How I Keep My Kids Warm

keeping warm in winter

…so that we can have fun

In almost any winter weather, at least for a little while. Even if it is just a walk around the block! We don’t have a big house; we live in a 1000 sq. ft. duplex. We also have a dog. And, squirrelly kids (and, ahem… mom) are no fun. This necessitates us going outside pretty much every day, rain or shine, or so they say. 

Winter arrived

After barely having winter in 2015-16, this year’s winter came late but arrived with much gusto and snow. It has been beautiful, albeit challenging during a few weeks of particular coldness. Mostly just those first few days when, really, I’m laughing because when it’s that temperature in the spring we will be walking around in t-shirts! We all have to build up our tolerance and figure out what to wear.

It’s trial-and-error to figure out what works for yourself on different days. And, it’s about the same degree of difficulty when helping a 5 year old figure it out. But, it can be downright impossible to find the sweet spot with a toddler! Thankfully, my 2 year old is almost easier to dress than her sister was at that age because she often wants to be five, herself, and go to school and all that, so she plays the part and doesn’t kick up the fuss that we had to endure with Number 1. I’m liking this healthy dose of peer pressure… er, good modelling.

So, here is what has been working for us this winter, and we have faced all the way down to real temperatures of cold -20s. The temperature breakdowns aren’t exact and depend on shade and activity levels and just your own child’s circulation.

+5C to -3C

For the 5 year old:

  • regular clothes underneath (cotton-blend leggings and a long-sleeve shirt) or a thin base layer like merino Wee Woolies or poly from MEC
  • a fleece
  • thinsulate jacket
  • these awesome shell pants from MEC
  • wool socks
  • toque
  • BOGS boots
  • some thin gloves or fleece mittens

For the 2 year old:

  • regular clothes underneath (cotton-blend leggings and a long-sleeve shirt) or a thin base layer like merino Wee Woolies or poly from MEC
  • a fleece
  • thinsulate jacket & pants, OR
    • MEC Newt suit over a fleece bunting suit (or fleece pants and top)
  • wool socks
  • toque
  • BOGS boots
  • fleece mittens

We also have these amazing fleece overalls for the toddler! They’re probably Polartec 300 weight fleece and they are a MEC product from the 80s or 90s. They are a great alternative to the fleece bunting and, although they are sleeveless, are a heavier weight fleece so are quite warm.

For the toddler, we love built in foldover mitts, especially for the early-season chills when toddler logic defies mittens. And, a thin fleece toque with a chin strap, like the Patagonia Synchilla hat, is great because although they can flip it back off their head, you aren’t going to lose it altogether because it is still attached.

-4C to -12C

For the 5 year old, sometimes it’s the bare minimum under her one-piece snow suit, often it’s:

For the 2 year old, sometimes a snow suit as for the 5 yo, otherwise:

Clothing refusal is an unfortunate reality by toddlers! But, they can be rational at times and make the connection that, yes, mittens do keep hands warm, for example. In order to reinforce this, I keep they’re gear warm by putting unwanted toques, mitts, etc. under my own jacket. It looks like a horrendously lop-sided boob job, but it’s super effective.

-13C to -20C and beyond

The five year old has the cadillac set-up with respect to gear as she is currently enrolled in a nature kindergarten program where they are outside a lot. Their cut-off is -20C, but they still seem to make it out for half hour spurts a couple of times per day even around that temperature (when their counterparts in the public school system are not allowed outside past a perceived -18C “windchill factor”). So, the following outfit has been amazing:

For the 2 year old:

At these temperatures, I have a little check-in ritual with the girls. It is light-hearted and helps me to assess where we are at. I ask it when we are in the alley outside the house (after they’ve been outside for maybe a minute or two) and then every 5-10 minutes or so, thereafter. It helps me gauge how long we can stay out or if we need to add another layer which, for the toddler, is often a neckwarmer or balaclava (which I stash in my pocket). Anyway, the check in goes like this: “How’re your toes?” “Great.” “And the tip of your nose?” “Great.” “And your finger tippies?” “Toasty.”

