November 20, 2015 8:16 PM MST - Subscription purchasing, account maintenance, forum profile maintenance, new account registration, and forum posting have been disabled
as we prepare our databases for the final migration to our new server next week. Stay tuned here for more details.
Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Do kids need more insulation than adults in cold weather?
Display Avatars Sort By:
John Hillyer
(TrNameLucky) - MLife
Do kids need more insulation than adults in cold weather? on 12/08/2013 15:46:20 MST Print View

I am outfitting my son with clothing and a sleeping bag(s) for our hiking trips. He is a 4” tall, 58 lbs, 5 year old. The father in me wants to dress him in heavier layers than I will be wearing, to keep him warm. The other school of thought is that he should have exactly the same layers as I bring along on each trip. After all, I bring clothing that will keep me appropriately warm for the conditions and putting my son in heavier layers will only make him sweat more and make him colder because his clothing will get wetter from the inside.

So do kids need more insulation than adults? Maybe something like their small bodies produce less heat than our adult larger bodies? Or should they be fine using the same number and thickness of layers as an adult uses?

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Do kids need more insulation than adults in cold weather? on 12/08/2013 17:32:05 MST Print View

For two reasons young kids will need more insulation.

The first reason is that their surface area to mass ratio is much higher than for an adult, so they will lose heat and cool down faster. That's why elephants have such big flappy ears: they are radiators to handle the lower surface area to mass ratio.

The second reason is psychology. You as an adult can tough it out far more than a 5 year old. Sure, he will go like the clappers while he is warm enough and has enough energy, but the transition to cold and miserable can happen much more quickly/easily. You don't want him being turned off, AND you don't want to spend all your time worrying about him.

So, a bit more warm clothing for him, especially for when he is static, PLUS lots of energy snacks for him. Yeah, he may go through them like you wouldn't believe.

You are right in wanting to stop him from sweating while he is active of course.


Kevin Schneringer
(Slammer) - MLife

Locale: Oklahoma Flat Lands
Kids & insulation on 12/08/2013 17:45:28 MST Print View

I have 5,9,10,12 year olds and they all get similar layers as I do
Like Roger said Energy! But what keeps my kids going is
Warm toes and hands. So carry some hand warmers and I also carry instant hot chocolate and tea.
These make all the difference in the world.
It's extra water but worth the weight.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Do kids need more insulation on 12/08/2013 18:37:09 MST Print View

Definitely take an extra layer, not only because he may need more warmth, but because there is such a magnetic attraction between young children and water or mud! Chances are excellent the kid will need an extra clean dry layer to sleep in. Of course make sure everything is fast-drying, including the underwear (it's hard to find synthetic undies for 5 year olds).

Once the kid is about 11 or so you can generally keep him out of the water or mud, unless, of course, he takes up fishing….

Edited by hikinggranny on 12/08/2013 18:40:36 MST.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
yes and no on 12/08/2013 19:50:27 MST Print View

Yes you should have extra layers along for the kid, as others have mentioned. But that does not mean that he will always wear more than you will. When active, if he's anything like my boys, he's a little furnace and will likely need less to stay warm. When sitting, probably more (if he ever sits). Most important thing to remember is that you have to manage his layers - he'll most likely just get cranky if he's cold or hot rather than taking something off or asking for a jacket. So you have to pay a lot of attention to whether he is getting too warm or too cold, and make the adjustments for him.

And a big +1 on the snacks - keeping him fueled is your number one job if you want him to enjoy the trip. Find some healthy snacks that he likes and bring lots, and keep up a steady flow.

Also - be prepared to stuff him back into his sleeping bag at night. My boys always wriggled out during the night and had to be shoved back in. Amazing how much of that they slept through, and amazing how hard it can be to get a slumbering kid slid back into a mummy bag.

Paul Mountford
(Sparticus) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic Canada
Re: yes and no on 12/09/2013 04:55:34 MST Print View

+ 1

Obviously err on the side of safety as many have said, at least until you learn (or your kids) find their comfort zones.

I started backpacking with my son with a winter trip when he was 6 years old. Teaching them to manage their layers at that age takes a little time. Regular questions about how hot or cold my son was reviled (at first) he was slow to recognize the requirement to add or remove layers.

By the time he was 10, he was an old pro and I found him stripping layers on his own. I have noticed that he is a warm sleeper while I’m a cold sleeper. +1 to Kevin’s comment about hands and feet. While my son’s body generally runs warmer than mine, his hands and feet are always colder.

Sumi Wada
(DetroitTigerFan) - F

Locale: Ann Arbor
Re: Do kids need more insulation than adults in cold weather? on 12/09/2013 06:06:09 MST Print View

Well, "more" would depend on the person you're comparing against... I'm the mom and my son and I've been pretty much on the same page for layers ever since he was a toddler (he's now 15.) In fact, he initially wore a lot of my hand-me-downs and, now, I can wear his. I think I hike/sleep slightly cooler than the average guy, so in comparison to *you*, your son may need slightly warmer layers.

I don't sweat much and, in my experience, neither do kids. Smaller bodies just don't need to as much. So, I don't really worry about "wicking" properties. But my son has always really liked the Patagonia Capilene baselayers; they make them in kids' sizes and they're often on sale on Patagonia's website (see their "web specials").

Same for sleeping bags. When he was a toddler, I used to stick to synthetics because I was worried he might have an "accident" one night but I don't think that ever actually happened. Still, something to consider. Otherwise, he just used one of my old bags (I'm 5'2"). (I have been accused of getting my son into hiking just so I'd have an excuse to buy new gear...)

