How much gear does an outdoor family need to have fun and stay comfortable outside all year long without breaking the bank and focusing too much on flashy things? These five items top our list.
1) Dedicated play clothes: Equip children with a stash of used clothing for rugged outdoor playtime, including stained shirts, worn-knee jeans, hand-me-downs or thrift store clothing items for those days when it’s warm enough to play outside without heavy coats or snow gear.
This motivates children to feel carefree and adventurous as they explore nature and pursue opportunities for healthy, reasonable physical risks and challenges, without parents or other caregivers worrying about clothes getting “ruined.”
2) Loose parts for backyard playtime: Children can use plastic buckets, shovels and empty jugs, old tires, logs, rocks, rope, and other supplies for self-directed, open-ended, imaginative play, recommends Angela Hanscom, a renowned pediatric occupational therapist based in New Hampshire and author of “Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children.”
This mom also founded TimberNook, a year-round program that facilitates outdoor play and nature-based sensory development as a form of “preventative health care for children,” according to TimberNook.com. When children use loose parts to create a fort or “rocket,” they’re learning problem-solving, spatial, motor, and collaborative-social skills. What may look like junk to adults can be tools for kids to create something new and wonderful.
3) Weatherproof gear: An essential clothing list for playing outside in cold, wet conditions begins with a weatherproof jacket that protects from rain showers or snow, wind, and cold. Waterproof jackets are also good, just not as warm; however, a fleece under-layer – such as a half-zip pullover, jacket, or vest – can be worn underneath to create a more weatherproof combination. Avoid outerwear labeled “water-resistant,” as it can’t withstand sustained exposure to rain or snow.
Next, a breathable base layer made of merino wool or polyester, such as fleece, will help kids stay comfortable as they work up a sweat. Provide waterproof snow or rain pants, depending on the weather, that have elastic ankle cuffs to keep pant legs snug over waterproof boots. Avoid cotton clothing – it doesn’t insulate when it gets wet, whether from snow or sweat, which is why socks made with merino wool are the best choice. Last, add a hat and gloves as needed.
This gear is interchangeable for variable conditions during winter, spring, and fall – whatever works best to help a child stay comfortable for hours. For example, my kids wear Paradox® long-sleeve, quarter-zip fleece pullovers while alpine skiing and also under their team jerseys when playing soccer on cold days during fall and spring. It takes some trial-and-error experience to figure out the best combination for each child, based on his or her activity, play intensity, and temperature preference.
4) Boot dryer: If your kids enjoy stomping in puddles or playing in snow for hours, you need one. My family uses our boot dryers year-round, whether it’s for snow boots, athletic shoes, and even gloves.
5) State parks pass: Having a year-round admission and parking pass will motivate and inspire more frequent visits to regional state parks for day-use recreation such as hiking, biking, boating, or fishing, or for overnight camping trips. Washington state has more than 140 state parks, water access sites, and trailheads that require a Discover Pass, and Idaho has more than 25 state parks.