Living in Northern Michigan now with a baby for 2 years and now a toddler for the last 2 years as well, I have learned quite a bit both on my own and from friends about how to survive these days with little ones and have compiled a great list of gear that both works and lasts through the seasons. I also have tricks for making it more affordable too because let’s be honest this gear is not cheap!
The main thing is we have found that gear is the absolute essential to enjoying the season and yes it is an investment but living in cold climates is soooo fun with kids when they feel warm and dry in their gear. The hardest part though can be the on and off of the layers constantly so I will also discuss what I have learned about that for school and even just running errands.
First of all before I give the list of my top products we love, I will say how we keep this within budget.
- Buy Second Hand or swap with friends:
The best way to make this affordable is to start with second hand before you ever buy anything. I head to thrift stores or I head online to places like Thread Up and Patagonia Rewear. You can also usually ebay winter gear as well for kids. Also check out Facebook Marketplace in your local community. Sometimes if you have friends too that are aging out of gear they are willing to pass on or let you borrow, which is also an awesome way to handle it. Also, check out ski swaps and other gear swaps in your area. Many ski communities have these options available. If you are getting quality gear it lasts through years and years of wear and can be repaired so even if a jacket has a rip, you can get it patched easily.
- Size up!
If I buy new I will make sure it is going to last more then just one season. For us a great coat needs to last not just for fall but allllll the way to May sometimes. Think about that with a 2 year old or even a baby. How do you make sure you aren’t buying things twice?! For instance, how I do this is with boots, I buy a whole size bigger then he needs and place thick socks on him. I then will bring other shoes for him to wear that are for the indoors during those months so he isn’t slipping around in thick socks or something too. With coats and snow pants I get even braver. For instance when Hayes was 2.5 I bought him a 5T coat. It was very big on him beginning in November but by April it looked less so and then it should fit him all the way through this winter season as well.
- Buy Gender Neutral for High ticket items:
If this is your first kid and you plan to have one more, think about choosing items that won’t need to be specific to gender. You can always change the look for them by getting different hats or mittens or socks or things and reminding them their clothes underneath can be more them. So we buy a lot of gray, black, and navy in this house because of that. Not because I want it all to look a certain way but because I know it will work for either of our kids.
- Buy the right stuff:
If you buy quality gear it will last and last and last so you won’t need to be outfitting one kid after another in new gear every year which ultimately adds up as well. So buy the Patagonia coat for them that they will repair for you so it lasts through every kid and that even can go back to the company. Buying a cheaper item will most likely mean it needs to be repurchased per child. Also, if you buy nice stuff you can usually take it to resale stores when you are done and get a better payment for it.
As for the errand running and the in and out of carseats in a blizzard…this is quite the thing to navigate and I have learned a few things:
- Layers are your best friend.
If you are worried about your kid being cold from the car seat to the store or your house just make sure they are well layered with the things I have below. I find kids most of the time are good with a quick run. I would tuck hayes into my coat as well.
- Keep the puffer off:
Anything puffy needs to stay off them when being strapped into the car seat and the straps need to just fit your hand underneath them, so just make sure whatever you dress them in is warm but not interfering with the carseat safety.
- Fleece is a life saver:
Fleece is wonderful because it is warm for them but not bulky so it is safer. You will see that in many of our choices below.
- Wet boots are part of life:
We have seat protectors on the backs of our seats and rubber mats beneath our feet year around because most of the year othen then about 2-3 months it is wet so muddy and wet is life. Thus just protect your car and know they will get wet and just keep extra socks with you at all times.
Now on to the lists of things Mike and I have learned are truly essential to life with a little one in the northern hemisphere. Obviously this is a rough list. I suggest seeing if you can find these things at Thrift Stores, Ebay, ThreadUp, Poshmark, Ski Swaps in your area, and Patagonia Rewear before purchasing new. Not just to save you money, but also to save the environment as this is a lot of gear and they go quickly through it. Talk with friends too. They may have these things and either done with it or in between need of it.
For the baby or a child between 0-18 months to wear during the winter. These are the bare minimum and things that work well from basically October to April in colder climates.
Polar Fleece Bunting: I love the fleece buntings for little ones because on really cold days they work over a long sleeve or cotton sweater and leggings but include the booties, but when you take them in and out of a car seat you do not need to take them out of it. Just double check their straps to make sure they are the proper amount of snug. This one has foot covers AND hand covers.
Fleece Hat: We love Zutano for fleece items for baby because they are thick and wear really well. This hat still looks new from our son and we love it. I actually got another one in a size up for him the following year before he turned 1 because we loved it that much.
