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Monday, January 31, 2022

Winters with Whitney - Getting Outside in Winter with Kids

If there is one thing I have learned from a life as a New Englander, it's this: you have to find something you love to do in every season. Summers in the northeast are insanely special but there is a bit of magic in every season. Short days and cold temps often mean that winter is a dreaded season but I'm hoping this post changes your mind. 

If you are reading this and thinking "why would I go outside when it's below freezing", there are a few good reasons and it starts with changing your perspective. Winter isn't "cold stay inside" season, it's "get outside there are less people and no bugs" season. Solitude and not a mosquito in sight is the break we all needed from crowded parks and bugspray.

Adam also shares my enthusiasm for all of the seasons and when we made the decision to start a family, we talked about what our future would look like. We both agreed that we would try our best to transition a child into our life instead of changing our entire life around a child.  It's a mantra I practice weekly and one that has become so important heading into the winter season. It takes a lot more time to get out the door as a party of three but with the right attitude, proper gear, and the right skill set, you can head out into the cold with a little one. It's a tall tale that heading out in the cold will make you sick (bacteria and virus' do that). Instead, there are numerous studies that prove just how beneficial the outdoors are to our physical and mental health all year round. Exposure to the outdoors helps regulate our sleep cycles, provides essential Vitamin D in it's mot natural form, lets littles burn an abundane of energy, and does wonders for our mental health. 

Families are now setting outdoor hours yearly goals and I think it's the best trend American families so desperately need.  If you live in some of our wintery cities that attract the outdoorsy family stereotype, winter is celebrated and getting outside every day is the normal. But here in Connecticut, the reactions I get to heading out side are much different than when I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah. I will bundle Whitney up and head out for a run when the temperatures dip below freezing and people look at me with sincere skepticism and even concern. 

I simply laugh and remind them that people in Canada and Nordic countries don't hide inside for three months of the year. They learn to embrace the cold and invest in some good gear that makes it all worth putting on the layers. There's the Scandinavian saying "There is no bad weather, just bad clothes" and I believe this to be true. A few years ago, I read this article "Why We Need To Get Over "Bad" Weather—And Just Get Outside" and I think of it whenever I plan an adventure, rain or shine.  "We’ll complain about the weather, but if you don’t learn to coexist with it, you’ll hardly survive....As a modern culture, we tend to categorize weather as “good” or “bad,” as if only one kind could be loved and celebrated. But if we only go out when the weather is “good,” we’re missing out on deep human experiences that can help put our lives in context". Being outside in the winter, moving my body, excersizing in the ways that are fun for me is so important for my health and Whitney is learning to come along for the ride. 

Now more than ever, people are spending as much free time outside as possible. Covid really changed the way we spend our time and we are opting to gather safely outdoors instead of in. The daily numbers on your weather app can be daunting but there's a lot of inspiration and advice if you look. Social media can be toxic but it can also be amazing for finding some awesome humans proving that bad weather doesn't exist. Instagram will show you moms out skiing with their toddlers in tow in the backcountry of Colorado and 30 something Vermonters that head out for a double digit trail run as the wind whips and the snow flies. There are couples and families enjoying each and every season out there and this lifestyle can be yours as well. Whether it's a meetup with friends or a cross country ski with our son, I'm hoping to help you be prepared for a life outside in the winter, sunny skies and snowdrifts included. 

1. Layers 

This applies to anyone of any age who wants to recreate outside. The sun comes out or the wind picks up, and suddenly you are severely under or overdressed. Layers keep you warm and dry and give you the ability to adapt to changing temperatures quickly. Think of dressing in three layers - base layer, mid-layer, and outer layer.  I start Whitney in an close fitting base layer (ideally it's something wicking like merino wool but often it's an undershirt and footie pajamas). From there, I can add on a mid layer (something like a fleece zip) and finally, an outerlayer that's often water and wind proof (a snow suit). If he's in his sheltered trailer, I can usually skip the outer layer. He also has different mittens and hats depending on how cold it is outside or how exposed he is. Dress your baby and yourself in a lot of layers and the saying is to dress your littles in one more layer than you would wear yourself (I have a whole post in the works on layers and suggestions - stay tuned)

2. Stroller Footmuff/Bunting 

These are an amazing outer layers/wearable blankets that keep littles warm while in the stroller. Think of them as a wearable sleping bag. They are typically fleece lined and insulated and zipped up around your little ones allow you to get outside in virtually any temperature. Blankets are constantly kicked off and rearranged and I aam usually fighting to keep them from landing under a stroller tire. Bunting and footmuffs are the solution. If you need some ideas, here are some top rated options. Here is a great LLBean option I have my eye on. 

