The Right Clothes for Your Kids - Safer Family Adventures

The most dangerous thing outdoors isn't the wildlife, it's the elements, so be sure to have all the gear necessary for the changes. In our area, it's been known to snow in August on days that started with sunshine. When you go out into the backcountry with your kids, choose carefully what type of clothes and fabrics you pack with you.

kids adventure clothing

Cotton Kills

You may have heard this mantra, but if not, it's a good one to remember. Cotton is good for warm, dry weather, but when it's wet, it's a useless insulator. Cotton holds in moisture which will bring your body temperature down, increasing the risk of hypothermia. Make the choice to leave cotton behind when going on your adventures. I strongly recommend getting one set of technical "adventure clothes" that the kids only wear for your backcountry adventures.

Terramar Base Layers

Adventure Clothes choices

There are a lot of good alternatives to cotton that make for great, safe adventure clothes. Merino wool and modern day synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon are much more versatile fabrics for the outdoors. They do a better job of wicking away moisture than cotton and will even keep you warmer if you get wet.

Merino wool is not only comfortable, it is odor resistant, breathes well, wicks moisture and even insulates when it's wet. We have one or two kids Merino tops that are now on kid number three. They still look and perform great.

Synthetics are a good, economical choice for kids. Modern synthetic fabrics are often produced with odor resistant properties, and have the benefit of being quick drying, lightweight and function even when wet.

Down is great for cold, dry weather, but is useless when wet. If you choose down, try to find a water resistant down.

Family gear

What should the kids wear?

When we go out with the kids, we dress them in lightweight, long synthetic pants. We're a big fan of Columbia's kids pants, as the quality and performance is excellent. On top we usually have a long sleeve, lightweight synthetic or merino top to provide sun, wind and bug protection.

We will always have a synthetic insulating mid-layer, like a fleece half-zip or vest. If it's cool and we'll be in a canoe, they'll be wearing it right off the bat. If it's warmer it'll be packed. If it's cool then the kids will be wearing synthetic base layer bottoms as well (we turn to Terramar Sports for those).

No matter the weather, we always pack lightweight, but fully waterproof tops. White Sierra makes some excellent and affordable waterproof, hooded jackets that offer great rain protection. Not only that, but they pack down into their own pocket.

When it comes to footwear, we choose comfortable, non-waterproof shoes and a good pair of Merino Wool socks. At least one of our kids will always step into water over the tops of their footwear, so there's no point going with waterproof. By going with Merino wool socks, we mitigate risk as they will keep their feet warmer (Merino wool retains 80% of its insulating properties when wet) if they do get wet.

Don't forget a good, wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off. It can do double duty as a way to keep their heads warm if the weather takes a turn.

dressing kids for the outdoors


Protecting kids from the elements with the proper clothes and layering systems will help ensure that your kids are safe from extremes in weather and not only that, but they'll be much more comfortable. Comfortable kids are happy kids. When you've packed that extra layer with you, then you won't have to cut your adventure short.

We'd love to hear your family adventure successes and mishaps that were, or could have been adverted by packing the right clothing for your kids.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in Paul's Safe Family Adventure series: What to put in your day pack.


posted by
Paul Osborn
Paul Osborn is an avid outdoor adventurer and frequently tweets about his trips. He's loved being outdoors since he was a kid and is always game to try something new. Currently, he's trying to instill a love for everything wild in his own kids. Paul's website, The Outdoor Adventure, encourages others to open their doors and get outside by giving them the tools and confidence necessary to do so. He did just that on the John Muir Trail in June 2013 with a group that included members of Sierra Trading Post's own social media team. Team Sierra bloggers receive promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post.
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