Written by Maria Reyna
At our Nature Play sessions we often get asked if we are going to be meeting during the cold winter months, and the answer is yes! We will indeed be meeting throughout the winter and an important element of this is dressing appropriately in order to enjoy this time outdoors in a safe way.
Growing up in Guatemala, known as the land of the eternal spring, I was clueless on how to dress my son to go outdoors in the winter months. So I went on to search for details on what other families were doing across the northern hemisphere. The findings of this search and our family experiences throughout the past couple of winters are the basis for this guide.
So how you dress yourself and children for winter? This will depend on how active you are going to be and how cold it will be. We have found that, when exploring the woods with young children, there are some high-energy moments mixed with a lot of slow moving and waiting. One of the best ways to manage cold weather in these changing conditions is to layer your clothes. Layering will help to transfer moisture, provide warmth and protect from the elements and you can adjust temperature by adding or removing layers.
When layering there are three main layers.
A tight fitting garment with moister transfer properties such as wool, silk, polyester, microfiber etc. We like to use merino wool thermals for our young son as we believe wool is the best insulator. Having wool next to your skin, it can wick away and absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling damp. It lso acts as a temperature regulator so it will keep the body warm in warm and cold conditions – even when wet, retaining up to 80% of its insulating value even when saturated. Do avoid using cotton for the inner layer as it traps moisture and that will keep you wet and cold.
A looser fitting garment which provides insulation. The best materials for this layer include fleece, wool, and synthetic fiber. Again, cotton is not the best material for the mid layer.
It should protect from rain and wind at the same time as allowing as much moisture from the inner layers to escape. It should also be strong enough to cope with all the exploring and adventures, as well as be flexible to allow for movement. When children are young and in nappies (and may have wet material around their skin) a one suit can help to keep them fully insulated.
Once the core areas of the body are covered, then heads, hands and feet will also need to be protected.
In cold weather you lose heat through your head and neck. Hats need to insulate and breathe well to let excess heat and perspiration escape. Wool and synthetic materials will help to keep you warm. Remember to look for materials which have a lining and/or are not itchy, as hats can become uncomfortable without them. On colder days or when you are not going to be doing as much activity, a face mask balaclava or neck warmer can give you even more protection. We like hats that cover little ears!
Gloves are better for activities that require dexterity and hand freedom. Mittens will give better insulation in extreme cold conditions and when being more sedentary. We found magic gloves, the kind that stretch as you put them on, to be very useful. In general, these gloves are not waterproofed so when it is very wet and cold it is helpful to carry several pairs of gloves to change wet ones with a dry pair.
You may have to experiment and try both mittens and gloves to see which kind you and your child feel more comfortable with.
Socks should be of materials that can take moisture and stay warm such as wool and some synthetic-wool mixes. Cotton socks are not good for cold and wet conditions!! Shoes should be waterproofed. Wellies are good when the weather is not so cold; however, wellies tend not to be insulated. So when the weather gets too cold it is best to wear water resistant/waterproof insulated boots, such as snow boots. Footwear for the cold should have plenty of room for toes to move in.
Don’t forget that besides wearing the right clothing and footwear to keep warm it is also important to keep your circulation moving by doing simple movements like jumping up and down or a little run.
Now that you and your children are cold proofed the only thing left is to pack some high-energy snacks for fuel, and having a hot flask warm soup, hot tea or hot chocolate with you. Get outdoors and enjoy those beautiful crisp days that only winter can offer.
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