A lot of people lately have been asking me about dressing their kids for hiking, in the winter, on the west coast (and by a lot I mean about 5). So I figured I would write a quick post about it. There are a bazillion posts about dressing for hiking but not a ton about dressing kids for hiking and I’ll explain why; you dress them the same way! It is; however, extremely important with kids for one very important reason… there’s no crying in hiking… or is that baseball?! (see P.S)
The wetcoast (yes you read that right) is it’s own special little beast in the winter. It isn’t insanely cold here. That isn’t what gets you… it’s the moisture. It’s the type of moisture that gets through your skin and you feel it all the way through to your bones. When you are wet the cold becomes multiplied, so keeping your kids warm is not as simple as throwing on a puffy jacket, the majority of which are not waterproof unless you are spending a few hundred bucks, and who wants to do that when your kid will outgrow it by next week.
I should also mention that I have never payed full price for any of my or the kids equipment. Shopping outlets is awesome especially if you wait until they have a sale. For example Columbia and Under Armour outlets just had sales where everything in the store was 40% off the already marked down prices.
So, here is a simple layering scheme that will work for your kids as well as you. It is simple and versatile. Now, that being said, this is my opinion and it is what works for me and my kids. I am also open to suggestions, but this keeps my kids warm, dry, and happy.
Our layering consists of three layers on top, three layers on bottom: Base Layer, Insulating Layer, and Outer Layer.
1. Base Layer:
- This layer is primarily to keep sweat off of your skin. Dry good, wet bad!
- Some kind of synthetic wicking material – I got some under armour t-shirts and long sleeves for my boys. They are soft and comfortable, and often have superhero logos (okay that’s more for me than them). You can pick them up cheap at the U.A. outlets. Also you can use them for more than just hiking! If your kids play any other sports they probably have stuff they can use as base layers – long sleeves they wear under their soccer or hockey jerseys for example.
- On the bottom they have under armour “cold gear” tights – a little thicker. My oldest was a little skeptical about tights until I showed him pictures of athletes training in tights. These have great waistbands and are very comfortable.
- You can get base layers in different “weights” – lightweight, mediumweight, you can even get microlight, but most kids stuff comes in a medium weight.
2. Insulating Layer:
- This layer is for warmth.
- Fleece is perfect for this layer, most kids stuff is made from polyester fleece. It is good for retaining warmth (even when wet) and it breathes.
- Again my boys have hooded fleece zip ups from Under Armour and unhooded fleece 3/4 zip fleeces I picked up from Costco for $12! They wear them to school in spring, fall and winter so these articles of clothing will get a lot of use.
- You can get polyester fleece track pants that are great. They are comfy and can be used to go to school, lounge around, etc.
3. Outer Layer
- This layer is to keep the water out.
- All you need is a waterproof (not water resistant) shell jacket and pants.
- I recommend a full zip jacket – this is easy on and off and lets the air in.
- No… you do not need Gortex! There are a lot of great membranes out there that are waterproof and breathable and not $250 – $400.
- I got my sons North Face waterproof shell on sale for $40. It has been awesome.
- I also recommend shell pants with a wide opening adjustable bottom or half zip up the leg. You want to be able to easily get this layer on and off.
The magic of this system is it’s simplicity and versatility. Need less warmth? take of the fleece. Not Raining? Roll up the pants and jacket and tuck them into you backpack.
Everything is light and packable and easy to carry. From wearing a wicking shirt with fleece pants all the way up to wearing all three layers, you have your kids covered for all kinds of west coast weather.
Yes… puffy jackets have their uses; however, we do not get a ton of dry cold here. Most kids Puffy jackets get wet, and when they are wet they are heavy. They are not easy to pack, and they are not super versatile. For the price of a puffy jacket you can set your kids up with a layering system that will keep them warm, dry and comfortable. That being said, when you are camping their is something very comforting about sitting by the fire and wrapping yourself in a warm cloud.
P.S. – to add to my comment earlier about “no crying in hiking” – there can be. This is not the negative kind though, it is the kind where you are so emotionally overwhelmed by your accomplishment of scrambling up that summit, the beautiful view, the realization that you are way stronger than you thought, or just that amazing feeling of being at peace. So just so you know, I do pack kleenex 😉