If the amount of time you are spending getting your kids ready to head outside to play is longer than the time you actually play outside… you might be a parent in winter. We have been there, and after conquering winter in several zones of the US with our four little ones, we have several snow-tested tips and tricks to cut down on the tears and increase your time actually having outdoor winter fun!
After several frustrating outings a few years ago we realized we needed to switch things up. After a bit of trial and error, and a TON of research, the answer wasn’t actually different activities but rather better gear. As soon as got things right and everyone was toasty warm, the fun followed.
We have mapped out all of our tips and gear recommendations below that we have tweaked and refined over the past few winters with our crew on how to keep kids warm in winter.
Getting them out the door
This is often the hardest part. But it gets easier over time and the work you put in when they are little will begin to pay off as they grow. Our oldest gets himself completely ready and is often a great help for the younger three, this didn’t happen overnight. If you are struggling with a toddler or preschooler, hang in there. It gets better.
Gather your gear and dress in stages
Layout everyone’s gear in a contained space (hallway, etc) with different zones and get everyone dressed in stages. This can be modified to meet what works for your family size and needs. At our house, we are usually dressing all four kids and on weekdays, it’s a one-parent show as we alternate work. If we are staying close to home or walking somewhere we have them dress in their base and mid-layers in the living room and then send them for outer layers by the door. This way you don’t have your most cooperative tiny human full bundled and sitting in a pool of sweat while toddlers and babies are being wrangled into fresh diapers. For adventures that require a drive we dress in the base and mid-layers and then pack outer layers, boots, and hats, mittens, etc. in tote bags tossed into the trunk.
Bribery with hot drinks and treats
The promise of a warm thermos of hot cocoa with marshmallows works like magic around here to get the little people moving toward the door. We will sometimes toss in a sugar cookie as well if desperation calls for it. While these layering tips will work on the outside, warm drinks are key for keeping kids warm in winter.
Unique winter fun for each child
Not everyone has to be doing the same activity to be together. Our oldest loves sledding, the middle two love rolling around in the snow, and the baby is living the Ergo life for now. If we announce a sledding trip the second born will fall apart. If we propose a day of “snow adventures”, he is all ears. We also ensure we build in success with a bit of pre-planning. On a cold day hike, our middle two always have a scavenger hunt list we have hyped up beforehand. We have a whole guide on hiking with toddlers.
Keeping kids warm in winter by layering for warmth and climate
Smart layering is the key to keeping tiny bodies warm and dry. Many items are rated for temperature, but humidity and precipitation are far more important. For example, 30 with wet falling snow on a sledding hill in Cleveland, Ohio is going to require very different outer layers than 30, next to zero humidity and glaring sunshine in Boulder.
A fitted non-cotton base layer will hold in body heat and wick away sweat, drying quickly. Merino wool is the best option here, but it’s expensive. If you are looking for all-day adventures or winter camping, this is where you should splurge and invest. Our favorite base layer for the older kids is the REI midweight top and bottom. Our toddler wears the Helly Hansen merino wool baselayer. For a backyard snow-fort building or a short sledding trip, a fitted pajama set will do the trick!
A wool or fleece mid-layer will provide insulation and trap body heat in the pockets of air between the base layer and the outter-layer. This is the layer to save money! We love Old Navy/ Gap fleece or Patagonia fleece if we can find it on sale or second-hand. For younger toddlers and babies, a fleece pajama works great.
Weather-smart outer layer
This is the other area where it pays to splurge a bit. These items have the highest resale value and can also be easiest to snag second-hand. Which outer jackets, snow pants, and snow bibs you need are highly variable based on the climate and winter activities you will be enjoying. We love Patagonia Nano Puff jackets for most adventures here in Colorado. But when it’s really cold and definitely back in NYC, outer waterproof shells are necessary to keep kids dry in slush and wet snow.
Choosing the best Hats, Mittens, and Boots to keep kids warm in winter
Mittens vs. Gloves
Mittens will keep small hands much warmer than gloves. If you have ever tried to put gloves on a toddler you already know the frustrating comedy show that is. When the kids are playing in wet snow, we slide a fleece liner into their thermal mittens. And always have a dry backup pair to change out halfway through the day.
A game of preference, choose one that covers the ears and is made from synthetic materials or wool. For especially cold days we include a gaiter of baklava to keep little necks warm. Note, small kids should never have a scarf tied around their neck for safety.
One pair of thick wool socks is far better for warmth than layering several thin cotton socks that restrict circulation, trap moisture, and actually make little toes colder throughout the day. We use Real Tree merino blend socks as everyday winter socks since they can go in the dryer. Our first pair lasted two boys over 3 years, which is VERY impressive around here. For longer or colder adventures we slide them into their thicker merino wool blend socks.
This is another one up to personal preference. We have a few brands we love and we look for sales and check all of our second-hand favorite sites (those are outlined below). Our oldest doesn’t like the weight of winter boots so I applied an extra layer of waterproofing spray to his hiking boots and he wears them for most sledding and snow fort building activities. The little guys are wearing Columbia and Sorel boots that are warm and insulating with a sturdy sole and traction for icy trails.
Keeping wool in great shape
We use Woolite to wash our wool layers every 3-5 wears for the kids and 5-7 for the adults. Hats and gloves only need to be washed 1-2 times each winter. Because wool is naturally anti-bacterial you don’t need to and shouldn’t wash after each wear. Line drying is a must. Failture to line dry will result in wool layers quickly passing down the line. Our 3rd child loves his wool hat that once fit a much larger head, whoops!
Where to find second-hand winter gear
Finding great second-hand children’s gear is a bit of extra work and effort. This work becomes more than worth it as you stock up on quality gear for a fraction of the price.
Outdoor Gear Exchange
Worn-Wear from Patagonia
Tag us on social media @fivepax or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay safe and warm out there!