Outdoor clothes and kit for kids, a guide for parents

 “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing!”

One of the skills of enjoying the outdoors is having the right clothes and equipment for the activity and weather conditions. No one likes being cold and miserable so good kit is important, but you also don’t want to buy very expensive kit that your children will lose, break or quickly grow out of.

What follows is a general guide as all our trips have slightly different kit requirements, but it should cover most of what you need to be outdoors in Britain between April and October,

We’ve included links to examples of clothing and kit for sale online. These are general recommendations and examples – we haven’t tried and tested everything. Our selections aim for good value rather than luxury – you are of course welcome to spend more!

Waterproofs

Essential for being outdoors in Britain!

Do

  • Get a jacket with a hood and zip up pockets.
  • Get waterproof trousers that will go on over shoes and boots – they’ll probably have zips at the bottom of the legs to allow for this.
  • Get something big enough to grow into, if you like. Baggy is fine for waterproofs.
  • Make sure it’s fully waterproof – ‘water resistant’ isn’t really good enough.

Don’t

  • Use a padded or insulated jacket like a ski jacket – it will be far too warm for most things, and if it does get wet it will never dry out.
  • Spend money on expensive breathable fabrics like gore-tex, unless you want to. Kids under 14 are unlikely to appreciate the difference.

Basic Kids Waterproofs Trousers Basic Kids Waterproof Jacket Slightly higher quality...

Boots and Shoes

Wellies. We love wellies. So long as they fit, wellies will be useful for almost everything we do, even in summer. Lots of our staff still prefer them for canoeing and wet weather camping.

Do

  • Make sure they fit properly. Buying ‘big enough to grow into’ isn’t such a good idea with wellies.
  • Make sure several pairs of long thick socks are packed with (inside?!) the wellies.

In addition to wellies, a pair of cheap, old trainers are great for dry weather, when you need to run fast, and for some of our water activities.

Hiking boots are necessary for expeditions with a hiking element, where the ankle support is needed. They can be a replacement for wellies, although they are less waterproof and more expensive. All-leather boots are tougher, much more waterproof, and much longer lasting than fabric boots, but for children whose feet are still growing they don’t make much sense – they can be uncomfortable until worn in, and by then you’ll need a bigger pair! So, we recommend reasonably good fabric or part-fabric boots.

Do

  • Buy the most comfortable pair – nothing else matters with boots if they hurt your feet
  • Check that they have a fair amount of rubber or suede at the toe – this makes them much more wear resistant

Don’t

  • Assume that Gore-tex or claims of waterproofing mean you can treat them like wellies. Whatever they claim, fabric boots don’t stay fully waterproof for long.

Finally, a word on sandals, flip-flops, crocs and other shoes. Open-toe shoes are a liability for most of our activities, it’s far too easy to hurt your feet and they don’t grip well enough for things like sailing. Even in July with a week of sunshine, trainers are the least children should be wearing.

Basic fabric boots For older or keener kids...

Clothing

Most kids go home with a pile of clean (or at least, unworn!) clothing. They key is to make sure they have just enough of the right things, and not too many of the wrong things. Some general guides:

Do

  • Include a wool or fleece hat. It’s the easiest way to stay warm.
  • Include a sun hat or cap in sunny months.
  • Include a wool or fleece pullover / jumper
  • Label clothes – it’s the best way to ensure they come back!
  • Pack plenty of socks. Kids tend not to change them much in good weather, but dry socks are a must if it turns wet.
  • Pack nylon leggings and/or trekking trousers.
  • Include long underwear or thick tights in cold weather (not May-September)
  • Pack cheap fleece or wool gloves in cold weather. Bright colours get lost (slightly!) less easily.
  • Bring shorts – even if the forecast is grim!

Don’t

  • Bring expensive clothes. They are too likely to be lost or damaged.
  • Bring waterproof gloves. Once wet, they are impossible to dry.

 

Sleeping Bags

Sleeping bags are required for most of our trips. It’s crucial that children are warm at night, and this is one area where it’s worth spending a bit more. Children over the age of about 12 can use a full-size sleeping bag, and if your child has taken to the outdoors, it’s worth investing in a good one for them.

Sleeping bags can be filled with natural down, or with synthetic insulation. Down is great – very warm and light – but once wet it is useless and very hard to dry. It’s also very hard to wash down bags at home without damaging them. Because of this we recommend synthetic sleeping bags for children.

The final questions with sleeping bags is bulk. Cheap synthetic sleeping bags can be warm, but will take up an entire suitcase! More expensive fillings like Primaloft are lighter and pack smaller.

Whether child size or full size, a ‘mummy’ style with narrow foot and a hood, will be warmer and less bulky than a plain rectangular design.

