Dressing for the Weather: Layering 101

the power of outdoor play

On account of the warmish weather we’ve been having recently, our play yard can be summed up in one word: MUD! It’s hard to know how to dress your child(ren) when the weather is both wet and cold, and the solution is to send gear for both.

Below you’ll find a helpful article written by Jessi Lisell, one of our Kindergarten teachers, regarding dressing for the weather, including a handy layering guide and recommendations for outdoor gear brands and retailers. We know it’s a lot to lug and launder, and we thank you for all of your hard and important work!

From Ms. Jessi:

Children this age are still developing their internal thermometer, which means their awareness of how warm or how cool they feel is often limited. By dressing your child appropriately for all types of weather, their small bodies need not divert extra energy towards regulating their internal temperature, thus allowing them to grow and play with vigor. If you are new to every-day play outside, have no fearyou’re not alone! With a few simple essentials, and a general idea of how to layer gear and at what temperatures, your child will be as warm (and dry) as toast in no time!

The Essentials

  • Base Layer: Long johns or long underwear made of wool or wool/silk blend are best. As this layer is next to your child’s skin, it must be soft, breathable, and not trap moisture (like cotton).
  • Mid Layer: This is every-day clothing: pants, dress/skirt with leggings, short-sleeved shirt, long-sleeved shirt, socks, etc. Natural fibers like linen, wool, hemp, bamboo, and cotton are good fabrics to look for.
  • Extra Layer: Light coat, sweater, or warm vest, usually something that needs to fit under a coat, so again, wool is best as it adds warmth without adding excessive bulk (thus restricting movement). Good quality fleece is an option, though it is not always breathable and can overheat children, causing them to sweat which, in many circumstances, will leave them feeling chilled. This also means a single pair of thick wool socks, a lightweight hat that covers the ears, scarf or neck gaiter, and mittens. A wool/silk blend hood or balaclava is a great option as it fits under most hoods without much bulk and also covers the neck, ears, and cheeks.
  • Outer Layer (Rain/Wet): Waterproof boots that fit well (room for a thick pair of socks without squishing toes), rain pants or bibs, rain coat with hood, thicker wool mittens in damp conditions (which are still warm, even when damp), waterproof mittens in wet conditions, and a hat that fits under the hood. Rain gear isn’t just for rainy days; it’s also essential after rainy days when it is muddy and damp on the play yard. This layer will save you innumerable loads of laundry!
  • Outer Layer (Snow/Cold): Waterproof, insulated, snow boots that fit well with room for a thick wool sock. Waterproof snow pant bibs (at this age, too much snow/cold air can get up their backs with pull-on pant types) with a tight elastic cuff, cuff clips, or a bootstrap to prevent snow from getting in boots. Waterproof insulated mittens, a warm hat and scarf/ neck gaiter or wool hood, and a waterproof insulated coat with hood. Talk to some cold-weather experts if you’re unsure of what type of coat to look for. Often, the puffy coats we see from big-box retailers are filled with polyester and do very little for keeping warm. Look for natural down fill and Gore-Tex for a start.

Layers by Temperature

Above 60°  Mid Layer
60° to 50°  Base Layer + Mid Layer (or Mid Layer + Extra Layer)
50° to 40°  Base Layer + Mid Layer + Extra Layer
40° to 25°  Base Layer + Mid Layer + Outer Layer
Below 25°  Base Layer + Mid Layer + Extra Layer + Outer Layer

Keep in mind this is a rough guide and all children are different. You know your child best: Do they run warm? Cold? In between? My own son loves shorts, and as he typically runs warm, I know that by the afternoon he will be overheated in pants, even if the day starts at 50°. I might send him wearing wool socks and leg warmers (that cover from ankle to mid-thigh, no exposed skin) under his shorts, so that he can peel off layers as the day progresses. As a last note, a good measure of your child’s temperature is their neck and back, then hands. Often when one takes off a layer, others insist they, too, are warm, when often it is more to do with imitating a friend.

Outdoor Gear Resources

  • Polarn O. Pyret (online and in-store): Rain pants/ bibs/ coats, waterproof mittens, wool base layers, wool-blend base layers, snow gear
  • H&M (online): Rain pants/ bibs (good price!), snow gear
  • PuddleDucks (online): Rain pants/ bibs/ coats, rain boots, waterproof mittens
  • REI (online and in-store): Rain gear, snow gear, boots, wool socks (spring/summer clearance sales)
  • FloweringChild (online): Wool base layers and wool mid-layers, balaclavas, mittens
  • Once Upon a Child (used, in-store): Rain boots, sometimes rain gear or snow gear (lots of looking through, though!)
  • Obermeyer (online, REI and other sporting goods stores): Waterproof snow gear (Highly recommend! This will be my sons third year in the SAME coat and bibs. He is always warm AND dry, even in sloppy wet snow. He plays outside daily and rather vigorously… and no tears or rips, and still waterproof! All products have seams you can let out each year as your child grows to allow for multiple years of use.)
  • City of Lakes Used Gear Sale: Donate or come to shopstay tuned for details.

If you have any questions, or perhaps a good resource not listed here, please don’t hesitate to share in the comments, below!

And if you enjoyed this article, please check out Rain, Mud, and the North Wind: The Power of Outdoor Play also written by Ms. Jessi. This article contains more tips and tricks for encouraging (and cleaning up after) outdoor play.

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