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Nov 8

2023 Winter Gear Guide—How to Dress Kids for Winter Play

by Meghan Fitzgerald

Welcome to our Winter 2023 Gear Guide!

Winter is coming! And even in the slush, sleet and snow,  spending time outside is essential for our overall well-being

Giving our kids four full seasons of meaningful time outdoors unlocks mental, physical and emotional growth that is too important to miss. But identifying and affording the right gear (not to mention getting it on our kiddos) can be daunting.

That is why we created this practical Winter Gear Guide—your how-to for keeping kids (and yourself!) comfy and active outside all winter long. None of it is sponsored, but all of it is true to our experience, based on wisdom we've gathered from thousands of Tinkergarten Leaders and families over a dozen years! 

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What We Look For

We select items for their value—either options that are quality and affordable today or options that might cost a smidge more but last or provide real outsized impact, so are worth consideration. Winter gear costs can really add up, especially this year, but if you pick wisely and layer right, kids can stay and play outside every day this winter.

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What Gear You Need

The specific gear you buy actually may matter less than making sure you’re covering the right type of gear. So, it helps to remember the key categories. Here goes:

Layering

The key to staying outside to play in the cold is dressing in the right layers. When our core is warm, our body is able to send warmth to our extremities (hands, feet, etc). So, keeping your kids’ core warm is way more than half the battle. It really starts there. 

When it’s cold, we all benefit from a base layer to trap in our body heat and an outer layer to keep out the elements. Depending on just how cold it will be outside, you may need a middle layer as well to stay cozy:

  • A base layer (e.g. long underwear)
  • A middle layer (e.g. pants, fleece)
  • An outer layer (e.g. shell, snow or rain pants)

Base Layers

These are absolutely necessary in deep-freeze regions like Minneapolis, MN, but they can also help whenever conditions in your area feel really cold to you—cold is all relative! 

Undershirts and leggings, whether polyester or made of pricier wool, should fit snug to skin for maximum warmth and ideally not absorb too much moisture. For wet and chilly areas, you’ll want to pair thick socks with rain or winter boots, sized to accommodate the socks, of course. In milder regions, a t-shirt will do the trick, and pajama bottoms can sub in for leggings. Bonus: Your kids will already be wearing them, so there’ll be no struggling to get them on! 

Long Underwear

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  • Heattech base shirts, leggings and socks, under $15 at Uniqlo
  • Lands’ End thermal base layers for kids at Lands’ End, Prices vary, but discounts are deep at Lands’ End, especially through early December. Upon research, these were $15 and up for tops and bottoms).
  • Kids’ base layers from REI Co-Op, $20 and up for tops or bottoms.
  • Wicked Warm long underwear (polyester and cotton) from L.L. Bean, $40 for top or bottom.

Merino Long Underwear

  • Amazingly soft merino wool imported from Scandinavia from Ella's Wool at $69 per set. These are a bit costly but they are marvelous and last for ages and multiple kids! They sell out fast, so don’t delay!
  • Super thin, soft and warm merino long underwear at Iksplor is all made in the USA! $109 per set (top and bottom). They are currently taking pre-orders and hope to restock in mid November.
  • A well loved newcomer on our merino wool radar is Merriwool Layers with $40 per bottom/top and $18 per three-pack of wool socks.

Socks

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You don't have to buy many pairs, but having one or two really solid, warm pairs of socks for longer stretches outside can make all the difference. We ask grandparents for ours, and it's become a tradition! Plus, socks can make great back-up mittens—or even double as "animal paws," which are way more fun for the explorer who refuses mittens! 

  • Thermaskin Heat Boot Socks (frequently on sale), $14.95 at Lands’ End.     
  • Lightweight and mid-weight hiking and ski/snowboarding socks for kids and grown ups by Darn Tough, $15-$22 per pair. (pictured above)
  • Warm wool kids socks in light, medium or full cushion from Smartwool, (great socks for adults too!), $13-$18 per pair.
  • A new favorite are the soft, warm and socially impactful Bombas socks (pictured above) for babies, toddlers, kids and grown ups. Plus, Bombas is a a Certified B Corp, meaning it scores well in terms of environmentally friendly material sourcing, ethical production and transparency.

Want Help with Sensory Struggles?

For many explorers who have sensitive sensory systems, not all base layer options work. Here are a few favorites that have really worked well when other base layer options don’t:

  • Fleece-lined pants can feel good, keep kids warm and reduce the need to find two layers that work. We’ve really liked the fleece leggings and sweatpants at Lands End ($20-$30, depending on the promotion).
  • We also just love everything that Primary stands for as well as their fleece leggings, which can provide snug and easy on/off options for base layers.

Seam-free socks can also make all the difference for sensory-sensitive kids (and grown ups, too!). We love Bombas, both for their wonderful, seamless socks and because each purchase enables them to give quality clothing to people who really need it. We also hear great things about the seamless socks and undies from SmartKnitKids.

