From a cozy merino wool base layer to a water-resistant outer shell, we’ve got tips and recommendations on how to keep your kids warm during cold weather.
Anyone else remember running out to play in the snow as a kid, only to be hoping for a warm fire and hot chocolate five minutes later? I did not grow up in a cold-weather climate, so I wasn’t very prepared when I encountered anything under 50 degrees, and definitely didn’t know how to dress for snow.
Our time living in Cambridge, England taught me a bit more about how to dress for cold weather, and especially how to keep a baby warm. Even though we’re back in warm, sunny California, we still like to take trips to go skiing, snow shoeing, or just play in the snow. I know how important it is for my son’s clothes to keep him warm and dry for the whole day. Staying warm during cold weather is all about layering, so we’re sharing our favorite base, mid, and outer layers below.
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Here is what you need to know about dressing toddlers and kids for cold weather:
The type of material is important when dressing kids (and adults!) for cold weather and snow, especially the base layer and the outer shell.
Merino wool is one of the best options when it comes to a base layer. Some synthetics, like polyester, can be a good option for a base layer too.
Cotton should be completely avoided, no matter the layer, as it absorbs moisture so you won’t stay dry!
Layer, layer, layer
Rather than buy the thickest jacket you can find, kids will stay warmer if they wear layers. Layering traps and warms air between the layers of clothes, which keeps kids warmer. It also allows them to adjust their clothing depending on the situation or the activity – they might actually want to take off a layer if they’re doing something active like snowshoeing or skiing.
Typically, the three layers kids need are: 1) a base layer to wick away moisture; 2) a mid-layer to retain heat and keep you warm; and 3) a shell or outer layer to protect from wind, rain, and snow. You can add extra layers, or go with thicker layers if it’s really cold.
Go with Quality over Quantity
This goes back to the first point, that the materials matter! A merino wool base layer and mid layer can do a lot more good working together than thick puffy coat. Thicker doesn’t always mean better or warmer.
In this list, quality also means I’ve focused on companies that show how they care about the planet with the materials and processes they use. They do more with less, just like we’re trying to be conscious consumers and live more with less stuff. Many of them also focus on using renewable, long-lasting materials like wool.
Personally, it can be hard for me to spend a higher amount on kids’ clothes when I know my son will likely grow out of them in a season. What I love about many of the companies I talk about below, like Nui Organics and Ella’s Wool, is that their clothes are designed to last longer with cuffs that can be rolled up or down. And they’re built to withstand all that rough kid’s play, so even if your child grows out of them, they’ll be in good enough condition to pass on to someone else.
Inner layers to keep warm
1 Merino Wool Base Layers for Kids
I’ve fallen in love with merino wool, even for warmer weather. Merino wool is breathable, wicks away moisture, insulates when wet, and naturally resists odor-causing bacteria. Wool has a reputation for being itchy, but merino wool is not. Merino wool is super soft and cozy, which makes it comfortable as a first layer. Plus, it can be wound into as thin or thick of fibers as needed, so it works great for everything from short-sleeve hiking t-shirts, all the way up to a heavy-weight base layer. The merino wool layers listed below can be used as first layer, or on its own as loungewear or pajamas.
Merino wool is durable, but needs to be properly taken care of. All of the recommendations in this list can be machine washed on the gentle cycle in cold water with a wool wash like this one. While a standard laundry detergent will get your wool clean, it’s also going to damage it. Most laundry detergents have enzymes that are designed to break down biological molecules, like food stains, but it also means they’ll break down the molecules in the wool. Proper care of merino wool clothes is essential in helping them last!
Nui Organics Merino Silk Sets – Nui Organics is a New Zealand company that makes high quality merino wool clothing for babies and kids, including merino wool thermals. As the people at Nui allow their respect for both people and the planet to guide their entire design process, they aim to minimize waste throughout the entire lifestyle of their clothes. Nui Organics sizing goes from baby at 0 – 3 months up to 14 years. As of 2020, the merino silk leggings, hoodies and long sleeve tees also come in women’s sizes.
