Gearing Up for Winter: How to Dress Babies and Toddlers

It’s only the second week of September here in Banff, but we’ve been treated to early winter conditions. When over 20 centimetres of snow fell over the course of a few days – and stayed – I was left scrambling, trying to put together a warm and waterproof outfit for my daughter (now 17 months old). Once I finally got her ready, we went into a white, fluffy world and had a magical time catching snowflakes on our tongues and playing in the snow for the first time.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Dressing babies and toddlers for the cold isn’t easy. Finding items is one thing; stuffing the kid into various layers is another! Make it easy on yourself and look for items that let you layer easily and get out the door before you all break out into a sweat. It’s also nice to have the kit we need on hand before the colder seasons arrive, so I recommend you start looking for items early. Hand-me-down items are often the best approach since at this age our kids are growing so fast, but you can also find what you need at outdoor retailers.

My top picks for keeping babies and toddlers warm in winter:

A Quick Note: Many similar products are on the market than the ones I recommend here. None of these companies have paid to be featured – they are simply my top picks! You should be able to find comparable products in your price-range and at retail stores near you.

One-Piece Suits – Avoid endless layering with a quick-zip system. There are lots on the market, but my personal go-to is the MEC Ursus Bunting Suit. The cuffs can be folded over hands and feet, which means you can avoid putting mitts and boots on your baby. I purchased the 12-month suit, and it still fits my almost 1 1/2-year old (with the cuffs folded back). This suit is perfect for layering, wearing on its own, or camping in cooler temperatures in summertime.

MEC Ursus Bunting Suit

MEC Ursus Bunting Suit

All-Weather Rain Suit – These suits are great for toddlers, and can be layered over a fleece one-piece suit for added warmth. Generally, I didn’t use a rain suit when my daughter was just a baby, as she wasn’t walking and running around outdoors during inclement weather. But on a cold, rainy day, a suit like the Molehill 2.5 All-Weather Rain Suit was perfect. Having a long zipper up the suit made it easy to put on (and much easier than putting on separate splash pants and jacket).

Molehill 2.5 All-Weather Rain Suit

Molehill 2.5 All-Weather Rain Suit

Baby Carrier/Cover System – During the colder months, a lifesaver for parents and newborns is a baby carrier insulated inside a cover or jacket. It is definitely a good alternative to carrying a baby around in a heavy car seat covered in sheep’s wool: it keeps you hands-free and keeps your baby warm and protected. You have a few options for insulating a baby in a baby carrier: a fleece cover like the Kowalli, a one-sided bag like the 7 a.m. Pookie Poncho, or a Make My Belly Fit Panel, which can be zipped into your jacket. Be cautious not to overdress your baby when using a system like this.

Bunting Bag/Thermal Blanket – Unless temperatures were dipping to minus 30°C, in the stroller or Chariot I would just use a fleece one-piece suit (cuffs rolled over the hands and feet), a hat, and a thermal blanket like the BLANKET 212evolution from 7 a.m.  The great thing about this bag is that a clever zipper system allows it to grow with your child, so I’ll be able to use it for a second winter. This bag is compatible with a car seat or stroller, and also converts into a large blanket. We also used it in our sled, which we pulled when we were skating or walking around town on really snowy days.

Maya in the BLANKET 212evolution in the Chariot. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

Maya in the BLANKET 212evolution in the Chariot. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

Bunting Suit – This winter I have a toddler who wants to walk and move around, so the bunting bag will only be used when she’s actually in the stroller. I need to have something that is warm, easy to put on, and easy to move around in. There are a lot of bunting suits on the market, and each has its own features. I prefer a suit like the Molehill, which has cuffs that roll over the hands and feet for when my toddler doesn’t need to use them. You want warmth, but not too much extra bulk.

Hats, Mitts and Boots – There are plenty of options out there for gear that covers your baby or toddler’s extremities, but I do have a few tips. For headwear, try to find something that secures under your baby’s chin; otherwise the hat will slide off every time your kid moves his or her head inside the stroller or carrier. For mitts it is nice to have an “idiot string” looped through the arms of the jacket so that you don’t lose them if they come off your kid’s hands. A pair that comes high on the child’s wrist and cinches or zips also makes them easier to put on. And boots: until they are walking babies don’t need a waterproof pair! Save your money and get a pair of fleece or down booties. Depending on conditions, toddlers can also wear a pair of down booties (look for ones with some waterproofing and cushioning on the sole) or a toasty pair of insulated and waterproof boots.

Reader Tips:

It’s always better when we can learn from our community. Here are some our of readers’ tips for dressing your little ones in winter:

-Sara says: Remember to remove bulky jackets or snowsuits before buckling kids into car seats – no matter how cold it is its not safe to wear as they can compress in an accident and straps won’t hold the kids!

-Merrett says: Have multiple pairs of mittens and socks. They can go from being damp to drenched in such a short amount of time.

-Tricia says: Buy snowsuits as big as possible without being ridiculous. We got 2 years per kid (2 kids so 4 years) out of a 18 month size snowsuit from MEC and our second snowsuit from MEC which is a size 3 was worn for 2.5 years by my eldest and I’m hopeful to get another two with my son. Also, Stonz mitts and booties. Seriously the best mittens out there for snow play, and we loved their booties with the liners.

@Linz_Graham says: Wool socks! We have the little smart wool ones that we got as a gift. When our baby was really young we also used them as mittens

Suzi says: For toddlers moving, we found that getting a good base layer (synthetic or wool – not cotton) and well fitting layers worked wonders in keeping them warm yet mobile.

-Check out this cool infographic on How to Dress a Baby in Cold Weather.

Am I forgetting anything? What are your top picks or recommendations for outdoor gear?

