Kids go hard in nature — at forest school, on the trail, or on the slopes. Yet, what I wonder about year after year as a forest school teacher for kindergartners in Colorado, is why my gear is better made than theirs.
I’m not the one making snowballs with mittens on and then dipping them in muddy water, or the one who is full-on lying in a puddle and pretending to swim in my snowsuit, or the one who is using a downed log as a slide, splinters awaiting.
Kids’ gear should be, and truly needs to be, waterproof, windproof, and durable beyond belief. I’ve seen “waterproof” gloves soaked by the third snowball and kids’ hiking boots shredded after a few weeks. Thankfully, as nature-based schools (and outdoor adventure camps) have become more popular, gear companies are stepping up and realizing what families need.
“When it comes to finding gear, parents should consider where and how their kids are going to put it to the test,” said Alyssa Marsh, the Chief Operating Officer for Outdoor School Shop, a one-stop shop for high-quality kids’ gear.
“For example, if your child is enrolled in an all-day immersion forest school, they will need higher-functioning and more durable gear than say a child enrolled in a program with more limited outdoor time.”
Similarly, it matters where you live. The Outdoor School Shop has curated gear lists for all regions of North America where you can pick and choose by waterproofness, wind-proofness, durability, insulation, and breathability.
“We test gear on the kids at my son’s forest school and take real-life advice from outdoor educators,” Marsh said. “Our main goal is to work with brands that have a track record in outdoor education and bring value and function to the families who invest in their gear.”
Here’s a list of trusted brands that I’ve personally seen last all year (and beyond as hand-me-downs). More often than not, the kid-proof gear that my students wear, yet don’t wear out, is from companies started by parents.
Parent-Founded Brands: Best Gear Highlights
Polarn O. Pyret
Polarn O. Pyret began in the early 1900s in Sweden and came highly recommended to me by a student whose father is Swedish. My student, who regularly spends weeks in the Nordic country, is always fully prepared for any weather element that we encounter at our forest school. Dubbed PO.P, the company actually started by making condoms and other medical products alongside tobacco.
Clearly, the focus has changed a lot, but the legitimacy of the company has stayed the same even when it switched to selling baby products in the 1940s under the name Pyret, which is Swedish for The Little One.
Eventually, the brand made a full swing to functional, durable, and unisex outwear for children. The company is still run by family teams, which makes for pretty great in-house free focus groups and adds to both product development and user experience.
- Waterproof Shell Rain Suit for ages 6 months to 6 years ($123): This breathable one-piece is easy for kids to get on and off, and it’s extremely durable. For winter, go with the fleece-lined option, which is removable for multiseason use.
- Waterproof Rain Mittens ($19): These mittens come in fleece-lined or unlined versions for ages 6 months to 6 years. And, the best part, they are waterproof and are plenty roomy to fit over other gloves for warmth in colder seasons.
Oaki’s founding story includes a mom who couldn’t find waterproof rain gear for her sons. That was about 10 years ago, and now Oaki is a go-to when it comes to toddler and kids’ rain gear, like boots, waders, and suits. (And more recently, winter gear!) The company also partners with outdoor schools to ensure that kids can not only play outside, but can also play outside comfortably.
Plus, Oaki is committed to reducing waste when it comes to gear. It has a hand-me-down and buyback program where if the product doesn’t last more than 12 months, the brand will offer a discount for a new pair.
- Kids Realtree Max-5 Neoprene Waders ($119): Whether your kids are fishing and wading or simply exploring a creek throughout the year, the neoprene waders from Oaki are perfect to keep kids dry and warm.
- Neoprene Rain/Snow Boots ($54): These boots are easy for kids to slip on and off, and are both warm and waterproof. They have slip-resistant, grippy soles so your kids will stay upright, always.
Town Hall was born in the mountain town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, by parents who were sick of their kids’ so-called high-quality apparel.
“With six (passionate and opinionated!) kids between the three co-founders,” said Robin Hall, co-founder and CEO, “we’ve had many awesome outdoor adventure days cut short by poorly made gear. So, the three of us came together for the love of kids, community, planet, and the outdoors to build this brand.”
Hall said that the founders’ kid’s voices are fully heard when it comes to creating gear — from wear testing in the gnarliest mountain conditions, to casting their votes on colors, to T-shirt screen printing sessions with a local print shop. Kids can even submit artwork for the brand’s Young Artist Collection Neck Gaiter.
Town Hall also places a huge focus on making their gear sustainable. “We use as much recycled material as possible,” Hall said. “Our goal is to be planet positive — to leave the planet better than we found it. We’re all about building quality gear that lets kids find joy in the outdoors and stay warm and comfy doing it.”
To back that up, 3% of Town Hall’s annual net revenue goes to sustainability by way of community and environmental organizations and efforts.
- Down Town Puffy ($150): This technical layer is perfect for chilly summer nights camping or as a layer on the slopes. The shell, liner, and insulation are made with 100% recycled materials. And the puffy uses a PFC-free (free of poly-fluorinated chemicals) durable water repellent finish.
- Mountain Town Winter Jacket ($180): The durable Mountain Town Winter Jacket is made for the ski hills with features like a pass pocket, pit-zips, powder skirt, and easy-to-manage, waterproof zippers. Pair them with the Mountain Town Winter Pant.
After a hike with her 5-month-old son in a backpack, and him subsequently kicking off his shoes, Lisa Will was over it. “After looking for something that would go on easily and stay on while he was in a hanging position and not finding anything,” said Will, the CEO and founder of Stonz, ”[we soon made] a prototype.”
The first booties were created in 2004 and products have since expanded to sun protection, winter wear, and more footwear.
“Our mission is to make it easy for parents to get their kids outdoors through making the smartest and best quality gear,” she said. “It’s important to us that everything we make serves a purpose for a child’s outdoor play and the parents outside quality time spent with their child. I ensure every Stonz creation considers our little customer; what they do, how they do it, the weather they do it in.”
Every Stonz product considers things like sizing, fit, materials, safety, the gear’s purpose and performance, and durability.
- Sun Suit ($49): Having to slather on sunscreen every 2 hours to a wiggly toddler is as difficult and frustrating as it sounds. Stonz went for the wearable approach instead, with the UPF 50 Sun Suit for swimming or anything else in the sun. It has a loose fit for ease of movement and diaper access.
- Cruiser shoes for early walkers and toddlers ($52): Kids run, everywhere and all the time, and need shoes that stay on yet are supportive and flexible. The Cruiser and Cruiser Plus shoes from Stonz have a mesh upper for staying protected but not stinky. Bonus: kids can get them on and off by themselves.