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A few years 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 box in their closet (you can see here how we set up our kids’ minimalist wardrobes in an open closet instead of a dresser). When we get up on the morning of an adventure and I say, “Winter Gear,” they all put on the contents of their Winter box, with any necessary modifications based on weather. The point being, it’s all kept together, easy to find, and easily applied.
The insulation layer is fleece, which is insulating and non-moisture absorbing. You want sweatpants and a sweatshirt like these. 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. You can wear these on their own or over thermals and under rain shells so the versatility, warmth, and comfort just can’t be beat.
This is your outer waterproof layer. You want pants and a jacket like these (toddler versions are typically one piece). In general, these layers don’t have any insulation – it’s just a fully 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 a couple pair as part of their one-week minimalist wardrobe and they are perfect for everything from snowboarding to strolling on a cold, wet day.
It was all about the Bogs boots around here. They are the best in the waterproof department. Conquer the world, in any weather, with a pair of Bogs insulated boots for your puddle jumping mud wader. We literally waded through icy rivers with our feet completely dry.
But as our kids got older and our hikes got longer and more intensive, Bogs just didn’t provide the support that we needed for our feet. My current favorite is the Sorel Explorer Joan Boots for me and Sky, though I’ve yet to find a men’s or kid’s winter hiking boot that anyone loves.
Cap your winter gear off with a fleece-lined beanie that it covers the ears. Fleece is warm and water resistant while also being soft to the touch. Many hats even have an outer layer of wool for added warmth.
We each have one pair of fleece and one pair of waterproof gloves. The fleece gloves are worn regularly with the waterproof gloves coming out exclusively for snow play (a heat pack is easily slipped inside these and dropped inside the boots) or rain soaked hand work (like 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, the gear is passed down through my own kids and we have a nice circle of friends with whom we share the bounty. 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.
Having the right gear is a big part of thriving as a family in the colder months. And it really is about having those right quality pieces, not about having more. My kids each have only one rain shell but that durable work horse of a layer sure does its job of keeping my kids dry on any adventure we throw at it. It is an investment, but a worthwhile one, getting your family outside and exploring together.
Want to learn more about this nature adventuring way of life? Listen to episode 11 of the Sage Family Podcast with Nicolette Sowder on Nature.
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.Rachel Rainbolt, Sage Homeschooling