By STEPHEN REGENOLD
Winter is winding down in the Frozen North, otherwise known as Minnesota. We’re putting away the sleds and packing up the snowsuits. This year, for the past four snowy months, I’ve put my kids to task unwittingly to help me test some gear.
The venues have ranged from ice rinks to sledding hills. Snow forts, skis, and icicle sword fights were involved. Through it all, a stack of boots, snow pants, jackets, hats, and mittens got a thorough testing.
We have a knit wool hat we bought years ago in Norway, and another one with a faux-fur ruff. Buff headwear often stands in as scarves for our little ones. But this year, The North Face was our main outerwear test victim. After using “department store”-type winter outerwear with our kids last year, we upgraded with some products from a company that regularly sends climbers to far reaches of the Earth.
You pay a bit of a premium for kid gear from a performance brand like The North Face. But the extra money might be worth it if your kids live to make havoc outdoors year-round like mine.
We started at the base layers for our boys. The North Face boys’ Baselayer Tights, $35, look like technical long johns I might wear on a climbing trip. They fit great and have wicking and warmth thanks to a fabric that blends polyester with a non-itchy merino wool.
Pants and jackets were next. We dressed our three-year-old in a preschooler-size fleece, the boys’ Denali Hoodie. At $99, the jacket uses quality synthetic fleece for insulation and durability. Nylon overlays on the shoulders, chest, and elbows add abrasion resistance in “high-stress areas,” as the brand puts it. Smart.
Slushy sledding adventures require waterproof snowpants. Bib-style pants like the boys’ Insulated Snowdrift Bib cost $130. But for that price you get durable kid outerwear with the same waterproof/breathable membrane that the company employs on its jackets for adults.
Another bonus is the company’s “EZ Grow” feature in pants, which lets you snip a line of stitching to expand leg length as your kids get taller.
For aesthetic concerns, The North Face, as well as other brands, is smart to make some of its kid jackets with a reversible pattern. One we have, the boys’ Down Moondoggy Jacket, is black on one side, a sharp red plaid on the other. This contrast is good for the fickle style issues little ones can concoct when getting dressed.
It costs $149, which is perhaps pricey for a kid piece. But the Moondoggy is stuffed with goose down and can keep a kid warm in temps to about 10 degrees F or even below if you layer right.
Our daughter, age 8, is rough on her winter wear. Holes in the knees and butts of pants have been common over the past few years. She takes her recess time seriously at school!
Indeed, even high-end outerwear was no match. We have patched the rear on a pair of snowpants that received harsh treatment sliding on ice and over a bit of frozen mud. No matter the price tag, kids can destroy gear.
But, overall, the upgraded outerwear experiment has been a success. The kids are warmer and more comfortable this winter than ever.
The North Face puts some true “technical” design into its kid line, including reflective inlays for visibility at night, offset zippers, and patches in high-wear places. Materials include the likes of Polartec fleece, merino wool, HyVent waterproof/breathable membrane, a new wicking fabric called FlashDry, and quality goose down.
The result of all this tech is kid gear that acts and looks a lot like the stuff I wear on “real” adventures in the outdoors. But let’s not discount sledding too much. You should see my 8-year-old carve, jump, and bomb straight on those white frozen hills.
—Stephen Regenold is editor of GearJunkie and the father of four (!) children ages 8 and under, including new addition Levi James, born this month (March, 2013).