3. Barrier Layer 

Our stroller came with a rain shield that is perfect for keeping out the rain, wind, or snow. Our bike trailer has a zip up flap that serves the same purpose, keeping the cold wind or precipitation off of Whitney while we play. I took him out in a New England blizzard and he was toasty warm. Check to see if your stroller/pack/carrier has an add on accessory that acts as a wind/rain/snow shield when the temps start to drop. 

4. Quality Matters - Buy Second Hand/Consignment

I just suggested you invest in some high quality layers (merino wool can be quite pricey), a stroller bunting or footmuff, and some kind of trailer or pack. You can do this sustainably and affordably by going secondhand. Your local consignment shop, goodwill, poshmark, or ebay can offer you these quality items at a price. I truly believe some of the high end gear is worth the high ticket price and because they are built to last, they are the perfect items to buy second hand and at a steep discount. You can find popular brands like Patagonia and Columbia in nearly new (or even new) condition steepy discounted online. These brands are well known for their longevity and can easily be resold online after littles grow out of them. 

5. Safety checks

When it's really cold, I stop every 15 minutes on my adventures for what I call a safety check. I check his hands, his cheeks/back of his neck, and his feet to make sure he isn't too cold but even more likely, he isn't too hot. We tend to overdress our little ones heading outdoors so these safety checks allow us to check in on their internal temps before the crying ensues. Pack extra layers or peel off layers as needed. Remember, the wind and the sun chang things quickly so safety checks keep everyone comfortable and outside longer. 

6. Snacks/Toys/Entertainment 

I never head out without my phone for safety reasons but my phone is the perfect backup option if Whitney starts to lose his sense of humor towards the end of an activity. I can often play some of his favorite songs on Spotify and that does the trick to calm him down. If not, snacks almost always keep him happy (although they can be hard to offer with mittens) and Cocomelon on Netflix is always a last resort but an option.  

7. Stroller Accessories 

This seems a little silly but there are a few stroller accessories that have made winter walks so much more enjoyable. First off is these stroller mittens/warmmuffs. They stay attached to the handle and you slip your hands in and out without peeling gloves and mittens on and off. This means warm hands while you walk but quick and easy access to hand over a snack or manage the dogs. A stroller caddy that attaches to the handlebars also keeps everything quick and accessible so we can keep moving. I can keep a thermos of hot tea and my phone at hand as we get in our winter miles. 

8. The Right Carrier at the Right Time 

I have three different carriers I rotate through during the winter, depending on the activity and the conditions. Short hike with the dogs and cold temperatures, I use my Ergobaby 360. By using this as a front carrier, I can keep him close and check on his temperature (and even zip him into a large coat. For longer hikes or snowshoe trips, I use my Osprey Poco Plus. It offers better support for both of us and storage options for extra layers but I do have to stop more often to check on him as I can't easily see him. For really cold temperatures or when I want to head out on skis, I use my Burley Encore trailer. I can keep it zipped up which protects him from the wind and allows for extra blankets and layers. 

9. Set a Goal and Go

Setting a goal will help motivate you even when you rather stay on the couch. For me, it's a mileage goal but for a lot of families, it's hours spent outside. We have this "range" in our heads of what temperatures or conditions are acceptable for us and our kids, and which are not but here's the thing: kids enjoy being outside and often prefer it, they just need to be prepared. This means layers and accessories that keep them warm. Kids that get outside every day tend to be happier, healthier, and better sleepers after exposure to fresh air and sunlight. Getting outside in every season and all year long should be a priority and it's something a lot of other countries do a lot better than us. Remember, there is no bad weather, just bad prep and I hope this post inspires you and your family to get outside when you think its just a little too *cold*wet*windy* - insert your adjective (okay, excuse) here. 

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