This article should be titled: Why it’s awesome to be a part of HIB and get good discounts on gear. But since that’s not a sexy title, I am calling it Mommy Fail.
A few months ago I went to Anchorage to visit family and while I had heaps of random gear that I threw in my bag, once I got there everything I brought seemed all wrong. Temperatures were in the teens and twenties and Mason hated everything I tried to put on him.
“No hat Mommy. No jacket,” he screamed at me as I tried to dress him. “No outside. No snow.” Forget about the gloves. They were impossible to get on a screaming, wiggling toddler. His jacket was too tight over the layers I put underneath. The boots that seemed so awesome at home were a struggle to get on over the two pairs of wool socks. As I sat there in the car looking at the mishmash of clothes strewn about the backseat, I realized I had gotten it all wrong. I’m sure I’m not the only parent to wake up with this feeling in the morning when looking outside at a shift in weather. Still, in that moment I felt like a total mommy failure.
The hardest thing about growing kids is biting the bullet and buying gear that will work for more than a month or two. It seems impossible right?
As a parent you are so busy planning life, that adding “dressing for outdoor fun” in the mix is yet another thing to put on the ever growing list. However, I realized on this trip I ended up wasting time borrowing clothes and spending money on things I didn’t really like. Had I just thought about the fact that winter was approaching and sought out what I really wanted, I wouldn’t have had to make purchases twice.
So if you are sitting there wondering what you need this year, here are my suggestions based on trial and error from this winter and last with my now 2 and a half year old.
1. BRANDS MATTER – If there is a brand you like as an adult, chances are they also make great gear for kids. I am a big fan of Columbia, Patagonia and North Face in adult brands so I always keep an eye out on what they are making in kids gear. Look at what you wear a lot of in your closet and try to find those brands used or new for your kids.
2. SHOP OFF SEASON – There are many ways to get discounted high quality gear. Look for sales in the off-seasons or end of a season for the following year. Last year I purchased 2T and 3T long underwear from REI for Mason that was normally $21 for $4. I bought ahead, put in a box for this year so I knew where to find it when this winter rolled around. That was the one thing I wore to death while in Alaska and am still putting on Mason every day.
3. TOASTY HANDS – We often get super caught up in jackets, pants, snowsuits, rain suits and forget what’s going on a baby’s hands. Think about the gloves you own for your little one. Big bulky gloves aren’t necessarily warm. Put a finger in there and think about how those gloves feel compared to yours. Remember if you have a crawler they will have very wet hands. Waterproof/water resistant gloves matter. If you have fleece gloves you can wash them in things like Nik Wax to make them more water resistant. Fleece will pick up dirt, mud and water, so think about something with a shell if in damp, mucky weather. Look for a few different gloves depending on conditions. If you have a very fussy kid who won’t wear gloves look for gloves with “action” on them. Sharks, superheroes, bright colors.
4. SOCK IT TO YA – Cotton is not a good choice in the winter on a child’s foot for many reasons. Kids often have boots on and off over and over. They will run around in a wet hallway then put their boots back on and head outside with wet feet. Think wool and polyester blends. Double up the wool. Wear tights under the wool socks. Anyway you can keep those little feet from getting cold is important. If you are allergic to wool look for down booties for littles and get serious about your boots as your kid ages and starts walking.
5. BOOT CHOICES – Where do you live? Are you in Oregon and only go up to the mountain everyone in a while? Are you in Alaska and need to cover rain, snow, sleet and muck? How about Texas? My suggestion is one good pair of solid rain boots. You can look for used, but make sure they aren’t filled with holes. Once you have rain covered think seasons. If you plan on being in snow a few times even, plastic boots without liners will be cold. Look for something that is rated for cold and even if you only get a few wears out of them, you can re-sell at a premium price. Again this is a great thing to look for in the off-season for the following year. Ask friends with older kids if they want to unload their last year boots. Look for a soft fleece or felt liner inside a good rubber boot. There are even boots that can be both rain and snow out there if you remove the liner.
6. HEADWEAR – Mason hates hats. This is something I am still struggling with. When they are little if they hate hats look for something like a balaclava where they can’t pull the hat off of their head. A tie under the chin can also be great. Sometimes Velcro work, but my kiddo tears that off. Look for hats with animals on them or other things that might be fun for them to put on. My son strangely enough seems more excited to wear my hats than his own so I always travel with two in case he is in one of those moods.
7. LAYER IT ON – Full body rain suits can double as snow suits with the right layering under them. Consider looking into getting one of these for a 12 month to 5 year old. The nice thing about a full body rain suit is when the weather shifts from snow to rain, you can zip them in and send them out to swim in mud puddles without concern (if you get the right brands). The downside to rain suits is that you have one piece so when it’s wet, that’s it. It needs to dry out. This is where I honestly think if you can pull it off consider one full body rain suit, a pair of rain pants and a shell jacket. This will leave you with a lot of options and the ability to go out again on day 2 when you forgot clothes in the car and they are still wet.
8. BASE LAYERS – Long underwear are key. Tights, can go under those. Then socks over the tights. They make tights for boys too. If your child can do wool, there are some excellent brands out there for base layers for little people. Polyester is possible too but I haven’t found many brands who make base layers for littles. They are spendy, but honestly base layers have been one of my best investments of all from 6 months old on.
9. TOP SHELF BUYS – Pick and choose what you buy at a premium. For us that was a down jacket. I came home from my Alaska trip and bought a down jacket for Mason. We had owned one previously that lasted us from when our son was 6 months to 24 months (that was pushing it). It was one of our most expensive and best purchases. Mason loved this jacket so much he often slept in it for naps because I couldn’t get him off of it after coming inside so it was straight into crib with jacket on. Think about what pieces you are willing to buy top end and look for the sales, and if you can’t find one, know that buying a good quality product means you can re-sell it or gift it and someone will be super stoked to get that expensive item. You don’t have to go this route for everything, but think about where it really matters and how much that item will get used.
10. ASK YOUR FRIENDS – What is working for your friends? Ask around. While there are lots of brands that are popular, make sure they aren’t just popular because they are cheap. Find out why your friend bought something. Did they buy it based on price or quality? Assess how much time they spend outside and if that product would really work for you. Be realistic. Do you go out a lot? Are you aspiring to be out more and finding you just aren’t out because of your gear. Look at friends who go out a lot and see how they are doing it. Don’t be shy to admit you aren’t sure how to get out!
I came home from Alaska with gear I’ll now be gifting away to friends whose kids it might work for. Over the last few weeks I have been online and went to stores in search of gear that I knew would really work for Mason and would get us outside. While good kids gear can feel like a big expense because they are growing so fast, I guarantee that when you have a happy, warm toddler or baby outside on a long rainy hike or a cold late in the day snowshoe session, your experience will be much more pleasant if your child is dressed well.
Shanti is the founder of Hike it Baby and mom to Mason River, a very strong willed 2 and a half year old boy. Please share any winter tricks you have found for making outside time more pleasant with your little ones to firstname.lastname@example.org