Dress For Winter Success

I have been winter camping and hiking for years and have learned the hard way that the difference between a great time and a horrible time can be affected by what a boy is wearing.

With the Klondike Run this weekend and some extra time, what a perfect opportunity to put together a post I have been planning for a while.

This is not meant to be an “end all and be all” guide for winter camping attire. I will not go deep into the science behind the layers but give a quick guide when sending your boy on a cold-weather hike or campout.

The Basics

First, I would say, have them bring a small backpack with a few gallon-sized ziplock bags. The boys are much more inclined to use a layering system if they do not have to carry their layers. Plus, the bags are great for wet or muddy clothes or to put random fungi, leaves, and interesting stones that every boy finds along the way.

I am also not going too deeply into hats, gloves, and boots. That is a post unto itself. It just goes without saying a kid should bring decent ones. No matter what he tells you – a hoodie and Jordans will not do the trick.

Before I begin, I will also mention that most outdoor articles require you to find expensive or hard-to-find materials. Still, this post will talk about the basics, which can easily be found at Wal-Mart or any Thrift store. Really – it would surprise you how much people will throw away(or donate in this case).


A kid should be taught to think in layers. Usually, three layers are enough for what we do on a Ranger Campout. If there needs to be more, we will let you know.

  1. Base layer (underwear layer): wicks sweat off the skin
  2. The middle layer (insulating layer): retains body heat to protect from the cold
  3. The outer layer (shell layer): A shield from wind and rain

Even if they don’t use all three layers, it’s a good idea to take all layers on every outing. A boy can peel off layers if things heat up and add them as they cool down.

Here is what I do

Base Layer

I wear mid-weight synthetic long underwear under my clothes for most winter hikes. The key phrase here is synthetic or 100% wool. NOT COTTON! If you want to buy top-grade Mareno Wool for your ten-year-old boy who is growing six inches a day – go for it, but not me. Athletic tights are a great option many boys already have.

I sometimes wear heavyweight long underwear if I know I will be out for extended periods. I got a Wal-Mart no-brand long sleeve “dry fit” T-shirt for six bucks on the clearance rack. You probably have one in your dresser right now. Tights or leggings are the same. Once again – Wal-Mart to the rescue – 9.97. 

Are there any old man socks around? Socks are the one place I do not scrimp. I have several pairs of wool socks. But it is better to use a thin polyester sock base layer than a heavy cotton athletic sock. The feet and head are probably the most critical places to layer, so use a base layer in these areas too. 

Middle Layer

No single insulated coat is perfect for all activities and weather conditions. A hiker would do better with two lighter fleece jackets than a super heavy down parka.

I prefer jackets with hoods. We all lose a lot of heat through our heads and necks, so wearing a hood keeps the entire body warmer. Plus, it’s attached, so one more thing for your boy not to lose.

I usually don’t wear heavy insulation on my legs while hiking because it makes me too hot. But, if I’m winter camping or just hanging around outside, I highly recommend snow pants or, as I mentioned earlier, heavy long underwear. I will throw a pair of jeans over the base layer, knowing that I will use a top layer for protection.

Be careful here. You do not want to send your boy into the winter weather with just a pair of jeans as an outer layer. Stress this to him. He will just end up cold and miserable.

Outer Layer

Finally, a boy should have a waterproof and windproof external shell. Think swishy pants here. If they make a swishy sound when they walk – probably pretty good.

I have lightweight, breathable windbreaker-type pants. This one was an Amvets special. Four bucks on a red tag day. But you literally get these anywhere. Chances are your kid already has ten pairs.

Swishy athletic pants will keep external moisture out and block the wind—wind rapidly accelerates cooling the same way that water does (even more so if there is moisture present). If it’s a calm, clear day, you might not need to wear them at all, but it’s always recommended to have them with you.

Most winter coats have the middle and outer layers built-in. But if not, a couple of layered fleeces and a windbreaker jacket will perform as well as any 200.00 coat from Dicks.

So even if you are not coming to a Royal Ranger campout – use these tips and get outside in the Winter. Smaller crowds, yearlong fun, and no bugs make for a great time with the family.

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