As I start to write this the frost is glinting on the grass outside as the beginnings of morning light begins to nudge away at the night. It’s looking like another beautiful but cold and wintery day. As I drink my still-hot cup of tea and savour the silence in the rest of the house (early mornings have their perks) my thoughts turn to where to walk this weekend.
The cold, clear weather is an invitation for us to get outdoors, not an obstacle. Having experimented over the years, our kids are now well equipped for winter weather. At each stage of mobility from babyhood to school age, the exact kit required for them to hit the cold season in comfort and confidence has differed and over time. Some pieces of outdoor winter kit have really stood out.
Below are the outdoor winter kit heroes of my always-on-the-go, hiking, biking rocket of a six year old’s wardrobe, along with a few of our nice-to-have’s and a couple of wish-list items. Of course, exactly what kit you will need depends a little on both how much time you spend outdoors during winter (hopefully more with the right kit!), what activities your family enjoy and the budget you have available.
As people often ask me the question, most often these days I buy our outdoor kit from the Little Adventure Shop, which I came across last year. Since discovering their warehouse is nearby (but you can mainly find them online) I’ve taken to regularly popping in to browse, get advice and get the kids kitted out for all their outdoor adventures.
Our Favourite Outdoor Winter Kit for Kids
An insulated, waterproof winter coat
A winter coat has to be the most important bit of kit for the cooler months. If you’re on a budget or space restricted then you can layer up under a water and windproof shell but I have always preferred an insulated winter coat for the kids. It’s faster and easier for them to get on alone, avoids carrying excessive extra layers and that way I know they will be warm when out-and-about.
After spending money last year on both a standard-issue school coat and a more technical winter coat for home, this year I have rolled them into one and invested in a fab Didriksons Storlien ski jacket for Roo from Little Adventure Shop. This will see her through the chilly winter school play-times, winter walks and all our outdoor winter adventures.
Technically, as is our normal choice, it’s a ski jacket (Storlien is a Swedish ski area, whilst Didriksons are a top Swedish outdoor brand). We are not a family that skis every winter (a girl can dream…) but ski-jackets have a host of handy features whose functionality extends seamlessly beyond the ski resort to British winter walking and outdoor play.
- Designed for active winter wear, Roo’s Didriksons jackets is wind-proof and insulated yet breathable (the last thing you want is a cold sweat in winter).
- It has high water resistance (we choose >10,000mm on waterproof coats) and comes with fully taped seams, so will easily cope with being out in the rain or a spot of light snow-rolling.
- Reflective stripes help make your child stand out on dark nights.
- Internal soft cuffs and adjustable snow-skirt waist and outer cuffs keep wrists and tummy warm – technically from snow but it goes for cold breezes too;
- Adjustable outer cuffs and loops are both useful for keeping gloves in place and safe from accidental drops;
- A good selection of warm pockets, including on on the sleeve – in theory for a ski-pass but in reality far more useful for easily accessible tissues;
- A detachable, adjustable insulated hood allowing you wriggle room in that classic seasonal parent-child debate about wearing a hat, safe in the knowledge you have a back-up plan attached to the coat of your child’s outerwear! Make sure it has some kind of a peak to protect the wearer’s face from winter showers.
Waterproof trousers or dungarees
Good quality waterproof trousers or dungarees are an essential for outdoor winter play in our house. They mean being able to relax and let your kids loose without worrying about them soaking themselves and being freezing within minutes of starting a winter walk.
Our preference, now Roo is a bit older, is for waterproof trousers. They give functionality across all the seasons and go over most layers. They are compact & light for children to carry and easy to put-on unaided.
Dungarees are a good choice for children with a propensity to leap with exceptional vigour in huge muddy puddles. They are also good if, like Roo, your children insist on wearing their trousers as low slung on their waist as possible and as a result ends up un-tucking their top layers and exposing their midriff to winter chills!
Good waterproof trousers for our family mean:
- a durable material that is easy to wash or wipe-down;
- >10,000 mm waterproofing – in event of a mid-hike downpour it is your knees and thighs that end up taking the brunt, not to mention the stern stuff required to cope with sudden soakings from over-ambitious puddle jumping or snow crawling;
- Adjustable ankles or, in the case of dungarees, stirrups to keep your the ankles of your boots clean and dry;
- zips or poppers on the lower leg to enable children to easily get the trousers on and off over bulky layers unaided and to remove wet, muddy trousers without having to take their boots off first.
A winter hat
We usually have a few of these hanging about, including one for serious cold and snow and one for day-to-day use. Right now, Roo and Beth’s day-to-day hats are woolly beanies made by Granny, with a fold up bottom to add an extra layer of insulation around the ears and forehead. These are great layered under hoods.
For really cold or windy weather look for hats that are fleece lined and windproof with good ear coverage You can even get technical, waterproof bobble hats these days although in bitter, prolonged walking conditions, trapper-style hats are a favourite here.
Again, we have a good old woolly pair of gloves on the go for day-to-day use or ski mittens for wet or snow play (watch the waterproofing on the very cheap ones).
Unfortunately the former aren’t much use for anything but bone-dry winter walks without any ice or wet leaves to tempt the children and the latter are quite bulky and limit dexterity making it tempting for Roo to take them off in anything but full-on snow.
