By Michael Lanza
Winter’s cold temperatures, snow, and propensity for getting us wet makes outerwear and insulation critically important for everyone, including kids—especially if your family spends a lot of time outdoors. We have taken our kids on multi-day ski trips to backcountry yurts since they were little, and now my oldest joins me backcountry skiing. Whether we’re miles from civilization, or downhill or Nordic skiing at a resort, I outfit my kids with good-quality winter jackets, pants, gloves and mittens so they’ll be comfortable and safe and enjoy the experience. Because they’ll outgrow it within a couple of years, I look for well-made clothing that delivers high dollar value and could get used by a younger child. I review here the stuff my kids are wearing now.
REI Timber Mountain Jacket
$100, 1 lb. 9 oz. (girls L 14-16)
Sizes: boys and girls XXS (4-5) to XL (18)
On a full day of downhill skiing at our local resort in howling gusts and wind chills below zero, my 15-year-old son was warm all day with this insulated shell on over a midweight down jacket, thanks to the Timber Mountain Jacket’s microfleece lining and waterproof-breathable shell that keeps out dampness and is windproof to 60 mph, according to REI. The lined hood is elasticized so that even gale-force winds couldn’t tug it off my kids’ heads; the hood isn’t helmet-compatible, though that never mattered (my kids’ ski helmets are plenty warm, and they could wear a light, beanie-style hat under a helmet). It also has smart details like a metal eyelet on one pocket for attaching a ski pass, adjustable cuffs, a drawcord hem, and a phone-size, zippered internal chest pocket with a cord port.
Last Word: Very warm and not breathable enough for high-exertion activities, this jacket is best for downhill skiing, general outdoor play, and cold winter school days.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy a boys or girls REI Timber Mountain Jacket at rei.com.
Kids Puffy Jacket
Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
$99, 11 oz. (girls size 14)
Sizes: boys and girls XS-XXL
A well-made, midweight insulation piece is usable in all seasons and can pass down through multiple children—especially if it’s comfortable and kids like how it looks. Patagonia’s Nano Puff Jacket exemplifies that kind of functionality. The wind- and water-resistant, 20-denier polyester shell fabric has a DWR (durable, water-repellent) finish that light precipitation beads up on and rolls off. The 60 grams of warm, water-resistant, breathable, low-bulk PrimaLoft Gold insulation—the same stuff used in high-quality adult apparel—is prevented from migrating by a quilt pattern. The high collar, drawcord hem, and elasticized cuffs keep cold air outside. It has two zippered hand-warmer pockets and stuffs into a zippered, internal pocket, creating a soft camp pillow.
Last Word: A staple of my seventh-grade daughter’s wardrobe—because it’s warm and she likes how it looks—it functions as a middle layer downhill skiing and on backcountry yurt trips, campsite insulation on summer backpacking trips, and her daily walk-to-school jacket.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy a boys or girls Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket at backcountry.com.
REI Salish Fleece Jacket Girls
REI Quartz Peak Fleece Jacket Boys
$70, 13 oz. (girls medium/10-12)
Sizes: boys and girls XXS-XL
My 12-year-old daughter’s range of uses for this jacket illustrate the versatility of a good fleece: She wore it hanging out in camp and hiking on cool mornings on our four-day, August backpacking trip on the 34-mile Rockwall Trail in Canada’s Kootenay National Park; as a middle layer resort skiing in temps well below freezing (under her REI Timber Mountain Jacket, above); as an outer layer while Nordic skiing; and to school on cool fall days. Exquisitely soft inside and out, with a soft chin guard and an elasticized, low-bulk hood, it’s supremely breathable and delivers a moderate amount of warmth, making it a good stand-alone jacket or layering piece.
Last Word: REI’s Salish Fleece Jacket for girls and Quartz Peak Fleece for boys have four-season versatility as an insulating, breathable middle or outer layer for high- or low-exertion activities.
Kids Ski Pants
REI Timber Mountain Pants
$70, 16 oz. (girls S/8)
Sizes: boys and girls XXS-XL
These microfleece-lined, waterproof-breathable pants have been my daughter’s go-to outerwear for downhill and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in conditions ranging from warm sunshine and temperatures around freezing to blowing snow and temps well below freezing. They’re warm enough alone in moderate conditions, without making her overheat even on a long ascent on snowshoes, but also windproof up to 60 mph, according to REI. The fleece lining extends only to the knees, which makes sense to me so that the lower legs can ventilate a little. Besides, the fit allows layering long underwear underneath, and the pants sport details such as a built-in snow gaiter; ankle zippers for fitting over big boots; durable cuff guards protecting the fabric from ski edges or crampons; two zippered hand pockets and another on one thigh; and an easily adjustable waist. Like the Timber Mountain Jacket, the pants have a metal eyelet next to one pocket for attaching a ski pass.
