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Skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, snowmen…winter adventures are great! Unlike the warmer months, winter outside activities with kids take a lot more gear, clothing, and planning to get outside successfully. Getting kids dressed to go outside in the cold can be exhausting if you don’t have a system in place.
One thing that I do know for certain is that few things can make an outdoor adventure with kids in winter go bad as quickly as a cold kid. Cold kids are almost always unhappy, whine more and get tired more easily. Obviously, kids get colder easier than adults do because they don’t have the same amount of muscle and fat mass to keep them warm. Thankfully, the the same principles that apply to keeping adults warm in the winter can easily be transferred down to keep your kids warm in winter as well (yes, even babies).
Avoid COTTON for kids winter clothes!
Before we get into the specifics of layering kids for winter adventures, I want to be 100% clear that we advise you to avoid COTTON layers for kids in the winter. When cotton gets wet, it stays wet and cold and will make kids SO COLD, so try and totally avoid it with kids winter clothes for the outdoors.
How To Layer Kids Winter Clothing
Layers allow pockets of air between clothing layers to help trap heat and keep kids warm. Of course, layering also allows kids to remove a jacket or fleece when they are too warm to avoid sweating.
1. Baselayers to keep kids warm in winter
Choosing a good quality base layer is the most important step when getting winter clothing for kids to stay warm. If you choose a low quality base layer, you might as well give up before you even start. A base layer is a layer that not only insulates kids, but also wicks sweat away from them so that they don’t get wet and clammy when they start to sweat. The best choices for kids base layers are made of merino wool, or a synthetic material like polypropylene, or microfleece. Wool is usually the most expensive (though longest lasting) with synthetic kids base layers costing less. Check out our full review of the best kids base layers to see all the top kids base layers compared side by side (spoiler, this is our favorite).
2. Mid Layers To Insulate Kids In the Cold
Midlayers are your main insulating layer for keeping kids warm in winter. The easiest and cheapest mid layer clothing for kids is fleece. Choose a fleece that is warm enough to really keep you toasty on a chilly day, but also that isn’t too bulky to wear under a coat. A good rule of thumb with fleece is thicker = warmer. That being said, my kids prefer a microfleece material since they’re thinner and allow them to stay warm without over heating when they’re playing hard. For babies and toddlers, get a one piece warm suit for winter. For bigger kids, get a top AND pants to insulate them when it’s cold outside. Do. Not. Forget. Warm. Pants.
Check out our favorite kids fleece, pictured above that our kids wear year round (use code BTK25 for 25% off).
3. Outerwear To Keep Kids Dry
Kids outerwear is your first line of defense against the elements of mother nature, so make it a good one. We always recommend getting waterproof coats and snow pants for kids so that they stay warmer and dryer. Also, if the water stays out, their mid layer and base layer can do the job of keeping kids warm so much better! We learned the hard way that good kids outerwear is worth spending money on. Skip the discount coats and get a high quality waterproof coat for kids, and good waterproof kids snow pants. For babies, and toddlers, a one piece suit with a hood is your best bet.
For older kids, a combination of coat and snow pants is the best option. In a coat, I always look for one with a large hood, a waterproof rating of 10,000mm or higher, and good wrist cuffs to keep snow out. For pants, I’m a huge fan of bib-style snow pants since they do a much better job of keeping the snow out, especially for younger kids. These are our favorite kids snow pants, and we love that they can be worn as just a snow pant or as a bib (use code BTK25 for 25% off)!
4. Warm Socks For Kids Feet
The best way to keep kids feet warm is with a good pair of wool socks. We love that the keep feet warm, and even work well to insulate when wet. Don’t ever put kids in cotton socks in the winter, especially for outdoor adventures. These are our go to winter socks for kids (they’re tall so perfect for snow play and skiing too), and they seem to last forever without holes! Check out these merino wool socks for babies too.
5. Choose The Best Winter Boots For Kids
Boots are another game changer for kids. We have a few brands that we absolutely love and that keep performing well year after year. Find a boot that’s really waterproof (for younger kids, get a boot with a rubberized bottom half to really keep them dry). We also recommend getting a kids’ snow boot that’s easy for kids to put on and off by themselves (avoid laces for younger kids).
6. Hats To Insulate and Prevent Heat Loss
Buy a good thick hat. Fleece and wool are the most widely available options so just choose your kids favorite hat as long as it’s not cotton. Again, thicker usually means warmer. One of the biggest things to look for in a hat is one that fits well and covers their ears. If you have a toddler or baby who likes to pull them off, get one that you can tie or velcro around the neck.
7. Waterproof Gloves or Mittens
Hands are one of the fastest things on kids to get cold in the winter, so make sure to keep them covered with gloves or mittens especially in the snow. Make sure that your kids gloves are waterproof, cover the wrist well, and that they are easy to get on and off. We’ve found that most kids have a preference on gloves or mittens, so talk to your kids about what they want so they’ll be more likely to wear them. I recommend mittens for younger kids or if you have a child that gets cold easily, mittens are always warmer than gloves for kids.
8. How to Keep Kids Faces Warm
When it’s windy or cold outside, keep your kids faces protected. We’re big fans of fleece neck gators and balaclavas. These are simple to put on and adjust and can go a long way to keeping kids warmer in the snow. If it’s really cold, I recommend having kids wear ski goggles to really insulate their faces.
How To Dress Babies To Go Outside In The Winter
Babies absolutely can go outside in the winter, even when it’s cold outside, as long as they’re dressed well. In general, we recommend having babies wear one layer more than an adult or older child would be wearing.
Remember that babies aren’t moving around a lot and generating their own heat, so they need to be dressed warmer. If your baby is in a carrier, stroller, or buggy, make sure to check on them often to ensure that they’re staying warm enough and also not over heating. A sleeping baby in a carrier (especially a backpack carrier where you don’t see them the whole time), can be at a big risk of getting too cold in the winter. Especially make sure to check their hands and feet for warmth.
Avoid winter clothes for baby that are too big. Having winter clothing that is too big makes it harder for kids to move and limits the body’s ability to generate heat and warm up.
Babies always need to have their hands, feet and head covered when outside in the winter, and merino wool is hands down the best material for those areas right next to the skin. We love these merino wool baby socks, this merino wool base layer set for babies. Merino wool keeps babies warm and helps to prevent sweating, so it’s perfect for little ones.
How To Dress Toddlers In The Winter
For the most part, you can dress toddlers just like you would older kids. If you are going to be doing an activity where they will be holding still a lot, put one more layer of clothing on them (like pulling them long distances in a sled, or carrying them in a hiking backpack). Make sure to ask your toddler if they’re staying warm often, and check in to see that they’re enjoying things. If you notice any signs of cold feet, hands or face (whining, shivering), make sure to provide them with extra warmth right away.
One of the most important pieces of gear for toddlers is a good pair of mittens. Toddlers are prone to taking their mittens off often, so finding a pair that fits well, has good coverage, and keeps their hands dry is incredibly important. We love these toddler mittens and also these thumbless toddler mittens.