In the parent handbook, we have a clothing chart that breaks down items parents need to provide for their child in rainy, snowy, and fair weather, including a long list of brands to look for and places one could shop. But the choices can be overwhelming, and a definite feeling of “I just want what works; point me in that direction and I will buy it,” can emerge. So, at the risk of sounding mercenary, capitalistic, etc, I want to bring to you some of the best choices parents have made for their children’s outwear that we have seen, plus guidelines that will help you find what you are looking for with other brands or “on-sale” items.
1. Footwear: Footwear is the item that we have had the greatest trouble with, so let’s go ahead and put it first. At The Mayapple School, students may choose to either go barefoot (in warm weather only) or wear close-toed shoes. Students needs shoes for: indoors, creek wading, and other outdoor play (like walking up a hill and climbing on logs on our Forest Field Trips) in warm, cold, dry, and wet weather. At minimum, students will need a pair of:
- Slippers or slipper socks for the classroom: Provide shoes that fit and your child will actually wear. Soft soles are fine; no particular brands are recommended.
- Neoprene or other waterproof boots rated for the cold: Look for one piece molded footwear with insulated lining, or thick neoprene boots. Boots labeled “water resistant” are not, unfortunately, waterproof, nor are short boots or boots with laces, buckles, velcro, zippers, a soft top, or any other sort of closure or membrane where water can seep in, even if they are labeled “waterproof.” Hands down, the best boots are Muck Boots such as these Kids’ Arctic Adventure Boots. Oakiwear Neoprene Rain/Snow Boots and Bogs Kids’ Classic High Boots are perfectly fine alternatives. Some Kamik models, such as Kamik Snobuster also are well-liked; some models, however, kids find difficult to take on and off, while others are not waterproof.
- Sneakers or hiking boots. Nike, New Balance, Merrell, and Keen are some recommended brands for walking shoes. Shoes should be “athletic” versus “casual.”
2. For Rainy Weather: Oakiwear makes awesome “Dry Tyke Rain Pants,” though right now they seem to be out of stock. I’ll wait to wax poetic about them until they are back in stock. Another very popular choice is the L.L. Bean Discovery Rain Jacket & Pants. These are even lighter weight, are still waterproof, and very flexible. They are not as sturdy as Oakiwear, but are much sturdier than they look.
Proceed with caution: At our site, students often choose to wear rain pants without a jacket when it is not raining, because the grass will get so wet with dew. Although the one piece Tuffo Muddy Buddy looks convenient, the material is stiff, scratchy, and loud, and children often become too hot. Some children with Muddy Buddies resist putting them on, though conversely we have one child who would wear it all of the time if she could. If your child has any sensory sensitivities, check out the Oakiwear Trail Suit, which is not noisy.
When buying other brands, what to look for: Yes, you need to buy the pants, too. Look for a set with material that is waterproof and flexible (“windpants” are not waterproof), hooded, and long enough. If your child has difficulty bending his elbows, the hood doesn’t actually cover his head, or a short torso sheds water onto inner clothing, don’t buy it. Although we have yet to try them, pants by Rainy Dayz of Oregon and tops and bottoms by JoJo Maman BeBe look promising.
3. For Cold Weather: Snow bibs & a jacket will receive a lot of use at school! One favorite is the Columbia Toddler Buga Set. This Columbia Set has an outgrow system and a good 3 in 1 jacket, and is super durable; other Columbia sets, however, have been a disappointment, so check reviews first. The similar Bugaboo jacket and even heftier Whirlibird would both be good bets by Columbia.
What to look for: You are looking for waterproof and warmth without too much bulk. Companies that temperature rate their clothing do so for a reason: Keep in mind that we go out in temperatures as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit, which is much colder than freezing! “Puffer jackets” and other non-waterproof jackets are commonly found in stores, but when it’s 35 degrees and raining, they’re simply not adequate. If you want to make use of a puffer that your child already has, pair it with a soft shell raincoat that fits over the puffer, a heavy-weight fleece that fits under the puffer, and make sure all three items make it to school daily in the winter.
Other great bets: The Oakiwear Matching Snow Set has proven it’s waterproofness and has a great hood, but the snow pants can be confusing for a child to put on by himself. Burton and Obermeyer brand items are generally very high quality and worth getting if you can find them on sale; I especially appreciate the bright and visible colors that are often available. Once you get out of the toddler sizes, a lot more choice is generally available, such as REI Timber Mountain Jacket.
About one-pieces: Children who get cold easily or are very small may need a one-piece snow suit to stay warm, as these tend to trap body heat more efficiently for the bulk. Use the same guidelines listed above to shop. Winterkids.com is one place to find what you are looking for.
Mittens/Gloves: Purchase the smallest mittens that will comfortably fit your child. School favorites are: Obermeyer Gauntlet Mittens and Columbia toddler mittens. These type of mittens are waterproof and insulated. For children who constantly take off their mittens, Snow Stopper mittens are the best bet; the fabric arm of the mitten can get wet and chill your child, so it’s best to have a back up pair with these mittens. Very small children may need to wear a pair of fleece or wool mittens under an insulated set.
4. For Fair Weather: Gnats can get active on our playground, so all children should bring a brimmed hat with them. When we make forest trips, bright colors are a must; no particular brands are recommended.
5. Shopping for Low Cost: Yes, You Could Spend A TON of money to outfit your child, and get it done pretty quickly. But it can be worth shopping around. What’s the least amount of money you could realistically expect to outfit your child for, and still meet the requirements? Plan to budget $100 – $200 so there’s no surprises, and even more if you’re in a hurry. Here’s a quick theoretical shopping spree right now:
REI one piece snow suit, 4T, blue: 37.99 on ebay.com
Kamik Kids Stormin 2 Boots, 11, white: 26.01 on 6pm.com
Nike sneakers, 11, gray/green: 9.50 at Once Upon A Child (found recently)
GAP heavyweight fleece, 4T, maroon: 2.50 at Goodwill (found recently)
Baseball cap, one size, green: 1.00 YMCA thrift store (found recently)
Lego Wear Rain pants & jacket, 4T, blue – 25.90 at Snowinn.com
Dakine toddler mitten, medium, blue – 11.96 at backcountry.com
Burton mini trapper hat, 4T, black – 14.99 at Zulily.com
Wigwam wool blend socks, M, striped – 3.99 at Sierratradingpost.com
If you’ve got a lot more time than money and spread out your looking over time, you can find more at Goodwill and save even more. It pays to plan ahead, but you can potentially recoup some of the cost of the items by reselling them at a later date. Another tip for saving money: Clothing in “girl” colors seems to go for less, so yes, you can score those $17 bogs boots brand new if you don’t mind the pink.