Choosing a winter coat for outdoor kids

How to choose winter coats for outdoor kids, Baby Routes

Roo has grown. Again. I know it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my 3 year old daughter is shooting up taller every day but it’s the way in which she will seem to extend by centimetres overnight that throws me.

Until now we have been just about making do with her winter coat from last year. An old faithful with removable inner fleece last year’s winter coat has taken us through a whole year of outdoor adventures. With its cuffs making stead progress towards Roo’s elbows though and the winter weather upon us again, it is fair to say the time has come to get her a new winter coat though.

With so much choice on the market, finding the right winter coat for kids can be bamboozling. As I embark on that annual search once again, I thought I’d jot down some of the main things I think about when choosing a kids winter coat – let me know if I missed something!

What is your child’s winter coat going to be used for?

The kind of coat you need for winter playtime at nursery or school is very different to the kind of jacket you will need if you’re kid is standing about as a substitute at a football match for half an hour on a chilly Saturday morning or hurtling down a snowy hill on a toboggan. You’ll need something totally different again if you child plays out in all weather or you go for long family winter walks. Work out what the winter coat will be used most for and start with that as your focus. We spend loads of time walking and playing outdoors, sometimes in exposed places and wet and windy weather so I normally focus on warmth, windpoofing and freedom to move.

Walking with the girls, How to choose winter coats for outdoor kids, Baby Routes

Out on the footpath where you will normally find us… coats on!

Is the coat waterproof or water repellent? 

For me, having some degree of waterproofing on Roo’s main winter coat is essential. They go out in all weathers at nursery and I need to be able to keep her dry if it tips it down when we are out on one of our walks. If your child just needs a coat for nursery or school playtime or short trips to the park and shops then a water-repellent winter coat will probably be enough. Water repellent coats have been treated with a special coating that will keep children dry from light showers. It tends to be cheaper than full waterproofing but will need retreating more often and won’t normally stand up to heavy showers. It is also often not breathable, so not so good if your child will be running around working up a sweat for long periods of time whilst wearing their winter coat.

Waterproof coats on the other hand are made from a special waterproof membrane, Gore-Tex being probably the most well-known one. The membrane has tiny pores in it that are too small for rain to get in but still allow sweat to get out, making them breathable too. They will also be treated with a waterproof coating and often have special extra features such as covered zips and taped seams which have been heat treated to prevent water sneaking in via the stitching on the fabric.

KoziKids Owl Jacket

Got to love this KoziKids Owl fleece-lined rain jacket for a winter park trips and nursery playtime staple.

You will sometimes see waterproofing listed on a coat label with a number next to it. This is its Hydrostatic Head test measurement. Basically, a measurement under 1500mm is water resistant, 1500-5000mm will stand up to light rain, up to 10,000 will withstand most rain-showers and up to 20,000mm you can go swimming in. Probably. I wouldn’t try it…

If you’re looking for a really waterproof coat then you will also need a good hood. I look for adjustable hoods with a bit of a peak (too much and it will annoy your kid so much they refuse to wear it to stop rain dripping straight down on Roo’s face as the plain elasticated ones often do. Don’t forget bottom layers either – an all-in-one suit can be particularly handy for puddle-jumping and wet park trips and is much more practical for babies and tiny tots. We own both.

How easy is it for a kid to put on their coat alone and is it easy to move in?

Roo is incredibly independent for a three year old and often refuses outright any help with getting dressed. She also goes to nursery where children need to be able to get their outdoor gear on by themselves. For this reason, this year I need to be extra vigilant about making sure her winter coat is easy to manoeuvre herself into and not too stiff and unwieldy. If you need to fit the coat in a nursery/school bag or carry it on a walk then you’ll also want something that squashes down fairly small and is light to carry.

Running in a winter coat.

Ease of movement in a winter coat is super-important for always-on-the-go kids – as Roo reminds us daily!

Is the coat windproof?

Almost more important than waterproofing (though the two often go hand in hand), wind-proofing is another essential item for a winter coat in this household. With much larger surface area to body ratios than adults, children cool down much more easily than adults and wind chill is one of the biggest culprits during winter months. Windproofing, including on legs, is particularly important if your child spends a lot of time in a child carrier, walking or playing out in all weathers and exposed places or will be spending time out on the ski slope. Windproofing is created by using tightly woven fibres.

