How to Dress for Cold Weather (Video+Gear List)

How to Dress for Cold Weather (Video and Complete Gear List). Tips for dressing kids for winter from Rain or Shine Mamma.

“They didn’t go outside; it was just too cold for them today,” the substitute teacher responded matter-of-factly when I picked my daughter up from school and asked if she had been outside for recess. Deep inside I already knew what the answer would be, but my heart still sank when I heard the teacher’s words. It was 16F and very little wind that day. Chilly, yes. But too cold? Not even close.

Many Americans who are my age and older may remember playing outside at recess in all types of weather, and biologically speaking, children’s ability to endure cold temperatures hasn’t changed since then. (Let alone the fact that the outdoor gear available today is more advanced and better at keeping kids warm than it was when we grew up.) It is our willingness to accept cold weather that has decreased. That’s a shame, because there are many good reasons why we should let kids play outside in the cold as well.

What’s the magic temperature?

I often get asked how long a child can stay out in a given temperature and there’s no simple answer to that. It depends on so many factors – humidity, wind chill, gear, activity level and the temperament and age of the child. For example, younger kids generally have a harder time moving around in heavy gear and get cold quicker than older kids. (Check out Yes, Kids Can Play Outside When It’s Cold for more tips and things to consider.) I lived in Montana and Indiana for a total of 15 years and in that time there was never a day that I considered too cold to get outside. We even played in the snow for 45 minutes during the Polar Vortex a few years ago, when the temperature with wind chill was supposedly -40F in our area, and I was the one who got cold first!

So how do we do it? Well, there’s a method to the madness and I decided to show you how to dress for cold weather by creating a little video. Watch it and then find a handy list with links to all my recommended picks for cold-weather gear below.

How to Dress for Cold Weather – Kids

Base Layer:

The role of the base layer is first and foremost to transport moisture to keep the wearer dry and comfortable, but base layers made of wool and some micro fleece materials provide warmth as well.

Reima Merino Base Layer Set

Smartwool Merino Base Layer Top 

Smartwool Merino Base Layer Botttom

Non-itchy and comfy, this is not your grandmother’s wool! Merino wool is soft, warm and naturally anti-bacterial and anti-odor. Since wool is a warmer material, it is great for the coldest days and for less intense physical activities. There are many brands selling Merino wool base layers but I like Smartwool and Reima for the quality, warmth and softness. While some wool long underwear can cause kids to complain about the fabric being itchy, I haven’t had that issue with these sets.

Smartwool Wintersport Sock

Smartwool is also my go-to brand for socks and we have a number of different varieties. Once again, quality and warmth are the main selling points for me.

Mid Layer:

The role of the mid layer is to insulate against the cold, and wool, fleece and down or synthetics like polyester are excellent choices for that. 

Reima Merino Wool Onesie 

Onesies are a good option for a mid layer for the youngest explorers and this one from Reima is made of a nice and soft Merino wool.

Didriksons Technical Fleece Jacket

Didriksons Technical Fleece Pants

When it comes to fleece jackets I prefer those with a removable hood, since they’re easier to layer with. We’ve used several brands over the years but I keep coming back to Didriksons, the leading Swedish brand for kids’ outerwear. In terms of mid layer pants, we only use those on the very coldest days. Most winter days, I find that a base layer and outer layer are enough for bottoms. 

LEGO Wear Full Zip Fleece Jacket

I always try to look for fleece garments that are made of recycled polyester. This LEGO Wear jacket is made of 20 PET bottles – how cool?!

Outer Layer:

Didriksons Bjärven Coveralls

While the specific coveralls that my daughter currently wears are not available anymore, the Bjärven Kids Coveralls are very similar, and havs won Best in Test in Scandinavia. Didriksons is one of my favorite Swedish brands both for kids’ and adults’ outdoor gear and I’m stoked that they’re now available online in the US as well. They are one of just a few brands that make one-piece coveralls that fit older kids as well.

Didriksons Björnen Winter Jacket

Didriksons Björnen Snow Pants 

The Björnen snow pants and jacket are another favorite from Didriksons’ product line. It is a perfect fit for older kids who may want a more grown-up style than the coveralls.

