Sunday, April 22, 2012

Snow, Puddles, and Mud - Oh My!

We went for a hike in the city a couple weeks ago and soon had "snow, puddles, and mud - oh my" as our trip mantra.  Welcome to Spring in the Rockies!  One day you can be outside in a T-shirt and the next day you are back in your winter coat complete with mittens, a hat, and boots.  It's a mixed season challenging the most prepared parents when it comes to dressing the kids for outdoor play and adventure.

We aren't experts by any means when it comes to outdoor clothing and keeping children dry, warm and happy.  However, we have learned a few things here in our land of ice and snow.  What we have learned, I pass on to you. 

One - Keeping kids dry and warm doesn't have to cost a fortune

My son's spring outdoor wardrobe consists of the following items:
  • Thomas the Tank Engine rain boots from Walmart ($12)
  • Fleece sweat pants that can be bought absolutely anywhere for $10
  • Rain pants from Walmart ($10 and absolutely waterproof against puddles or mud)
  • Any long sleeve shirt, cotton or not (He's 3 and honestly I'm just not all that worried about him sweating buckets on a little hike or romp at the playground)
  • Any fleece hoodie (again, cheap and available anywhere!)
  • A three season jacket (These can get a little pricey but your child will wear it all Spring, Summer and Fall.  Buy it big and they'll wear it for two seasons.  We got ours on sale and also convinced Grandma to buy it.  If you can't find a good deal, look for second hand jackets.  The key is fleece lined, water resistant on the outside, and warm enough for variable weather.)
  • Mittens and a hat (that you'll have from winter anyway)

Don't be the parent who tells their child to get out of the puddles - be prepared!
Warm in a simple three season jacket and fleece pants

Two - Don't buy into the idea that you child has to be wearing official outdoor clothing for simple outdoor play

You can go down to REI or Mountain Equipment Coop and buy all the big name brand clothes for your child but why?  Honestly, my son's cheap Walmart rain pants are amazing and almost every child in our Outdoor Playgroup has a pair.  They might not last more than one season, but for $10 who cares!  And, would your child fit any pair of pants for more than one season anyway? My son has jumped in puddles that went over the top of his boots and finished walks with his cheap rain pants absolutely soaked.  When I take them off though the fleece pants underneath are 100% dry every time.  And his socks - dry too.  Don't underestimate the quality of something just because it doesn't come with an expensive price tag. 

Furthermore, I could write a whole story about hiking pants and why your child doesn't need them.  When it's cool out, my son wears fleece pants with a waterproof layer over top.  When it's warm, he wears cheap, thin cotton pants from Old Navy.  They last one season and again - that's all you need.  Bring a pair of rain pants along if you fear your child will get muddy or wet - all good!  My son has gone backpacking, stood on top of cold windy mountain summits, spent numerous weekends camping in our chilly Rocky Mountains, and done more hikes than I can count - all in simple pants that come from a department store.  I'm definitely not sold on zip-off pants because I've seen my son run and fall down on almost every one of our walks.  I'd be putting band-aids on his wounds every time we went for a walk if I let him go exploring in shorts.  What I do like is pants that have buttons at the bottom so that you can roll them up a bit and hence protect the child from tripping on long pant legs.  If it's hot outside, we dress our son in thin cotton pants to prevent against overheating and we're all good.  

Third, the concept of official long underwear is foreign to us.  Seriously!  We are pretty hard core as far as families living and adventuring in the Canadian Rockies go and our son doesn't own a pair of long underwear.  If we feel the need to put a warm base layer on him, he either wears fleece pjs, or a two piece fleece pants and sweater set, again from any department store. We've had friends ask us where we got our son's amazing fleece hiking set.  I laughed as I told them that it came from Walmart and that it cost $10.  We check our son's feet and legs when we come inside and he's always been warm.  (a challenge when you are outside in -20C temperatures)

My son does not own a pair of official hiking pants. 

Three - Save your money for a few important items needed for serious outdoor adventures

If you are the kind of parent that plans to take their child outside in the middle of a torrential downpour, you'll be doing backcountry trips where the potential to get wet is high, or you generally do a lot of activity in the mountains all year round, it is worth it to spend the extra money to get a few pieces of technical clothing.  My son has a one piece rain suit from Mountain Equipment Coop and when we hit the mountain trails on cool or wet days, he wears that.  Walmart rain pants are fine for mud, puddles, and walks close to home but I'm not going to venture out into the backcountry in a cheap pair of pants and risk my child getting hypothermia.  My child also has proper waterproof hiking boots and if we are going hiking outside the city he always wears warm hiking socks I picked up from REI.

Even when looking for those select items that tend to cost more money, you can still save a penny by buying second hand rain suits, jackets, or boots.  My son's first boots were bought off a friend and they were awesome.  And, it's still a good idea to have a price in your head that you won't go over when choosing outdoor clothing for your family.  I bought my son's newest boots from Pay-less Shoes because I can't justify paying more than $30 for a pair of shoes my child will wear one season.

The amazing one-piece rain suit my son often lives in

A few final notes:

  • The sun is getting stronger with the warm days so make sure your child is wearing either sunglasses or a big floppy hat to cover their eyes if you are going to be outside for an extended period of time.
  • Bring out the Sunblock now that Spring is here - if you haven't already been using it for snow sports.
  • Always buy rain pants and rain suits a size larger.  No child is going to be happy playing outside in pants that are too tight to climb up a slide, run around, or move freely in.
  • A light puffy jacket (preferably synthetic and not down) is excellent for cool mornings.  My son has been wearing his all winter and still wears it when we are going to be outside for a long time.  Be warned though that they are not cheap!  Buy large so you will hopefully get two seasons out of it or try to find one second hand.
Mr Cool in his sunglasses and his North Face light puffy jacket

I hope this inspires you and frees you to get outside this Spring with your children.  Worst Case scenario - bring a change of clothes and a new pair of shoes for the car ride home.  Most kids will hardly notice if they're wet as long as they are having fun and if your children are young, chances are your adventures won't be longer than a couple hours anyway.

Notice the first child on the left is wearing hiking boots, the second one is in everyday city shoes, and the third is in rubber boots.  The kids are wearing simple sweaters and jackets.  Two of the three are in waterproof pants from Walmart.  Each child hiked 4km and wet or dry - were all happy!

Today's linked in blogs

Tales of a Mountain Mama - Our No-Cotton Philosophy + Gear - Day1
Wilderness for kids - Having a Soaking Wet Good Time: How to have fun with kids in the rain

Check out these blogs and don't forget to check out the daily contest at Tales of a Mountain Mama.  Each day this week there will be a different contest to enter with awesome gear to be won.  Each contest lasts 24 hours only so check daily for the next give-away.