’ve tried a few different varieties of wool socks with kids. We’ve tried some from Amazon, Bombas, and Smartwool. For kids of this age group, I think Smartwool is the best option. Smartwool has more specific sizing options than Bombas (these come in rather large size ranges) and the socks feel more substantial. The bottom of the sock is padded (you’re able to pick between different padding thicknesses according to your needs and preferences), and they pull right up to my kids’ knees. Why wool on the feet? It comes back to its moisture-wicking and temperature-regulating properties. Feet that are too hot get sweaty, and in cotton, this will quickly result in feet that are too cold, which becomes uncomfortable in short order. Additionally, if any snow slips down into that boot, it’s a lot less likely to impact the day with wool, as wool will continue to insulate even after it’s wet, at least for a while.
FOR THE BODY
The mid-layer can absolutely be fudged a little, but I find the best option is a very thin, fleece layer that has a full zipper. The Kid Fleece Cozie ($9) from Carter’s is absolutely the best for this. It’s thin enough that kids can easily move around and adds warmth without a lot of weight or bulk. My oldest and warmest kiddo will often wear this over her baselayer, with some snow pants, and call it good. When used in conjunction with the other layers, it doesn’t restrict movement in any capacity, so you won’t be reenacting “The Christmas Story” anytime soon.
FOR THE BOTTOM
For little people (Size 2T-4/5), I recommend the Garanmials sweatpants for the bottom mid-layer. Our love affair with Garanamials sweatpants was a happy accident when our Primary order was delayed and our oldest daughter was growing like a weed. Let me tell you: they are wonderful. They are a soft knit on the outside and a warm fleece on the inside (but not the super soft kind that gets weird in the wash). They are the sweatpants of the ’90s, with elastics around the ankles. A lot of other sweatpants on the market now are geared toward style as opposed to functionality, and the sweatpants drag the ground, or hover around the feet and make my kids look like they’re floating. This drives me insane. What’s more? You can grab a pair of Garanimals at Walmart for $4. I’m not sure if there is any other kids’ clothing item that you can find for that price anymore!
For bigger kids (size 6-8), I recommend WOVEN leggings as the mid-weight base layer. These are a bit more of an investment because they are thicker wool leggings, but taking into account you will need less due to the nature of wool; I find them pretty reasonable at $44 per pair. We originally used Ella’s tubes for all my kids, but they are hard to come by – I feel like they are always sold out! I turned to Etsy, as I always do in these situations, and I took a chance at the Woven Store Boutique. Ella’s haven’t been purchased for our family since. They are much thicker than Ella’s and they do not stretch out as quickly. That being said, my oldest (and biggest) child did stretch out the waistband (how? I have no clue), and I don’t know that they are going to go back into shape. In addition to the WOVEN brand being thicker, Ella’s has a weird flipped-seam thing going on at the bottom because they are meant to be worn by rolling the bottoms up to give a chunkier aesthetic. Unfortunately, when you extend the length, that seam is out there for everyone to see, which is ironic considering how unstylish they then become. The WOVEN leggings ship out of the UK, but I haven’t had any issues with shipping times or delays in customs.
THE OUTER LAYER
For the smaller sizes (2T-5), we have tried the LLBean Cold Buster Snowsuit, the Columbia Kids’ Toddler Buga II Snowsuit, and the Northface Kids’ Freedom Snowsuit. We are currently trying out the Isbjorn of Sweden Penguin Snowsuit, but it’s far too early for me to make an assessment as we’ve had virtually no snow this year. I can tell you it runs large. Currently, my recommendation is The North Face – hands down. I have had one of my kids come inside soaked around seam areas from the LLBean suit, and the Columbia suit feels like it holds onto the wetness in the outer layers and speeds how quickly my middle feels cold. I have used The North Face with all three of my children and it is still going strong. I have not been able to use the Grow-Cuff feature, because once you pull that string, it’s a permanent change. If you don’t mind buying a new snowsuit for your oldest or youngest, or you know you aren’t having any more kids, this wouldn’t be a dealbreaker, but should absolutely be a consideration if you want more kids or already have kids you want to pass this down to.