Stonz Wear Mittz

Of all the mittens we’ve tried since my first daughter was born, these have by far been the best for the deep cold. Not only are they exceptionally warm, but the long cuffs that cinch tight over the arms keep snow out and stay in place better than any other mittens we’ve tried. As a bonus, the thumbs are fleece-covered so that kids can wipe off their nose without getting a rash.

Didriksons Trapper Winter Hat
Trapper hats are a great option for really cold days, since they come down over the ears but really, any hat goes as long as it is warm!

Kavat Winter Boots

Kavat is another favorite Swedish brand that makes warm, waterproof boots that are sturdy and have good traction. The fact that they easily wash off makes them super functional since they can be used outdoors in almost any type of winter weather.

How to Dress for Cold Weather – Adults

Base Layer:

Terramar Cloud 9 Long-Sleeved Shirt

Terramar Cloud 9 Tights

For very cold days, I usually choose a wool base layer but for everyday winter wear, I absolutely LOVE my Terramar set. They’re by far the softest base layer I’ve ever worn and fit well even under fairly tight pants. Amazingly, I’ve had my set for nearly a decade, even though I’ve used them heavily in the winter. I even wear them as jammies sometimes when I travel, to cut down on packing.

Jack Wolfskin Merino Wool Socks

Smartwool Socks

I have several brands of Merino wool socks but like the fit and feel of these. For very cold days, I choose a taller pair.

Mid Layer:

Mountain Hardwear Fleece Jacket

I love fleece jackets for really cold weather and Mountain Hardwear makes them about as warm as they come. Although I’m wearing a hoodie in the video, I typically choose a fleece jacket for my middle layer in the winter.

Fleece Pants

The brand isn’t really important here, as long as the pants are warm and comfortable. I wear my Puma sweatpants around a LOT in the winter, since they make for a perfect middle layer, but in really cold weather, fleece will provide more warmth.

Outer Layer:

The North Face Insulated Snow Pants

Snow pants aren’t just for skiing in my book; in the winter I use them almost daily when we go outside to play if the temperature is below freezing. I’ve had my snow pants from The North Face for 20 (!) years and they’ve withstood the test of time.

Columbia Women’s Insulated Jacket

I initially bought my Flylow down jacket for skiing, but it quickly became an all-round coat that gets a lot of use in the winter. This particular model is no longer available but there are many other brands that have jackets with the same features, including this one from Columbia.

Swany Arctic Mitt

When I set out to buy new mittens a couple of years ago, I went for the warmest rated ones that I could find. Swany’s Arctic Mitt has done the job since then. Besides being warm and high quality, I appreciate the zipper and  inner glove with touch screen compatible index finger and thumb.

Northside Women’s Bishop Snow Boots

These boots have been a game changer for me this winter. I think they’re the first snow boots I’ve had that are perfect both for outdoor activities in the backyard and for wearing with jeans around town. I love how they look and the fact that they’re super warm and keep snow out.

Columbia Winter Hat
While it is an urban legend that most of your body heat escapes through your head, a hat is a must in cold weather since any skin that is exposed will leak body heat. I like this simple beanie from Columbia but keep a few different ones on hand (for some reason hats always seem to go missing, along with mittens…).

Last but not least: If you or your kids are prone to getting cold hands or feet, HotHands really help!

There are MANY other good brands out there and you don’t have to pick these to stay warm, but this list gives you a good idea of how to dress for cold weather. What favorite outdoor gear would you add to the list?

25 thoughts on “How to Dress for Cold Weather (Video+Gear List)

  1. Kristina Jager says:

    This! This is exactly what I needed to read. My kids love being outside rain/shine/polar vortex. Me? I’m a freeze baby, five minutes at the bus stop and I’m done. But I noticed something, my kids needed to move, they needed to be outside, they crave it. This year we started going to the playground every morning, with the exception of really bad weather (i.e. mommy doesn’t think it’s safe) and illness. I think we missed the playground twice due to weather this year, and that snowstorm MN had in January, we were out shovelling and snowshoeing in the middle of it. My struggle lies in; I can get my kids warm and they are fine, but I freeze, no matter what I have done, since I moved out of state and came back I lost my ability to stay warm. Your suggestions are very helpful (I believe I have been missing a key layer for myself) and your recommendations are great to have.

