Just over a year ago we were living in San Diego with a wardrobe consisting of swim suits, sundresses (shorts and tanks for the kids), and flip flops. Then we took off on a new adventure in the Pacific Northwest and while we were so excited to experience 4 seasons, I was confused and intimidated trying to research and navigate what gear the kids needed for a lifestyle of nature adventures as homeschoolers (wildschooling, if you will). I can confidently say that we’ve now got this thing figured out and I’m sharing it here to save you the months of research along with trial and error that we endured.
First thing to know is that it’s all about layering. Layering, layering, layering. It’s the way of the flannelled people. And they know what they’re doing (my husband says beards count as a layer, for the record). So, I’m going to walk you through the layers below, from the base layer on out. On a cool, sunny Fall afternoon, we may simply be sporting a fleece. Rainy summer evening – rainshell. On a snowy winter forest trek, we’ll be wearing ALL the layers. Peel them off as needed. Layer them on as needed. Layering.
Each of my children have what we have come to call a Winter drawer in their dresser. When we get up on the morning of an adventure and I say, “Rain Gear,” they all put on the contents of their Winter drawer, with any necessary modifications based on weather. The point being, it’s all kept together, easy to find, and easily applied.
The base layer consists of thermals. I recommend mid-weight but definitely tailor to your home climate. Wool and blends are best as cotton soaks up moisture. You want pants and a shirt.
The next layer is fleece, which is insulating and non-moisture absorbing. You want pants and a shirt/jacket. Tailor the thickness to your climate: if winter is very cold, go for a very thick fleece, if your winters are on the mild side, a lighter fleece is probably in order.
This is your outer waterproof layer. You want pants and a jacket (toddler versions are typically one piece). In general, these layers don’t have any insulation – it’s just a waterproof shell. This is probably the most important layer as it really allows your children (and yourself) to get all in with the adventuring in a variety of nature settings and conditions. It keeps everyone dry, which keeps everyone warm, happy, and healthy. Plus, it makes peeling off the mess of nature easy. My kids know that when we get back to the car, we toss the shells and boots in the waterproof box in the trunk and we’re all cozy and clean.
Essential for wet, cold exploration are thick wool hiking socks. Each kid has one pair.
It’s all about the Bogs boots around here. They are the best in this department. Conquer the world, in any weather, with a pair of Bogs insulated boots for your puddle jumping mud wader.
The most important feature of the hat is that it covers the ears. Fleece is warm and water resistant while also being soft to the touch. Many hats have an outer layer of wool for added warmth.
Each of my kids has a pair of fleece gloves and waterproof mittens. The fleece gloves are worn the majority of the time with the waterproof mittens coming out exclusively for snow play (a heat pack is easily slipped inside these and dropped inside the boots) or rain soaked hand work (sawing and loading a Christmas tree).
When we first arrived in the PNW, the cold weather was descending and we had to drop a small fortune at REI to get properly outfitted. One important aspect of our lifestyle design is putting our money in line with our priorities for connection with each other, our community, and the natural world. The world around us is our classroom. This was our tuition. But now that we are well established, we have a nice circle of friend with whom we share the bounty and pass down the gear among the children. If you invest in high quality pieces, they last through many seasons with numerous kids. This also means that you can inherit pieces from others with peace of mind. Share (give and receive) the warm, dry love. If you haven’t built up your tribe, search second hand stores but do it in the spring when everyone is releasing their outgrown clutter. This is also the time for mega sales as the cold weather inventory is purged. And don’t forget your local Buy Nothing group.
“Fully experiencing four distinct and vibrant seasons is a rich and tremendous gift. As they say in Sweden, where 5-year-olds can spend all winter day in the forest, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” The Scandinavian concepts of friluftsliv (“open-air living”) and hygge (“the coziness and the simple pleasures of home”) come together to perfectly capture the spirit of this lifestyle in which you embrace nature all year long and live a cyclical rhythm through the seasons.”