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How to Dress Kids for Winter

October 26, 2016
dress kids for winter
Pavel Hadzinski on Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0To enjoy cold weather activities, kids need to be warm and mobile. Here’s how to dress kids for winter.

Remember that classic scene from “A Christmas Story”? It’s a frigid morning, and a doting mother has dressed her youngest child in so many layers of winter clothes that he stands in front of her “like a tick about to pop.”

“I can’t put my arms down!” he yells.

“Put your arms down when you get to school,” she replies, as she wraps a scarf around his head.

Despite all of the laughs, or maybe because of them, the movie does teach us something about winter layering: Kids need to move. They can’t go on a cross-country ski trip with no range of motion. And kids of varying ages have different winter-layering needs. Find some age-appropriate pointers below.

ALL AGES
When dressing kids for winter, you always want to follow the three-layer system for comfort and safety.
1) A base layer close to the skin wicks moisture and keeps kids feeling dry. Avoid cotton in favor of wool or polyester.
2) An insulation layer retains the natural heat little bodies produce. This can be a wool sweater or a fleece jacket. Again, no cotton; go synthetic or wool.
3) A shell layer keeps wind and rain out so those other layers continue to work. This layer should be breathable but wind- and waterproof.

INFANTS (UNDER 1 YEAR)
The most important thing to remember with infants is they don’t expend the same amount of energy you do. While you huff and puff up a steep slope on your snowshoes, creating heat and sweating, the infant on your back is just along for the ride. So, wrap those babies up. Just make sure the layers aren’t too tight and that you’ve left an opening for breathing.

If little faces are exposed to cold or wind for a long time, be sure to provide some kind of wind protection. Many backpacks and bike or ski trailers have detachable panels that protect kids from wind, rain, and blowing snow. I often envied our kids sitting in those cozy nests, being pulled or carried through the winter woods, snug as a bug.

TODDLERS (1 TO 3 YEARS OLD)
Once kids can walk, winter travel and layering becomes even trickier. They need freedom of movement
or frustration levels will be high. Use lots of light layers rather than any one piece that’s overly heavy and thick.

Kids at this age generate more heat but also take lots of breaks when they won’t be moving at all, so be ready with the backpack or trailer when they burn out.

KIDS (4 TO 10)
Eventually kids begin exerting themselves more. Staying comfortable and safe during winter adventures means heating up to the point where kids are warm but not sweating. If your little ones are sweating, have them shed layers immediately. You don’t want them to build up a lot of sweat that
will chill them down when they stop moving.

Finally, make sure kids aren’t so tightly bundled they can’t go to the bathroom on their own. When I ran a ski area in Wolfeboro, N.H., I often saw kids with wet snow pants and knew they hadn’t been able, or hadn’t tried, to shed all of their layers in time.

PRETEENS AND TEENS (11+)
Kids at this age should layer like adults. Keep in mind they’ll be producing more and more sweat, and might resist wearing synthetic materials instead of their favorite cotton hoody. It’s your job as a parent to insist, especially if you are heading on an extended backcountry adventure.

And lastly, even if you are layered up like a tick about to pop, remember the other lesson from “A Christmas Story”: Come winter, don’t lick any metal poles.


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Ethan Hipple

Ethan Hipple fell in love with the outdoors as a teenager, when he worked on a Student Conservation Association (SCA) trail crew. He has directed the New Hampshire Conservation Corps and is currently the Parks Director for Portland, Me., where he lives with his wife, Sarah, and their two kids. He is a former blogger for AMC Outdoors. Her latest book for AMC is Outdoors with Kids Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, cowritten with Yemaya St. Clair.