Dressing for Cold Weather
You will get dirty but you don’t have to be COLD!
People have been living, working, and playing in cold weather for thousands of years. What necessitated animal skins has evolved into technical clothing and fabrics, but no matter how you approach it, you can be comfortable outside for hours regardless of the weather.
We want our students to be safe and happy when learning outside this winter! The key is to have multiple layers of clothing to trap the warm air that our own body heat produces.
We won’t be cancelling unless weather conditions are unsafe to be outdoors for prolonged periods of time (wind chill, low temps, heavy snow, etc.), so dressing for the weather is crucial (Please read our program policies for more info about cancellations). Our educators will ask you about proper layering when you arrive. Please read carefully below and remember to provide clothing that can get dirty!
Pro Tip: Label EVERYTHING!
This is the first layer that touches your skin. The thin base layer manages moisture from sweat by wicking it away from your skin. Snug-fitting, but stretchy so you can move. Look for merino wool, silk or synthetics like polyester. This layer should be comfortable next to your skin and should not be cotton, as this fabric will hold moisture rather than pulling it off your skin and away. Wool is a great option, but more expensive. Polyester fleece is warm and more cost efficient.
Pro Tip: 100% wool shrinks in the dryer! Read the labels.
Technical base layers often come in “lightweight,” “midweight,” or “heavyweight” to accommodate your activity level and the temperature.
Don’t forget to consider underwear as part of the base layer. If you get sweaty and are wearing cotton undies, they could remain damp all day and be uncomfortable. Consider investing in merino wool or synthetic, (non cotton) undergarments for outdoor days.
Think of this as Insulation. Depending on the temperature, you might need one or more mid-layers. This is another layer of wool or synthetic fabric, though could be slightly thicker than your base layer. Make sure they all fit together by trying them on at home before heading outside. It should be fitted, but not tight, so you still have a good range of motion. Avoiding cotton will allow these layers to continue to pull moisture away from your body and out. Pack as many as you might need to stay warm. These are the layers you will add on or take off as the weather and your activity level fluctuates. Pack extra!
Think of this as the shell to keep rain and wind out, not just for keeping you warm. In the winter or on wet days, the shell should be 100% waterproof, not just water repellant. Moisture from your body may collect on the inside of the shell, but this is letting you know that your wicking system is working.
A shell, or outer layer, that will fit over multiple layers is key. Having a little air space between your mid-layers and shell is perfectly fine and will help with temperature regulation. A shell with armpit vents is great as it will help your body regulate temperature; zipping or unzipping the front of this jacket layer will assist in that too.
Bring waterproof (not water repellant) rain pants and jackets for wet days or for playing in the snow. Jeans (or any other cotton material) are not appropriate outer layers and we may send caregivers home to return with the proper gear if we feel the child’s safety may be at risk. Rain ponchos are also a great option that can fit over a backpack.
Pro Tip: One piece snowsuits are great as they are easy and layers may be worn underneath.
Extremities: Head & Neck
A soft, warm wool or synthetic hat is key to keeping your head warm and dry. Moisture will
wick away from your head and evaporate, keeping you warmer. Something to cover your ears is important, whether a hat, earmuffs or headband. Have extras in case these get wet from rain or snow. A neck gaiter is preferable to a scarf which may get tangled in branches or dangle while over a fire.
Face masks are required at all times and children should have extras in case theirs becomes dirty or wet from condensation.
Socks. The temperature of your feet can vary from chilled to sweaty in a matter of minutes. The key to keeping your feet warm and dry, not hot, is decent socks. Invest in socks made for skiing or hiking and be sure they contain no cotton. At least 50% wool is best. Fleece or other synthetics are good, too. Avoid the very fuzzy novelty socks. Get socks that are long enough to be pulled up above the height of your snow boots, which will help with wicking. Just like the rest of your body, a thin pair of wicking socks made from synthetic polypropylene or silk, with a warmer wool pair on top is helpful as the layer in between will not only allow any moisture to be pulled away from your feet, but also trap warm air generated by your body.
Pro Tip: Check socks ahead of time! Bunchy socks make for very grouchy kids. Kids outgrow them quickly so please be sure last seasons’ (or months) socks still fit!
Insulated, waterproof boots are a must in the winter. Sneakers or other low top shoes just won’t cut it in the snow and the lack of insulation can be cold, even with good socks. Look for winter boots that say they are waterproof, not just water resistant. Test them out wearing a couple pairs of proper socks before you buy them. Boots with ample room in the toe box are best for warmth and comfort, and to ensure your toes can keep moving.
Pro Tip: Invest in a size larger than usual so they can fit thick socks and offer growing room.
Pack an extra pair of gloves or mittens. Waterproof gloves are best and can be worn all day
Pro Tip: Gloves and mittens with very long cuffs will help keep snow off wrists!
Hand and Foot Warmers
While these are not necessary, especially if you layer correctly, they can be a source of comfort if your fingers or toes get a chill. They are made from non-toxic materials and when directions are followed, will produce their own heat for up to six hours. These individually wrapped disposable items cost a dollar or two and can be bought in bulk.
Where to Buy Your Gear
Before buying anything, ask around for hand-me-downs. Thrift stores and consignment shops are a great option for affordable gear. New items will be easiest to find at an outdoor outfitter vs. a general store. We love Wilton’s Outdoor Sports Center!
We understand that all these items can be costly! If you need help acquiring appropriate clothing please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to provide you with what you need.
Layers, Layers, Layers
Good Range of Motion
Waterproof Shoes and Rain/ Snow gear
Pack extra Layers Just in Case
If we are concerned about cold injury for your child, we may send you home to gather more gear.
Hand-warmers are a nice, warm extra. You can buy disposable or reusable.
Special thanks to our friends at Two Coyotes Wilderness School for creating much of this useful information!