Thick and big won’t do the trick
Believe it or not, I’m not naturally inclined towards winter vacations, in particular trips involving snow due to the sheer amount of ‘logistics’ involved. But once there, when we see so much joy on our kids’ faces, all these inhibitions just melt away.
From trial and errors, we realized that wearing copious amount of thick puffy jackets will only add weight to our family’s luggage yet they may not provide adequate insulation against the harsh elements of winter.
Winter Vacay in Hokkaido, Dec 2017
Winds can chill, Snow can kill – Elements of winter:
For those of us from tropical countries, late autumn or early spring climate can ‘feel like’ winter. Real winter, with sub-zero temperatures is far harsher. Travellers often overlook the wind chill factor. The temperature, which we see on our smart devices, can be vastly different once the winds blow in. Often this is enough to make us catch a bad chill and fall sick while on vacation.
Bulk and Balance:
Dressing big and bulky inhibit our movements, making us lose our balance and stability. So how exactly should we dress our kids (and ourselves) for winter?
The Base Layer
Our bodies perspire all the time, including in winter. It’s our body’s way to regulate our temperature. We perspire even more when playing outdoors in snow or ski. So the base layer is THE most important layer in layering for winter. ‘Wick’ and ‘Keep’ are the two key words to remember. The base layer forms the first layer that touches our body. As such, it needs to wick away all the moisture and perspiration while keeping the body heat in. In this regard, cotton is NOT recommended as a base layer. Cotton absorbs moisture, making our bodies feel damp and cold. This makes us catches chill easily. So, wearing many layers of cotton T-shirts or singlets inside a winter jacket is the WORST way to keep warm.
The most comfortable base layers in the world – Icebreaker Merino Wool. Available at X-Boundaries at Velocity
Wool: The most suitable and natural material is wool. Wool is most effective in wicking away moisture and keeping in the body heat (think of those woolly sheep in wintry countries.) To be honest, 100% wool would be best. Depending on the climate, there are also synthetic blend with wool or just purely synthetic which are good substitutes. For harsher climates (i.e. snowing and subzero with wind), go with 100% Merino Wool.
Kids 100% Pure Merino Wool Base Layers – Navy Blue for Buddy, Pink for Dana
Prickly? Some people have the misconception that wool gives a ‘prickly’ sensation. We recently discovered that if it’s good quality wool (e.g. Merino Wool), it is actually v soft to touch, no itch and definitely not prickly at all. Best of all, it is odour resistant, offers UV protection and provides the BEST insulation against chill and cold. These properties make Merino Wool the IDEAL material as base layers.
The Mid Layer
The 2nd layer will be the mid layer. This layer works the same way as the base layer – together they wick away moisture and trap body heat within. For mid layer, go for a good quality fleece or woollen jacket. Cotton again is bad as it compromises the evaporation of body moisture. We bought Mont-bell (a Japanese brand) Fleece Jackets for the kids and the kids loved how soft and comfy these jackets are.
Mont-bell Kids Fleece Mid Layer Jackets. Available at X-Boundaries at Velocity
The Outer Layer:
This is where we can afford to get a bit more fancy as there are choices aplenty. The outer layer forms as a shield or shell of sorts from all that water, snow and wind that will be hitting us in winter. This layer should be waterproof and have features that prevent the cold wind from entering our bodies. These include:
- Down-filled interior. Down is natural feather that, like wool, is effective in keeping heat in while helping to evaporate moisture. Think ducks in winter!
- Hood to cover the head and face from heavy snowfall and rain.
- Zips that go all the way to cover the neck. This can complement your scarf, neck warmer and/or balaclava.
- Elastic bands around the wrist to prevent too much cold air from coming in.
- Quality material and seams on the outer shell that are durable and flexible (i.e. won’t tear or break easily).
For skiing, invest in a wind-proof, water-proof lightweight parka jacket, from the major sporting brands like Marmot, Columbia and The North Face. The wife says the kids range at Winter Kids.com is really comprehensive and they ship to Singapore using UPS Worldwide for a fee. Some of the ski schools we went to in Hokkaido (e.g. Tomamu and Rusutsu) rent out Ski Jackets and Ski Pants according to the kids’ sizes. Really customer-centric and cost-saving.
Kids Waterproof 80% Down Outer Jackets with Detachable Hood. Available at Chateau de Sable at United Square.