Fleece Booties: Before they can walk and are still very much immobile these booties are for sure the best. On SUPER cold days I will put them over warm socks for them. These are the only booties I found that stay put and keep their feet warm.
Bog Winter Boots: These boots for first walkers are really awesome for winter. They are warm, easy to get on and off and they are flexible for their feet. We used these for our son his first winter walking.
Fleece Pants: I love having a few pairs of fleece pants for the first 18 months because they keep them warm especially when you are out running errands or to have under their snow suit.
Wool/Thermal Layers: These wool base layer style pants are great for winter because wool when it is spun properly and is 100% wears so well and is stain resistant, not to mention it breathes really well so they won’t sweat or be too warm.
Down Bunting: Here is a moment to size up some. I don’t buy our kids “winter coats” for the first 18 months because then you also have to buy pants. A snowsuit is WAY easier to get on and off a crawling baby or starting to stand and walk child. Not to mention since they are in a carrier a lot in the winter over a stroller I sometimes will set the bunting into the carrier and then put them into the carrier and bunting at the same time. I layer them up well depending on the temps and zip them up and strap them in. They are usually super warm and cozy even if my jacket is open, though many times I will wrap a wool scarf or blanket around the carrier to keep them warm as well. Talk about instant nap time! But buntings shouldn’t be used IN car seats. They are too fluffy, thus why I like the fleece one. Also, I size up so it will fit a 3-month-old and a walking baby as well. They last incredibly long. Look for one with hand and foot covers. That way it adapts with your child’s needs.
Carhart Flannel Overalls:
I LOVE these for kids who live in the outdoors. Hayes has a few pairs and they are literally the best thing. Not to mention they button through the legs for younger years for easy diaper changes. They are super warm and on thaw days make for great pants to keep them warm but if they get muddy the canvas holds up to the dirt.
I like cardigans for little ones in the winter because they are easy to open up and loosen for them if you are going in and out of places from cold to hot. I look for cotton layers or other natural fibers (hemp would work well too) because they keep you warm, but also breathe really well.
Mittens are like the death of parenting. We tried SOOOOO many styles but when they are little the truth is they aren’t doing a ton of snow play so you need something that is easy to put on, won’t come off, and keep them warm. These ones do it and are tough as nails. Though they don’t have a waterproof shell I found it was totally fine because he wasn’t “playing” in the snow and picking it up till he was almost 24 months.
Thermal and Long Sleeve Shirts:
We still have short sleeve tees around, but I pretty much solely dress little ones in long sleeves in the winter months. I look for thermal shirts and cotton tees that are soft and comfy for them. Love this henley style from Shop Bitte.
We are a Smartwool family and though we had those for the baby stage, I really loved these ones from Hanna Andersson even more. You can get them with or without grips too. They fit well underneath booties and into boots as well.
We had these for the first walking fall and spring and they were the best thing ever and were a stylish shoe while being ultra-functional. They are gender-neutral and super cute for the wet falls and spring months before it gets too snowy. I wouldn’t recommend them as winter boots unless you live somewhere that doesn’t get a ton of snow.
For the very first winter with a little baby, these are brilliant. I stuck them into his bunting so they never got lost and that way they were there when we needed them and not when we didn’t. They are soft and easy to slip over their hands.
Wool Jackets and Sweaters:
For the less wintery days of fall and winter, I keep easy to layer jackets on hand like this wool cardigan. Perfect for late fall and early spring or layered in the winter.
If you want another alternative to a winter boot, we also ended up with these ones when hayes was walking because we learned quickly how sizes work for babies, which any new parent knows is like relearning algebra. I loved these ones and they worked great for him through the winter and was a little sad when he outgrew them.
Car Seat Cover:
If you have a child still in an Infant car seat and live in a northern climate this thing is basically a lifesaver. In and out of the car isn’t a big deal, you just cover them up and uncover between the elements. We didn’t need one for Hayes, but have one for this one since she will be born at the beginning of winter.
A basic essential once they are 8 months or so. We use our’s throughout the whole year so I am always making sure to be a size or so up on it to last us.
Just like the wool pants, the wool onesie is VERY helpful to keep them warm as well.
This list of essentials is really intended for toddler-aged kids between 18 months to 5ish years.
Pull on Rain Boots:
Rain boots are basically our son’s favorite shoes so we wore through these ones over the last two years. He still loves them and asks us to buy new ones. But I buy them a size or so up so they will last a year or two. Getting Pull-on ones make it easy for them to put them on and off themselves, which they usually are interested in doing around 24 months or so.