How much insulation is needed?

Again – this will largely depend on what you need your winter coat for. A Michelin-Man style winter coat looks super-toastie and can be a tempting choice. If your kids are super active and spend a lot of time running around then too much insulation can actually not only hinder their movements but also cause them to sweat, which cools down when they stop and makes them cold and before you go for a down jacket, be aware that if they get wet then their super-warmth will disappear. If on the other hand you need something for winter picnic stops (try it – they’re fun!) or sitting in a pushchair then a down jacket or thickly padded winter coat can be a great choice.

For active kids, breathable layers of fleece and wind/waterproof outer are probably the best bet for a winter coat whilst children who need something for a chilly evening watching fireworks or time outside riding in a rucksack would benefit from extra padding or the insulation of that puffer jacket.

Crawling in snow - insulation and waterproof winter coat required!

Definitely lots of insulation and waterproofing required for snow play!

What’s your winter coat budget?

This should probably be higher up the list but I think it’s important to know what you need your winter coat for first before dismissing more expensive models outright. If all you need is a bit of extra padding for short trips out and a light weight water-resistant layer for nursery play time then you can keep your costs low. Waterproof membranes and extra features can add on cost.

Three-in-one winter coats, like this one, can offer good value. We had one like this last year for Roo with a detachable fleece and it has taken her through all the seasons, with us just adding or removing layers depending on the temperature and conditions outside.

Consider all the brands too – those with established reputations can offer you reliability but lesser well known brands can be equally good and sometimes a bit cheaper so long as you know what kind of features you are looking for. With outdoor gear though, good stuff that lasts costs more but also usually lasts a lot longer. Roo’s outdoor coats we invested in from previous years for example are now on their second wearing from her baby sister.

What’s in a sleeve?

Fine, you get a point and a bit of a giggle for saying arms. The cuff of a winter coat ‘s sleeves can be more important than you think. It’s a personal thing but I avoid cuffs just made from elasticated, ribbed soft material as unless they have a waterproof exterior I find they almost always end up soggy and cold, usually not from damp or snow but because they seem, for some unfathomable reason, to be infinitely appealing for little monkeys to chew on! If you’re going to be out in wet or very cold weather you will probably want a winter coat with an adjustable cuff. This can keep water and snow out and also help keep gloves fixed on small hands.

Do you need the extra features?

I’m a complete sucker for extra features and have often been known to attempt to justify an expensive buy because it has an in-built parachute or changes colour to blend in with the trees when you are spotting wildlife (ok, not real examples but wouldn’t that be fun)? Seriously though, if your kid is under three I wouldn’t worry too much about pockets, if you’re not out in snow much then don’t bother with snow-skirts or lift pass holders (!) and if the coat also has the option to roll-away the hood into an integrated compartment, why on earth would you want the hood to detach unless it’s either too big or you’re planning on following it in the hope of tracking down where all your odd socks and that mystery set of lost keys hang out?

Sprayway jacket

A good example of useful extra features, this kid’s winter jacket has reflective strips for dark evenings, a removable inner fleece and a roll-away hood. Plus it’s super-light – all winning features for me!

Some features I love in a winter coat are things like a detachable inner fleece, the ability to stow away a jacket into its own pocket (so handy for carrying in an already full rucksack or changing bag on walks) and reflective strips for making little people visible to cars in the gloaming. Extra long ‘biker’ backs, designed for protecting against mud splashes and as a saddle guard when cycling, are good too for kids who spend their lives perching on muddy fences or picnicking on on the grass.

Right – I’d better get on hunting for that new winter coat for Roo before she grows any more. Hopefully this is article will be helpful and do feel free to leave a comment with your tips for winter clothing for kids below. Wherever you are adventuring this winter, have fun and stay warm!

This post is sponsored by Cotswold Outdoors – a fab outdoors shop with knowledgeable staff and of which I have been a regular customer for many years now. The words and opinions stated above though are, as always, entirely my own.

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  1. Some really good advice especially on the reflective parts. Thank you.

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