By Cassandra Overby
Even for experienced hikers, dressing a baby for the outdoors can be a daunting task. When I first became a mom, I was flummoxed by the seemingly simple goal of keeping my baby warm in the cold and cool in the heat. The stakes felt higher than when I dressed myself for a hike. After all, she was delicate — and she couldn't talk and let me know how I was doing. Luckily, through trial and error — and a great hiking group called Hike It Baby that gave me insight into how other outdoorsy parents dress their babies — I finally settled on a baby layering system that’s perfect for everything from a snowy winter hike to a warm summer amble. Here’s how to recreate it yourself.
A good baby base layer has full-body coverage, which is important both when you’re trying to keep your baby warm in the winter and out of the sun in the summer. For a fabric that’s perfect all year long and will stay warm when wet, I recommend the merino wool base layers by Ella’s Wool.
Good budget options include fleece pajamas with feet and a comfy long-sleeve onesie paired with footed pants. Make sure to choose a base layer that has some extra room in it; your baby’s feet can get cold if they’re compressed in a too-tight space and having good room to move will reduce any chafing.
A fleece bunting suit like the Infant Tiny Bear II Bunting by Columbia that has a built-in hat, hand covers and foot covers is the perfect midlayer — and eliminates the need for additional accessories. I recommend choosing one that is at least a size larger than what your baby normally wears to allow for air pockets that will keep your baby warm— and give them room to grow.
A down bunting suit, such as the Infant Snuggly Bunny Bunting by Columbia is the perfect top layer for cold days. It also has a built-in hat, hand covers and foot covers. Again, go big. At 10 months old, my baby was sporting a 2T down bunting suit.
If you’re planning on hiking with your baby in the rain — or you just want to be prepared — a rain suit will do the trick. The ones by Oaki and Tuffo are great. They have built-in hats and either cinch or gather on the wrists and ankles, making them perfect for playing in puddles once your little one starts toddling around. (Bonus: They’re also great for water table play. I pack mine whenever we go to the Seattle Science Center.) Also awesome: Because rain suits are all one piece, they’re a lot easier to put on than coat and pants separates.
Want to avoid dressing your baby in so many layers? If you’re using a soft carrier like an Ergo, a kangaroo-pouch-like down cover that cinches around your baby is great — and makes it a little quicker to get out of the house. For winter and the shoulder seasons, I recommend the Pookie Poncho. For summer, the Pookie Poncho Light.
Once your baby gets a little older, they’ll probably want to have more use of their hands and feet to explore the world around them. At that point, simply peel back the hand and foot covers of your fleece and down bunting layers and add the following accessories:
Gloves: It’s easy to accidentally tweak baby fingers in your quest to shove them into a pair of gloves. Avoid that with a pair of gloves like these Baby Mitts by Stonz that have a very wide opening and then cinch around the wrist.
Boots: Waterproof boots like these Baby Booties by Stonz work great when your little one wants to toddle around on trail. And because they have double cinches (around the low ankle and calf), they’re guaranteed to actually stay on when your baby is in the carrier. Without the optional liner, they fit over whatever socks, slippers or shoes your baby is wearing. With the cozy fleece liner, they’re a complete winter footwear option.
A good sun hat is key for sunny days and protecting your baby’s delicate skin. The best sun hats have a high UPF rating (50+), some neck protection and a chin strap. (Babies love trying to remove sun hats!) I tried a bunch and finally settled on this one by i Play.
Find a good deal
Outfitting your baby for hiking can be expensive (all those layers!) but it doesn’t have to be. Thanks to thrift and consignment stores, apps like OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace and member portals for hiking clubs or groups, it’s usually pretty easy to find used baby clothes that work well for hiking. When buying used clothes, make sure to check over the items for any signs of over-wear and staining. If you buy a used rain suit or waterproof boots, consider re-waterproofing them.
Put it all together
- Because babies can overheat quickly—and then have a melt down—make dressing them in their layers the very last thing you do before hitting the trail.
- Monitor your baby’s temperature often while on trail by feeling the back of their neck (a good indicator of their core temperature) and their hands and feet.
- Spot-clean or wash the layers ASAP after you hike, so they’re ready to use the next time you want to head outside.
- Keep all of your baby’s hiking layers in one place so that they’re easy to grab and go whenever you want to hit the trail. (I keep mine in a bag near the baby hiking carrier.)