Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Keeping Kids Warm in Winter

It's easy to spend a lot of time outdoors in winter when you're dressed right! The trouble with dressing kids for cold weather play, however, is that they don't know how to dress right or just don't want to. Hollering "Mittens! Get back here and put your mittens on!" is a daily occurrence around here. The same goes for hats and boots. Somehow my little one thinks that ballet flats and snowpants are the perfect ensemble for a big dump of snow. Big POG (6.5 years old) has thankfully figured out how to dress herself for school, so hopefully I only have 1 more year of winter wrestling to go. Here's what's helped us keep our kids warm in winter.

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Hat Tricks

A good warm hat prevents a lot of heat loss, so you can stay outside longer! If your child refuses to wear a hat, let her choose her own or get one with her favorite animal/cartoon character on it. My girls love their Abby Cadabbie and Minion beanies! For babies and toddlers, get a hat with a chin strap and buckle, so it doesn't fall off (or get pulled off and tossed in the snow).

On baby: Barts Giraffe hat, MEC Toaster Suit, Combi Mitts
On me: Ambler toque, MEC down jacket, MEC soft shell pants, MEC Shelter mitts
(The Shelter mitts are not warm; I prefer my Black Diamond Ankhiale mitts)
What to Look For: 
  • Look for nonitchy fabrics such as fleece. Fleece-lined wool hats are excellent for warmth and comfort (and wool doesn't get stinky like some synthetics). 
  • Get hats with ear flaps to keep little ears cozy.
  • Chin strap with buckle so the hat will stay on.
  • Avoid white hats - they are so hard to find in the snow!
  • Pompoms and ears/antlers etc are not ideal as it's hard to pull a hood over them in extreme weather, but if they make the difference between hat or no hat... get the hat your child will wear (and keep a pompom-less beanie in your pack).
Product Recommendations: We love Barts and Ambler (Canmore company, available at MEC) hats, but have picked up some great, inexpensive fleece toques from Joe (Superstore) and George (Walmart) too.

Warm Hands

While mittens are best at keeping hands warm, they are downright annoying when you're trying to pick up small things or touch stuff, so it's no wonder that kids are quick to take them off (and lose them). Try gloves or micromitts for playtime or snacktime, and pack thick mittens and hand warmers for when your child's hands need warming up. 

If you have a staunch mitt hater, try character/animal mitts. Sarah from Rockies Girl recommends the Kombi Moose Mitts: "These moose mitts have been a huge help in getting Little Bear to keep mittens on.  They’re most effective when talked up (“Do you want to take your moose hiking?”) and I love that they’re warm and water repellent."

MEC Toaster Mitts in action in -20C!

What to Look For: 
  • Light Gloves: Fleece lined running gloves with grippies work well in fall or mild winter days. The grippies allow kids to grab things better and also help little hands not slip when cycling. Gloves should not be too long or you defeat the purpose of having them. Stretchy material will fit best and allow you to use the gloves longer. 
  • Ski gloves: Pockets for hand warmers are a nice feature. Velcro wrist straps help keep snow out and warm air in. Water resistant coatings will also keep hands warm by keeping them dry.
  • Mittens: Long gauntlets with elastic cuffs and velcro wrist straps help keep snow out and warm air in. Thick padding retains warmth and water resistant coatings will also keep hands warm by keeping them dry. Pockets for hand warmers are a nice feature. 
Pro tip: Have your child try the gloves/mitts on with her usual winter jacket to see if the gloves/mitts fit over/under her jacket (your preference). The advantage of mitts over sleeves is that they act as gaiters and keep snow out! Many people prefer to wear mitts under so they stay on better (but it depends on the kinds of mitts you choose). If mitts/gloves are to fit over jacket sleeves, ensure the gauntlets are long and wide enough and that they have an adjustable elastic cuff. 

Product Recommendations:
  • Mild days: Micromitts or microgloves from Walmart or the Dollar Store, or fingerless cycling/climbing gloves
  • Cool days: Chaos Mistral fleece gloves from Mountain Equipment Co-op are warm, stretchy, and grippy.
  • Cold days: 
    • Kombi Moose Mitts and Gordini Prima II Mitts are water resistant and very warm. 
    • MEC Toasty Mitts are also very warm, fit well over jackets, but not as water resistant as others we've tried (but we like them because they are so warm). 
    • Kombi Rail Jam II Junior Ski Gloves are waterproof, warm, and have handwarmer pockets.
    • Outdoor Research Mitts
  • When handwear isn't cutting it, use hand warmer packets! No batteries required!