Hi Loft Down Coat from Patagonia:
Notice I am saying this coat specifically. This coat is not cheap, but we bought it basically 2 sizes bigger then he needed and if it gets ripped, Patagonia will repair the coat for you. It is an awesome coat and packs down for storage or travel really well. It would get kind of wet, but we never had issues at all. A lot of other kids at his school have the same one and he sometimes would actually get too warm in it. If you live in a less cold climate I would suggest the Down Sweater version, which is lighter in weight but still provides a warmth that transitions seasons well.
Sounds weird, but we go for hikes a lot even in the blizzard so he thinks it is awesome he gets to wear his goggles while we hike or go sledding. They are awesome for kids and you can get them fairly priced or cheap at ski swaps.
A good hat:
We have had the best luck with hats from Patagonia. They are very warm and very durable and wash well. They have different styles every year and are affordable. Hayes has never complained about being cold.
Once they are playing in the snow it is of the utmost importance to find a boot that is comfortable, warm, easy to put on, and has good traction. These boots from Sorel are the ones we have now purchased as of this year 3 times. They are fairly affordable when it comes to winter boots and they open super wide making it easy for them to get them on without a fight. They also have a great velcro strap that makes it easy to tighten if you have sized up like I would recommend. They come in various colors, but we stick black so they can transition through our kids. Never have we played outdoors all day and have his feet been cold or wet. He loves these boots and so do we. When I went to buy boots, I researched for a long time to make sure we were spending money well, and as someone that has found Sorel to offer the warmest boots, I have to say I felt good about buying these. We have not been disappointed yet.
Hayes loves these mittens for the fall and spring days or when we are out running errands. His hands are warm but he can still be tactile so I buy a pack of 3 now every year from Target. They wear out and get holes by the end of the season, but they work so well for daily use.
Base Layer shirt and pants:
For winter play and really cold days. I keep a good base layer around for him. These rarely get super dirty so I find one is enough for the winter. I will just toss it in the wash once a week for him if he has done a lot of outdoor play.
This jacket layers great or can work as a jacket on its own. It actually stays warm even if it gets slightly wet and Patagonia is awesome about designing fleece that also keeps wind out. For sure a worth while investment.
I will tell you not to do pants but bibs. The reason being comes from my own personal experience as a child. I got pants one year and it was snow down my pants over and over. I hated winter that year. But bibs will keep them out. ALSO, if you are like us and have to drop off your kid fully dressed for winter play outside, bibs are awesome for this. You put them on over that days clothes before leaving the house, strap them into their seat, and then when you get to school toss their coat and hat and mittens on quick. No biggie. Same thing with pick up. Strip the coat and strap them in again. It is easy and on warmer winter days they can put their fleece or wool sweater under the bibs and have snow protection over their hips. That said, we love these ones from LL Bean but have also found Target has great ones that are tougher than you would think.
Like I said, mittens are the worst, but I have learned there are certain things to look for when getting some for your kids. Get ones that go up their arm and when you put them on, put the mittens on before the coat. Also, get some with zippers on them so you can zip them on. This makes it easier to get their thumbs in as well. Believe me. These are the most essential things when getting mittens.
We practice a lot of Montessori concepts in our home mainly to help teach independence and respect for space and such, but we also keep an indoor shoe policy particularly in the winter. It is both comfy to come home and slip from boot to slipper but also it creates a separation of outdoors to indoors. These ones from kamik are great for kids that feel like shoes because of the rubber sole but they are also warm. I will slip them into my bag when we go to people’s homes or playdates as well so he has them at other environments as well.
I love these fleece-lined coats here for Hayes in the fall and spring. Since our falls and springs are chilly and rainy I know that he is warm and good in this.
You think these are unnecessary, till you get some and then you realize they are essential. Send your kid out on a muddy day in these and you will thank the clothing gods because they come in a mess but you rinse the pants off in the sink or by a hose and their clothes are perfectly clean! Woot Woot. Makes outdoor play in the fall and spring much more enjoyable as a mom or dad.
We pretty much adore these socks for the colder months and they come in lots of weights. Not cheap but because they are wool they don’t smell or hold scents so we don’t wash them as often as cotton socks and he will rewear them a few days in a row.
For non-school days I like to have thermal pants (aka something more casual) that will work under snow pants or other layers or just for casual play at home.
I know we need to get our kids to dress in jeans and such but let’s be real if you are planning to play in the snow every day what is most comfortable under your snow pants? Sweatpants of course! I always have 4-6 good pairs for him on hand for school.
I find most kids get agitated with wool sweaters but Hayes never complains about these 100% cotton sweaters from Zara. We get them every year in a couple of colors and they work so well for daily wear for school and under snow gear.
So let me know, what things have you learned about dressing a little one through the colder days of the year. I would love to hear! I am always learning and I am sure others would love to hear as well.