    Thank you for this!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      That sounds like a great morning routine! And yes, I can totally relate to being cold all the time – in fact I’m known to wear long underwear INSIDE THE HOUSE on cold winter days:o)) But I know that as long as I bundle up enough I can be comfortable outside too. My fingers are the first to get cold, but moving around and using mittens rather than gloves helps. And there’s always hand warmers as a last resort;o))

  2. Reagan says:

    Thank you so much for this post and video! I grew up in warm southern California, and despite living in New England for over 10 years, I never properly learned how to dress for cold weather. I am reading your book now and loving it. My two year old loves being outside this winter, but I get cold too quickly. You’ve given me some great ideas to ensure I’m comfortable too.

  3. Sara says:

    Love this! And you & I have the same mittens ??
    I’ve contemplated getting coveralls for my kids for ease of use & no snow on their belly/back, however so far we’ve lucked out with hand me downs (snow pants & jackets). When I go to Sweden tomorrow I’m going to look into the coveralls to see if there are any good ones I can get!
    We LOVE smartwool (I have sooo many pairs), however I recently found DarnTough & Farm to Feet and both are so wonderful!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Glad you found it useful! You should definitely look for outdoor clothes while you’re in Sweden – it’s seriously the best over there, especially for kids! Now should be a good time of the year too; if you’re lucky you may hit some end-of-winter sales:)

  4. Meg says:

    Love this post! My 2 and 4 year old wear long johns all day, makes getting outside quicker (and saves on heating bill). Do your kids wear their base layer to school in winter? Im thinking ahead to recess next year for the 4yr old.

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Well, I probably would make them wear long johns to school in the winter if the school ever let them outside…Unfortunately recess tends to be an indoor affair at my kids’ school in the winter, so we just try to get outside as much as possible at home. At home I OFTEN wear long johns inside in the winter, since I don’t like cold temperatures very much, and my kids often do too.

  5. Kellista says:

    Thanks so much. This seems like common sense to some but it isn’t. I grew up in Kansas and it gets cold here and many times we just play outside til we are cold or stay inside. I knew about layering but didn’t realize cotton layers aren’t enough. We bought some appropriate layers last month and we’ve been going outside A LOT more for a lot longer! Now I need to find some good snow pants for myself!

  6. Melinda S. says:

    This is very helpful. Thank you!

    However, I noticed two things about the adult selections (my youngest is 14, so I didn’t look at the kids’ ones). First, to buy all the things you mention, even from Amazon, which has pretty decent prices, would cost $644 apiece! over time, if one actually followed through with their plans and did go outside for a prolonged period every day for several years, it might be worth it, but wow–that’s a lot of money up front, especially if you have several people in your family!

    Second, NONE of the items are available in a plus size, and several aren’t even available in a large. And the biggest boots are a 10, with no wides.

    I know you said they are only examples, and as I said before, I really appreciate you posting all this information and specifics. I know you aren’t setting the sizes–perhaps someone will read your blog who does! 🙂 It does support your contention in your book that it’s very complicated to make it work in the US, though.

    (I am just getting well started with your book, and it’s making me think, which I appreciate. I’m sorry to be complaining a little. Thank you for writing it.)

    • Michelle says:

      Hi Melinda!

      Just another reader, but I have been trying to outfit my toddler (and myself) on a tight budget. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing:

      Buy winter gear during end of season sales. This works better for me than a toddler (I know what size I’ll be next winter!) but I have picked up a few things for her in two sizes up if I’m not worried if they’re too big (So too big coat, okay; too big boots, not okay.)

      If I’m looking to buy something specific from Amazon I’ll set up a price alert (there are a bunch of websites that will track prices for you.)

      Buy kids winter gear used. Kids grow so quickly that high-quality brands will easily last several kids. I got my daughter a used Patagonia coat for $25 this winter. She’ll probably wear it for two winters. This meant I could spend a bit more money on a wool hat and some super fancy mittens for her.

      If you’re buying used gear set up ebay and craigslist alerts. Right now I’ve got alerts for a used cargo bike, Tea collection dresses and all kinds of outer wear brands. I try to keep a list of what I’m looking for so I don’t just buy random stuff, but it helps to have the website do the work.

      When I’m buying used gear I look for higher end brands, because people are more likely to resell them. But I especially look for Patagonia because they have a repair program. You print off a page from their website, explain the repairs needed and mail it to them. You have to pay shipping and a small repair fee (I got some shorts patched in two places for $5 plus shipping). The used coat I bought my daughter needs two or three small repairs, so I’ll send it in this summer and have it back for next winter.