How many layers is enough?
Well, depending on when and where you are headed, you need 1 base layer, 1 mid layer and 1 outer layer as the bare minimum. For sub-zero climates with strong wind chill factors, you may need to increase it to 1-2 base layers, 2 mid layers (a fleece tee plus a fleece jacket) and 1 outer layer. My personal motto is that we’d rather we dress the kids warmer than not warm enough.
The bottom half, though not as critical as the top half of the body, still needs some protection too. For us, a wool legging (from Icebreaker brand) followed by a pair of warm-lined waterproof pants (from Uniqlo) or ski pants usually do the trick. Angie has bought good quality ski pants for the kids online from GAP.
- Gloves: For kids who are going to play in snow, waterproof gloves are essential. While the woven ones from Grandma are nice, it won’t help. Remember, snow is water. Icy water. Without waterproof gloves, their fingers might suffer frostbites. If travelling to sub-zero climates, you may want to purchase an inner glove lining. This forms like a base layer for hands. From experience, any climate below -10c would need a glove lining. Like the base layer, pure wool or a wool blend is good to prevent hands from being sweaty, cold and becoming numb. If you or your kids are skiing, then a glove lining is essential.
- Socks: Keeping the feet warm and dry is important. Wool socks or and a blend of wool and synthetic socks will do fine. Again, avoid cotton unless you want the feet to be damp and smelly. If the weather dips below sub-zero, wear a thinner layer of socks inside the thicker layer of wool socks. Alternatively, buy those toe warmer packs available in Daiso or at X-Boundaries at Velocity.
- Shoes: This forms the outer shell of our foot wear and it is essential that it gives good traction in snow and ice. Get waterproof walking/hiking/trekking shoes to complement the wool socks. Key to getting shoes for winter vacation is that the soles must be suitable for snow and ice. Some reputable shoe brands that we trust are Salomon, Timberland, Columbia and Kamik.
Preparing for a winter vacation can be daunting. There is so much preparation needed. While some of these may seem costly, having your family holidays ruined by sicknesses or accidents are far costlier.
Here are some tips we practise to save costs:
- Ask the Experts: Ask friends who have travelled to the destinations you are headed to. Sometimes the store personnel at mass-market malls may not have expert knowledge or first hand experiences with extreme winter climates. Hence we found asking the professionals from X-Boundaries at Velocity extremely helpful, as they are adventure guides who are familiar with the terrain and environment.
- Buy Quality Materials: Don’t be penny wise and pound-foolish. Winter elements are harsh and unpredictable. Quality materials in winter outfits ensure your family is kept safe, warm and happy during vacation. For the kids’ outer layers, the wife snagged Chateau De Sable’s quality 80% down jackets at 40% discount during its recent storewide sale. These jackets are durable, fashionable and very well made. We have also worn brands like Timberlands, GAP and Uniqlo for our outer layers.
- Buy Online: If you are confident of the sizing, buying them online can sometimes save some costs but do buy them early to allow the margin of time for exchanges or to buy new ones should the sizes don’t fit. Also factor in extra measurements to allow for thicker socks and base layers. The wife usually orders the kids’ Kamik boots from Amazon and ship them in using 3rd party freight forwarders.
- Buy from Carousell: Since Singaporeans love winter vacations and kids outgrow their apparels and shoes very fast, you can sometimes buy good conditioned, preloved (or even brand new) winter items from local families on Carousell. Just need to check the app regularly for good bargains.
- Know your Stores: Here’s where we get our winter wear in Singapore:
For chilly autumn and early winter (e.g. Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong etc.): Uniqlo. Their HeatTech thermals, outer jackets and warm-lined pants are affordable. We wore them for early winter trips to Taiwan, Hokkaido and windy summer trip to Iceland.
For sub-zero temperatures and countries known for harsher winters (e.g. Finland, Iceland, Australia, USA, Europe, Korea): Icebreakers 100% Merino Wool base layers, mid layers, Wool socks and gloves. Mont-bell Fleece Jackets and Outer Jackets. Both brands are available at X-Trekkers / X-Boundaries at Velocity.
Global Flagship Store: Orchard Central. Phone: 68357297
Boutiques: United Square, Paragon, Tanglin Mall and Parkway Parade. Phone: 63965338
Watch this short 4-minute video for a step by step guide to Dressing Kids for Winter!