Whether your boy is a scout or not, the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared!” are words to live by, especially when winter rolls around. So, don’t let your boy head out into a cold, rainy or snowy day without the right outerwear. Keep in mind fit, form and function as you and your son shop for the perfect winter coat.
It’s tempting to buy one size up in the hopes that a jacket will last until next year. But a good fit ensures that your child will stay comfortable and look good throughout the winter. Find other ways to save money, like shopping discount stores and secondhand stores or accepting hand-me-downs.
You’ll need to shop for two coats. The jacket that warms your boy on a snow day will be shed (and lost or trod upon) when the temperature climbs slightly on those in between days. Likewise, even if your weather only reaches freezing for two weeks out of the year, you don’t want your son shivering for want of a thick coat.
Choices include lined raincoats, parkas, down coats and outdoorsy layering systems. The fashion in one school may be army-inspired parkas, while a different group of kids might dig the utility of layering systems for mountain climbing. Guide your son to choices that work for your climate, but let him choose the style that makes him feel confident.
Used to be we had down-filled or wool coats or rubberized raincoats. Well, what did we know? Today, kids can choose from Gore-Tex or other water-proof, breathable materials. Insulation layers come in wool or fleece-like materials like Thinsulate.
No, they’re not talking about crabs. Outdoor retailers refer to soft shells or hard shells when talking about jackets. Soft shells feature stretchy, breathable, wind- and rain-resistant materials that fit closely and work in all but the wettest weather. Hard shells are made of stiffer materials with waterproof, but breathable coatings like Gore-Tex and suit snowy or wet weather. While more rugged, hard shells breathe less and are less comfortable than soft shells.
Have your boy try on the jacket while wearing a sweater that he would wear on a typical winter day. Too loose or too tight a jacket will interfere with his mobility. The sleeves of the jacket should cover his wrists. In cold weather, you’ll want a coat that covers his bottom. Have him hold his hands up, and make sure the coat doesn’t rise above the waist of his pants. If you’re buying online, check the sizing chart and measure your boy accordingly.
Cold spring and fall days require a jacket with light insulation that blocks the wind and beads moisture. A jacket doesn’t necessarily need to be waterproof, only water-resistant, unless you live on a boat or your boy delivers papers in downpours. Mid-winter calls for a coat that can be worn when making snow angels. You’ll want a jacket with warm insulation and a water-resistant outer layer.
Parkas often feature lots of pockets and fur-lined hoods in a military-inspired style. Snowboarding companies create funky jackets that work in cold weather, move you’re your active boy, and feature hidden pockets. Down-filled puffer coats keep a child warm, but may restrict movement and absorb moisture, depending on the external layer material. Classic wool coats provide a more traditional look for nice occasions, while utilitarian layering systems can look rugged and carry through multiple seasons.
Most outerwear is made out of tightly woven nylon or polyester. Just like spraying on Scotchguard, fabrics are made waterproof, yet breathable by coating the fabric with materials such as Gore-Tex®. Durable Water Repellant (DWR) finishes also create water-resistant fabrics, but may wear off over time. You usually can reapply DWR by adding it to a regular wash cycle.
Insulation comes in natural and synthetic materials. Natural good down is warmest, but best for dry conditions. Synthetic down can withstand wetter conditions but may break down and lose the puffiness (or loft) that provides the insulation. Insulated linings can come in wool, fleece, or fleece-like material like Thinsulate. Often, insulated linings can be zipped out, creating a great coat for spring and winter.
With Shawn White tearing up the Olympics, your boy may beg for a snowboarding jacket in the U.S. team’s bright plaid or other bold patterns. Unfortunately, the coolest coats are often the most expensive. Search on parenting listservs, Freecycle.org, Craigslist.org or used clothing stores for secondhand jackets. Check the zippers, pockets, seams and, yes, odors for a good condition used coat. Or comb sales or discount stores, like Target, that feature hip styles for low prices. He might even fit into coats from army surplus stores, which can look fashionable and provide the perfect amount of warmth and comfort.
Layering systems might be your best value, if you find a style your boy likes. A wind- and water-resistant outershell is lined with insulating material that zips out. Your boy can wear the fleece insulation in cool weather, the outershell in warmer rainy weather, or both in cold and wet weather. These systems often come with a detachable or hidden hood.
Keep in mind the bells and whistles. Boys carry plenty of gear on them, so choose a coat with enough pockets to hold ID, keys and MP3 players, and make sure the pockets are secured with buttons or zippers. Study the hood for functionality. Hoods can close down visibility, so see if the cut of the hood allows for more peripheral vision, particularly important when crossing streets. Many coats come with Velcro cinches on the cuffs to keep out rain and cold. Ventilation systems wick away perspiration. Consider coats with reflective bands or piping for better visibility for drivers.
Your boy’s coat may be the first thing people notice about him during the winter months, so bring him with you and let him choose his coat. Be honest with him about your budget, but be flexible if he likes something that you don’t. It won’t be too difficult to find a warm, functional coat that looks decent, according to both his and your tastes.
Sometimes the coat that best fits your needs and budget (and the time you feel like dedicating to shopping) will make your boy feel like an anonymous snooze-fest. Give him a chance to liven things up with a funky hat and gloves. Add a patch from his favorite band or skateboard company, or attach a skull or skeleton charm to the zipper pull. A one-dollar accessory could catch more eyes than that $100 coat he didn’t get.