As the weather turns colder, questions arise about how to keep your little ones safe and warm on the trail. The following information is not a “one size fits all” but some basic principles to follow that will help keep your child happy, safe, and frost bite free!
The number one key in keeping your little one warm is being prepared beforehand.
Dress in layers
1. Wicking layer- Thin layer, worn next to skin designed to remove moisture. Wool is best, polyester is good, and cotton is a last choice. (Some of the brands we like are Smart Wool socks and Helly Hansen base layer)
2. Warming layer- Provides insulation and warmth. Wool, down, polyester, polypropylene, and nylon.
3. Weathering layer- designed to stop wind, rain, and snow. This would be some type of weather resistant jacket or suit. This includes a weatherproof layer for the feet as well.
Keep layers loose. Putting multiple shirts of the same size will start to get tight and restrict circulation. Nothing should be tight especially on hands and feet. Cover all exposed skin except the face. If your little one is in a diaper, make sure it’s dry. Always keep extra diapers on hand to change if they get wet.
*Disposable hand warmers are an option to keep extremities warm, but make sure they are between at least two layers and skin. While rare, they have been known to malfunction and can heat up to 200+ degrees.*
With your baby properly dressed, it is now up to you on how you plan to wear him or her. Carriers that place your baby close to your skin will keep them warm as they will steal some of your heat. Carriers like an Onya and Ergo…are good for this, as well as baby wraps. Put your baby in the carrier and then put on an extra-large jacket that can zip over you and your baby for extra warmth. If you plan on using a baby backpack, like the Osprey, you need to account for the heat that is not gained from the mom/dad and layer up the baby as necessary for the current conditions. We often put a fleece gator on the front of the pack that our baby can rest his face against.
Once you start your hike, it is always a good idea to stop and check babies for warmth. We usually stop at mile one (about 20 min. in). At this point we look at and feel the exposed skin to see how it’s doing. At this time, let your walkers out of the carrier so they can move around. This will get the blood pumping and warm them up.
Things to watch for on the hike
1. Color of skin- skin will change to red as more blood gets sent to exposed areas to try to keep them warm. If skin changes to a white, bluish-white, grayish-yellow or waxy color, this is an indication the skin is showing signs of frost nip (beginning stages of frostbite and immediate action is required to stop the freezing process).
2. Capillary refill- press on the exposed skin, skin will turn white, and then release. Watch how long it takes for skin to return to the original color. This gives you an understanding of how well circulation is working. Any more than 5 seconds and rewarming is needed.
3. Baby comfort level- if they are acting uncomfortable, something could be wrong. Before assuming they are just being fussy, check the following – Check hands, feet and exposed skin. Make sure you check the diaper as well.
4. Overheating- We all are afraid (especially my wife) that our baby will get cold, so there is the possibility of overdressing and causing baby to overheat. Look for sweating or hot flushed skin. IF this happens, cool baby off by removing their hat first for a few minutes. If baby is still too hot, remove one of their middle layers, but put the jacket back on right away.
IF you need to re warm. Do NOT wait until you get back to the vehicle. Direct skin to skin contact on the affected area with Mom or Dad will start the process. We advise against breathing on extremities to rewarm as it adds moisture to the already cold skin and can increase the problem. Rubbing already frost bitten skin can cause more damage as well.
I hope everyone can get out and hike this winter safely. It always seems a little scary the first time you take your little one out when it’s below freezing, but with proper preparation, a plan, and knowledge of what to look for you can safely enjoy the winter months. Always remember, if in doubt about the weather, it’s OK to wait for a warmer day!
Kyle Bryant –7+ years as a Survival Instructor. USAF SERE Specialist.