Pillows

Stuffing your jumper and jacket into a bag makes a good pillow, but takes some practice (amazingly!) to get right. A small inflatable travel pillow may be more comfortable for many kids and ensure a better night’s sleep.

 

Sleeping bag liners

A thin silk or cotton liner will add warmth and will reduce how often you need to wash the bag itself. A fleece liner will add considerable warmth, and may be a good way to get more use out of a summer-only sleeping bag.

A Good kid's bag An good adult bag for older kids Another good synthetic bag

Luggage

Your child needs to be able to carry everything they bring – at least for a hundred meters or so! For young children, a rucksack bigger than them may not be practical, but for children over 12, a proper rucksack is the best way to go, and will ensure you don’t overpack. If you are sending them away with a little case instead of a rucksack, make sure it has wheels.

Finally, if you had to fold everything neatly to get it all in, there’s little chance of them managing to pack it all back up at the end!

Wheeled Luggage

Something with a strong handle and wheels. Together with a day-sack, “carry-on” size should be big enough for most short trips with something larger for longer expeditions. Suitcases that are too big won’t fit in the tents!

Rucksack

A 65 litre bag is large enough for most trips. For growing children, an adjustable back system can help. Almost all rucksacks will come with pockets in the lid, and a couple more at the sides. Anything more than that is unnecessary, and is usually just more zips to break! Try to avoid tying kit to the side as it makes it hard to pack and easy to mislay stuff.

Day Sack

All kids will need a smaller rucksack to carry lunch and waterproofs when we go on day trips. We recommend something between 20-30 litres, and a drawstring is more secure than a zip – although hard to find these days! Two shoulder straps is a must, and a hip belt is desirable.

Keeping it dry

Very few rucksacks are truly waterproof. External rain covers don’t work. The best way to keep the contents dry is by packing all clothes in small plastic bags. Supermarket carrier bags work brilliantly. You can get colourful roll-top dry bags too, but it’s a luxury not a requirement. Try and avoid using black bin bags as these have been confused for rubbish in the past!

The best technique is to pack clothes of a type into separate bags. All underwear in one bag, all gloves and hats in another, all t-shirts in a third and so on. Just twisting the bags round is easier and more effective than tying knots in them.

Pack small items and toiletries in a clear ziplock bag or Tupperware box, they won’t get lost as easily (or at least, not as quickly)

A simple large rucksack A day sack An actually waterproof day sack A better rucksack for overnight hiking

Head torches

These are essential for everything we do. Unfortunately,  cheap ones aren’t a good investment. We recommend something that takes AA or AAA batteries (not watch batteries) and can fit in a pocket. Head torches are easy to lose when switched off so labelling, bright colours, and being able to fit it in a pocket are all advantages. Ten pounds is about the minimum you can spend. Less than this and it may fall apart straight away!

Finally, it’s better to put a fresh set of batteries in at the start of the trip if you have any doubts. Younger children find it hard to replace batteries, and may end up breaking the torch!

 

A good headtorch Another one

Water Bottles

A good strong bottle is vastly superior to a disposable water bottle. We suggest one of a litre volume as a minimum, except for children under 9, who may be better off with half a litre.

Bright colours are easier to keep hold of than dark ones, and a label is a good idea, too.

Flexible bladder type bottles such as Camelback or Platypus are to be avoided unless you’re hiking in a desert.

A nice shiny water bottle Another perfectly good water bottle A little bottle for little kids

Anything else?

Hopefully there’s space for a few luxuries. Here’s what we recommend:

Do Bring:

  • Cards, paper, pens, travel games, books. Ideal for wet weather, train journeys and evenings.
  • Snacks and sweets are a good way to make new friends. But don’t overdo it. Individually wrapped sweets are best avoided as they create a lot of litter.
  • Up to £10 in pocket money can be useful, especially if we are near a town or have long train journeys. But more than this is a bad idea – it’s easily lost or misplaced!

Don’t Bring:

  • Mobile phones of any kind. While your kids are on camp, we are the best people to deal with any issues. The idea is to develop independence and resilience and being able to call home at every opportunity does not help this. We will of course get in touch with you if necessary, and you’ll have a contact number for us too.
  • Expensive cameras, electronics, valuables. If kids break or lose these they’ll worry about it for the whole trip and it will spoil the experience for them.
  • Small folding pen knives. These are not particularly safe or useful, and we provide high quality knives and instruction in how to use them safely.
  • Over the counter drugs or medication such as paracetamol and ibuprofen. All medical supplies and information must be declared on the registration forms we use, and over the counter treatments like this should be administered by our staff rather than directly by children.

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