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How to keep kids warm and dry when it's cold

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Oct 2013; updated May 2023.

Getting out in the cold weather shouldn't be a problem. Read this guide on how to keep kids warm, and how to layer clothes correctly.

The secret to getting out and about with the family when it's colder is to make sure your kids (and you) are warm and dry. In this post, we look at how to get your family outside without everyone getting cold.

“There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” - Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Cold weather should not be a problem

Dressing your kids for the cold

Dressing your kids for the cold

In the UK, we do like to moan about the weather. However, generally we have it easy: summer doesn't get too hot, and winter doesn't get too cold.

I know when I've had Canadian friends over, they laugh at the little snowfall we have, even though everything stops. But you don't need to go to Canada. Just pop over to Sweden, for example, and you'll see lots of kids happily going to school in much colder weather than over here.

'But they're used to it' you might be thinking. True, they are used to it. They are used to being prepared. And they know what to do.

Unfortunately, in the UK, at the end of the summer school holidays, we are bombarded in the high street with 'Back to school' coats. This is in September when it is still warm. 'Ah, that's a nice thick coat. That'll keep Johnny warm this winter term.'. Unfortunately, that's not always going to be the case.

There's a right way to dress for colder weather, and it's very simple.

Start with Base Layers

Think of the base layers as the foundation, just like the foundation of a house.

This is the thermal layer that helps keep your child warm. And just like the foundations of a house, you build upon the base layers. You adjust the layers of clothes on top to suit the weather conditions.

With a good set of base layers, you may find your child needs fewer clothes, so they are a good investment. However, please choose wisely, as you don't want them to overheat.

We have a guide to choosing base layers for kids that you can read here.

Normal Clothes

Your child may be going to school, or your child may be walking through the sudden snowfall to visit their grandma to make sure they are alright and help clear their path..... So put normal clothes over the base layers.

Avoid heavy cotton like jeans if it is wet or there's snow.

avoid heavy cotton like jeans

When jeans get wet, they are very slow to dry out. Wet clothes can cool the body down. Wet jeans can and have often caused hypothermia in the unprepared.

Mid Layers

Craghoppers BG Kids Fleece

Mid-layers are anything between the base layers and the outer layers. Normal clothes can be considered part of the mid-layers, but generally, we're talking about things such as a fleece, which provide an additional layer of insulation.

Micro-fleeces are a very good mid-layer. They are a lot less bulky than a fleece jacket, can look like a normal pullover, and have very good insulation properties.

Since micro-fleeces aren't very thick, they are good to wear under other layers or even combine with other mid-layer clothes, such as a gilet.

Craghoppers Bear Grylls kids softshell jacket

Another mid-layer is Soft-Shell jackets. When the temperature drops, these can be used as jackets on their own or as a warm mid-layer.

When milder and dry, these mid-layers are perfectly good outer layers - ideal for Autumn and Spring.

Outer Layers

Kozi Kidz Alaska Parkas

This is where your coat comes in. Choose one appropriate.

If it's wet but not too cold, a thinner raincoat would be more comfortable to wear than a thick winter coat.

Don't forget about the trousers, especially for smaller kids. Get waterproof trousers for when it is wet, or there's snow (kids always get covered in snow!) so that the layers below stay dry.

Outer trousers also keep the cold wind at bay and provide an additional layer of insulation if they're lined.

Hats and Gloves

Animal Kids Hat

A hat is very important in keeping your kids warm.

We recommend getting one that can cover their ears, which get cold quickly on kids.

Gloves are also important. If it's wet or snow, ensure they have waterproof gloves.

Mitts are much warmer than gloves (as the fingers can warm each other), but kids can find it difficult to play in them.



Toes can quickly get cold, so get some decent winter socks.

You need to make sure your child has some waterproof footwear so that these socks stay warm and dry.

Lined wellies will help keep feet warm. You can get some welly socks if your kid's boots are lined.

Snow boots are an alternative with a nice thick lining to keep your child's feet warm.

If you are hiking and it may rain, get some gaiters to help keep their walking boots dry.

Don't Over Do It

Keeping your kids warm

Don't put all their layers on, though and think, 'They're nice and warm. Job done!' Just as you don't want them to get too cold, you don't want them to get too hot.

This can lead to sweating (which, in turn, can make them feel colder), dehydration, and discomfort.

A good pair of base layers can help with body temperature regulation, but the main thing about layers is that you can take them off.

We often have a backpack with hats and gloves, only needing to put them on when required. Coats can be unzipped if the weather is dry, and if you get a good set of base layers, they, too, can be unzipped.

Polar explorer Eric Larsen even recommends removing a layer or two before you do an activity so that you don't get too warm and then putting the layers back on when you stop. If the kids are about to do some activity, it may be a good idea to take the same approach.

Other tips for keeping kids warm

Have some snacks on you.

When it's cold, your body burns more calories to keep warm. As soon as your child starts running out of calories, they'll get colder, so keep their boiler stoked.

Some warm drinks (usually hot chocolate or soup for kids) go down well too. We've found the Lifeventure flasks are cheap and reliable, though there are other alternatives for when it gets very cold.

Keep some hand warmers in your bag. They won't dry anyone out, but they make you 'feel' warm, even if it's in your head. They're good for comforting a child when the 'Mum, I'm cold' starts.

If you are out for longer, consider a bothy bag. This may sound extreme, but if the wind gets up and a snow shower comes in, they're a quick shelter you can pull out of your bag.

With a large enough bothy bag, you sit on the sides, protecting your backside from the snow and stopping the wind from blowing the bag away. You can then open the flasks, have a warm drink, and eat a snack without getting cold and wet. 😉

You can even get some ready meals that self-heat. They essentially have something similar to the hand warmer inside, so you can get some hot food without using a stove (and then use the warmer afterwards). They're a bit pricey but may be welcome if you plan to be outside for a long time.