Toasty Toes: keeping kids warm hiking

By desertsnail • Hiking with Kids, Tips • 5 Nov 2013

keeping kids warm while hiking-  Nature Activities for kidsOn our last few hikes there has been a very distinct chill in the air.

One thing I’ve learned through hard experience is that the essence of keeping yourself and your lil’ hikers safely warm in the winter wilderness is having the proper clothing layers and knowing how to use them effectively.

Here’s some tips to help keep your whole family toasty while hiking this winter.

So why are some materials warmer than others?

It’s all in the air. Clothing helps hold “dead air” against your skin. This dead air is heated up by the body, providing a layer of warmth. The actual insulating value of your clothing is due to the thickness of dead air space it can hold. Your body is the true heat source, the clothing layers only serve to trap the heat and slow down your heat loss to the cold environment.

So what are the best ways to save this “dead air”?

Choose the right layers The key to staying toasty is by having a number of versatile layers of clothing to provide an appropriate amount of dead air space. Each layer should have unique properties to hold, protect and allow you to adjust your temperature as necessary.

-AVOID Cotton: During the winter cotton is downright deadly as it loses all its dead air when wet and becomes about as insulating as a cold metal pipe. Wet cotton is acutally worse than dry bare skin and will rapidly suck the warmth from your body.

Your child may have that favorite cotton sweater that they demand to bring, but make sure you have a backup of a warmer material, or your lil’ one might get left in the cold!

-Polypro or other Synthetic base layer: Keep your body in a snug (not tight) synthetic layer designed to wick moisture AWAY from your skin. Synthetic fibers like polypropylene don’t hold water, so your sweat is driven outward beyond the synthetic layer and away from your skin. This prevents evaporative cooling and creates a thin protective layer of warm air. It may be hard to get a base layer on your lil’ bugaboo, but if you do a lot of hiking, it may be worth it.

Wear Wool: Wool’s insulating ability comes from the snazzy little wavy crimp in its shape that traps air between fibers. Depending on texture and thickness, as much as 60-80% of wool cloth can be air! Because the water “disappears” into these fiber spaces, wool can absorb a large amount of moisture while still keeping enough dead air space to keep you toasty warm.

Frugal Fleece If you don’t want to pay a bit more for wool layers for your ever growing kidlet, then fleece can also be an lighter, cheaper, and definitely acceptable, if not as versatile option. It will also retain some insulating power while wet, but doesn’t really measure all the way up to wonderous wool.

Down jacket: Lightweight and highly compressible, down feathers are very efficient insulators. Just ask your local birds! They provide excellent dead air space for very little weight. Unfortunately, if the feathers get wet they clump, lose dead air space and all their insulating power. Also, very little kids may not understand the delicacy of most down products- leaving you with a tornado of flying feathers when you least expect it. (As a recent enounter with wild rosebushes proved!) Keep your down safely wrapped in a waterproof bag until you need it.

Wind and waterproof outer shell – it very important to have an outer layer that is wind and waterproof while still having the ability to air out and allow heat and sweat to escape. Gore-tex and other similar fabrics are good options. Having underarm (pit) zippers on jackets greatly increases your ability to ventilate and stops you from turning your jacket into a steam sauna!

Hand gear: bring mittens!
Ever notice your hands feel colder after putting on a thin pair of gloves? It’s physics baby! Bear with me: When a thin layer of insulation is wrapped around a small diameter curved surface (finger), it increases the surface area and can actually increase heat loss until a thickness of about 1/4″. Good motivation to bring backup mittens (which get around this problem by combining finger pockets) for extra cold conditions. This is especially vital for very tiny little fingers!

Headgear– hats are essential in winter travel. The head has a very high surface to volume ratio and has a lot of blood flow, so you can lose a great deal of heat without headgear. Cute lil heads should be covered with a beanie that is not easily removed- A hoodie is far too loose to be a replacement for a good beanie.

Have a dry backup- and use it! Always have a dry backup of critical clothing and don’t wait too long to change into it after you stop moving. Heat loss from a wet surface can be up to 25 times quicker than a dry one.

Remember that kids won’t always let you know when they get wet or cold, so make sure to check their clothes and shoes after any creek crossing, and any time you stop fir a break. You know that any chance they have to get wet, they will!

3. Right size clothing: Layers that are too tight will constrict the body’s circulation so that it’ll have a tough time warming up, especially in your extremities. Tightness will also compress your clothing and actually reduce dead air space- decreasing your insulation. Beware though: Too loose and your clothing can act as a bellow and actually blow out warm air and suck in cold. This applies for your kids as well- even if you are trying to stretch your clothing budget, this is not a time to dress them in last seasons jacket that they can’t quite zip up or shoes that are too tight!

Have a great winter, and stay toasty!

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