Winter Hiking with Young Children

While it might just the beginning of fall now, winter weather is fast approaching and now is the time to prepare for outdoor winter adventures. Start shopping for new pieces now before the demand is here and finding clothing and items in your child’s size might be harder. Remember there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate gear choices. There’s no need to go into hibernation like bears in the winter. Get out and make new adventures!

A common concern most parents with young children have is that wintertime is just too cold to get outside and is not safe. On really cold days (below freezing) I follow a temperature=time formula. So if it is only 10 degrees outside, we aim to spend 10 minutes outside. Even just getting out for 10 minutes a day can help fend off Cabin Fever and improve moods.

 

Layers are important.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep layers loose, so they are not restricting blood flow. Also, find layers that are as thin and warm as possible. You want your child to be able to move freely and not like the kid from A Christmas Story. For a really good infographic on how many layers you need at certain temps check out this link.

Aubrey’s full cold winter gear starts with a base layer of synthetic long underwear, a pair of fleece pants, a light fleece hoodie, a one-piece fleece suit, sometimes a fleece vest, a thin pair of Smartwool socks, a thicker pair of wool socks, a Columbia snowsuit and good insulated, waterproof boots. She wears a hat with earflaps and chin strap, a neckwarmer. A thin pair of gloves and bigger waterproof/insulated mittens over. I adjust these layers depending on the temperature and what we will be doing.

If your child will be riding in a framed carrier, you will want to make sure they have an extra layer on since they will not be moving around and be creating their own body heat. If they are worn on your chest you could skip a layer since your body heat and jacket can help keep them warm. Also, make sure that you remove them from the carrier every so often to allow them to move freely and get good circulation going. If your child is walking on their own adjust their layers for how vigorous the activity will be.

Try to buy quality name brand layers. The old saying is true “you get what you pay for” when buying winter gear. If you buy cheap character boots from a department store they are made with cheap materials and will likely leak and be cold. If name brand gear is not in your budget, check second-hand stores, Facebook Marketplace, the Hike it Baby Buy n Sell pages, or ask friends if they have items to sell/giveaway. Kids grow quickly and might only get half a season out of a pair of boots. Aubrey is almost 4 and I already have four pairs of boots that she has outgrown and are still in GREAT condition.

It also should be noted that bulky layers are not to be worn in car seats as it can impede the safety of the harness in a crash. Wearing all the layers in the car can also lead to sweating in the car, which when exposed to cold, the sweat will freeze and could result in hypothermia. Plan for extra time at the trailhead to finish getting dressed.

Big Gear for Little Kids

Snowshoes

LLBean and Tubbs offer some great options for toddlers to start snowshoeing at a young age. Aubrey first wore snowshoes around 18 months, they were her uncles 20-year-old hand-me-downs. We didn’t leave the yard but we practiced walking in them. She just got her own pair of LLBean Winter Walkers (16inch) last year for her birthday. Sizes start at 14″.

If your child isn’t able to use snowshoes just yet and needs to be carried, I preferred to pull Aubrey in a sled vs use a carrier. I can be clumsy on snowshoes and having her in a carrier would really throw my balance off. After a few falls (everyone was ok!) I decided to switch to a sled and used a dog leash to use as a belt so I could pull it hands-free. You can also look into items like the Thule Chariot which is a bike trailer and stroller combo and it has an option to add skis for travel on packed snow. 

Traction Devices

 

 

 

 

 

These are the hardest piece to find for younger toddlers, and children need to be around a size 9 to fit into the smallest Yaktrax available. I finally tracked down a pair of extra small Kahtoola Microspikes, which have been hard to find. They are stated to fit Youth 1-4. If you cannot find Kahtoola brand, I found a pair of small microspikes on Amazon that I was able to cinch in a few links to get to fit her boots now they are listed to fit shoes in a Euro size 28-33 which is about a US youth 1-4. I also use a Romaine Lettuce Velcro tie as a top strap to keep the traction aids from slipping off. 

I was recently asked about the safety of using mircospikes with small children. While I do not have extensive experience with them on kids, I do feel that they are relatively safe for them to use. They will be wearing heavy boots and thicker winter layers covering much of there skin, and since the spikes aren’t sharp like crampons I feel that they won’t inflict major wounds, and the potential for a dangerous fall outweighs the risk in my opinion. However, when I have hosted hikes for Hike it Baby when multiple young children will be hiking, I opt to use the Yaktrax or go bareboot, since the trails I choose for winter hikes with Hike it Baby are generally flat and do not require traction since I know not everyone has access to these items. I make this switch since children love to play in the snow together and do not want to risk an accidental kick to the face. Like all parenting decisions, this is one each family needs to evaluate and weigh the risks and make a choice appropriate for their children and level of the hike.

Safety-

Winter can be very dangerous and I often stay to lower elevations during this time and avoid any exposed peaks. Staying on familiar protected trails is the best way to go until they have the experience and comfort to push for harder hikes. As the parent, you will be carrying a bulk of the supplies and extra layers. You might want to shop for a larger pack to fit bulkier winter gear into. If heading up bigger peaks, its wise to carry a sleeping bag, emergency bivvy, and pad in case you need to spend an unplanned night on the mountain. Always carry your ten essentials and make sure someone knows your hiking plans! Parents who are looking to get out as well should take a look at this winter hiking gear guide for adults.

So go, get all your gear in order, try on last years clothes see what needs to be replaced, and make a budget. Visit second-hand stores- RePlay NH in Amherst is one of my favorites for quality gear at a reasonable price. Make a plan now for an active winter outside! Some easy activities to get your family comfortable outside is to attend a First Day Hike hosted by the Society for the Protection of NH Forests and NH State Parks (they usually end with a bonfire and Hot Chocolate!), visit the Ice Castles in Lincoln, or just go out and build a snowman! Like with all hiking its takes time to build the experience to hike in the winter and get comfortable. Plan extra time for hikes, since snowshoes, heavier packs and bulkier clothing can slow you and your children down considerably.  But most importantly…Get Out!

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