For food, we ate about the same quantity until just this last year or so. (He now eats everything in sight.) To be honest, I never worried so much about "healthy" on the trail for him as much as lots of calories that I knew he'd eat. We're not much "snackers" at home and we're not on the trail either. We tend to eat big meals and not a lot in between. One thing about kids, they're happy eating the SAME thing every day if it's something they like.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Do kids need more insulation than adults in cold weather? on 12/09/2013 14:46:51 MST Print View


And they need not only more warm clothing, they just need more clothing in general. Even now I still carry an extra outfit in the van for my oldest son - and he is 16. Heck, I leave an extra outfit for myself! My insurance for when we get back. When he was younger, I always had a spare outfit along in the pack.

And I have survived an oops on a 3 day trip, where on night 1 there was an accident. We shared my sleeping bag the rest of the time as a quilt.

My oldest also has been a grazer his whole life - so for hiking he carries a ton of snacks. High fat, high carb, he keeps going.....

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Listen to your kids - please on 12/09/2013 19:03:56 MST Print View

Listen to your kids when they complain of the cold. I didn't when my 11 year old daughter complained of cold hands as we were XC skiing on a frigid NW Pennsylvania day.

Then, back at the ski lodge I felt like "The Worst Father in the World" as I listened to her cry and whimper in pain while her frostbitten hands re-warmed.

And yes, the smaller the body the more insulation it needs. Just simple physics. Our greater adult mass retains more heat.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Do kids need more insulation than adults in cold weather? on 12/11/2013 22:05:01 MST Print View

I'm not necessarily trying to disagree with folks here, and yes, i don't have kids, but i'm always amazed when i see kids at the beach (or other water sources) in the early season, etc, braving, and apparently tolerating or even not noticing cold water that most adults except the far northern Canadian folks, won't even think about getting in. I've seen this too often to not notice and wonder about it.

Seems like kids furnaces burn hotter as a trend, and maybe also something about the mind aspect seems to change things for them. Kids generally aren't so full of such strong and concrete belief systems about how things should be and are, and i think in some ways that works in their favor, like at the beach or streams, lakes, etc.

But yeah, i'm not saying don't well insulate your kids, just wondering about the above and how it fits into the scheme of things.

Course, there is the well known case of the wild French boy. "Experts" say that humans are just not physiologically adapted to cold weather innately (which seems obvious physically), and yet they can't adequately explain cases like him, Wim Hoff, some of the Tibetan monks, and others. For those who don't know, the case of the wild French boy, well even after they tried to "civilize" and culture him, he still had a penchant for frolicking naked out in the snow.

Perhaps to some extent, our minds and beliefs or lack have more of an influence than we tend to give credit for?

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Do kids need more insulation than adults in cold weather? on 12/11/2013 22:12:57 MST Print View

KIids DO love the cold/hot and live to get wet/muddy....but once they get too cold, it goes downhill badly, fast.

The key is being prepared with backup. Let them have fun, but know when it is time to stop :-)

Scott Penman

Locale: Missouri-Colorado
Recs on 01/25/2014 10:34:56 MST Print View

Really helpful information here. I am in the midst of gearing up for mild weather camping with my 5 year old daughter (6 by the time we are under the stars) and possibly 4 year old son.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Do kids need more insulation than adults in cold weather? on 01/25/2014 11:01:09 MST Print View

The smaller the animal, the more heat lost due to mass/surface area ratios. Body mass, fat and conditioning add factors like the differences between adults.

You have to monitor them closely as they will go until they are a mess. +1 on spares and extra layers.

It was interesting to read about paying attention to cold complaints. I say to pay attention to ANYONE in your party with physical complaints. Hot weather has it's issues too.

Being in the PNW, I've learned since childhood that cold rainy weather can be as much a threat as bitter cold. Watch your family closely for hypothermia. Shivering is a big clue, but changes in attitude and responsiveness can tip you off to developing problems. A rest break with some dry clothing and a hot drink can make the trip safer and much more pleasant. Fleece and hot chocolate rule :)

Bob P.
Cold kids on 01/27/2014 08:47:13 MST Print View

I had an issue with my daughter who at the time was 10 hiking up Bear Mountain in the winter with temps around 15F. Her clothes weren't too different than mine, but her tolerance and cold comfort was a bit behind. It was the first time in such cold weather with her and I kept asking if she was good and she said she was. She was eating and drinking like a typical kid, but never told me she had cold hands. Half way to our destination she says her hands are cold and boy were they, you could just see and feel it. I had heat packs and packed my wife's much thicker gloves just incase. The heat packs took a little bit to warm up and having her keep moving her fingers was tough. After about 20-30 minutes she was good but I learned something and that was to really impress upon her how necessary it was to tell me when she STARTED to get cold and not just tell me when she was almost at her limit (which was suprisingly high to me) and much tougher to remedy. I would say taking a little extra precaution would pay dividends on an enjoyable trip.

Eric Johnson
(unimog) - MLife

Locale: Utah
Not Necessarily on 01/27/2014 09:11:42 MST Print View

Not trying to be disagreeable, but each child has their own thermostat just like each of us sleeps warm or cold. You need to take extra until you see how they respond. My boys sleep with no pad, even in winter and don't need as many clothes as I do! They have each started camping in cold weather at about 8 yo. I'm always telling them they need this or that, but if they are happy and warm, its all good. They are all pretty skinny, so they have super high metabolism, but also don't have a lot of built-in insulation.

My daughter, on the other hand, needs extra clothes and may need help getting her feet or hands warmed up from time to time.

Edited by unimog on 01/27/2014 09:12:36 MST.