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41 responses to “Gearing Up for Winter: How to Dress Babies and Toddlers

  1. Thanks for writing this post! We’re thinking about going snowboarding this year, but we didn’t have a clue how to keep LO warm. We’re from the sunshine state. Thank you again for the tips 🙂

  2. Born during the winter of the polar vortex, we dragged my daughter out in all kinds of conditions last year. We definitely need to get some more gear that will fit her this winter. 🙂

  3. outfitting 2 kids who wear the same size is spendy (no hand me downs!) I would love the MEC card.

    As for winter wear, remember to remove bulky jackets or snowsuits before buckling kids into car seats – no matter how cold it is its not safe to wear as they can compress in an accident and straps wont hold the kids! We love the north face perrito jacket, warm enough but thin enough to be safe in the seat, or fleece.

  4. Great tips for keeping babies and toddlers warm in the cold weather! We have lots of great options for warm kids winter clothing for your little ones.

  5. Just wondering what your thoughts are on dressing a kiddo who will be b/t 11 months and 14 month over the winter? We have a fleece bunting and down blankets for the sled but I’m wondering if I should get more of a snowsuit for her since she’ll presumably be toddling around? Thx

    And I’ll love a gift card to go towards that!

    • Hi Sarah! Maya was exactly that age last winter. But that was also when we were travelling in the South Pacific! We had a hand-me-down insulated jacket and just used fleece pants when it was warm enough. A bunting suit would probably do your little one well – that way she’s warm and can keep toddling.

  6. I loved Padraig’s baby slippers! They kept my youngest daughter’s feet toasty warm, and the shoe laces kept her distracted while in the car or stroller. Not sure what I will do this winter, now that she is 17months and very active!
    Another tip is to have multiple pairs of mittens and socks. They can go from being damp to drenched in such a short amount of time.

  7. Thanks for the ideas! we were just struggling with this issue when we went camping last weekend. I ended up buying a down snowsuit from Patagonia but we’re going to return it in favor of your layering suggestions!

  8. One tip I have is to buy snowsuits as big as possible without being ridiculous. We got 2 years per kid (2 kids so 4 years) out of a 18 month size snowsuit from MEC and our second snowsuit from MEC which is a size 3 was worn for 2.5 years by my eldest and I’m hopeful to get another two with my son. Also, Stonz mitts and booties. Seriously the best mittens out there for snow play, and we loved their booties with the liners.

    • Great suggestions, Tricia! I have heard good things about Stonz and will have to look into them. Winter gear can be expensive, so your advice about buying big as possible (without being ridiculous!) is helpful.

  9. I loved our son’s Molehill suit and MEC is always awesome. Layering was always a must, still is. For toddlers moving, we found that getting a good base layer (synthetic or wool – not cotton) and well fitting layers worked wonders in keeping them warm yet mobile.

  10. My little one owns MEC fleece bunting, rainsuit and toaster bunting. She was able to play outside everyday during last winter in Newfoundland. I would also recommend Stonz booties, hats for toddlers. I love Stonz mitts too but they are too large for my little one (she was 18M last December). Ducksday mitts fit a lot better for little hands and she was able to pick up sticks and pine nuts which was very important for my little one. I like REI down booties too. I “layered” REI booties with Stonz booties to block strong wind when we used a backpack to carry her out for snowshoeing in cold and windy days.

  11. Stumbled across your page while looking into kiddo clothes for the winter, spurned by the great September storm that rolled through. Seems we were able squeeze our guy into last winters suit, but pretty sure that won’t work come real winter. Great site, look forward to following along with another ventourous Bow Valley family

  12. Thanks Meghan- we did a big MEC shop for H the other day, and could easily go back!! Great layering ideas for walks and outdoor play… thank you 🙂

  13. Our 212 evolution blanket has been the best! I wish they made an older kid version as we still want to go on longer ski sessions where we pull her part way. At least we know the youngest will stay warm. Another thing I loved for the colder days is goggles and a balaclava to keep her face warm.

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  17. Sometimes baby carriers and packs leave a little leg exposed so we’ve cut the toe part of old wool socks making them into great little leg warmers.

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  20. My daughter attends Forest School in New Brunswick which means she is outside from 8:30 until4:30 with the exception of meals. Here’s what I have learned:

    Two layer socks: put a pair of moisture wicking socks on first then real wool socks second. Smart wool is not real wool, so I recommend real or as close to real wool as you can. My 3 year old wears women’s socks and I just pull them up to her knees.

    Bottoms:
    Base layer of cotton, like PJS, then a fleece or track pants later. Pull the aforementioned socks over the base layer helps as well

    Top:
    Long sleeve waffle shirt (textured like a waffle), t-shirt over long-sleeved shirt, fleece sweater with hood

    Snowsuit
    Quality quality quality. Buy one that is rated to the maximum cold for your area. I recommend Gusti. MEC and LLBean are also good. You can find this stuff used because it is very costly. It doesn’t necessarily need to be totally waterproof, just water repellent or resistant. For waterproofing I recommend getting a Tuffo Muddy Buddy waterproof one piece that is big enough to put over the snowsuit. Plus you can wear it in the spring

    Mittens
    MITTENS not gloves. Having the fingers squished together helps keep them warm. Also get mittens that fit over the arm of the snowsuit for optimal (and inevitable) removal and replacement. I recommend MEC or Kombi for this because they have zips that can help with securing them over the snowsuit. I also recommend a wool underlay er for really cold days to help insulate.

    Neck warmer
    Even though the schools are steering away from scarves because of the choking hazard, I recommend a neck warmer. They are inexpensive and absolutely crucial to the winter warming. Just a fitting one worn under the snowsuit is fine. It’s amazing how much snow and cold air and wet can get in from that neck hole.

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