Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Winter clothing essentials for children on day hikes

The following article was originally written for and appeared in Seattle Backpackers Magazine.

Winter’s arrival doesn’t mean you have to put away the hiking boots and trekking pole and bust out the video games and Blu-ray until spring returns. Many trails in northern and mountainous climates remain open – and if you dress properly for them, you won’t get chilled or wet at all.

More clothes alone won’t be enough for a winter hike, however. To ensure your children stay comfortable and safe from the elements, you instead have to dress smart.

Dress in layers
You and your children should wear multiple layers of clothing that provide various levels of protection against sweat, heat loss, wind and potentially snow. Layering works because the type of clothing you select for each stratum serves a different function, such as wicking moisture or shielding against wind. In addition, trapped air between each layer of clothing is warmed by body heat. Layers also can be added or taken off as needed.

Generally, both you and your children need four layers in winter.

Closest to your skin is the wicking layer, which pulls perspiration away from the body and into the next layer, where it evaporates. Exertion from walking means you will sweat and generate heat, even if the weather is cold. Long johns and a long-sleeved short, made of a moisture-wicking synthetic material like polypropylene, works best. Wear wool socks that will better wick moisture from the feet.

The second layer is for insulation to help keep you warm. This layer probably should also cover the neck, which often is exposed to the elements. A turtleneck works fine, but preferably not one made of cotton, as this won’t wick moisture from the skin when you sweat.

The next layer also provides insulation. Depending on the temperature, it could be a wool sweater, a half-zippered long sleeved fleece jacket, or a fleece vest.

A fourth layer would be a hooded parka with pockets and snow pants, both made of material that can block wind and resist water, which in winter can come in the form of rain, wind, snow and sleet. Ensure boots also are waterproof so snow and moisture can’t get inside them. Getting wet lowers the body temperature, raising the risk of hypothermia, so waterproof material is a necessity.

Why pockets in that parka? It’s a great place to store some extra tissue paper and lip balm. And should you need to take off a mitten or a glove, you can stuff it in the pocket rather than under the arm, where it likely will fall into the snow and get wet.

Don’t forget accessories
Stocking caps, mittens and scarves all are needed, even on sunny days, as winter air largely is dry and holds warmth poorly. Mittens work better than gloves because fingers remain next to one another so there is less of a “shoreline” along a hand for the cold to erode the body’s heat.

In addition, sunglasses are a must when snow covers the ground. Without it, children risk suffering from snow blindness, especially on sunny days.

Stay preventative
Always put on clothes before kids start shivering. Once cold and wet, no amount of clothing can reverse that condition.

Keep change of clothes in vehicle
Kids being kids, some will find a way on a hike to get wet despite your best efforts. Dry clothes they can change into in a warm vehicle after the hike will make the drive home comfortable.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.