I love fall for so many different reasons, one of them being that the cooler temperatures are perfect for hiking, playing and exploring things outside. Now is also the time of the year when I start to look over the girls’ fall and winter gear, to see if I need to add anything to their wardrobe before the weather gets colder and wetter. After all, the key to spending time outside every day is to dress according to the weather. A warm, dry child can play outside for hours, so high-quality outdoor gear is well worth the money. If the clothes are durable, chances are they can also be handed down to younger siblings.
This is what I look for when I shop for outdoor gear for my children:
- Protects them from wind, moisture and cold temperatures
- Stands up to wear and tear
- Easy to put on and take off
- Spacious enough to allow for playing
In my experience, you won’t find good, rugged outdoor clothes for children in regular department stores. Instead, brick and mortar sporting goods stores or online stores specializing in children’s outdoor gear are the way to go. What you’re going to need depends a lot on the climate where you live and what type of activities you and your family take part in, but whether you need light or heavy gear it’s always a good idea to learn the art of layering clothes.
Let’s start with some layering basics:
- The first layer, or the base layer, is what regulates your temperature and moves perspiration away from the body, to keep you dry. This layer is in direct contact with your skin and usually fits snugly. “Thermal underwear or what grandma called Long Johns is your best weapon against the cold,” says Kari Svenneby, founder of Active Kids Club. “Look for merino wool, synthetic fibers, or blends of both, but never, ever cotton.” Cotton actually soaks up the perspiration instead of moving it away from the body, which leaves you feeling wet. Instead, Kari recommends organic merino wool underwear from Warmth & Weather. Silk is another good base layer option for less strenuous activity.
- The mid-layer insulates you by trapping body heat in pockets of air in the fabric. This layer comes in many different shapes and forms, and can consist of natural fibers such as wool and goose down, as well as synthetic fibers like fleece and polyester. Brands like The North Face and Columbia both make high-quality children’s outdoor gear in this category. “For warmth, the Patagonia kids puffs are good, and we layer them under rain gear,” says Erin McKittrick, explorer and founder of Ground Truth Trekking.
- The outer layer is what protects you from rain, snow or wind, and should be rugged enough to stand up to some wear and tear. This layer can range from a light wind breaker to heavy mountaineering outfits with a lot of features. Most of them are breathable to some extent, and treated with water repellant. REI is getting rave reviews from many active families, but smaller, specialized brands like DucKsday, Grundéns and Oakiwear are also popular choices. “DucKsday stands apart from many other kids’ gear brands that we have checked out because they are durable, affordable and really do keep kids dry,” says Amelia Mayer, who reviews kids’ outdoor gear on her blog Tales of a Mountain Mama.
Scandinavian-style rain gear:
If you have children under five and live in a climate where fall translates to playing in rain, mud and slush, these heavy-duty polyester and polyurethane blends are unbeatable in my opinion. They have been the work horses in my girls’ closet for years now, especially in the fall and spring, when I like to layer them with fleece jackets and combine them with a pair of rugged rain boots for endless fun in puddles of mud. In the US, you’ll find this type of rain gear at Polarn o Pyret and Puddlegear.
Boots, hats and mittens:
Children love to play in water and come fall, my kids’ rain boots are in heavy rotation. Bogs sells stylish rain boots in a variety of colors and patterns. “Bogs boots keep feet warm and dry,” says Erin Kirkland, who runs the family travel website AKontheGO. But why stop at waterproof footwear? Keeping hands warm and dry is also crucial to your kids enjoying their outdoor play. Mittens are warmer than gloves; look for the longer ones that can be pulled over the sleeve of the jacket or coveralls, since those are better at keeping moisture out. Stonz sells warm, waterproof mittens for children of all ages, and also specializes in outdoor footwear for children, with sizes ranging from newborn to 14 years.
A classic water resistant sou’wester will help keep your child’s head dry in wet weather; for colder temperatures, a windproof fleece-lined bomber hat with ear flaps works well. Helly Hansen sells both.
Finally: adjust your child’s – and your own – clothes according to your climate and activity level.
A leisurely walk in the woods on a sunny fall afternoon in Tennessee probably won’t require three layers of clothing, whereas an overnight camping trip in Alaska at the same time of the year most certainly will. And a little knowledge about layering will go a long way toward getting your child outside in foul weather.