How to Shop for the Perfect Winter Coat or Snow Suit for Your Kids in Canada

by Bailey Bouwman

As winter approaches in Canada, it's time to gear up for exciting outdoor adventures with your kids in Northern BC. We've been talking about finding the right fit for kids winter boots, and now let's explore the topic of winter coats and snowsuits. 

The Prince George Costco currently has their snowsuits in - two piece for toddlers and big kids - and it got me thinking, what do I need to know as a parent to choose the right outer gear? What do all these numbers actually mean and how can I ensure the outerwear I choose is actually comfortable for my kids. 

We've relied on Villervalla Winter Coats for the past few years, and this year the shop is excited to bring in a small selection of products, along with new winter products from Jan & Jul. The Villervalla, I know from personal experience, is the best winter coat we've tried, but there are options and what works for my family might not be the right choice for you.

A child in the snow dressed in a snow pants and snow jacket with mittens, and hat from villervall. The child is in Canada and it is cold outside.

At Nest & Sprout, we believe in making your shopping experience enjoyable and informative. So, let's venture beyond thermal ratings and explore the key factors that truly matter when selecting the ideal winter wear for your kids.

The Limitations of Thermal Ratings

We get asked "what's this rated" and to be honest, we don't know because unlike sleep sacks which have a TOG rating, the same thermal rating score isn't as straightforward for outerwear.

Some companies will pay to have a testing, a CLO score, for their products but these are not always an accurate reflection of your child's experience. The cost of this testing is also not viable for all products and brands. You'll notice some of the Emu Australia winter boots are rated -30C and some are not. The 'to test or not to test' conversation impacts that on their product line, despite product similarities between styles.

Here are some common concerns with thermal ratings

  • Unreliable and Subjective: Thermal ratings are often determined in controlled laboratory settings, where factors like humidity, wind, and individual comfort preferences are not accounted for. As a result, these ratings may not accurately reflect how warm a child will feel in real-life outdoor conditions.
  • Individual Factors at Play: Children have different activity levels, metabolic rates, and tolerance to cold. What may feel cozy to one child might feel chilly to another. So, relying solely on thermal ratings may not consider these individual factors, leading to potential discomfort for your little ones.
  • Weather Conditions and Layering: Winter weather can be unpredictable, with changes in wind chill and humidity levels impacting perceived warmth. Additionally, layering plays a significant role in regulating body temperature. A well-insulated coat paired with proper base layers can provide excellent warmth, even without an exceptionally high thermal rating.
  • Activity Level Matters: Kids are full of energy, and their activities during outdoor play generate body heat. Whether they're building snowmen or skiing down slopes, their activity level can significantly influence their perceived warmth. Thus, a versatile winter coat that adapts to various levels of activity is crucial for their comfort.
  • Personal Metabolism: Just like adults, kids have varying metabolic rates that affect how their bodies generate and retain heat. A coat with optimal insulation can compensate for individual differences and provide consistent warmth across different metabolic profiles.
  • The Role of Insulation and Fabric Quality: While thermal ratings focus on insulation, other factors like fabric quality, wind resistance, and breathability play vital roles in a coat's performance. High-quality materials and design can enhance the overall warmth and comfort of a winter coat, even without an explicit thermal rating.

These are concerns commonly expressed by brands like Patagonia, and outdoor content creators around the web. It's one of the most common cited lists when chatting with brands at trade shows and show rooms too. 

To truly find the best winter coat or snow suit for your kids, it's essential to look beyond thermal ratings and consider factors like activity level, personal metabolism, and weather conditions. By doing so, you can ensure that your little adventurers stay cozy and content during their winter escapades.

That means that one persons experience is not the same. It's why in the local Facebook groups the Costco snowsuit works for some families and not others. Shopping for the right product for your family is not always easy, and it's important to reflect on your needs and better understand what the label is trying to tell you. We're going to explore some of that in this post. I got you.

One toddler in a snow suit from North Face in a swing, and another preschooler hanging from the swing in a snow pants and jacket in a cold winter playground in Prince George

Key Things to Consider When Shopping for a Winter Coat

When venturing into the world of winter coats for your little ones, the abundance of information on the tags can feel overwhelming. What does 10,000mm even mean? And how does this work together - I'm hoping that writing this blog post for you that I will be able to help you figure that out. Let's learn together.

Your generally going to find information about these five things on a tag or web listing about a product. This information will help you understand how the winter coat was constructed, and what type of kid it's designed for. 

  1. Waterproof Ratings: Measured in mm, this speaks to the water resistance of a product and how it protects from snow and rain. 

  2. Insulation Information: Choose between synthetic or down insulation. Synthetic stays warm when wet, while down offers excellent warmth-to-weight ratio.