      Try places like Marshalls. My “long underwear” this winter is actually an winter running outfit: running tights/leggings and a fitted top I got at Marshalls. They often have lots of exercise clothes on sale (especially in February / March as people give up on their January fitness goals) and I find they work well because they are the wicking/polyester stuff. It’s relatively warm here, but I am outside a lot so it helps to have something.

      Also one of the brands listed in the kids section, “Arctix,” sells adult clothes very inexpensively. I just ordered myself some snow pants for about $25 on Amazon (I don’t think I’ll wear them often, so I’m not too worried about how well they’ll hold up).

      One brand I know carries larger sizes of winter outer wear is The North Face.

      Hope this helps!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Hi Melinda – Thanks for reading my book – I hope it will inspire you! And yes, I can see how that amount would be hard to handle up front, but I’ve never actually gone out and bought all my outdoor gear at the same time. I just replace stuff as it wears out and honestly, most of it lasts a LONG time. I’ve had snow pants for over 10 years. Long underwear may not last as long if used frequently, but the set in the video I’ve had for five years and it’s still got a few good years in it. Mittens is something that I may buy every 6-7 years, and I have boots that I’ve had equally long. For the amount of time that I’m able to spend outside thanks to this gear, I think it’s well worth it. Having said that, I don’t think you have to buy the most expensive gear, especially if you’re not doing activities that require super technical materials. The reason why I’ve chosen to highlight this gear is that I try to only recommend clothes that I’ve personally tried and can vouch for. I’m sorry to hear that the clothes are not available in plus sizes; I was unaware of this. I think gear companies have a big responsibility when it comes to making the outdoors accessible to people of all shapes and forms, so this is a bit discouraging. Maybe you could contact them and ask why they don’t carry bigger sizes? Thanks for watching and taking the time to comment:)

  7. Sara says:

    I have to suggest Darn Tough socks. I used to wear Smart Wool, but too often found them wearing out quickly. I’ve been very happy with Darn Tough and have my kids hooked too.

    • Linda says:

      I, too, love Darn Tough socks. They have a lifetime guarantee and when (or if–I’ve only had to do this once, a few years ago) your socks wear out, just return the pair (send both even if just one has a hole in it.) They’ll give you store credit for that type of sock. You won’t even have to pay the shipping cost! Best socks ever!!!

  8. Christy says:

    Love this article! I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Western PA we regularly had 100 inches of snow in a year and wasn’t uncommon to spend a couple weeks out of the year below 0°F. My parents never limited our time outside we were outside playing in the snow sledding, building giant snow forts out of snow piled up by the plows and many other winter games. We were outside all day long only coming inside to eat. When we were older we would leave early in the morning to head to a ski resort and not be home till late at night. I nore anyone I know had ever had any adverse effects from the cold. The idea of limiting your kids outside time blows my mind. I spent a month in Alaska when it was 50 below and still enjoyed cross country skiing, dog sledding, snow shoeing and long walks to look at the stars. I have a much harder time handling heat and humidity then I do cold weather.

  9. CS says:

    Thanks so much for the info! I read in your book that play happens in the rain too, and I hope you will also post a similar video for rain gear! When it’s warm my kids love playing in the rain in regular clothes and bare feet/flip flops (they love getting soaked and splashing in puddles!) – and they just dry off when they come inside, but we don’t have rain outwear for chilly weather. We would love your recommendations! 🙂

  10. Julie says:

    I live in Minnesota where it is winter 4+ months of the year, with normal temps at zero or below. My favorite boots for women are Columbia Heavenly Omni-Heat. They keep my feet warm in temps well below zero on my daily walks outside. I love Darn Tough wool socks, REI Co-op Women’s Merino Midweight Base Layer Tights & Tops, Down Jackets that are knee-length or longer (try one- you’ll never go back!), Manzella Adventure 100 WindStopper Mittens – Women’s, and Alaska Knits Knee-High Wool Socks (great for over leggings with an oversized sweater indoors in winter). Also like Muddy Buddy Rain Suits for kids. Stay warm!

  11. Caroline says:

    As a brazilian mother living in Eastern Europe, I justa want to say THANK YOU! You do not have any idea how your tips are helping my mental health and my marriage! Looking foward to buy your book!

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