Thursday, April 4, 2013

Outdoor Clothing for Kids

If you've read Carter Walker's article, "Come Rain or Shine" in the April issue of Viking, you already know about the art of layering clothing for the Norwegian outdoors. But the article didn't address an important segment of the population with its own special needs: children! Norwegian kids spend a ton of time outdoors, and Americans can learn a lesson or two from the Norwegian parents who bundle them up all winter long. Norwegian native Vibeke Kvam Johansen, who recently moved her young family from Oslo to New York City, would agree. After arriving stateside, she founded Ella's Wool, a children's clothing company that specializes in dressing kids for outdoor success.

Viking: The average Norwegian child spends a lot of time outdoors, isn't that right?
Vibeke Kvam Johansen: Yes. In daycare centers and preschools in Norway, the kids play outside most of the day. The temperature limit for going indoors is -10°C (14°F). My daughter Ella used to go to a daycare like that in Oslo. They had a big outdoor area and not even the worst weather kept them from being outside. When my husband and I moved from Norway, I was shocked at how the first signs of winter cold drove all the kids inside. The parks and playgrounds were empty! I was confused at the lack of kids, so I started to ask the few parents who I did see about what sort of clothes the kids were wearing. No one mentioned wool clothing. I explained how in Norway, we dress our kids (and ourselves) with thin layers of wool under our clothes when it's cold.

V: Why wool? Aren't there newer, more hi-tech fabrics out there? 
VKJ: Wool is temperature regulating, water resistant, and can absorb up to 30% of its own weight before it feels wet (and it will still keep you warm when it does get wet). Since wool is resistant to bacteria, you can wear it again and again without having to wash it. And because it’s a natural fiber, wool is sustainable. It even provides a natural sunscreen, which is especially important for sensitive baby skin. The wool that’s used to make base layers designed to go against your skin is Merino wool (from the Merino sheep). Merino wool itself is very soft, but gets even softer when it’s washed in a special way, to make the wool fiber even finer.

V: So that's how Norwegian babies are able to sleep outside in all sorts of weather? 
VKJ: Yes! You've seen the crazy Scandinavian parents who let their babies sleep outside in their strollers. Well, I’m one of them. As an infant, Ella took her naps outside all winter. She wasn’t sick one single day. She actually slept much better outside than inside in her crib.

Vibeke's Tips for Warm, Wooly Kids

40–50°F: Put on one base layer of merino wool under the other clothes. (A base layer set could look like a merino wool top/onesie, merino wool long johns/tights and wool terry socks.) Put normal clothes over (like jeans, sweaters. etc.).

Below 40°F: Add a second layer of thick wool directly on top of the merino wool base layer. Then, add a snowsuit or heavy jacket. Make sure to put on a neck-warmer (these are better for playing than scarfs), a hat or balaclava, mittens and winter boots, too.

Wintertime stroller sleeping: If it’s below 30°F, put a sheepskin in the bottom of the stroller—this creates a warmer and more comfortable stroller for your baby. Then, wrap your baby with two layers of wool in a sleeping bag and snuggle them in there! If it’s windy, you might think twice about sleeping outside. You may need another blanket or a rain cover. If you do this, make sure there is plenty of airflow!

In the summer: Wool onesies are perfect summertime pajama for babies. When babies sleep in cotton on hot nights, they'll be soaking wet by morning. A Merino wool onesie will keep a baby dry and comfortable all night and help them sleep so much better.

Amy Boxrud is editor of Viking magazine. She lives with her family in Northfield, Minn., where she’s a member of Nordmarka 1-585.

Photo courtesy of Ella's Wool.

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