top of page

Dressing Kids for Subalpine Adventures

In my last post, I talked at length about why and how to layer appropriate types of clothing for mountain adventures (especially subalpine environments of 9,000 to 11,000 feet). But what about kids? They need to stay warm too, and packing plenty of layers helps them enjoy the Great Outdoors as well. Here I’ll give some tips for dressing your kids for outdoor fun without breaking the bank. And, I’m including a downloadable pack list – if your kids can read, provide them with the pack list and they can take care of their own bag for camping or wheeling adventures. De nada!

Remember -

No cotton.

Lots of layers.

Include the oft-forgotten hat, gloves, and boots.

General Recommendations -

When they’re old enough to understand, teach your kids about the concept of layering clothing and why they shouldn’t wear cotton for mountain adventures.

Teach your kids to put on warmer clothes (eg. a jacket) before they get cold. The concept of “I’ll be freezing cold in half an hour” is foreign to kids but keep at it and eventually they’ll learn. (Our son is 7 and he’s just beginning to remember this, but still needs a reminder or two when we’re in the woods).

At the beginning of the season, mist some waterproofing spray onto your child’s boots, rain/snow pants, and outerwear jacket/coat to make them more water resistant.

Pack more shirts and pants than your children might need because kids are messy and food that spills on their clothing can attract bears or other predators. It’s best to take off any food-soiled clothing and lock it away each night. If food spills on their outerwear wash it off immediately – although generally outerwear is coated with DWR to be repellent and therefore should be easier to clean.

Make sure your kiddos don’t put snacks in their clothing bag. If you’re camping, the clothing will be kept in the tent and you don’t want bears to come a-sniffing for tasty treats. See my post on camping pack lists for where to store food and snacks.

Avoid Breaking the Bank -

Finding good base layers for kids is a little difficult but I think it’s important that they have one good quality top/bottom base layer because it wicks away sweat, helps keep them warm in the cold mountain air, and it’s comfortable to sleep in at night (with a good sleeping bag, the base layer keeps them toasty warm). The point here is to go for high quality on what matters most (the base layer), and then get less costly pants and shirts.

Chain stores like Target or sporting goods stores have some kids base layers like Under Armour brand but I have not found any of those to be very warm. And when you’re camping at 11,000 feet altitude and the wind is blasting at 70 mph and it’s sleeting, your kiddo needs warmth or he’s going to have a miserable time. So look for quality gear and be prepared.

Quality gear costs more but will perform as needed. REI has a good selection of their own brand, Patagonia, and Smartwool base layers for kids. All of these brands last and can be sold or handed down when you’re done with them. REI has frequent sales so keep your eye out for bargains.

Buy kids' base layers two sizes too big. Yes, no matter what base layer brand you choose, buying big can save you a good amount of dough. Don’t buy base layers every year – as much as they’re used (not everyday) it’s not worth the money. Buy two sizes larger and sew in the sides and/or hem up the cuffs with a whip stitch. As your kid grows just let out the seams you added and those base layers will last about three years! (If you don’t sew, ask Santa for a sewing machine this Christmas – it’s well worth the investment, saves you money in the long run, and is part of being prepared).

For all other non-cotton clothing (tees, long-sleeved tops, pants) try to buy used. Don’t spend big bucks on a whole new outdoor gear wardrobe for your child because he’s going to outgrow everything soon anyway. You should be able to find non-cotton (such as Under Armour or Columbia or similar) tees and long-sleeved tops, as well as athletic pants, for good prices at your local used kids clothing store.

Buy heavy-weight fleece pants and tops at a used clothing store or kids consignment shop. Don’t buy new fleece! They’ll be worn in the woods and around the campfire and there are usually lots of options for around $2 or less at your local Goodwill or used kids clothing store. It doesn’t matter if they’re a little pilled – are they non-cotton and warm? Sold!

Opt for rain pants over snow pants if your lifestyle permits. Unless your kid is into skiing or plays in the snow all day long (literally), super heavy snow pants aren’t absolutely necessary. Go with rain pants instead and throw on a couple layers underneath if needed (base layer plus fleece pants). Rain pants are less expensive, more packable, and more comfortable. REI has some good options. As with base layers, buy larger than their current size and sew in the waist if needed until your child grows into the pants.

Look for sales on mid-weight wool socks. I like Smartwool because they don’t itch (although they are pricey). Keep your eyes open for sales and always buy a larger size than needed. Wool socks are great because they dry quickly and don’t stink like cotton so they can be worn for multiple days without washing. Ideally, though, you’ll want at least two pairs (to have dry socks if one pair gets wet).

Boots may be expensive. Of all the outdoor gear I buy for our son, his boots are the priciest investment. It’s difficult to buy very much larger than they need (because they’ll be tripping all over the place) and I’ve tried buying used boots at kids consignment stores but have always found them to leak. Feet get wet, he gets cold, everyone’s miserable. So, I do end up buying new boots about once a year. Do you have tips for saving money on kids boots? Post in the comments so I can learn too!

Always keep your eyes open for sales on kids outdoor clothing gear. In the heat of this past summer we found an awesome heavy-weight synthetic-insulated (kiddo is allergic to down) winter coat for 75% off at a local outdoor clothing store. I bought a larger size than our kid needs and now he’s set for winter!

When your child finally outgrows her gear, sell it or hand it down to friends or family members. Use the cash for new [larger] gear, and know that you’re helping someone else learn to enjoy the Great Outdoors!

Pack List -

Here’s a suggested pack list for wheeling and multi-day camping in the mountains, any time of year. Always be prepared for winter weather!

Do you have tips and suggestions for kids outdoor clothing? What have you learned? Leave comments below, and thanks for reading!

Happy Trails!

bottom of page