New to winter? How to dress your kids in Canada

kids winter clothing

Winter hasn’t arrived officially yet but the temperatures are dropping each day. If you’re about to land in Canada you probably are worrying about how to dress your kids properly for them to be able to resist a -15 or -20 degrees Celsius when they go to school in the middle of the winter.

Those were my worries when we came to Ottawa in the coldest month of winter and faced frigid temperatures of -20 from the very beginning. I was so worried for the health of my youngest daughter, who used to get sick with colds and coughs in our hometown, that I made her wear four layers of clothing and three pants.

Today I’d say that that was excessive, but it didn’t seem so those days, because my then poor 4-year-old, even wearing that amount of clothing, always complained about being cold during the recess outside that lasted 40 minutes.

little kids in a schoolyard

I had hoped that the instructors would have some mercy and would let my kid stay inside at least the first few days, taking into account that she came from a city where the minimum temperature in winter during the day is 14 or 15 degrees.

Well, that never happened. Whenever my daughter told her teacher she was cold, the teacher would say “run, run” for her to warm up a little bit. And when my little one told me this I couldn’t believe it! What kind of heartless people wouldn’t help my poor baby?

Well, now that I’m familiar with Canadian winters (this is going to be my fifth winter in Ottawa), I know that what my daughter’s teacher told her was good advice and the best strategy to warm up. I have tried it myself so I know it works.

And now after four years in Ottawa, I have to scold my daughter for not putting on enough clothes. Her argument is always, “It’s not that cold”. Adaptation to the extreme cold is certainly a process, and we feel more resistant to the cold now than that first winter.

So, let’s go look at the basics. What does your kid need to face winter in Canada?

The basics

Parka and snow pants. These items are usually waterproof because when your kid plays during recess, he or she will be in contact with the snow and melted snow gets you wet.

All children play in the snow at school. They make snow balls, or snowmen, they slide in the accumulations of snow, they roll around. They even cover themselves with snow, just like when they play with the sand at the beach in the summer. It is crazy!

Good brands of parkas include: Gusti, Columbia, North Face, Helly Hansen, Spyder, Patagonia, Nanö, Xmtn. These are some of the ones that I have seen kids wear at school.

Snow Boots. Boots are also important because they will keep your kids’ feet warm and dry. When you spend time outside exposed to the cold, your fingers and toes will be the first to get cold and painful.

It’s because the body prioritizes keeping your main organs warm and reduces the flood of blood to the extremities, therefore your fingers and toes can start to hurt.

Two popular brands among kids for snow boots are Kamik and Sorel.

kids snowboots

Toque. Using a toque or beanie is very important during the cold days of winter, to protect your ears from the cold, and to keep your head warm. All people from cold countries know that the body loses warmth through the head, that’s why it’s key to keep it covered.

Mittens or gloves. Good mittens to protect and keep the hands warm are crucial during winter. Remember that the hands are the first body part to feel the cold and start to hurt when not appropriately protected.

What is the difference between mittens and gloves? Gloves have fingers separated by tissue, while with mittens there’s no separation. Some people believe that mittens are better because when the fingers are close together they can better keep in the heat.

One popular brand of mittens for kids is Kombi.

kids mittens

Other items

Neck warmer: this item goes around the neck and the difference between not using one and using one is very evident. It’s known that the body can also lose warmth through the neck so keeping the neck protected is helpful to avoid feeling cold.

The same goes for scarfs, but when talking about kids a neck warmer is much more practical than a scarf that can get loose and fall during playtime.

Socks. The warmer socks are the ones made of wool or with wool among the components. I found out that the socks made for winter sports, that you can find in specialized stores, were the best for my daughter, because they are really warm and thick.

Before having those socks she came back home with wet socks. This was because when returning from recess, all the kids take off their boots covered in snow or dripping water before entering the classroom. That usually leaves the floor all wet and they step without shoes on water.

With the new socks my daughter started using, this never happened again, apparently because they were thick and somehow waterproof. (Even when wet, wool retains heat, unlike cotton.)

Thermal underwear. I bought thermal undies for my daughter, not specialized ones, but the commercial ones, you know those with prints of Disney movies. She only used those the first winter, and after that she didn’t use them anymore. She wouldn’t need them.

These pieces of thermal clothing are usually made 60% of cotton and 40% of polyester. But the good ones, the ones that the winter sports lovers use to be able to spend hours outdoors, are made of Merino wool. Obviously, these garments are expensive.

It depends on if you are willing to spend on expensive thermal clothes, that maybe are going to be just used for a short period of time.

Balaclava. This item covers the whole head and only leaves the eyes uncovered. It’s perfect for those windy cold days when the nose and cheeks suffer from being exposed.

kids playing in the schoolyard

Two tips for dressing your kids

  • Don’t use cotton t-shirts in direct contact with the skin because the cotton retains moisture, and since kids play, run, and move all the time, they’re going to sweat, and the humidity is going to be trapped in their t-shirts and they will feel the cold.
  • Sweatshirts, hoodies, or sweaters made of fleece or wool are good items to use under the parkas because they feel warm and act as a cold insulator.
  • Outdoor sport stores to buy good winter gear for your kids are: MEC, Sail, Sport Chek, Decathlon.
  • For a more economical option visit Gian Tiger, Costco, Walmart, Winners.

I hope this post is useful to you and if you have any questions don’t hesitate in making them in the comments. Take care.

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