In the late summer into fall, dressing kids for Forest School was no big deal. Durable pants, a long sleeve sun shirt, sunscreen, a sunhat and a warmish jacket- and they were good to go. The only minor complaint (from the grandparents) was that they were a little too dirty and had to be washed down before heading over. Now however, with the cold and the snow, it is a whole new deal. Learning how to dress your kids for the winter is a process. Luckily the teachers at Forest School have a good set of guidelines that we have to follow. If it’s below 35 degrees, your kid has to come dressed in a base layer, a mid layer and then an outer layer that is ideally waterproof, but water resistant is ok. They need to have a pair of snack gloves and two sets of bigger gloves or mittens as well as a neck gaiter and a hat. At first this all seemed to be a bit much, but after trying it out on our own outdoor outings we found that it was the perfect combination. It turns out teachers who are out in the elements with preschoolers and kindergartners for five hours at a time know a thing or two about kids and layering!
We now use this method even on non forest school days like skiing, sledding and xc skiing. It’s always much more pleasant to take off a layer than have your little one be so cold they are miserable.
After two forest school winters with my almost 6 year old and one with my three year old, below are my top gear picks. From jackets, to lunch boxes to water bottles. These things have made their time outside at school more enjoyable as being comfortable and warm lets them focus on what matters most: PLAY! It also really helps out the teachers (who are absolute saints by the way) so they can focus on playing and teaching instead of constantly tending to cold and grumpy kids.
And even if your kids are not in Forest or Outdoor school this winter, use this guide as a winter layering guide. We live in the gear all winter long. From downhill skiing, xc skiing, snow fort building and more- we have tested it through and through.
If some of the gear items are WAY out of your price range, scroll down for some tips on where to find discounted and budget friendly, amazing finds.
We love this jacket for days when it is a bit warmer out, or when he needs an extra warm layer under his bigger jacket. When he is outside playing hard, sometimes he gets too hot under his big jacket, so having this lighter one as a back up is great. It’s wind and water resistant and so far it has held up to two forest school seasons with out any rips. For $119, it is on the more expensive side for a kids jacket, but for us it is going down the line to his brother who will also use it to its fullest capacity I am sure.
This fleece is sturdy and warm enough to be warn on its own as well as supple and cozy enough to be warn under neath a bigger jacket. Max loves it for it’s pocket and the little owl. We love it because it keeps him warm, comfortable and its made out of Prima Loft Bio Fleece- which means it is completely bio degradable and does not contribute to microplastic pollution after washing like most other fleeces.
For the extra cold days, we bust out his Columbia Puffy out. It has the newest and most advanced reflective technology. An added perk is that it is gold, which my kids really like. They call it their “sparkly, magic puff.” My husband and I love it because it keeps them super warm, it’s waterproof, breathable, and comes with an easy to snap powder skirt. These features also make it a great skiing jacket! And it is enhanced with the outgrown system, when my son grows all we have to do is snip a piece of thread and we get another year out of it.
Unbelievably cute, and my three year old will not wear any other jacket. It is thin, and warm, which I think he likes because it lets him move freely compared to his other jackets that are a bit more bulky. I try NOT to be the mother in Christmas Story, so seeing him be able to move around with out all the bulk …
Ever since receiving these awesome cozy fleece pants and top, my three year old has asked for them every single morning. “I want my cozy pants.” “These?” I ask holding up another pair because I really need to wash the pair he has worn for five straight days. “NO my COZY pants Mama!” “Ok”, I say, “they are so cozy.” They are the perfect mid layer for his forest school days and ski days as well as a great single layer for a home day or a warmer fall/spring day. The only downside is that once on your toddler, they will never want to take them off.
We LOVE this company. Chasing Windmills is owned by two parents with twins, so of course I immediately was drawn to them. They also source their merino from NZ, which is where our second home and Jason’s twin brother and his family reside. Besides our many connections, their wool base layers are the absolute best. I have seen my kids and now my friends kids go through them, and still they look and function beautifully. For their first layer, I reach for these, and my boys love them. When we go out to our cabin for 5 days straight in the winter, they never take them off, and that is perfectly ok with us. Wool is best for temperature regulation, for feeling cozy, for playing outside in so much more.
Iksplor, is another amazing merino wool company. It is owned by two sisters who grew up playing in and loving the outdoors. Now with families of their own they wanted to create a sustainable company that both gets families outdoors and works to help protect the environment. Their new jogger set is buttery soft, and works great as a stand alone piece for home days or as a mid layer for Forest School/ big outdoor days. We especially love that they make them in adult sizes. My husband has not taken off his set since he got his in the mail! If $198 makes you almost spit out your coffee, I get it. They just started an amazing program called “iksplore more.” Its a place where you can buy and sell previously used ikslpor products at a discounted price!
These bibs while expensive are the most durable, waterproof and easiest to get on my wiggly 3 year old that I have found. The snap shoulder straps makes sliding them on fast and easy, it also grows with them, so he will likely be able to wear them for next season as well. This makes the $139 price tag a little easier to swallow. But seriously, my older sons previous bibs did not make it through even one Forest School season, but these ones are now on to kid number two and have not shown any sign of tearing.
For the warmer snow days, or the shoulder season, where you don’t quite know what the weather will do- the Oaki suit is your ticket. It is waterproof, breathable, super duper adjustable and is great at keeping the mud out and the warmth and comfort in. We love it because my son can be the dirtiest I have ever seen him but as soon as I take off his suit, he has no sign of dirt. I then just let it dry, then shake off the dirt and it’s ready to go again!
