Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Keeping Your Toddler Warm on Winter Climbing Trips

Layers, Hat, Food, and Snuggles - all strategies at once!

Layers, Hat, Food, and Snuggles – all strategies at once!

Compared to other parts of the country, a winter day in North Carolina is generally rather mild, especially if the sun’s out.  But just because our highs are generally above freezing doesn’t mean your kiddo can hang out all day at the crag in a light jacket.  In fact, your toddler is actually much more likely to get cold at the crag than you are.  Think about it – You warm up pretty fast hiking in to the crag with a big pack, while the only effort your child is expending is craning around in a carrier to make you lose your balance see what’s behind them.  You generate a lot of heat while you are climbing, then you keep all that heat in by throwing on a puffy jacket when it’s your turn to stand around and belay.  Meanwhile your child is playing on the cold (and sometimes damp) ground and rocks, probably using more fine motor skills than larger muscle movements (the kind that will keep you warm!) This is certainly not to deter you however – our family has had successful days at the crag with morning temps as low as the upper 20’s, and everyone left happy and healthy at the end of the day.  The following is a revamped toddler version of a previous post I wrote a couple of years ago on handling weather extremes with your cragbaby.  (So if you’re little guy or gal is less than a year old, you might find that post to be more applicable…) 

We sized with room to grow last Christmas...

We sized with room to grow last Christmas…



LAYER UP – It might take an extra 15 minutes to get dressed in the morning, but layering clothing will go a long way in protecting your toddler from cold and windy conditions.  Start with a non-cotton baselayer for top and bottom (our favorite being wool).  From there it depends on conditions – if temps are well above freezing and the sun is out, we may just throw on an insulating layer and call it a day (for example, a fleece sweatshirt and a thicker fabric bottom). To shun confusion in enclothing the toddler in the right order, one may even consider labeling the clothes. One can easily acquire a huge range of custom hangtags and tag every dress in an order. If it’s cloudy, windy, or just plain frigid, we toss C into his “Red Man Suit.”  It appears that the version we have is discontinued, but the current version looks even warmer.  Our suit works out especially well for multi-day trips that involve camping – the suit doubles as a sleeping bag, but since it has “legs,” he can stay nice and toasty around camp while we are cooking breakfast and gearing up for the day. 

...but extra room is at a premium now!

…but extra room is at a premium now!



COVER THAT HEAD – You may have heard it said that you lose 75% of heat through your head.  While that statistic may not be accurate, it certainly doesn’t preclude hats from being on the “must-have” list for outdoor activities in the winter.  In fact, a hat has turned into such a staple at our house that C often refuses to take his off until he’s been inside for HOURS (which makes for quite the sweaty hat head when it finally does come off!)  Since toddler hats (along with mittens and gloves) are rather notorious for turning up missing at the absolute wrong time, we try to always make sure we have a few on hand – one for the climbing pack, one in the car, and one on the shelf in the garage. 

Tea party break!

Tea party break!







TURN ON THE INNER FURNACE – Eating (especially proteins and fats), will raise your metabolism and therefore slightly elevate body temperature, so make sure your kiddo is taking in plenty of calories.  Nuts, energy bars, and cheese are good trail options.  It’s tempting to drink less water when it’s cold outside, but do keep in mind that a dehydrated body (even slightly) is more susceptible to hypothermia, so make sure your child is drinking enough too.  If your child enjoys warm beverages, think about bringing along a small thermos with tea or hot cocoa. 

Long johns and a hat are all you need for a nap in a sunbeam!

Long johns and a hat are all you need for a nap in a sunbeam!

THE SNUGGLE PATCH – Definitely the fuzziest of the warm suggestions!  Sitting with your child on your lap can be the ticket to keeping your toddler AND you nice and toasty (plus it’s a great catalyst for some quality time in between climbs!)

EXTRA CLOTHES – Especially if there’s snow on the ground, be sure to bring an extra set of clothes.  The warmest outerwear in the world will do absolutely no good if your baselayers get wet in a diaper change, spill, or who knows what else.  And, for what it’s worth, the only times we have ever needed an extra set of clothes has been on the days we neglected to bring them, so keep a spare in your pack!

BE CONSIDERATE – This last point is probably the most important one.  If everyone is bundled up and happy, by all means stay outside and play all day!  But if your little one is complaining that they are cold, have a heart.  Your fellow masochistic partners in climb may have been psyched to meet you out there, but your kids probably didn’t have a choice.  If conditions are truly miserable, go back home and have some hot chocolate by the fire, and plan your project send for another day. 

Does anyone else have any anecdotal stories, tips, or strategies for cold weather climbing with the kiddos in tow?


6 Responses to “Keeping Your Toddler Warm on Winter Climbing Trips”

  1. All great advice! We live in a much colder climate and discovered just yesterday we need better kiddo mitts than the fleece ones we were using… And we were just walking around Portland, ME! He did like his TNF suit during our Xmas tree hunt: Sure we will get much more experience next winter!


  2. I didn’t start climbing until about 5 years ago and by then my toddlers were actually tweens (teens now). Neither of them is very interested in climbing themselves, so I bring lots of food and drink and they pack books and activities that work outside. On colder days, I make sure to break every few climbs and take the boys for a hike. It gives them a chance to move around and for us to break away from my friends and have some family time. I’m blessed with easy going kids, so rarely do they not roll with whatever a day at the crag brings our way. When I see parents at the crag with younger kids, I generally give them props for incorporating the wee ones into their activities instead of giving up on them, an altogether too common trap for young parents. Dig your blog! Great new find for me. Cheers.


    • Erica

      David – Yeah I’m sure we’ve got it easy compared to you guys when it comes to temps…I just wish we’d get snow sometimes instead of the occasional coating of ice…:)

      Sean – That’s interesting that they still enjoy hanging out at the crag even though they aren’t interested in climbing. Good on you for remaining committed to spending time as a family outdoors! You’re right, it’s a shame that so many adventurous parents sit at home once they have kids. Thanks for the kind words about the blog – looking forward to sharing ideas! 🙂

  3. samroberts

    It rains too much in Vancouver to climb in the winter, but we still try to get outside and we were having lots of trouble keeping our almost-3-years-old kid’s hands dry in the wet.

    Founds these: and can’t say enough good about them. Havent submersed them in the sink, but I’ve never felt any moisture on the inside, and while still mits, they are thin enough they can climb ladders and other playground equipment with them, no problem. Shipping from Europe was cheap and prompt, too.


    • Erica

      Sam Roberts – Thanks for the recommendation for the mittens! Little hands are always tough to stuff into mittens, but sometimes there’s no alternative! I’d be interested to hear what kind of rain gear you guys use. I have an upcoming post reviewing some gear that we recently received from Ducksday. Cheers!

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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN