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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Layering 101 (Kid Edition)

If you read my earlier post about tips for getting kids (or anyone really) outside comfortable, you are probably sick of me shouting LAYERS LAYERS LAYERS across your screen. I know I'm being obnoxious about it but a layering system is essential to staying dry and comfortable outside, especially with the ever-changing weather here in New England. 

This topic felt so important and detailed that it deserved its own post (welcome!). When I plan to spend time in the outdoors with my family, I want to be prepared. I wanted to research the importance of each layer, different materials, different brands, and clothing items that fit the bill. This blog is a way to share all of that research with you, doing all the hard work so you don't have to. I learned a lot in this deep dive and today we are talking about merino wool, synthetic layers, the best water repellant shells, and more. These brands are tried and true and range from big names like Patagonia, companies from Nordic countries who know a thing or two about weather, and small family-run businesses here in the U.S. 


Before we dive in, let's start with the basics of the three-layer system. 

1) Base Layer - moisture-wicking, soft/comfortable feel, odor resistant. Close to skin and the most important layer.

2) Mid Layer- to insulate and retain heat, very versatile and typically fleece or a puffy jacket. 

3) Outer Layer - typically a durable shell to protect from the elements (wind/rain/snow)


I share a price rating system (and actual prices) as we go. Here's the little scoring system that gives you an idea of cost as you go. Because of the high cost of some of these items and because kids grow faster than the clothing wears out, I highly recommend you search for some of these brands and products second-hand. Websites like Mercari and Poshmark are fantastic for looking for brand names that are new or gently used. Patagonia even has the option directly on their website to search for an item second-hand from WornWear. 

$: $60 and under
$$: $65 to $90
$$$: $90 and over


The base layer is the layer that sits right against your skin and for this reason, is the most important layer. It needs to fit well, keep you warm and dry, and be comfortable against your skin. We are talking about synthetic (polyester) and wool (merino specifically) for base layers. Why not your cotton long sleeve shirt? Cotton does not wick moisture and a wet layer against your skin is sure to ruin any day in the outdoors (here is a great article comparing different materials as baselayers). 

Merino Wool

Merino Wool is a really natural fiber. It comes from specific breeds of sheep that produce fine wool fleece. The fibers are soft, strong, and flexible which makes them so comfortable. It is a sustainable product as the fibers are biodegradable and the sheep are typically sheered once a year. While we think of merino as a great winter base layer, it is also a great option for the summer. It is naturally breathable, and as the material absorbs moisture, it moves it away from the skin. This material keeps you warm even when wet and is fast drying. It also offers UV protection (some brands up to 50 SPF) and is well-loved for its odor-resistant properties. All of this makes merino wool great for pajamas, base layers in the winter, and a single layer in the summer. Clothing made out of merino wool tends to be expensive but the high price tags can be softened by buying second-hand or looking for seasonal discounts and promotions. 

Here are some popular and well-loved brands offering merino wool baselayers in baby/toddler/kids sizes. It's a long list with the hopes that you have higher odds of finding some great Merino products second-hand on Poshmark, Mercari, or eBay. 

Iksplor - $$
Family-owned company out of Jackson Hole, WY ($89 for set)

NUI Organic $$$ 
Founder from New Zealand, contact address out of Austin, Texas 
$120 for top and bottom (sold separately)

SmartWool - $$$ 
American company founded by New England ski instructors Peter and Patty Duke in Steamboat Springs, Colorado in 1994 (acquired by larger companies since then). $120 for top and bottom sold separately

Chasing Windmills - $$
Family-owned company out of Denver CO ($77 for a set)

Woolino $$
US company based in Ohio ($66 for a pajama set)

Wee Woollies - $$
Family-owned company out of Canda $84 for a set

TK Clothing $$
Family-owned company out of Canada, hand made to order sets starting at $69

Simply merino $$
Family-owned Vancouver Canada - $74 for top and bottom (sold separately)

Reima $$ 
Finnish company 
Sets starting at $65 


Synthetic materials are a great option for a few stellar qualities. They are typically polypropylene, a blend of nylon and polyester. While I would rate synthetic fibers second to merino wool, they are excellent at absorbing and wicking away moisture and do come at a lower price tag. However, they do not keep you warm when wet and are not great at eliminating odor. It is just okay as far as breathability goes and durability ranges depending on the brand. 