Passengers on the Bike in Winter

We haven’t been on the bike as much the past month or two as we haven’t needed to be. Swimming lessons and other programs are over and I didn’t sign up for anything else for the winter session, and school is so close this year that we pretty much exclusively walk. That said, when we do bike, the girls are in the CETMA behind the wind barrier of the Blaqpaks cover (which also acts as a bit of a greenhouse on sunnier days) and seem to stay fairly warm. Their feet some times get a bit chilly due to lack of movement, so I usually have an extra blanket or down stroller bag for them to tuck around their legs. Underneath helmets, the thin fleece balaclavas work awesome. And, while my 2 year old says her balaclava “bugs me” on the best of days, she hasn’t mentioned it once when it’s paired with her helmet. Go figure. If you have a balaclava hater on your hands, I’ve heard that calling it a ‘ninja mask’ can be very enticing for some kids…


If you live in Calgary or a similar climate and only want to buy one pair of winter boots for your kid, make sure that they’re not BOGS brand. At least not the models we have (the ones that say they go to -30C). I, myself, wear mid-height bogs as my winter boot and think that they are fine, if not great, for most of my needs up to -20C or so, maybe a bit colder. But, if I have to do any standing around at those temps (eg. playgrounds or walking with small children in general), I get cold feet. My theory with young kids is that, unless they’re constantly moving, BOGS just can’t keep their feet warm at cold temperatures. That said, they’re a fantastic boot for Chinooks and the shoulder seasons of fall and spring.

We have also tried myMayu boots with liners for Chinook weather, but they weren’t warm enough for more than short periods of time. They were, however, the preferred boot for warmer spring weather and into the summer, as needed/fitted, and I love their neutral soles.

Our winter boot of choice is proving to be the Stonz boots. They’re supposedly rated to -50C and I hope that we never have to test it out (even though we do have family in the northernmost reaches of Canada…sorry guys, we will visit… in summer!). They have those weird croc-like soles that are super lightweight and, shockingly, don’t wear down rapidly on dry concrete even when your kid does the snow boot-shuffle. They are that big, clunky snow boot style, but my kid loves them and we are on pair number two and – best part – her feet are warm. And, they’re made in Canada, too, which I think is pretty swell.

A note on Hand-me-Downs

We have been so lucky to receive lots of excellent hand-me-downs, especially for the 0-3 yo stage, where clothes don’t get destroyed in one season. Fleece pants and jackets have been amongst the goodness.

Alas, we have noticed that gear loses some of its warmth over time. The clothes that worked great new for Number 1 just don’t always seem to cut it for Number 2. In particular, we noticed that the hand-me-down fleeces both kids were wearing this fall really didn’t pack much punch for warmth when the temperatures dropped, they just got worn out from washing and compressed from wear. When we got new fleece layers and jackets for them it was a relatively cheap fix that made a world of difference! Super cozy to the touch and extremely effective for warmth. So, if you feel like your system isn’t working quite right, I suggest investing in base layers as it packs a lot of bang for your buck with respect to keeping your kid toasty.

If you need to beef up your kid’s winter wardrobe, MEC has their sale on now… favourites of ours have been their: Newt suits, Whirlwind fleece, Toaster suit, and pretty much anything, really. It’s a one-stop shop (or online order) for us and I have no complaints about quality or customer service.

Embracing Winter

We have already had what seems to be an abnormal amount of snow for Calgary, which has made it impossible to embrace the Chariot bubble due to snowbanks in our part of town, but the walking has been crisp and dry so using the Ergo has been no probs and I like having a live hot water bottle on my back. (I can be a bit of a nervous nelly about slipping while babywearing and dislike ice, so I hope that these conditions persist.)

This time last year, my fall crop of spinach was close to perking up. I don’t think we will have any such luck this year, but I look forward to getting extra miles on the cross-country skis.

I hope that this helps to give you some ideas on how to dress your kids so that you can embrace this beautiful season!


What have you gleaned from this? Questions? Comments? Please reply here: