The Kids Are All Warm: Tips for Toasty Heads and Hands

January 22, 2018
Matt HeidA good neck gaiter provides essential warmth and coverage for young heads and faces in the deepest cold. Photo: Matt Heid

We had quite the deep freeze earlier this winter in the Northeast, which provided me with ample opportunities to play outside in the Arctic chill with my two boys, ages 6 and 7.  Here’s my advice for keeping kids warm and comfortable in frigid temperatures—because if they’re not, it’s game over for the fun.

In my experience, it’s relatively easy to keep kids’ cores warm and insulated, no matter how cold the weather, as long as they’ve got a good pair of long underwear tops and bottoms, an insulated pair of snow pants or bibs, and a decent winter jacket. (Add an extra mid-layer on top and maybe on the bottom for deeper cold, in the teens and below.)

The challenge in bitter temps is more around the extremities, especially the head, neck, and hands. For the head and neck, the key piece of gear you’ll want to add for young bodies is a neck gaiterKids’ versions are available, though they can be a bit tight for kids with larger noggins.

How tight or loose neck gaiters fit is important for use in the deepest cold because I’ve found that one of the best techniques is to pull the gaiter up so that it covers the kids’ ears, then pull the hat down over top of it. This protects the lower parts of the ear, which can often escape or protrude from below the hat; creates a double-layer of insulation over this most vulnerable part of the head; and also helps keep the neck gaiter in place over the face, which is crucial for comfort in extreme temps.

The weakest link for frigid fun, however, is definitely the hands. In my experience, kids’ handwear is seldom warm enough to keep digits toasty for long once you’re dealing with temperatures in the teens and below. There are a couple things you can do to help prolong comfort, however.

First, choose mittens over gloves; fingers stay much warmer when they get to hang out with each other.

Second, choose the thickest, puffiest mittens or gloves you’ve got for maximum warmth.

Third, make sure there’s no gap between the mitten/glove and the jacket sleeve; exposed wrists both get cold and provide an opening for snow to work inside. Gloves and mittens with longer cuffs (or gauntlets, as the lingo goes) are ideal for this. When possible, have your child put on their gloves or mittens before they slide their arms through their jacket sleeves and then tighten the jacket cuffs over the gloves; this is a great way to create a secure seal.

Lastly, you can consider adding chemical heat warmers inside your kids’ handwear. Keep in mind, however, that these take a bit of time to fully activate so try and get them warming well before you head outside. (And when you’re done, you can preserve the remaining heat in the warmers using this simple trick.)

Happy winter!

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.