Nui Organics thermals are made of 30% mulberry silk, 70% merino wool. These children’s thermal sets have all of the benefits of merino wool, plus the extra strength of silk (and a little bit of shimmer!). The merino silk is thin, so this thermal set is versatile enough to be used as pajamas during warmer months, and a base layer during colder months.
The rib knit version of the merino wool silk thermals have a few thoughtful design features that allow them to keep up with your growing child, including the ribbed fabric which gives the clothing a lot of sideways stretch, and cuffs on both the tops and the bottoms that can be rolled down. The pants also feature a reinforced knee patch. Get 15% off your purchase at Nui Organics by using code noman15 (this code is for 2021).
➳ Shop Now: $89 for set on Nui Organics
Ella’s Wool Merino Wool Base Layer – Ella’s Wool is another company that makes 100% merino wool base layer sets specifically for kids. The founder of Ella’s Wool started the company after moving from Norway to Brooklyn, NY, and saw so many empty playgrounds in the winter. Ella’s Wool layers are meant to help kids stay warm while playing outside, even during cold weather. Ella’s Wool sizing goes from baby at 0 – 3 months up to 12 years.
Hudson loved wearing the Ella’s Wool base layer last winter while skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. He kept calling them his wolf layer (which I think is just how he thought you pronounced wool), but it was pretty cute to hear him talking about his wolf layer keeping him warm. To get 10% off at Ella’s Wool, use code NOMAN10 or use this link here.
➳ Shop Now: $69 for set on Ella’s Wool
Isobaa Merino Wool Blend Base Layer – Isobaa is a small company based out of the UK that makes merino wool clothing for adults and children. The kids merino wool blend base layers are 50% merino wool and 50% polyester. The sleeves are extra long with thumb holes, so you can keep the sleeve in place when you’re adding layers and gloves. These are great for base layers, pjs, or just everyday wear when the weather is cooler.
➳ Shop Now: $45 for top or bottom on Isobaa
Ellie&Anders Merino Wool Long-sleeve Shirt – Ellie&Anders recently launched with children’s travel capsule wardrobes that focus on sustainability and minimalism. Both the girls capsule and the boys capsule feature merino wool t-shirts. They’re light, so they work as an effective but lightweight base layer in cold weather, and the perfect shirt in any other weather.
➳ Shop Now: $49 on Ellie&Anders
2 Mid Layers for Warmth
After the moisture-wicking base layer, it’s time to find a mid-layer whose primary job will be to maintain body heat. Mid-layers should be easy to pull on and off to adjust based on the temperature and activity, and give your kids the room and flexibility to move.
Nui Organics Hopu Merino Knit – If you opted for one of the wool base layers above, then following that up with a thicker wool mid-layer is a fantastic option! Besides making merino wool base layers for kids, Nui Organics also has thicker wool sweaters! The Hopu knit top is super soft, extra cozy, and 100% merino wool.
➳ Shop Now: $88 on Nui Organics
Ella’s Wool Tubes – These thicker ribbed leggings dubbed “Tubes” by Ella’s Wool are basically sweaters for your kid’s legs. Tubes are 100% merino wool and designed with a cuff, so they can be rolled down as your child gets taller. They come in nine colors plus four stripe options, so you can have a lot of colorful fun with this layer.
Ella’s Wool has had a lot of interest from adults after parents see just how warm and cozy these leggings are, so I hear they may be launching the Tubes in adult sizes soon! And don’t forget to use code NOMAN10 to get 10% off your purchase at Ella’s Wool.
➳ Shop Now: $59 on Ella’s Wool
Outer Layers to keep you dry
If it’s not raining or snowing, then a lightweight hiking pant is a good option to cover a wool base or mid layer. Ellie&Anders nylon double adventure pants have great stretch for active kids and work well as an outer layer. REI also makes a nylon hiking pant with stretch for both boys and girls.