Second Layers 

These can be sweaters or fleece, and in milder regions, they’re your outer layer, too! Colder areas will want to add on.  

Top 

  • Polar fleece, $15.90-$20.90 from Amazon Essentials.
  • Columbia toddler fleece at REI, $28
  • Jogger sweatshirts from Primary.com—in all colors and simple, sustainable designs. We love how Primary lets kids shop for all of the colors, not just the colors thought to be for "boys" or "girls," too.

Pants 

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  • Toasty fleece toddler pants, $19.95 REI .
  • OEKO-TEX® Terry Jogger or any of the cozy joggers, $28 (now ~ $17 on sale!) at Primary.com.

Outer Layer

Let it snow, indeed! In the most frigid temps, you’ll want to wrap your littles in an insulated, water-proof outer layer. When it comes to snow pants, opt for overalls for maximum coverage. And size the coat with the number of layers you’ll be wearing in mind. 

Coverall Suits

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If you have young kids and need to get in and out of car seats, it can be great to get a single, coverall style outer suit for winter. Kids can hop in the car wearing their inner layers for the ride, then slip on the coverall when you get where you’re going!

  • Season after season, our friends at Oaki are mentioned most for their beloved and durable one-piece suits ($69). Use the code TINKERGARTEN to get 20% off your order, too!
  • Jan and Jul’s one-piece rain suits ($80 Canadian/$60 USD) have emerged a favorite in our community. And, they have a great story—woman-owned and committed to using Earth-safe processes and fair labor practices. Plus, you can use the code TINKERGARTEN to get 10% off your purchase!
  • Several families and Tinkergarten Leaders love Columbia’s Buga II Snow Suit. At $130 it is a bit more expensive, but is super warm and durable and can be passed along between siblings or among friends. Though this suit is not one of them, many Columbia items are marked way down for their Early Black Friday sale (ends 11/17/22).

Outer Coats and Bibs

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  • New Favorite: This year, we’re hearing a lot of love for ThermKids outerwear—great ski, snow and rain outer gear for toddlers and preschoolers. Created by a mom in Whistler, Canada, you know the gear will keep your kids warm, and the commitment to sustainability will keep you feeling great. Plus, you can save 15% off when you use the code TINKERGARTEN on all of Therm’s sites (thermkids.com, thermkids.ca, therm.co.nz)
  • Snow Bibs: For older kids, we love snow bibs. They don’t let in snow or even a chilly breeze, and if they’re made tough, they’ll last for a few winters! Our favorites include kids’ Iron Knee snow bibs, from $64.95 (before sales, which are frequent) at Lands’ End
  • Cold Weather Coats: The most loved warm, durable coats from Lands’ End are the Squall and Expedition models. Even though they cost over $100 each, Lands’ End runs frequent sales.  
  • Favorite Rain Jackets: There is real love for the Toddler Rainwall rain jacket, $49.95 at REI, in addition to the Oaki Rain pant/jacket combos and Tuffo Muddy Buddy suits. North Carolina Tinkergarten Leader Ericka Sargent loves the cute and super sustainable CeLaVi rain sets and overalls made from 100% recycled plastic.

Caregivers & Infants

It can be game-changing to find a fleece or an outer layer that can keep you and the infant you love cozy on outdoor adventures. Tinkergarten Leader Megan Bell recommends this 3-in-1 belted Maternity Puffy Coat.

Footwear

If winter is wet where you are, it’s worth getting a great pair of rubber rain boots. They keep kids’ feet dry and, more importantly, provide that extra fun puddle-stomping weight for maximum splash. For cold and snow, insulated boots are a must (if you’re wearing your rain boots in the snow, double up on socks, and don’t stay out too long at a go).

Snow boots

 

  • Many members of our community, including Tinkergarten Leader Shannon Williams in Salt Lake City, Utah, love the quality and value of snow boots and booties for kids ages 0 to 6 made by Stonz.
  • Others love the Snow Flurry winter boots, from $64.95 (and frequently on sale) at Lands’ End.
  • Many more just love neoprene winter boots. Why? Even in colder climates, when they get wet, feet in warm socks can still stay warm. You can dump them out and dry them out easily, too. Furry boots look cozy, but they are really tough once they get wet!
  • Our friends at Oaki made marvelous neoprene boots that run around $55 per pair (save 20% more with code TINKERGARTEN). We also love Bogs Kids Winter Boots, $90. Bogs are a bigger investment, but they stay super dry, work in rain or snow and make great hand-me-downs.

Rain boots

Of coruse, we love the forest animals print and other cute and super durable rain boots ($24.99) at Oaki. Don’t forget the code TINKERGARTEN to get 20% off, too! 

Stonz rain boots also score a lot of love from Tinkergarten Leaders and families, and you can use the code TINKER15 to enjoy 15% off Stonz.com (valid one time per person until January 31, 2023).