Toasty Toes

Keeping the extremities warm and dry means no tears and more fun! Thick wool socks will make even mediocre boots feel warmer, but I recommend getting the best boots you can afford. Carry toe warmer packs for super cold days as well as extra socks and plastic bread bags in the event that snow gets in your child's boots. Change socks and line boots with bread bags to prevent the new socks from getting wet. 

What to Look For:
  • Boots: There are several considerations when buying boots, but these are some of the most important.
    • Temperature Rating / Insulation - Temperature ratings are simply a guide; activity level can really affect how warm or cold your extremities get. If you are frequently outside in -15C, look for temperature ratings of -20 or colder. Regarding insulation, there are many types. Felt is measured in thickness (mm), while other insulation may be measured in grams. The higher the number, the warmer the boots.  My 200 g KEEN Riesen boots are warm to -20C! 
    • Type - I recommend traditional insulated winter boots rather than rubber/neoprene boots (like Bogs) for cold climates. We have neoprene/rubber boots and while they are rated to very cold temperatures, they are only warm enough for spring or fall weather in Calgary. The wide opening at the top has a lot to do with this (lets heat escape) as well as the amount of empty space that needs to be warmed.
    • Height - For every day boots, I recommend mid-height to tall boots for warmth. The taller the boots, the less chance snow will get in. Taller boots you can cinch up are usually warmer due to increased coverage, but not suitable for hiking long distances (and can chafe on the calf). Since younger children don't usually hike too far, tall boots may be ok. We opted for tall boots (mid calf instead of slightly above ankle) for school/play this year and have been really happy with them. No snow in the boots and no wet socks! **For hiking and snowshoeing, invest in mid-height (slightly above ankle) winter hikers for better fit and less chafing.**
    • Waterproof boots are the way to go since dry feet are warm feet. Since DWR coatings can wear off over time, boots that are a combination of rubber and synthetic/treated leather uppers (think Sorels) are great. The tradeoff compared to all synthetic/leather uppers is that they are heavy. We use them for every day boots, but prefer lighter boots for hiking. 
    • Fasteners - Boot that laces/cinches up will be far warmer than boots that are open at the top.  Open tops let heat escape and it's easy for the boots to fall off too. Laces will provide the best fit but take time to do up. Bungee lacing systems provide the great fit that laces provide, but are quicker to do up and kids can put them on and take them off by themselves. If you go for boots with straps, the more straps there are, the better fit you will get; get a model with at least two straps (above ankle and top) to keep the boot on and keep warm air in.
    • Soles - Look for aggressive treads (like snow tires). If the bottom of the boots look flat like sneakers, they will not provide good traction.
  • Socks: Wool or wool blend socks provide warmth even when wet and don't get stinky like cotton socks. Invest in some good winter hiking socks and you will notice a difference in how much warmer and comfortable your child's feet are! For additional warmth, consider liner socks or boot liners. My favorite liners are made of sheepskin and were bought at the Farmer's Market. You will likely need to buy a size larger boots if you go this option, but in really frigid temperatures, they are well worth the money!
We hiked all afternoon in -14C and both girls were warm.
Big POG (left) said she was hot!

Product Recommendations: We have tried and like Keen, Salomon, Sorels, Timberland, Naturino Rain Step, and Merrell children's winter boots. Sorels and KEEN Elsa boots are good for every day use; the others are suitable for hiking. For socks, we are big fans of SmartWool and Bridgedale. Carry toe warmer packets for super cold weather (or when kids are not moving much - in the Chariot or baby carrier).


Base, Mid, and Outer Layers

Dressing in layers allows you to control your temperature. Being too hot is not only uncomfortable, but dangerous in cold weather. Of course being too cold isn't good either. I've found by wearing a base and mid-layer and packing an extra layer (usually a down sweater), I am ready for any activity in any weather. When my hands start to get cold, popping on an extra mid layer warms me up enough that I don't need to use hand warmers (warm core = warmer extremities).

