In my last post, I shared some ideas from outdoor educator Deb Williams about how to dress kids warmly in winter. But appropriate dress is only part of it. Here are a few more suggestions to keep in mind when the north wind blows…
Make sure kids eat. Williams tells her students that going on a diet in winter is a really bad idea. In winter, when the simple act of staying warm quickly consumes calories, food is not only fuel for energy, it’s heating fuel, as well. Especially when you’re being active outdoors in winter, think of food not as meals or snacks, but as intake: like fuel for your furnace. You have to keep it running. On cold-weather outings, pack high-calorie foods such as granola bars. Williams confesses to packing Snickers bars. They’re the perfect winter food, she points out — a tightly packed bundle of sugar, carbohydrates, and fat. “It’s the fat that keeps you warm,” she says, and suggests sticking a candy bar or energy or granola bar in any empty space in a pack.
Drink. One of the fastest ways kids can get cold is not being properly hydrated. “We forget when we’re outside in the winter that it’s like being in a desert,” Williams says. She follows a “quarter every quarter” rule: a quarter cup of water every quarter-hour. She advises not to stop and chug a quart all at once; better to sip all day. Also, she points out that the body absorbs lukewarm water more quickly than it does very cold water.
Be on the look-out for signs of dehydration, including headaches and very dark yellow pee. And speaking of which, Williams deals with the classic winter-camping problem by telling kids, “If you’re sleeping out in a tent or an unheated cabin, do not have a dialogue with your bladder at night. You will lose. Your body will cool down trying to keep that liquid warm. Get up, get it over with, and you’ll sleep better and be warmer.”
Wear sunscreen. Exposed skin is actually more vulnerable in winter to sunburn, windburn, and chapping than it is in the lush, often shaded humidity of summer. Snow can reflect more than 85 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Keep chapstick handy in outer pockets and apply it frequently; in very cold wind-chill use Vaseline as a protective coating on cheeks and noses.
Pay attention. Williams know that children don’t always know, or say, when they’re cold. On winter family trips, she took frequent breaks to check on her children. “I’d tell them to take their shoes off so I could feel their feet. Or I’d just stick my hands down into their boots.” She adds, as if she needed any more emphasis, “I checked them all the time.”
• Read “Dressing Like an Onion and Other Tips for Keeping Kids Warm”
• More advice on dressing for warmth from AMC: “Cold Comfort: How to stay toasty in winter’s chill” (Matt Heid, AMC Outdoors)
• Advice from medical professionals on winter safety and avoiding and treating frostnip, frostbite, and hypothermia
Photo credit: Hulbert Outdoor Center
“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.