Technical gloves for kids are getting much better these days and I really need to invest in new ones for Roo. Winter cycling gloves look a good choice if you need a multi-use pair which gives dexterity plus water and windproof features. Alternatively using a liner glove for solo dry and light winter wear with a shell to go over the top for waterproofing and extra insulation is worth considering.
Thermal trousers and tops have been an essential in our winter outdoor kit since Roo was a baby and they look to remain so.
You can get away with using a pair of tights under trousers for girls to give extra insulation if you need a quick and cheap option but they are never quite as snuggly and warm as a proper thermal layer.
Roo currently has a set of Odlo merino mix thermals which are super cosy and breathable and I’d recommend. If you can’t stretch to that then a cheap fleecy thermal set is well worth having. They can convert summer active wear into winter layers. Beth was out just today in summer hiking trousers and thermals ( yes – it is now evening…) and add extra insulation under winter layers on bitter days. Ours also double up as camping pyjamas for cool British summer evenings.
Fleecy Tracksuit Bottoms
Whilst winter-weight technical trousers are lovely, you can’t beat a good old pair of tracksuit bottoms and cotton joggers with fleecy linings for worry-free grubbing about and simple winter walks. Cheap, cheerful and readily available, we have at least two or three pairs in the kids’ winter wardrobe and we know it won’t cost much to replace them should they come to grief / turn permanently mud-coloured. Add thermals underneath for extra insulation.
Every self-respecting kid needs a pair of welly boots for winter. Look for light-weight boots with a good grip to avoid tiring smaller legs with heavy, slidy mud-wading.
Wellies with removable fleecy linings are our favourites or pair with a thick warm walking/welly socks. Welly boots have no insulation by themselves leading to miserable walking in frosty weather if you don’t add your own.
Wellies with drawstring or elasticated skirts at the top can be particularly handy if your child is good at misjudging the depth of puddles…
A simple slip-over or compact zip-up fleece layer is a really versatile and well-used bit of winter kit in our house for all ages. Wear it with just a t-shirt underneath as a less bulky jumper alternative for day-to-day wear, as a top layer over thermals for moderately cool and dry winter days or layer it up under a windproof and waterproof outer shell or even a ski jacket for the really chilly days. This is another hard-working item of clothing that you will use for hill-walking in summer right through to the depths of winter.
A pair of thick, warm hiking socks are a good choice for winter walks to pair with wellies or boots. In cold weather it is the extremities that chill down first and are a key factor in winter excursions ending earlier than planned – something easily cured with a simple pair of socks!
Our Winter Kit for Kids Extras
Kids’ Hiking Boots or Snow Boots
Sturdy kids’ hiking boots might not be an essential for every family looking to get outside a little over winter but for us they are used all year round so make the investment worthwhile.
Good quality kids’ hiking boots provide several things above being water resistant that wellies alone cannot do – they give good grip in icy weather, are comfy to wear for prolonged periods and usually have some level of insulation. Plus, like wellies, they are designed to be worn with a thick sock for extra warmth and comfort.
Snow boots provide all this with extra emphasis on the waterproof, grip on snow and insulating properties but tend to be a little less flexible.
If you don’t hike, will be heading to the snow over winter and only want one boot then I’d probably go for a snow-boot as you can often get these at a cheaper price and may suit winter specific play better. If you walk fairly regularly then a hiking boot will take your child through the bridging seasons and into the coldest days of winter.
I debated long and hard about putting a buff on my essentials list as they really are great bits of versatile year-round kit and not expensive.You can get both fleece or wool winter-weight buffs or thin, lighter-weight ones that can be used at altitude in summer and through into winter as an extra layer.
Use them as a neck-warmer (much better for kids than dangling scarves), a back-up hat, a hair scarf, face-warmer and more. We’ve even used them as a make-shift bag for holding nature-treasures in!
Gaiters are handy if you are tackling muddy field walks or dry, not-too-deep snow on otherwise dry winter days and want to keep your trousers clean and dry whilst avoiding the bulk of fully waterproof trousers. I’ve often considered gaiters but never quite thought them worth the extra faff for our younger children, especially as they are still drawn magnetically to bogs and puddles that no gaiter could possibly defend against.
If I had an unlimited budget and fewer children to kit out, a down jacket would be first on my list of nice-to-have extras. I have one myself, albeit an old-school version, and wear it constantly throughout winter
These days you can buy down jackets with synthetic down giving great insulation but without compromising performance in damper weather or when working up a sweat. All materials now offer a slimmed down silhouette which works for every-day use in even the coldest weather without making your children look like a human snow-ball.
Down jackets come into their own during leisurely winter walks, wildlife watching or for winter den building or picnics but are equally useful during the summer for camping or at altitude. They stow easily, often into an inner pocket and we’ve used our adult ones when stowed as a makeshift pillow for camping or for a snoozing infant in a baby carrier.
So that’s our list of essential winter kit for kids. Did I miss something? What are your favourite winter outdoor activities and the winter outdoor kit for kids that gets you out enjoying them?
As for which walk we finally decided on…well we tried a new circular route from Mill End to Medmenham along the River Thames which I’ll be publishing soon.
*As I like to be fully open with my readers, you should be aware that I’ve enjoyed a small discount on a few of my purchases from Little Adventure Shop. From my personal experience as a normal customer I fully recommend Little Adventure Shop for kids outdoor gear based on their quality and range of products and for their friendly and knowledgeable service.