Base Layers should fit close to the skin, be made of synthetic materials or silk/wool blends (not cotton!) that wick moisture, and have smooth "brushed" surfaces so it is easy to put mid/outer layers over them. Antimicrobial fabrics reduce odor, but wool also works well in this regard. Our kids have lightweight technical base layers, midweight base layers, and fleece base layers for the coldest days. Mock neck models keep more heat in; just be sure the neck isn't too tight.
  • Product Recommendations: Terramar Sports Power Play (lightweight, great for cross country skiing, available on Amazon), MEC Midweight, Patagonia Capilene 3, MEC Cozy Crew & Cozy Tights (fleece, midweight) 
Terramar Sports Power Play Base Layers
(These are her sister's and are a bit big; they should fit closer to the skin)
Mid Layers should fit over base layers comfortably and easily, but not be too baggy (or it's hard to put a jacket on top). On mild days, kids might wear only a base layer or mid layer under their jackets. On cooler days, they wear a base and mid layer, and on super cold days (or days they are not doing high output activities), they sometimes wear a base layer and two mid layers. Our kids usually wear a fleece hoody as a mid layer, but in very cold weather, wear a down sweater. Zippers allow for easy clothing changes and temperature regulation - we like full zip and half zip mid layers, but quarter zip are also good. Again, look for technical fabrics (synthetic, wool or silk blends) that retain heat but wick moisture. Wool will retain heat when wet, but when combined with synthetic fibers, will wick moisture.

  • Product Recommendations: MEC Yeti Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater (could also be an outer layer on mild winter days).
On left: Patagonia Down Sweater, MEC Toaster Bib Pants, and MEC Essential 5 Mitts.
On right: Ambler toque, MEC Yeti Hoody, Kombi Rail Jam II Junior Ski Gloves, MEC Toaster Bib Pants, Old Navy Vest
Outer Layers should be insulated, windproof, and water resistant.  Other features to look for include: good zippers (on jacket, check that they don't stick to the storm flap and that there is a decent storm flap; on pants, a side zip makes for easy footwear changes - snow boots to skates/ski boots for example) with zipper pulls so kids can do up/undo jacket on their own, powder skirt on jacket (prevents warm arm loss and cold air getting in), wrist gaiters on jacket, internal gaiters on snowpants, adjustable hood to keep heat in (helmet compatible hood nice to have but not available on most younger kids' jackets), soft fabric around face and fold over chin guard (so metal zipper doesn't touch face when jacket fully zipped up). Down provides the most warmth for weight, but will not retain warmth when wet unless you get treated down (Downtek or other brand) which costs more. Synthetic fills can be very warm, and are still warm when wet, but tend to be bulkier than down. Be sure to look for jackets with a DWR coating or Goretex shell to keep little ones warm and dry.

  • Product Recommendations: MEC Toaster Parka & Toaster Bib Pants, or MEC Toaster Suit. These have the most insulation of any winter gear we've tested. 
For more reviews on children's outer wear, please see this post. 

Dollarama Toque, MEC Toaster Jacket and Bib Pants, MEC Neck Gaiter,
MEC Toasty Mitts, Cougar Boots, MSR Tyker Snowshoes

Other Items to Keep Kids Warm

A fleece neck warmer/gaiter or Buff are good to keep in the pack for when the temperature drops or the wind kicks up. They keep your neck warm and can be pulled up to provide face protection. (MEC Neck Gaiter shown above)

Now just to be confusing, I will also recommend (leg) gaiters. These puppies go over the bottom of your snowpants to keep snow out and warm air in. They are a good solution if the internal gaiters on your kid's snowpants are not that great. They also help during that period that your child is outgrowing her snowpants and every time she bends over or crouches down, her snowpants creep up above her boots. If children's gaiters are not available (or pricey!), for big preschoolers and kindergarteners and up, you can try short adult gaiters, size small. The MEC ones are only $9! I use the short ones year round as they keep debris out of my hiking boots. Pro tip: If you would like to buy long gaiters for year round use, splurge on the Goretex ones. The long nylon ones gave me heat rash in summer.

Short gaiters

We keep a down sweater or down vest for each person in our packs year round. Light and compressible, they don't take up much space but are good to have in case you encounter bad weather or are delayed due to unforeseen circumstances. MEC and Patagonia make nice ones.

Hand and toe warmer packets are so convenient and have allowed us to keep going in chilly temperatures. We don't have to use them often, but when we do, we are thankful to have them. Keep a pack per person in your pack! You can save money by buying these by the case at Costco. If you buy just one type, keep in mind that toe warmers can be used for hands, but hand warmers are too big to fit in boots.

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