The Columbia Trail Adventure pants are super light, and also waterproof, so they’re a great option if you’re planning for wet weather.
To be totally zipped up and prepared for wet weather, we’ve used the OAKI rain suit, which works well in both rain and snow. Since this is basically just a thin, waterproof layer, we made sure that our son was warm enough from his other layers. OAKI also makes great rain boots and lined snow boots.
4 Warm Winter Jacket
When you’re looking for a winter jacket, consider where your child will be wearing it most often and what they’ll be doing. By layering, your child may not need a huge puffy winter coat. This means they may be able to use the same coat from fall through spring, just by adding base layers and mid layers on the colder days (or months).
The next thing that’s helpful to know when buying a winter jacket for kids are the pros and cons of down vs. synthetic fill. Down insulation is very warm, lightweight, and compacts well. However, if it gets wet, it’s pretty useless. A down jacket that is wet does not insulate well and takes a long time to dry.
Synthetic fill is made to replicate the pros of down, plus it’ll still keep your kids warm when it gets wet and dries much faster. That said, the same amount of synthetic fill won’t keep you as warm as down, so it’s not as lightweight and compact.
REI Co-op Down Jacket – The REI Co-op branded products always seem to be a quality product at a great price. This down jacket is reversible in sizes up to 4T, which means you can just flip it around if your little one makes a bit of a mess during the day. The larger sizes of the REI down jacket aren’t reversible, but still warm.
Winter Accessories for head, fingers, and toes
5 Merino Wool Socks
When the temperature starts dropping, it’s important that all the cold stays out. This means dressing in tall wool socks so ankles and legs aren’t exposed as kids move around. I know some of my pictures in this post show bare ankles, but these were taken before it was that cold, so Hudson was just fine with his short socks.
Nui Organics Wool Socks – Socks are another piece of clothing where it’s important to go with wool! Wool keeps your feet warm, and its ability to absorb moisture means it’ll keep your kids feet insulated, even if they get a little sweaty or wet from the weather. The Merino Nature socks by Nui Organics come up and over the ankles, so they’re great for heading outdoors. The Merino Lounge socks are nice and thick. They’re great for around the house and outdoors.
6 Winter Shoes and Boots
When looking for winter shoes and boots, I looked for ones that are lightweight and flexible. I recently learned about how important footwear is in the development of feet, which is why I created this post here talking about the best barefoot shoes for kids. Many winter shoes tend to be heavy and have soles with chunky heels and very little bend, which can be both uncomfortable and not good for a child’s feet.
Some of my favorite brands for winter shoes for kids include Wildling and Vivobarefoot (use code NMB10 for 10% off at Vivobarefoot). See Kai Run also has several foot-friendly snow boots that are super warm and waterproof. See my blog post here for my full list of warm winter shoes for kids, including the best kids’ boots for everyday, rain, and snow.
7 Caps and Beanies
A hat puts a literal cap on your body heat, so don’t forget to put one on your kids before they run out the door.
Baby Hats – Both Nui Organics and Ella’s Wool have the sweetest little merino wool baby caps. The Nui Organics caps (pictures on the left below) are sold separately, but go with the rib knit body suits and knit leggings. You can purchase the Ella’s Wool caps as part of a Baby base layer set, which includes a long sleeve onesie, footed pants, and the cap.
Beanies – Whether you’re looking for a classic staple of a beanie with a little flair, here are a few of our favorites:
Nui Organics Dory Beanie – These kids’ beanies are made out of merino wool and available in earthy tones like rust and charcoal.
8 Gloves and Mittens
I always find mittens so much warmer than gloves, so I’ve opted to go with mittens for my son. Patagonia’s Baby Puff Mitts have a DWR treatment to repel water and use synthetic insulation. These mittens come in five different colors, including these bright red ones that won’t get lost so easily!
Leave us a comment below with your kid’s favorite winter clothes. Or, let us know your favorite thing to do in the snow!