Accessories

Hats 

We’re a little in love with Zutano’s hats for two reasons: 1. They’re super cute, comfortable and easy to wash and wear. 2. They’re made of nice, thick fleece that protects baby and toddler heads.  

For older kids, we’d recommend letting preschoolers and older kiddos pick out their own hats. Being able to pick out a less costly but important and quite visible part of their winter gear ensemble gives kids some agency and the chance to express their personality. Plus, feeling part of the process and picking a hat that really feels comfortable makes kids much more likely to wear their hats—a big part of the gear battle! 

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For us grown ups, we love Beautifully Warm hats, specially designed for natural and curly hair communities. Their satin-lined winter hats feel fabulous, are easy on and off and protect your style. Plus, you can save 15% by entering the code Tinker when you purchase!

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Mittens & Gloves

If you find it easy to get your wee kids to wear gloves and mittens (and keep them on), we commend you. For the rest of us, here are a few favorites:

  • SnowStoppers remain crowd favorites because they come with an extended cuff that clings to arms so they stay on, while providing an extra layer of insulation from wet and cold.
  • We also love Gordini gloves–waterproof, warm and easy to maneuver in!
  • And, we've long loved mittens like these from our Scandinavian friends at Polarn O. Pyret.
  • Want a really unique mitten (though they are an investment)? You may love the durable, warm three-finger glove from Hestra (think the warmth of a mitten with an extra finger's worth of flexibility). 
  • If it’s really wet where you are, waterproof rain mittens like the ones made by Reima (~$14.95) and Polarn O Pyret (~$23) work wonders. New Hampshire Tinkergarten Leader Gretchen Whitcomb shares, “You can layer with a knit glove or mitten underneath for the really chilly days or just wear solo! They are truly waterproof, and there’s no need for endless cycles in the dryer like you get with thick, puffy winter gloves that get so waterlogged.”
  • Reusable hand warmers like these used often by Maryland Tinkergarten Leader, Megan Bell, are also a helper for days when the temperatures drop and you want to extend your time outside.

Masks & Warmers

When it’s really cold, it can make all the difference to protect kids’ necks and faces. Here are a few great ways to do that!

  • Neck Warmers: It has a funny name, but Turtle Fur’s neck warmers are made from fantastically toasty and soft fleece that will cover those bits that always seem to be exposed. You can use the code TINKERGARTEN10 to enjoy 10% off your order.
  • Face Masks: We love these Bonvince face mask/hat combos. For older kids, a gaiter or balaclava style head and mouth cover like this one. With safe distancing, these cozy options can add protection from both the virus and the cold.

How to Keep Gear Affordable

Depending on how much you need, gear can be spendy—especially once multiplied by multiple siblings. Here are some of our favorite ways to save and find affordable, quality gear:

  • Instead of more toys, ask friends and family for gear as holiday gifts! (There are Tinkergarten gift cards, too!)
  • Check local Facebook marketplaces and search for Facebook Groups focused on parenting or free swapping.
  • Find local clothing swaps and groups. If your school or parenting group doesn't have one, organize one so everyone you can size up! You can also look for a local Buy Nothing or Freecycle group.
  • Or, start your own Kids’ Clothing and Gear swap in your community. Find out how in our Clothing Swap DIY activity.
  • Shop EBay You'll need to sift, but deals on used and new clothes abound.
  • DIY Repairs—If you’re crafty, patch snow pants and get another season/hand them on down. Here’s how.
  • Buy used from top brands.
  • Patagonia—Not a bargain, but the best quality around, with great eco-cred—these are the ultimate hand-me-downs. And, you can find deals on their worn wear site. Or, check Patagonia Web Specials for deals.
  • REI—Another high quality gear source who is committed to making the world a better place with great gear and the #Optoact and #Optoutside movements, with a used gear section.
  • If you have good-condition, used outdoor gear, you can also donate it "to support the planet, inclusion, and adventure through Outside Magazine's The Outdoorist Oath." Shipping labels are free & easy to print, and there's a list at the bottom (see below) of the used brands they accept.

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More Resources for Winter

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Meghan Fitzgerald

Founder

After 20+ years as an educator, curriculum developer and school leader, I have my dream gig—an entrepreneur/educator/mom who helps families everywhere, including my own, learn outside. Prior to Tinkergarten®, I worked as an Elementary School Principal, a Math/Science Specialist & and a teacher in public and private schools in NY, MA and CA. I earned a BA with majors in English and Developmental Psychology at Amherst College, an MS in Educational Leadership at Bank Street College, and was trained to become a Forest School leader at Bridgwater College, UK. My worldview is formed in response to a my environment, culture, family, identity and experiences, and I love to learn from others. What I write in this blog will inevitably betray the blind spots I have as a result—we all have them! Please reach out if there are other perspectives or world views I could consider in anything I write about. I welcome the chance to learn and update any pieces to broaden our shared perspective!

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