A Complete Pint-Sized Layering System
What children want: fit, comfort, and cool features. What parents want: all of the above, plus affordability and hand-me-down toughness. This year we tracked down and tested a rugged, versatile wardrobe that your kids can use in the backcountry as well as around town–making the cost of performance clothes a lot easier to swallow.
Sierra Designs Topo T/Opal T
Instead of sending your kid off with a quiver of cotton tees - which are sure to get wet, clammy, and filthy - grab this flat-seamed polyester crew, which wicks well, resists stink, and feels soft and snug against the skin even when damp. Nate, 6, and Alex, 5, wore it on several sweaty dayhikes in the Sierra; 7-year-old Charlie took it on a rainy three-day backpack in New York's Harriman State Park. The verdict: six thumbs up. The girls' Opal T has the same features as the Topo in a more feminine cut and colors. $22; S - XL (6–18) (800) 635-0461; sierradesigns.com.
Hot Chillys Pepper Skins
You'll have no trouble getting your kids to wear their long johns if you pull out these funky, stretchy numbers, which come in cool camouflage, daisy, and skull patterns. In fact, we had trouble peeling them off our kids, who wore them not only for fall camping, but as PJs back home. On chilly nights, the soft polyester fabric trapped plenty of heat inside their bags, and the relaxed cut is comfortable without being too baggy to layer over. The bottoms have a wide elastic waistband that doesn't sag or roll. $27.50 (top), $27.50 (bottom); XS - XL (fits kids 4 and older) (800) 468-2445; hotchillys.com.
Warmer than a fleece, but not as hot or bulky as a down ski jacket, the versatile Enclosure will go with your kid to school, sledding, camping, and snowboarding. It'll see action from November to April, and still look good at the end of the season. With its Thermocore insulation and a ripstop shell with "super DWR” treatment, the Enclosure rebuffed snow, wind, cold, and drizzle. It kept our campers toasty down to freezing, thanks in part to nice tailoring that left no gaps for cold air, and stretchy fleece cuffs that roll out to cover little hands. $150; 6 sizes (to fit ages 3 to 14) (877) 255-8345; cloudveil.com.
Molehill Mountain All Weather Jacket
Windproof, waterproof, and breathable enough for a child's needs, this versatile shell has served two of our little ones well. The fabric is a soft, coated polyester microfiber with rugged reinforced shoulder/arm patches and a mesh liner. Charlie stayed dry on relentlessly rainy all-day hikes in Massachusetts; Nate wore it for warmth and wind protection on several dry, cool hiking trips near Boise. Both boys liked the snug hood and roomy cut, which allows for easy layering. Their parents like the quality materials and construction. $70; 2T to 14 (800) 804-0820; molehillmtn.com.
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