These mittens have literally saved us all. I am so happy to say that there are no tears when putting these mittens on. They wrap around his hand, his wrist and his jacket making it easy for him to put his thumb “in the thumb place”. The outer material is waterproof and in the inner is a super warm and soft fleece lining that wicks moisture. So far, I am super impressed with these and wonder why all toddler gloves and mittens are not like this.
At Forest School it is required to send your kids with snack gloves, these are often thin gloves that function well enough to let them eat their lunch with out getting cold hands. These fleece liner gloves have been awesome for both his snack gloves and for xc skiing. They provide just enough protection from the elements when we are working out and playing outside. These thin fleece gloves keeps moisture out and warmth in.
Did you know that if you keep the the neck warm, your whole body will stay much warmer? We lose a lot of heat if this are of the body is not properly covered. That is why when we or our boys go outside, the neck gaiter is a non negotiable piece of gear. As a family, we all love and wear our wool “neckies” from Iksplor. Just like their jogger suit, they are buttery soft and keep our necks warm while also wicking away sweat. If you are not yet sold on woolies or joggers, I would start with a wool neckie and see what you think!
For play out in the snow and the cold, there really is no other warmer sock option than wool. They hold in the warmth, even when they get wet, which for kids inevetiable. My favorite socks so far (that have gone through multiple seasons and kids) are the smart wool and Oaki wool socks. They are not only super warm, but they have yet to have any holes.
I know, $129 for a kids backpack!? But this is a really nice and comfortable pack. I have seen my kids haul their own gear on multiple camping trips, across airports and more. And now it is the perfect pack for Forest School as at school they go on many outings where they have to carry their lunch, etc. The chest strap, waist strap, roll top and easy to access water bottle holders make this pack super kid friendly. The fact that it is waterproof makes it awesome for adventurous families. The number of times we have actually used their pack as the “dry pack” on our family missions that have gone epic is many. And for 14L, it can fit an amazing amount of gear!
The first thing my kids say to me after breakfast on school day mornings is “can I see my lunch?” They absolutely love this lunch box. It is super fun for them to have all the little sections full of different types of food. It is also helpful as the person who makes the lunch as it helps me make sure that all the food groups are covered. I hear that Forest School teachers are also fond of this lunch box because it is not too big and is easy for kids to open and close themselves.
We love this little bottle for drinking hot cocoa, cider or tea on the way to Forest School. Just as I love to drink my coffee while I drive them to school, they are the same. It warms them and is an added little comfort that helps them get into the car and ready for the day.
This food jar has been great for those super cold days, where I know that a warm lunch would be appreciated. It keeps their mac and cheese perfectly warm for up to 8 hours. The thinner shape is easy for their little hands to handle. The only con is that they do still need a teacher to help open and close the lid.
Keeping their toes warm is a hard job, especially in the early morning. These boots have worked super well so far for my five year old. The inner lining is “cozy and warm” he says. On the super cold and snowy days, he now knows to reach for these.
For not super cold days where it is going to be a little wet and slushy, these boots are our top pick. They are durable, keep their toes warm and dry and have great traction for the slippery spots. My three year old has only been wearing his Oaki Neoprene winter boots this year and they have been great, even on the super cold days.
Hand/foot warmers are great to put in their backpacks or pockets. I always tell my kids that they can always ask for a teacher to put them in their mittens i
Hankerchiefs are great for the endless running nose that starts November 1st and does not end till mid March! Most recently we have had to add in practicing how to blow your nose with gloves on. This is a hard one!
Tips for keeping your kids warm on a budget:
If you read this and are like “damn, outdoor gear is expensive!” I hear you. It can be expensive to keep your little ones bundled and cozy. Of course if you have more than one kid who will be using it, the price tag is easier to swallow. I also look at the resell value before I buy as well. FB market place, and selling to friends has helped us rationalize buying something that will make our outings more enjoyable.
Below are some tips on how to find the above gear and other gear at a budget.
Go to your local use gear store
When ever we are needing something for ourselves or our kids from skis to bikes to jackets, we always head to our local used gear store first. And whenever we are done with a piece of gear, we bring it in to sell it. This way we make money or get credit which helps us and helps them. All the gear they take in and sell is gently used and still has a ton of life in it. It’s a great cycle that we love being apart of.
Check FB Market Place.
Yes, this does require you to get on Social Media, so if you are opposed to this, don’t worry about it. We have found a ton of great stuff on FB Marketplace. It does require you to message people, go to their house and check it out, but people usually price it at a great price. We sell a few nice things on FB Market Place and have yet to have a bad experience.
Buy at the end of the season
For our boys, I often will buy things for the next season at the end of season. For example at the end of winter, I will buy the next size up in all the things for my fiver year old. The three year old usually gets all the hand me downs, but from time to time I will get him some new base layers that are not as thrashed.
Look into second hand/ grow programs
Many companies, like Patagonia and Iksplor have programs that sells gently used products at a very discounted price. I love looking here after checking Marketplace and local use stores. I usually find exactly what I am looking for (and more!) at great prices. And it’s nice knowing that it is already infused with some adventure from another family. In addition to this, when I do buy something new, especially snow pants and jackets, I always look to see if the pant legs and arms can be extended. Many companies are doing this now (Columbia/ Patagonia) and I love seeing this.