Gear / Outdoor Play

Best Kids Winter Gear: Cold Weather Must-Haves Fall to Spring

We like to get outside rain or shine – year round. Summer in the Pacific Northwest will always be my favorite season. But I’m trying to show my preschooler that we can explore and have fun in the rainy season too. That’s October to June in Oregon! I wanted to share our top wet and cold weather gear. I considered breaking this post out into seasons. But depending on where you live, a lot of kids winter gear overlaps several seasons! Here in Portland, we are wearing various forms of “winter wear” year round. But most of this gear is helpful in fall, winter and spring.

In case you’re wondering why I’m publishing a post about winter in… August? Now is the time to start planning and buying! Depending on where you live, we’re just a couple months away from needing some of this gear. REI and Patagonia are having great sales right now. Also, brands like H&M and Target’s Cat & Jack often sell out of sizes and styles of their affordable and stylish winter gear. So get planning! Planning ahead for your baby? Check out my baby winter gear tips here.

Kids Winter Clothes - Cold Weather Essential for Toddlers and Preschoolers

The Scandinavian saying of “There’s no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing” is 100% accurate when it comes to kids. Get your kids properly outfitted and they will play in the wet or cold for so much longer. And you don’t have to spend a fortune to do it. Here’s how.

Gear Buying Hacks to Save Money:

  • Size up when you can. A size 3 raincoat could last your two year old for two years. Note: this isn’t always the ultimate goal, but sometimes it works out. My top priority is for my child to be warm, dry and safe when it comes to outdoor clothes. If the item is way too big, I don’t size up. Sizing up works for us about half the time.
  • Spend more on items that will last a few seasons. I buy Patagonia beanies because they last forever and sizing-wise you’ll get a few years out of each size. For example, 2T-5T is one beanie size. But this also depends on your family’s ability to not lose things and/or how hard on gear your kid is.
  • Consider hand-me-downs. Befriend someone who has a kid a year or two older than yours. Just kidding, kind of. :P We happen to have two families that hand down various clothing to us. We’re not getting all of their hand me downs. But they have been very generous to gift us some quality kids winter gear! So make it known in friends presence that you’re into used clothing. I’ve noticed a trend from some first-time parents that they want all new things. I’m here to say: that might be fun for like the first six months and then you’re like “give me all your hand-me-downs!”
  • Check out consignment shops and used clothing sites like Poshmark to find gently used gear at a fraction of the price. A bonus for local consignment shops is that you can also drop off used gear your kids have outgrown and work up a credit for future shopping.
  • Shop sales in end of season and off-season. End of spring, beginning of summer: snag a raincoat in fall sizes. Beginning of spring: grab snow pants for next year. Fall? Look for a sun hat. This is an area it can pay to plan ahead. Sizing isn’t always going to work out perfectly when you’re shopping in advance, but depending on the price, it’s worth the shot. For example, we bought an REI toddler raincoat last summer in end of spring clearance. 30% off the price, once fall rolls around. And I snagged snow boots at Target for $7, and a year later, this winter, they fit with some wool socks for added cushion.
  • Think durability over trendy. For more expensive gear or items I hope to last more than one season, I try to buy more neutral colors and less trendy patterns. I still want my kid to look cute, but it’s also nice to be able to pass things down and have an item work for another year too. And while I love a good neutral tone color pallet, for some items I do want my toddler to be super visible. For rain coat I went full on orange-y yellow. It’s bright, just what you need to be when you’re a two year old on the move in rainy season (when it gets dark at 4pm). For puffy jacket I went a little darker (grey and black) with a pattern so as it gets dirtier it doesn’t show stains or look visibly dirty.
  • Buy a seat liner or backseat cover depending on which way your carseats face. This helps keep wet and mud off your seats. We also bought all weather mats for our car as it’s just too much wet and mud otherwise, living in Portland. If his shoes or boots are super wet, we take them off and set them on the floor boards.
  • Start slow & buy when you need! Yes, I already said plan ahead, but the caveat to that is all you really need to play outside, is to go outside and play! So go play in the rain, and get wet and then realize oh, rain boots would be helpful. Next time, oh, a raincoat that’s breathable would be nice. I talk to so many mamas who are just overwhelmed by outfitting their child for the outdoors. Instead of trying to anticipate every single outdoor gear need – start small with daily jaunts in your neighborhood. You’ll get a pretty good idea of what seasonal gear items you need. You don’t need all the things. But here’s where to start and then what to add on over time.

Best Kids Rain Gear (Fall – Spring)

In Portland, rain gear is needed fall, winter, and spring! Here are the essentials for wet weather:

  • Raincoat – in the PNW, I prefer breathable rain jackets. In some colder and less humid climates, the thick polyurethane style might work better. Buy: REI Toddler Rainwall Jacket $50 ($35 off-season) or REI Kids Rain Jacket $32-65.
  • Rain pants, rain bibs, or a rain suit – At 18 months – 2.5 years old a full body rain suit can be a great idea. After around two, depending on your kid, potty training etc two pieces is easier to deal with, and for older preschoolers and kids just stick to rain pants! Buy: Polarn O. Pyret bibs $71 or H&M rain pants $25
  • Rain boots – For toddlers and preschoolers it can be helpful to get rain boots with handles. Also watch out for rainboots that have skinny/tall soles. It’s harder for young kids to walk in and they trip often. Bogs brand is also great for younger kids. Buy: Cat & Jack $20 or Polarn O Pyret $38

Kids Cold Weather Gear:

Since we’re in Portland, Oregon – this guide is geared toward COLD and WET kids winter gear, depending on the year. So rain gear often layers with other cold weather items.

