Seattle's Child

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hiking with kids

You want to hike with kids in this weather? Here’s how to dress for success

A forest school teacher's tips for keeping kids warm and dry.

Hiking with kids: Brooke Ahlegian teaches at Roots Of Connection, a forest school program in Woodland Park that’s connected to Tara’s Tots Preschools. 

“I’ve been doing [outdoor education] for 14 years,” says Brooke, who teaches kids who are 4 to 8 years old. “And in the last three or four years, I’ve seen a boom in interest and in more schools opening up that are doing this type of thing. And along with that has come quite a bit of advancement in rain gear.”

Here’s her advice on what to wear, and when.

Q. What items are a must for hiking with kids in cold or wet weather?

A. Wool socks.  “Shoes, no matter how waterproof they’re supposed to be, there’s always a way for water to get into those shoes. If they’re wearing cotton socks, it just causes evaporation and causes your body actually to get colder. Wool socks: They’re great because even if their socks get soaking wet, you’ll take off their shoes and you’ll feel that their socks are warm, just warm and wet. It really retains that body heat.” 

A base layer. “We suggest either a synthetic material or a wool, but not to do cotton directly against the skin. Long johns and an undershirt … people are really fine with that.”

No puffy coats! Do separate layers. “I’m not fond of puffy winter coats, like the coat that is multifunctional, where it’s warm but also waterproof. When the kids are running around outside or they’re busy hiking, and they’re really working up a sweat, they don’t want to take off some layers. And if their warmth and their waterproofness are in the same item, then what will end up happening is they’ll take off that layer, and then their underlayers will get wet …  I usually suggest a fleece jacket, followed by a rain jacket.”

Boots! Fight cold toes. “Hiking boots are super-great and very comfortable. (Rain boots are a little bit iffy because they do keep your feet dry, but if it’s a really cold day, the rain boots aren’t the best, because they’ll pick up that that coldness from the ground, and lead to pretty cold toes.” She recommends Bogs, for their insulation, or hiking boots, noting that some kids really prefer the tennis shoe shape of hiking boots so that they get more freedom of movement.

Gloves or mittens?That one really comes on a case by case basis because some kids don’t like mittens, because they can restrict their hand movement and their dexterity. But then on the other hand, they are so much easier for kids to put on themselves.” She particularly likes Head gloves found at Costco.

Rain hat. “A lot of people have tried out the Oaki wear rain hat. And they’re so cute. They’re like a little rain bonnet for the kids, because they also kind of protect the kids’ eyes from the rain. They have that little lip that hangs over. Some people, myself included, can get irritated when the raindrops just keep hitting your face and hitting your eyelashes.”

For littlest littles. Brooke likes full-body rain suits for kids less than 4. As they get older, they may want to move on to rain overalls or rain pants. 

Q: What about when it’s super cold or snowy?

A: “Definitely more layers!”

“The biggest thing that I notice with the snow is extremities getting cold, so it’s nice to double up on wool socks, and to make sure that you’re definitely not wearing rain boots, because those will freeze your little toes.”

Also: “That’s a good day to opt for a more substantial glove or mitten.” Warm, fluffy gloves under a waterproof mitten can work.

Q. How do you deal with these Seattle kids who, say, won’t ever wear a jacket?

A. “Typically, what happens is that after the kids have a couple of experiences of being a little too wet or cold, they realize, ‘Oh, actually, this coat is really helping me!’”

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About the Author

Jillian O'Connor

Jillian O’Connor lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and a dog named after the Loch Ness Monster.