Last Word: A great value, these pants have the weatherproofing, warmth, and moderate weight to make them ideal for downhill skiing as well as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or other moderate-exertion-level, winter-snow sports.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy the boys or girls REI Timber Mountain Pants at rei.com.
Kids Ski Pants
The North Face Freedom Insulated Snow Pants
$99, 15 oz. (L 14-16, blue)
Sizes: boys and girls XXS-XL
My son goes backcountry skiing with me and we’re planning to make a technical snow climb of the highest peak in the Lower 48, Mount Whitney, in April, so I wanted a snow pant for him with a little more weather protection. The Freedom Insulated Snow Pants for boys and girls has TNF’s proprietary HyVent waterproof-breathable shell fabric, found on some of the company’s more-affordable outerwear for adults, and polyester insulation from the waist to the top of the internal snow gaiter (essentially to the top of boots). Wearing these pants over long underwear on a day of resort skiing in wind chills below zero, he was warm all day, and stayed dry even through a lot of falling and sitting in snow. But the pants don’t cause him to overheat skiing uphill in below-freezing temps. The pants have reinforced patches on the inner leg at the cuffs and two zippered hand pockets.
Bonus: You can extend the length of both the gaiter and the cuff by two inches to accommodate a child’s growth by removing red threads inside each—which, along with the adjustable waist, adds significant value for this price. (Thankfully, there’s an instruction patch sewn into the inside seat of the pants explaining and reminding you how to do that when the time comes.)
Last Word: Made with the features of good-quality adult pants, The North Face Freedom Insulated Snow Pants for boys and girls are the choice for more serious snow-season adventures.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking either of these links to buy The North Face Freedom Insulated Snow Pants for boys or The North Face Freedom Insulated Snow Pants for girls at backcountry.com.
Kids Mittens and Gloves
Cold hands will not only ruin a fun winter outing, prolonged cold fingers can bring the risk of frostbite. I’ve long found that many models of kids’ mittens and gloves are designed more for building snowmen in the yard (and keeping the price very low) than for serious time spent in sustained cold and wind. Most common problem: The glove or mitten gauntlet doesn’t extend far enough to fit over or under a jacket sleeve, exposing the wrist, which makes hands cold. Choose hand wear for kids based not just on the temperatures and conditions, but also on their expected exertion level—how much heat their bodies will be producing.
Outdoor Research Adrenaline Mittens For Kids
$40, 5 oz. (L/12-14 yrs.)
Sizes: unisex S-L
For skiing downhill in the backcountry and at a resort, my son turned to these mitts to keep his hands toasty warm even in strong winds and temps well below freezing. Made with Ventia waterproof-breathable fabric and filled with polyester insulation, they repelled snow for hours. The fit is loose enough to layer a light liner glove underneath, for skiing or climbing uphill or moments when you need better dexterity. The extended gauntlet with a one-hand drawcord closure always stayed over his jacket cuffs.
Last Word: Choose these mitts for moderately cold, snowy activities and fairly low exertion levels, like downhill skiing, or for sustained exposure in temperatures well below freezing.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy the Outdoor Research Adrenaline Mittens For Kids at CampSaver.com.
The North Face Denali Thermal Etip Gloves
$29, 2 oz. (medium youth)
Sizes: boys and girls S-L
For Nordic skiing or snowshoeing in temperatures in the 20s, and conditions ranging from warm sunshine to falling snow, my daughter needed gloves that deliver a moderate amount of warmth but also breathe well, so that her hands didn’t actually sweat too much—as they would in very warm, waterproof mittens. The Denali gloves did just that. Made with 300-weight, high-loft fleece, these gloves have five-finger touchscreen capability, a synthetic palm for enhanced grip, and a nylon taslan overlay on the back of the hands and fingers to improve durability.
Last Word: Use these gloves for moderate to high exertion in temperatures from just above freezing to several degrees below, when the activity doesn’t require absolutely waterproof hand wear.
“12 Pro Tips For Staying Warm Outdoors in Winter”
“10 Tips For Keeping Kids Happy and Safe Outdoors”
“10 Smarter Ways to Think About Your Layering System”
“Buying Gear? Read This First”
“10 Tips For Raising Outdoors-Loving Kids”
“10 Tips For Getting Your Teenager Outdoors With You”
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.
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