When outfitting children for the outdoors, there is one assumption that you need to make: they WILL get wet.
The good news is that getting wet is OK, water won't kill you and the sooner that everyone comes to terms with that, the sooner everyone will be able to enjoy being out in all seasons. That being said, while getting wet won't kill you, getting cold will. That is where having a well thought-out clothing strategy comes in. Having the correct clothing for effectively managing moisture is one of most important requirements for having a comfortable, safe, and fun experience in the outdoors.
The foundation of our children's clothing system is (drumroll please)... underpants. Based on our experience, the following are essential requirements for children's underwear:
- Quick drying. The underwear must be made out of a quick drying fabric like polyester, nylon, or wool (or some combination thereof). Definitely NOT cotton (or any cotton blend). Cotton soaks up water like a sponge, takes forever to dry out, and completely loses it insulative value when wet. Cotton also tends to be abrasive when wet which can lead to chafing, something you definitely do not want to deal with in the middle of a long hike.
- Undershirt and briefs. Our childrens' underwear consists of two parts - a sleeveless undershirt and an pair of boxer briefs. One of the reasons we select boxer briefs is so that there are no big seams right between the legs where chafing can occur. Additional reasons for why we select what we do are described further on.
- Close fitting. The underwear must be close fitting - form-fitting being preferred - and there are several good reasons for this. First, the more close fitting the garment, the quicker it will dry. When clothing gets wet, the primary way that it dries out is by body heat. Clothing that is in close contact with the body will dry out much faster than if it is baggy. Secondly, close fitting underwear will make your children feel warmer in cold/wet conditions. When the outer loose-fitting layers of clothes are wet they can be cold. When those layers brush against the skin they can chill the child. Having a form-fitting layer as a base will help provide a barrier from the looser fitting layers chilling the child when they brush against the skin.
- Modest. As conditions get warmer and/or activity ramps-up, layers of clothing are removed. We select our childrens' underwear such that it can be worn alone and be acceptable in public - much like a bathing suit. In fact, we don't bring bathing suits on our wilderness trips, the kids just wear their underwear.
So far, the two brands we have found that meet all of our criteria are Nike and Under Armour. Both brands make form-fitting sports underwear for kids out of a lycra-like fabric. These garments are usually designed to be worn both on as underwear or on their own in hot, conditions - perfect for what we need.
At times in the past our kids have been wet and cold, or hot and sweaty. At other times they have complained about not having their bathing suits upon discovering a nice body of water to play in. This system was born out of necessity.
We trialed it for the first time last year and have had tremendous success. It has been so successful in fact that the outdoor underwear has morphed into everyday underwear that our kids prefer to wear all the time. If our son had his way, his underwear would never go in the laundry.