“My feet are cold, I want to go home!” We have aborted countless hikes for various reasons. Cold feet is one of the more common ones. Although, while cold feet can make any activity miserable, there are several precautions one can take to prevent disaster. Learn how to dressing your kids smart and warm with this How-to guide.
The importance of well-fitting winter boots
It wasn’t until my early 20s that I realized the importance of well-fitting winter boots, after spending years freezing my toes off in running shoes and summer hiking boots. The multiple layers of socks I added did nothing but cutting off blood circulation. Your most important defense against cold feet is a pair of waterproof winter boots. Good fit is key. Too tight = cold feet. Going one or even two sizes too big is a good idea. Make sure boots are big enough for heavy-weight wool socks. Make sure toes can wiggle, leaving room for toe-warmers. Baffin and Bogs make top-quality boots for kids, but they can be expensive. Good winter boots for kids doesn’t have to cost a fortune. You can find great boots at Wal-Mart or Target for less than half the price of top-brand boots. Good fit is much more important than brand or price.
On cold days, choose a pair of heavy-weight wool or synthetic wool socks. Wool warms even when wet – cotton does not. The white cotton socks you get in a 10-pack at Target should only be worn at the gym.
Dress in layers for maximum warmth. Layers are easy to add or remove as needed.
Tights or long-johns. Little kids usually don’t sweat much, but consider synthetic moisture-wicking material for older kids.
Mid- or Insulation Layer
Heavy-weight fleece or sweatpants.
Waterproof snow pants. Elastic ankle cuffs can prevent snow from getting into boots.
Tight long-sleeved underwear shirt. Consider synthetic moisture-wicking materials if you have sweaty kids.
Mid- or Insulation Layer
Heavy-weight fleece or, on very cold days, a down sweater or multiple fleece layers. Should fit comfortably, not tight, allow room for movement.
Insulated winter jacket. Down is warmest but doesn’t handle water well. Synthetic insulation is warm and can handle water. Generally water-resistant outer-layers are sufficient in cold winters. If you expect rain, waterproof materials is a safer bet. Consider a rain jacket over heavy mid/insulation-layers in milder winter climates.
Windproof hat. Consider a balaclava for colder temps as it provides better coverage of face and neck.
Waterproof insulated mittens. Go size large, leaving room for hand-warmers. Layer with fleece gloves underneath on cold days.
Long-sleeve onesie and socks.
Heavy-weight one-piece fleece overall, preferably covering feet.
One-piece winter overalls. Down is warmest, but expensive. Synthetic insulation is less expensive than down and retains heat well.
When baby is sitting in sled, stroller, or baby carrier, cover him in a blanket for extra warmth and protection from wind. Check baby’s face for frostbite frequently in colder temps.
Throughout your excursion, frequently ask your children the following questions, and fix any issues immediately:
- Are you hungry?
- Are you warm or cold?
- Are your hands cold? Feet cold?
- Can you feel your fingers, toes, face?
- Are your hands or feet wet?
Water-resistant vs. Waterproof
Water-resistant materials will repel moderate amounts of water, but will not remain dry if completely submerged in water. Waterproof materials should handle submersion, at least temporarily.
For example, water-resistant boots may keep feet dry in light drizzle on paved roads, and best case they may even handle a quick submersion in a puddle. However if walking in wet grass, wet snow, or in heavy rain, water-resistant boots will not keep feet dry. Waterproof boots, on other hand, should handle all of above. But keep in mind that garments made of waterproof materials may still leak around seams.
Tips & Tricks
- Hand- and Toe-warmers: always keep a few extra pairs in your pack, if all else fails. Make them “11th Essential” during winter months (see 10 Essentials). Hand- and Toe-warmers is a wise investment at $1-$2 apiece. Available at Walmart, Home Depot, and most gas stations.
- Hot Chocolate: bring hot chocolate on cold winter hikes to help kids stay warm. A good thermos shouldn’t cost more than $25.
- Hot Water Bottle: works like a mini-furnace for kids in stroller or sled. Also works great in sleeping bag. Before leaving home, boil water, pour into plastic bottle (larger bottles stay warm longer, a Liter bottle is plenty large), seal bottle, wrap bottle in a heavy-weight sock. Place bottle with child under blanket in stroller or sled.
- High-calorie Foods: little bodies use a lot of energy to maintain body heat. Eat well before going outside, and always bring extra food and snacks. A candy bar packs a lot of calories and can be a great motivator on long hikes.
- Keep Moving: don’t sit still. Walk, run, play games, make a snowman, throw snowballs –whatever it takes to keep moving. When taking a break, stay out of wind, cover in blankets, and sit on something insulating (foam pad, folded up blanket, sled, weeds, backpack, etc.); frozen ground, rocks, concrete, and snow quickly drain heat out of a resting body.