Using layers to keep warm is the best way for you and your baby to stay comfortable in cold, wet and or windy weather. Layering clothing (as opposed to wearing a single thick garment) traps more warm air right where it is needed – near to the body, and insulates more effectively. Plus it is much easier to adjust by removing or adding layers as needed when moving between indoors and outdoors.
Good layering is based on between one and three layers: each doing a different job. The result is warmth and comfort with freedom to run, jump and explore.
Here is our easy to follow infographic to help you sort outdoor dressing at a glance. For a larger version click here. This table is intended as a guide only and includes examples of products we ourselves would choose. As always, use your judgement with your own child and check their comfort regularly, especially in extreme weather.
The Base Layer(or first layer)
The base layer is worn next to the skin and is in many ways the true key to warmth as the layer of air next to the skin is like a microclimate and has the most direct bearing on the comfort of its little wearer.
A base layer does two key things:
1. Provides the first layer of insulation, trapping a layer of air next to the skin and creating a temperature and moisture ‘microclimate’
2. Draws excess moisture (dribble, nappy leaks, puddle splashes, spills etc) away from the skin where it can cause discomfort and chills. This is a process known as wicking.
Merino Base-layers. Wool is the ideal choice for baby and toddler clothing, most especially for wearing next to the skin as is natural, breathable and very soft & comfortable. Wicks moisture away from the skin and dries quickly. Merino has a very high warmth-to-weight ratio, so you get all the warmth without the bulk. Read more about choosing base layers in our detailed guide.
The Mid Layer
The mid layer is the insulating layer designed to keep warmth in. Good examples of mid layers are fleece (natural wool or synthetic) and knitted woollen garments.
Wool Fleece (or a good old fashioned home knit!) for mid / outer layers is well worth looking for as of all the fabrics it will do by far the best job of keeping your child at an ideal temperature due to its ability to regulate temperature, moisture and airflow - as opposed to just warming. Naturally fire resistant and an excellent environmental option, good quality wool fleece is pricier than polyester fleece but it is amazing stuff and worth every penny. Wool fleece is generally lighter weight and more technical than knitted garments.
Micro (or lightweight) Fleece - thinner than polar fleece and can be used as a layer when it is not too cold, or doubled up with other midlayers. Is made from petroleum so worth looking for brands that use-recycled plastic to make theirs. Does a good job of keeping kids warm, is lightweight and usually won't break the bank. Good quality fleeces will be warmer yet thinner than cheaper kinds.
Polar (or medium-weight) Fleece - Thicker and therefore warmer than micro fleece, this is a good winter option. As with micro fleece buy quality & try and find brands that use recycled plastic. If babies fall asleep in polar fleece, be mindful to check frequently to ensure they do not overheat as synthetic fleeces don't regulate temperature the way wool does. Ensure any brands you buy are treated with fire retardants - as synthetic fleeces can be very flammable.
The Outer Layer
Keeps your baby and inner layers safe from the wind, water and freezing temperatures. If the base layer and mid layer are doing their job this need be nothing more than a waterproof and windproof shell. For very cold conditions a padded outer shell or a double mid-layer will be needed for extra insulation.
Look for:Higher quality breathable waterproofs, as whilst babies and toddlers do not sweat as much as adults, they will be much more comfortable if moisture is able to move out through the layers and evaporate as needed.
Should be thin and streamlined (especially for toddlers and older babies where ease of movement is a concern)
Note: You can combine the mid layer with the outer layer by choosing a fleece lined waterproof or snow suit. These can be a really handy way to keep fuss to a minimum, but don’t afford quite as much flexibility to layer up/down if the temperature changes. The other watch out is that a good waterproof shouldn't be washed with detergent the way you will want to wash a fleece because it erodes the waterproof membrane - So opting for separates is a good idea in that sense. Some brands offer products with removable fleece linings - which is a great answer to that problem (Muddy Puddles do a particularly fantastic one).