How to Dress Kids for Winter Hikes
There’s no bad weather, only wrong clothing. This piece of advice we heard several times while hiking in the Scottish Highlands last week and it is so very true. It’s even truer when you consider how to dress kids for winter hikes. You want your little ones to stay warm and dry, whether it’s freezing, blowing or drizzling. Yes, winter adventures do come with a chance of wet and cold weather but it’s accessible to everybody with a little prep. Winter hiking is still only walking outside. Here are some dressing tips for your young adventurers.
I usually pack two different pairs of gloves in case one gets wet and alternate the two following types of gloves depending on the weather – or depending on how wet a pair of gloves get when my girls tumble in puddles. Fleece gloves or mittens are enough to keep little fingers warm if the weather stays reasonably dry or if kids tuck their hands in their pockets. They are the lightest option and the bare finger minimum, especially if your kids are going to stop to play in a rushing stream and get their hands wet. Little fingers need to get warm quickly! Once the weather gets rainy or snowy, you will want to switch to snow/ski gloves so little hands stay warm despite the windchill or wet factor.
Whichever type of gloves you go for, look for elasticized wrists and longer cuffs to keep rain or snow from trickling inside the sleeves. If your kids’ winter jackets have elasticized or ribbed wrists, tuck the gloves in and make sure they’re tightly fitted so the arms stay dry.
Head & Neck
Keeping the head warm goes a long way in preventing colds and I always make sure my girls keep their heads covered one way or another – unless we’re hiking hard and they’re steaming hot from the effort. They love wearing fleece hoodies under their jackets so we pull up the fleece hood on their head and if it gets cold, we add the jacket’s hood on top.
If the temps are really cold, we add a wool scarf around the neck but that really depends on how high the jacket zippers go and whether the neck area is adequately protected. Last resort – a warm wool hat! Since fleece hats are easy and light to pack, my backpack always has an additional fleece hat for each girl.
Layers, layers, layers – think onions. The idea is to stay warm and dry while letting the skin breathe. As a result, moisture-control is half the battle in keeping kids warm and dry. The top rule you should remember is no cotton! Cotton absorbs dampness and clings to the skin when wet (with sweat or humidity), which can lead to hypothermia as the child gets cold quickly when you stop for a snack or photo opp. Instead, prefer moisture-wicking fabrics such as polyester, wool or microfiber blends as they tend to dry fast.
In terms of layers, I follow the onion rule and my kids wear
- a tank top undergarment,
- a long-sleeve T-shirt,
- a fleece sweater, and
- a winter jacket.
Ideally, the sweater has a top zipper that my girls can pull up or down when they get too cold or too warm. For added heat and if we’re not going to be moving around a lot (level hike, no climbing hills), thermal underwear provides an effective additional layer but I wouldn’t use it if we were going to hike up a good hill.
As far as the winter jacket, I look for:
- two zippered pockets for hands, more for knick-knacks that kids love to stash,
- waterproof, windproof and breathable fabric (that rules out PVC such as you find in standard rain coats),
- good quality sealed zippers,
- snug-fitting hood (I like when you can adjust both the sides and the back of the head),
- fully fleece-lined (torso and arms),
- machine washable,
- elastic or adjustable wrist cuffs.
Optional would be inner pockets and retractable hood in collar double lining. Believe me, finding all that in a kids’ jacket is not that easy and it usually doesn’t come cheap.
Again you want to keep the legs dry but it’s less problematic than the torso. I’ve tried both rain and snow overpants for my girls and the best option remains the rain gear even if its are not as comfy and warm as the snow pants. Since hiking implies a lot of leg exercise, rain overpants are enough to keep the rain and wind away, keeping kids’ legs fine and reasonably toasty underneath. As far as trousers, I try to steer clear of denim jeans in the winter (the cotton effect) but if we’re going to use rain pants as an additional layer, denim jeans are fine.
To keep feet warm when winter hiking, two options: thick hiking boots or rain boots (wellies). The wetness of the terrain will guide you as to which to choose but both should be waterproof and provide good foot/ankle support.
For the inside, what is true for tops is true for socks – no cotton. Pick socks that won’t retain moisture such as microfiber, merino wool or polyester socks. In sports or mountain sports stores, you can easily find SmartWool hiking socks that are comfy and warm. They provide a good tight fit and won’t roll down when you hike. For rain boots, I’d pick knee-high rainboot socks.
What do you think?
If you have any other clothing tips for winter hiking, I’d love to hear about them. Happy trails!