Shred Dog
Headquarters based in Boulder, CO - co-founded by two fathers
$60 for top and bottom, sold separately 

Finnish company 
Starting at $60 

Canada based company
$60 for top and bottom, sold separately 

$45 for top and bottom, sold separately

Patagonia Capilene $$
You can browse used gear RIGHT on their website through
$70 for the top and bottom, sold separately 

$70 for the top and bottom, sold separately 


There is such a big range in mid-layers that I am not going to even try to deep dive into this (let's scratch the surface). This layer has the most room for flexibility as well because it's not against your skin, and it's not exposed to the elements. This layer can be affordable or can be as fancy and expensive as you like. The best mid-layers tend to be something like fleece or your puffy coat. I am also a BIG fan of a vest as a mid-layer, providing extra warmth for your core and no bulky layering around your arms. 

When shopping for this mid-layer, you want something that is warm and not too bulky, making it easy to stash away. If you are out on an adventure, it's typically this mid-layer that comes off when you need to cool down, and the more "stashable", the better. As far as kid's clothing goes, you don't need to break the bank and I'm sure you have something in the closet that will work (again, think pullover fleece, down jacket or vest!). I bought a second-hand fleece one-piece zip-up suit with a built-in hood and hand/feet pullovers and it has become the perfect mid-layer (or even outer layer in dry conditions).  If you really need some inspiration, here are some options

I know this post is about kids' mid-layers but these principles apply to dressing absolutely anyone and I wanted to share my favorite mid-layers. My go-to mid-layer is my lululemon "Down For It All" vest. Alright, I was could a small article of clothing with such limited fabric be worth the hefty price tag ($148)? I am here to tell you I wear it just about every day in every situation and it's worth every penny (thanks Marissa for convincing me I needed this). I also love my Patagonia snap-t pullover for a thick and warm mid-layer and my REI puffer/down jacket for something that is warm and minimal, easy to stash away. 


The outer layer is important because it is the layer that has to be durable to the abuse of kids and hold up to the elements. Know there is a difference between water-resistant and waterproof and I'm only sharing waterproof because anything water-resistant just doesn't last long enough in the snow or a complete downpour. 

When it comes to this layer, you can also get something that is truly an outer shell (the moisture barrier, no insulation, can be worn year-round) or something with some built-in insulation. 

For non-walkers, a one-piece snowsuit is a great option. Fewer things to keep in place and added warmth for little ones. For older kids, a two-piece set is ideal (much easier for bathroom breaks). 

Separate coat/pants

Waterproof, grow system, bib pants and coat, insulated (sale $89 for the set) 

Waterproof, grow to fit feature,  ($199 for the coat, check second hand) 

Uninsulated for layering and year-round use, grow to fit system, zippered armpit vents, hood fits over helmets ($180)

Waterproof, insulated (sale $65)

Waterproof - great for every season ($35) 


Mittens, Hats, Neck Warmer, Boots
These guys are really easy to put on, and the best news is that they actually stay on! Elasticized cuffs seal in heat and 100 grams of Thermolite keep little fingers toasty. So far these are the only things that will stay on my son's hands. I bought these off Mercari brand new for a fraction of the price new. 

When it comes to winter hats, I have been loving the kind that velcro underneath his chin. Especially for babies, this ensures the hat stays on (and over his ears) and he can't easily rip it off. 

A neckwarmer is your best option for a kid's scarf that will stay in place. I have always used and loved turtlefur and mine have held up for the long run (they are also very affordable). They are thick enough to keep you warm on the coldest of days on the ski lift. 

Wool socks are the go-to (reread the merino wool section in the beginning if you don't believe me). Layering cotton socks does not work and one pair of merino wool socks will keep you warm and dry. Cold hands and feet are typically the factors that drive kids inside and wool socks are vital for keeping everyone out longer. 

Whitney isn't walking yet so he doesn't need a sturdy boot. I make sure to put on these fleece booties over his socks (they are so easy to put on and actually stay on). Here are some options for older kids who need a solid walking waterproof boot. 

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