  3. Breathability: Consider breathability ratings (measured in g/m²/24h) this will help prevent moisture buildup inside the coat during active play.

  4. General Construction: Check for taped seams to ensure waterproofing and overall durability. You might also look for other features like how the cuff is formed, if theirs an inside snow shield, removable layers or accessories, and if it has an reflective features. 

  5. Care Instructions: Follow the care instructions on the tag for proper maintenance and longevity of the coat - will you be able to easily care for it, or is it going to be finicky. You might also feel the material and understand how it will wash and care. 

Understanding Waterproof Ratings in Winter Coats

The waterproof rating is a measure of how much water pressure the fabric of the coat can withstand before water starts seeping through. The rating is determined by subjecting the fabric to a column of water and measuring the height (in millimeters) at which water starts penetrating the material.

That reference means absolutely nothing to you and I because I have no idea how much water pressure a rainstorm or laying in a puddle is. 

For example:

  • A coat with a waterproof rating of 2,500mm can withstand a 2,500mm (2.5 meters) column of water before it starts to leak.
  • A coat with a waterproof rating of 10,000mm can withstand a 10,000mm (10 meters) column of water.

How Much Waterproofing Do You Need?

The level of waterproofing you need in a winter coat depends on the typical weather conditions your child will encounter. Here's a general guideline that I've built relying on a few different sources from brands and other manufacturers:

  • 2,000mm to 5,000mm: Suitable for light rain and snowfall. Best for mild winter conditions with occasional precipitation.

  • 5,000mm to 10,000mm: Ideal for moderate rain and snow. Offers better protection for extended outdoor activities in wet weather.

  • 10,000mm to 15,000mm: Excellent for heavy rain and snow. Perfect for active play in wet and snowy conditions.

  • 15,000mm and above: Provides exceptional water resistance for extreme weather conditions. Great for prolonged exposure to heavy rain and snow.

When selecting a winter coat, consider your child's activities and the climate they will be in. If your child enjoys outdoor play and spends a lot of time in wet conditions, opt for a higher waterproof rating to ensure they stay dry and comfortable. On the other hand, if your child primarily engages in light outdoor activities or lives in a milder climate, a lower waterproof rating may suffice.

Child wearing a muddy buddy with layers of winter coat under to walk in wet slushy snow
If you find you play in a lot of wet snow, you might consider how a rain product with ah higher waterproof rating is more functional when paired with fleece layers, than an insulated winter coat. Many of our local families will use their rain suits with fleece or wool layers to maximize the desired function for the type of play they are taking part in. 

Many winter products from big box stores speak to being water resistant - which generally means less than 5,000 mm of waterproof factor to the exterior canvas. This can result in the inside of the coat getting very wet in wet snow play, but is just right for day to day activities and errands. 

Insulation and Breathability: Making the Right Choice

When it comes to selecting the perfect winter coat for your child, two crucial factors to consider are insulation and breathability. These elements play a significant role in ensuring your little one stays warm, comfortable, and protected during outdoor adventures.

Insulation Options: Synthetic vs. Down

One of the primary considerations is the type of insulation used in the coat. You'll often come across two popular options: synthetic and down insulation. To be honest, most of your choices will be different variations of synthetic materials - exception for our winter boot collection which has some fantastic natural wool options, learn more about that here. 

  1. Synthetic Insulation: Synthetic materials are engineered to mimic the insulating properties of natural down but with added benefits. One of the key advantages of synthetic insulation is its ability to retain warmth even when exposed to moisture. This feature makes it an excellent choice for wet and damp conditions, ensuring your child stays cozy regardless of unexpected rain or snow.

  2. Down Insulation: Down insulation is derived from the soft under-feathers of geese or ducks. It offers an exceptional warmth-to-weight ratio, providing excellent insulation without excessive bulk. However, down insulation may lose its insulating properties when wet.


Breathability for Active Play

The breathability of a coat, I assumed was for the comfort of the child, but it has more to do with the well being of the coat and it's ability to function for the child or human wearing it.

Active children need a winter coat that allows their bodies to breathe, preventing moisture buildup during play. Breathability is measured in grams per square meter per 24 hours (g/m²/24h), indicating how effectively the fabric lets moisture escape from the inside to the outside. Moisture that gets trapped inside the coat can cause the coat to take too long to dry, mold build up, and just generally be uncomfortable.

Choosing a coat with sufficient breathability ensures that perspiration generated during active play can evaporate, keeping your child dry and comfortable. When evaluating winter coats, look for higher breathability ratings to enhance comfort, especially during extended periods of outdoor activity.

Okay, but what is high breathability? Usually you're looking at one coat in one store, and capturing how it falls in a scale is important.

