2 Part Process for Keeping Children Warm on Sub-Freezing Adventures [INTERVIEW]

It finally snowed here in Boulder, Colorado!, which of course turned my attention to making sure we dress our children appropriately for getting out and staying out in the sub-freezing snowy wonderland. I reached out to my friend, Wil Rickards, an experienced outdoor educator, adventurer, and parent, to find out what he thinks about gearing up children for the cold.

About Wil: Wil Rickards was born in North Wales and steeped in its rich maritime, mountain and river folklore. During more than 25 years as an outdoor educator he worked Scottish winter seasons, taught canoeing, climbing, kayaking and skiing throughout the States, Europe and Australia, and regenerated the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Outdoor Education program. He shares his experience and philosophy on WhereTheFruitis.com.

Jason Sperling: Besides keeping children warm for the obvious reasons, why do you think it’s so important?

Wil Rickards: Since spending time in a Waldorf environment it has become increasingly apparent why keeping children warm affects far more than merely their comfort and happiness. Denver Waldorf School’s Adam Blanning talks a lot about why warmth is so important and suggests that:

  • Being warm allows us to be “warmer”, more generous and caring people.
  • Like dough, warmth encourages us to prove, grow and adopt new “flavor”.
  • Ultimately, warmth is instrumental in the development of our children.

Jason Sperling: How should we keep our children warm in winter?

Wil Rickards: There are two parts to the process:

  1. Creating heat
  2. Trapping it efficiently

Think of children in the same way you do a house. While an efficient and well stocked boiler / stove is really important, ultimately, auditing energy loss is just as significant for comfortable (and sustainable) living.

First, let’s talk about creating heat. Just like kindling is used to start a fire, well split logs to generate heat and big logs to keep a fire going over night, think of food in the same way. Sugars will give an instant burst but flare up and burn out just as quickly. Carbohydrates provide a well balanced flow of heat and always remember the fats when you want to keep the fire going throughout the day.

Clothes do not heat bodies, they purely maintain warmth, so it is important to use movement to generate heat. Playing games that encourage children to move are especially necessary when the child is acting lethargically due to cold.

Go potty before going out! Heating up fluids inside your body is wasted energy. It is much better to have warm fingers and toes, even though this heat will be lost more quickly.

Second, let’s talk about trapping heat efficiently. Most heat is lost through the head, decent hats are imperative. (We have always had good luck with hoods ensuring something at hand to prevent escaping heat before it becomes a problem.)

Evaporation is a major cause of heat loss, so staying dry is a huge factor in keeping warm. For adults sweat is a major culprit and it is often a good idea to layer down. For children dampness is more likely due to rolling in snow or not pulling a zipper up. Being vigilant about providing well fitting clothes that wick moisture from the body and a fully waterproof layer, will go a long way towards maintaining heat. Layer kids up.

Outdoor enthusiasts will cite that “cotton kills”, it sounds melodramatic, but cotton as a skin layer in winter is to be avoided as it does not dry easily and causes major evaporative heat loss.

Layering really is key. Wool & silk (best) or synthetic layers next to the skin, with a number of other wool or synthetic insulation layers topped by a waterproof shell are worth the investment.

Wil Rickards’ top 6 things to keep kids warm

  1. Wool or silk skin layers
  2. Fully waterproof outer layer
  3. Warm, well fitting hat
  4. Fully waterproof gloves
  5. A well thought out layering system
  6. Plenty of food including complex carbohydrates & fats
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