  • Puffer jacket – I’ve found the Target Cat & Jack ones to be great quality and washable, but friends swear by their Patagonia puffies for the kiddos, and another shops Primary. We very rarely need a super thick winter snow/ski jacket. Buy: Cat & Jack Puffer coats $27-$35, Patagonia $129 (sale colors $65)
  • Beanie – Patagonia winter hats are fuzzy on the inside and so warm. I credit these to partially why my kiddo was so content as a baby outdoors. Buy: Backcountry $35, (sale colors $15)
  • Lightweight fleece and/or cozy hoodie – In the shoulder season, it’s nice to have a lightweight fleece to put under both raincoats, or puff vest, or just on it’s own. It’s a bit cozier than a hoodie, but there are also some nice fleece lined or thicker hoodies for the in between seasons too. This is an area, we seem to get a lot of hand me downs in! You could really get away with just having one fleece. Here are some options. Buy: Patagonia Fleece Zip $40-49, Hanna Andersson fleece lined $31, REI Fleece $21, H&M hooded fleece $20, or H&M Fleece zip $13
  • Puffy vest – I consider a puffy vest to be a “nice to have”, not a “need to have”. It can be nice to layer over long sleeves or a fleece, when it’s not quite cold enough for a full puffy coat. So I prioritize a puffy coat first. Buy: H&M Puffer Vest $25
  • Buff head band – We originally bought the Buff headband to fit under our kiddos bike helmet when it was cold. A normal beanie was too thick, and without, he would get really fussy about the wind. It’s thin material, but keeps their ears warm. Since then, we’ve kept it as a travel go-to. It’s super lightweight, and can be used as a neck gaiter/mask, hand warmer, sun protector etc. Buy: Buff Junior Headband $17
  • Wool socks – a friend found these on Amazon when our kiddos were about a year old and they still fit (barely). They were a good deal and nice and warm. We’ll be passing them down to a friend and sizing up this year. Buy: Amazon 6 packs $13 or Hanna Andersson
  • Mittens – Think thinner mittens. We have part wool mittens from Polarn O Pyret that have been awesome. Note: mittens didn’t work for us until about age two. A friend loves the 3 pack mittens from Target since mittens always go missing. We also have back up pair of fleece mittens, which are nice, as when it’s wet they stay a bit warmer. And the super thick rain mittens I got during an end of year sale for a couple dollars, but we just don’t wear them, unless need for a visiting family kiddo. Buy: Cat & Jack – $5, H&M Fleece Mittens $4

Kids Snow Gear:

Living in Portland, we get snow a few times a year, and go play in the snow an hour away as well. So we don’t need top of the line snow gear, like if we lived in Bend, Oregon or Buffalo, New York. If you’re somewhere super cold and snowy, your kids winter gear list and outdoor time will probably be a bit more extreme than this, and you would also have a heavy duty winter coat instead of a puffer jacket.

  • Snow bibs – toddlers and kiddos usually do better with bibs and switch to snow pants when they’re older. Target has good quality basic snow bibs that work great. If you live in a rainy area, in a pinch, if you don’t have time or money to get snow bibs, I’d invest in rain paints instead. And then layer up underneath those to keep your kid warm. Target has great snowbibs though and 2 packs at affordable prices. Buy: Cat & Jack $18
  • Snow boots – Shop used! Snow boots in areas that don’t get a lot of snow often get only a couple wears in the winter before the kid is on to a new size. So try to scoop up a gently used pair. Otherwise Sorel “duck boots” are serious winter boots, and I’ve found some great ones at Target on sale too. Nordstrom Rack online is a great place to scoop up more expensive snow boot brands. And fyi, while rain boots seem like they’ll work as snow boots, they get cold super quick. So your kiddo is going to be much happier in a pair of snow boots. The only time we’ve subbed out rain boots is when we have family visiting and just scrounging for basics for a weekend of snow etc. Then we’ve doubled up wool socks for that kid and checked periodically that their feet aren’t ice cubes. Buy: Kamik, Sorel or Cat & Jack
  • Snow gloves/mittens – waterproof gloves or mittens for playing in the snow. Here in Portland we’re only using snow gloves a few times each year. Mittens usually only work for ages two and up or they just pull them off. Buy: REI

Outdoor Gear Brands to Consider:

  • Patagonia – great jackets & hats
  • REI – REI house brand coats, rain pants, and they also carry most of these brands
  • Polarn O. Pyret – Rain pants, suits, and boots (Swedish brands understand cold and wet gear!)
  • Rain suits brands: Muddy Buddy, Wheat Kids, Oakiwear
  • Boots: Bogs, Hunter, Crocs
  • Columbia – base layers, snow, all the things
  • LL Bean – same
  • The North Face – rain coats, fleece
  • Fjallraven – another Swedish brand
  • Helly Hansen – Norwegian (hmmm sensing a theme yet about Scandinavian winter brands?)
  • Marmot – rain coats
  • UNIQLO – layers, puffs, vests
  • Roxy – snow gear
  • Hanna Andersson – cold weather clothing, socks
  • H&M – basically the GAP of Scandinavia. So not top of the line, but solid and designed for colder weather than some of our brands. You can find clothing, coats, rain gear etc.
  • Cat & Jack from Target – puffy coats, rain boots, snow bibs (lots of affordable and higher quality in recent years)
Toddler in Leaves

Happy cold weather adventuring!

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