Layering Guide 2021: How to Keep Your Kids Warm and Cozy

It’s been a crazy winter, and little ones everywhere are getting antsy cooped up indoors during these winter months. Now, more than ever, our kiddos need an outdoor outlet – whether building a snowman in the back yard or taking them for a full-blown winter camping trip (yes – it’s possible!). Still, with all the cold weather we’ve had this year, many parents are hesitant to take their littles outside. 

How can you let your kids enjoy winter weather playtime while making sure they stay warm and cozy? It’s all about the layers! 

As a Norwegian mom of two sweet, active little kids and the founder of Ella’s Wool, I’m a bit obsessed with dressing my kids so that they can play outside for hours –almost regardless of the weather. 

Here’s my philosophy for dressing kids for winter playtime success! 

For starters, though, let’s talk about how to tell when your kiddo is getting cold. 

Signs Your Kid is Cold 

Of course, no matter how great we’ve done with layering, it’s essential to keep watch for signs our kids are getting cold.

Often, little kids are so distracted with playing that they don’t think to tell you, “Mom, I’m cold.” How can you know if it’s time to add another layer or go inside and warm up for a bit? 

When kids are playing in cold weather, regularly check for: 

  • Changes in behavior. Each child reacts to cold differently, but look out for lethargy, grumpiness, whining, hiccups, or any other signs your little one is acting differently. 
  • Changes in the feeling of their skin. If their chest or belly is cold to the touch, bundle up more or head indoors. 
  • Changes in the condition of their clothes. Make sure none of their clothes have gotten wet since that’s the quickest route to getting cold. 
  • Changes in their skin’s appearance. Pink hands and feet, along with bright pink or pale nose, ears, and cheeks, are all tell-tale signs of being cold. Bluish lips or white spots on their skin means bring them inside immediately! 

Now, here’s our base to shell layering guide for keeping kids warm.

How to Dress Kids in Layers

Layering for winter is less about piling on as many sweaters and jackets as possible and more about making a few well-chosen layers count. 

It’s not the fabric itself but the air trapped within the fabric that will keep your little one warm. Stacking on too many tight layers will crush warm air pocket potential and weigh your kiddo down. Too many layers can also make them sweaty. In turn, the moisture will sap their heat and leave them cold.

In most winter weather conditions, three main layers are sufficient; the base, the mid, and the outer. The wrong layers will defeat the purpose. The right layers will make all the difference. Here’s how to make well-informed layering choices: 

Base Layer 

The layer of clothing worn next to the skin needs to be soft, comfortable, and breathable. Choose fine wool over cotton or synthetic products. 

“Skin is the human body’s largest organ and interacts with the external environment 24 hours every day. Next-to-skin clothing plays a very important role in health and hygiene, and wool has many properties that make it an excellent option,” says the International Wool Textile Organisation. “In particular, superfine Merino wool can have a very beneficial impact on skin health, comfort and general quality of life.”

Opting for soft wool, like merino, will help your kiddo stay warm and dry. Even if they get sweaty while playing, moisture-wicking merino wool works to draw wetness away from the skin. Merino wool can help regulate body temperature, keeping your little one from overheating or getting chilly. 

Mid Layer

The mid-layer should be loose enough to leave room for warm air between it and the base. Make sure to choose something that will not restrict your child’s mobility and flexibility. 

Up top, outfit their torso with a simple sweater. Knitted sweaters are good because they trap a lot of warm air.

On the bottom, put them in a pair of rib-knit wool leggings. 

These are quite common in my native Norway, but when we moved to the States, I couldn’t find any for my kids. So I designed my own – Tubes, I call them – and they’ve become something of a flagship product for Ella’s Wool. 

I’m extremely impressed … I love that these pants are made of high-quality wool that’s super comfy to wear without being itchy.– @mountainmomyyc

Waterproof Outer Layer 

The most important aspect of the shell or outer layer is choosing something weather-proof. If it’s snowing or raining, you’ll need something waterproof. A snow or rain jacket and pants will protect the mid and base layers from the elements, keeping your kid from getting wet. For particularly windy days, you’ll need an outer layer that shields them from chilling gusts of wind. 

Beyond that, good boots, hats, and mittens are always critical finishing touches to a complete winter ensemble. 

Tip: A fatty skin cream or lotion on exposed skin will help keep it warm. Avoid using water-based moisturizers, which might make the cold much worse. 

For more advice, I’ve had several infographics made, with tips on dressing toddlers and babies for the cold.

Now that we’ve discussed layers let’s talk about that underrated element of a winter wardrobe – wool. Sounds scratchy, right? Not necessarily! 

Is Merino Wool Itchy? 

When many people think of wearing wool, they automatically imagine being itchy and uncomfortable. 

It’s true. Some types of wool are itchy. I have vivid memories of my childhood back in Norway of my parents bundling me up in scratchy wool and sending me to play outside. It was an act of love, but it felt like putting on a hair shirt. 

Then I discovered merino wool. The breed of sheep, sheep’s health, and how the wool is processed make the difference between scratchy and soft wool. Merino sheep are a world-renowned breed and have some of the softest, highest quality fiber of any sheep. 

The fiber structure of fine merino wool is super soft against the skin and completely debunks the ‘all wool is itchy’ theory. 

The moisture-wicking properties of wool give it an advantage over cotton, which locks in moisture, leaving kids wet, cold, and uncomfortable. Organic merino wool is a natural way to insulate little bodies without clamminess and without resorting to cotton or synthetic fibers. 

Bonus: Merino wool is also eco-friendly and naturally flame retardant.

For us, merino wool is the key to keeping our kiddos warm, dry, and happy playing outside.

About the Author

Becca Johansen is a Norwegian-born mom of two kids, Ella and Mikkel. She founded Ella’s Wool in 2012 after she moved to Brooklyn with her family and heard the term “indoor season” for the first time. She realized it was nearly impossible to find the kind of warm kids clothing she was used to from Norway in New York and took it upon herself to solve that. 

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