Generally, looking a outerwear, breathability options fall on the lower end of 3-8,000 g/m²/24h and probably because they aren't doing back country exploring or overnight trips where they need higher breathability. This is especially true for baby products, and breathability ratios increased as the kids got older, and specialty sport gear pulled. Consider this if you plan to use the coats for skiing, or other outdoor activities. 

  • Less than 5,000 g/m²/24h: Low breathability - suitable for light exercise, everyday activities - this isn't a product of exercise, skiing, or high impact sports.
  • 5,000 to 15,000 g/m²/24h: Moderate breathability - Fabrics with this rating provide are suitable for a wide range of activities including medium to high energy play and sports. 
  • Over 15,000 g/m²/24h: High breathability - Fabrics with this rating offer excellent moisture vapor transmission, making them ideal for vigorous and sustained activities. 

If a winter coat or snowsuit doesn't have a specified breathability factor on its tag or product listing, it may be helpful to look for other features to help guide your expectations of how the coat will perform for your kids this winter. Some things to consider are:

  1. Brand Reputation: Research the brand's reputation for producing high-quality and functional outdoor clothing. Reputable brands often invest in fabric technology and testing to ensure their products perform well in various conditions. This will be most important if you're looking for a ski coat for your children - what brands do other ski parents recommend and why? 

  2. Fabric Composition: Look for information about the fabric used in the coat. Fabrics that are known for their breathability, such as Gore-Tex or eVent, are often preferred choices for outdoor apparel. Polyurethane Coated Fabrics tend to be less breathable in favour of waterproofing. 

  3. Ventilation Features: Check if the coat has any additional ventilation features, such as underarm vents or mesh-lined pockets, which can help enhance breathability.

  4. Consider the Activity Level: Consider your child's typical activity level and the weather conditions they will encounter. For highly active kids or warmer climates, higher breathability may be more important.

    Not all families need the same quality of coat depending on their lifestyle - I also think it's important to consider how much time will you spend in the deep cold? Is hanging out at -30C on the ski hill an every weekend activity or is it a stay home and hide kind of day?

  5. Layering: If breathability is a concern, consider layering with moisture-wicking base layers underneath the coat. This can help manage moisture and keep your child dry during physical activities. This can include quick drying synthetic fibres, wool layers, and other moisture wicking products.

That was a lot of information - and basically, you don't need all the highest ratings and gadgets unless you need them. 

Bonus: Construction & Design Features for a winning winter coat for your kids

Now that we have a grasp on what the breathability and waterproof factors for your winter gear, you might be debating between between a few different products. Here are some key design features I like to have in my kids winter coats and pants that take it from being just winter wear, to something they want and love to use.

  1. High-Visibility Features for Night Safety: because it gets dark early and for longer, hi vis is a must have for me. We play in dusk, walk in the early mornings, so ensuring that others can see where my kids are when they walk to school is a must. This is a feature you can add to most coats with hi-vis tape if needed.
  2. Reinforced Knees and Seats: For kids who love playing in the snow, reinforced knees and seats are a game-changer. These extra layers of durable material provide added protection and resistance to wear and tear, making the coat more resistant to abrasion and extending its lifespan
  3. Built-in Elastic Gaiters: Built-in elastic gaiters at the cuffs of the coat's sleeves are a valuable feature, especially for snowy activities and younger kids. Sometimes these can be frustrating but valuable for those who need helping keeping the sleeves and pant legs where they need to be.
  4. Taped Seams: Seams are the areas most vulnerable to water penetration, but when they are sealed with waterproof tape, they become impenetrable to moisture. Taped seams keep snow, rain, and slush from seeping through the stitching, ensuring that your child stays dry and comfortable, no matter the weather.

Wash instructions can be important too but I usually look to the material to see if it's something that's going to hold onto dirt or not. I want a product that requires very minimal washing, and only one at the end of the season if necessary.

Remember, each child's needs and preferences may vary, so consider their individual activities and the typical weather conditions they will be exposed to. What are some things you love in the coats your kids currently have and what are some things you could live without? Write those down as you shop for winter gear this season. 

Embrace Winter Adventures with the Perfect Outerwear for baby and children' this year.

In our journey to understand the intricacies of winter outerwear, we explored the limitations of thermal ratings and discovered the key factors to consider when shopping for a winter coat.

Together, we learned highest isn't always what you actually need, and sometimes you need to find a product that is just right for your winter living experience. It's  essential to look beyond thermal ratings and instead focus on your child's activity level, personal metabolism, and the prevailing weather conditions. 

We will be carrying Villervalla winter gear this year because for my family it is truly the best gear we've experienced. It's a product that as a retailer and parent I can put my trust into for you to have a positive experience. We will also have a small collection of products from Jan & Jul based on your feedback and ongoing positive relationship with the brand. If there's more products you think Prince George needs to improve your outdoor experience as a family, let the shop know and we'll start planning for the winter seasons yet to come. 

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