How to Layer Kids Ages 0-18 for Winter Fun

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They say, there’s no bad weather as long as you have the right gear. And this is true with kids too…you just have to decide on your own threshold for winter fun. For some of us that’s 20 degrees, for others it’s -10. But with the winter months upon us, unless you’re willing to commit to full-on hibernation, figuring out how to dress your kids appropriately is about more than safety. It’s also about sanity.

A family of 4 enjoying some winter fun.If you love the outdoors, or even if you love fresh air, hibernating isn’t an option. But even if you love when your kids are in the fresh air, because they’re tuckered out, smell like outside, and are not (I repeat, NOT) underfoot, winter can throw a wrench in things. 

But, that’s where this post comes in. Here are some easy and affordable tips for layering your kids so they can have a blast in the arctic air.

Layering babies and toddlers isn’t all that different from layering for adults, but since they don’t always have the words to tell us if they’re cold, it can be tough to know if you’re doing it right.

And although you can invest a bunch of money into high-tech gear, you can gear up for winter fun quite affordably. You just need to factor in the three components of good layering:

  1. A non-cotton base layer. Wicking material is ideal; performance fabrics, fleece or wool can work well here. 
  2. An insulating layer. 
  3. A wind-blocking layer.

Why non-cotton? Cotton absorbs sweat instead of wicking it away. So when the air is cold, cotton next to our skin makes us feel colder and can lead to hypothermia. Stick with wicking fabrics to keep extra warm.

Dressing Babies & Toddlers for Winter Fun:

When you’re getting the tiniest kids ready for outdoor time, you still want to keep the three types of layers in mind. Here are some ideas for your babies and toddlers: 

  1. Base layer = fleece footed PJs are awesome! They’re an inexpensive alternative if you don’t want to invest in base layers.
  2. Insulating Layer = Buntings are awesome. I love those fleece snowsuits for as long as they’ll fit your kids. 
  3. Wind-blocking layer = rain suits like Tuffo Muddy Buddy or OakiWear Trail Suits, or if you’re wearing your kiddos in a soft-sided carrier like an Onya, Lillebaby, Tula or Ergo, simply zipping your coat around you and baby can provide this layer. Otherwise, just make sure that your kiddo has enough mobility to get around. If not, they’ll be miserable (for example, those big puffy snowsuits that Carters makes for little kids are cute, but if they can’t move, they’ll hate being outdoors), just like that kid in A Christmas Story. 
Here’s an example of wearing a baby under the jacket (unzipped), so the baby stays warm.

Dressing Pre-Schoolers and Big Kids for Winter Fun:

The older our kids get, the less interested they are in wearing what we ask them to especially when it comes to winter fun. I get that 100%. But here are some gear tips that will keep them warm even in the coldest of temperatures.

  1. Base layer = non-cotton leggings, baselayers like Cuddleduds, etc
  2. Insulating layer = sweatpants + sweatshirt, fleece pants + top
  3. Wind-blocking Layer = snowsuits, full-body can be easiest to maneuver and lock all that heat in or bibs + a jacket.

Keeping Heads, Hands, & Feet Warm:

It feels like kids are always losing gloves, hats, and boots (how do you lose one boot, seriously?). However, they’re the most important!

  1. Always wear hats because that’s where most body heat escapes. If you have a munchkin who hates them, then get one with velcro or ties to keep it on.
  2. Mittens shouldn’t be skin tight. Instead, make sure that fingers have enough space to move. Tie a string to each mitten and then run it through the jacket sleeves if you have a first-class mitten chucker.
  3. Socks are important. Stay away from cotton here if you can. If your kiddo is in fleece PJs, then problem solved. But otherwise, stick with wicking materials if you can. Speaking from experience, there’s no such thing as winter fun with frozen feet.
  4. Footwear. If the kiddo isn’t walking yet, then basic boots like Stonz or MyMayu that cinch around their feet can be awesome. For older kids, invest in a quality boot – but it doesn’t have to be spendy. On the contrary, an inexpensive boot from Fleet Farm or Target can last really well!
  5. Hot Hands and Toe Warmers are awesome to chuck in the bottom of buntings (on the outside of the base layer) to help keep little toes warm. Plus bigger kids will love them!

Pro Tip: Old wool socks over fleece PJs make a great insulating layer for babies and little kids. Cut off the toes for the perfect toddler-sized wool leggings or armbands!

The bottom line is that you can still get out and do the things you want outside, whether snowshoeing, hiking, walking, running, or cross-country skiing (you can rig up a sled to tow right behind you). And if you keep the necessities for winter fun in a bin by your door, you’ll be ready to go quickly!