With larger kids (size 6+), I highly recommend a two-piece set. At this size, kids are more than capable of regulating their own body temperatures and a two-piece set allows for a longer duration of wear, as well as the ability to be used in a variety of conditions and temperatures.
For two years, we have been using (and loving) the Tobe Children’s Novus Bib. The Tobe Snow Pants don’t have much, if any, insulation to them, which is why that WOVEN underlayer is so important. That being said, I’ve never had any issues with my oldest kiddo (the Tobe-wearer) complaining of cold using our layer-by-layer approach. And she’s never been wet, either. There are removable stirrups on the bottom to keep the inner lining in the boot, and the outer sleeve lays nicely over the boots without any fuss.
Last year, we purchased and loved the Kids’ Waterproof Wildcat Ski Jacket; however, we purchased it this year in a larger size and I have not been as impressed. It’s not as warm, not lined as it was previously, and just feels different. For the sake of this article, I would say this is one that we are still on the hunt for an awesome (and reliable) quality ski jacket, and I would be happy to try one out if anyone has recommendations! My oldest; however, really enjoys it and prefers this combination (even with the different jacket) to even trying the new Isbjorn Penguins everyone received for Christmas.
Stonz Boots & Mittens – I have used Stonz boots and Mittz for three years and with three children. This has resulted in exactly zero complaints and only one instance of cold hands or feet (that I discovered post-play). Stonz’ mittens are completely waterproof, but the boots are not. The bottom portion of the boot up to the ankle is waterproof; however, the shaft is water-resistant. I have not found this to be an issue with heavy, wet snow, or any other frozen precipitation (especially if you put the elastic inner layer over the boot) – sometimes the shaft will become a little damp if the boot isn’t covered by the snowsuit, but it dries out quickly next to a heat source. I am fortunate to have a seasonal stream on my property and it is currently running. These boots are not for that, nor are they for stomping in a shallow ice-skating rink that has thawed. In those situations, my kids’ feet are always dripping. In actual snow, this is a non-issue and we only once had cold feet in three years between three kids, but if you live in a milder climate and thaw regularly, you may want to try their rain boots with a liner. For reference, we have tried a number of other boots: Muk Boots (too narrow), The North Face (play-stopping cold feet), Columbia (play-stopping cold feet), and Merrell (too heavy, not well insulated, oddly tight and bulky at the same time, not an easy on-off).
Primary Hat – I’ve saved the best, and most depressing, item for last. The Primary Sherpa-lined hat. What an amazing product THAT’S BEEN DISCONTINUED. Ugh. I cannot even stomach my disappointment. Listen, I have probably eight of these hats. They are sherpa fleece on the inside and a nice knit on the outside, with earflaps and a cute pom on the top. They came in a variety of solid colors and fit my three Goldilocks kids perfectly. And then – in 2020 – they stopped carrying them. I have called requesting them back twice, but obviously, one voice out of millions isn’t going to move the needle. So, if you want a chance at an absolutely amazing hat, please reach out to them and let them know we want our hat back! You can reach them at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyway, Reima has a hat that looks like a solid option – it has a wool knit exterior, a sherpa fleece interior, and ear flaps, so if Primary doesn’t bring their hat back next season, we will be trying that one out next year.
From a financial standpoint, the layer system may feel like a huge burden (it feels that way because it is), but I find it is actually better for us in the long run because each layer can be worn on its own or all together. For example, if it’s one of those days that reminds us of spring, I may put them in their outer layer and the thin base layer. Or if it’s a chilly autumn day, I may put them in their WOVEN leggings with a heavy sweatshirt (like the Primary Cozy Teddy Fleece Lined Sweatshirt). The Tobe snow pants can be worn as rain paints, or all together as part of the snowsuit. At any rate, I hope any and all of this helps your family stay warm, and dry and meet your 1000 Hours Outside if you’re into that sort of thing.