In today’s world, the internet is one of if not the most powerful research tool available to many of us. As a parent, you’ve probably Googled a certain kids ski jacket or pair of pants or other piece of outdoor kids wear, read customer reviews, and compared features. But with all of the information out there, it can be hard sometimes to know exactly what it is you’re looking for, and even further, how to know when you find it.
It would be awesome if every snow company came out and rated their outerwear on a scale of 1-10 in terms of warmth or weather rating, but sadly this is not the case. Instead, we find infinite amounts of brand specific terms describing the ever-increasing technicality and specialization of outerwear in the 21st century, terms that can sometimes be confusing. In an attempt to break it down in the most simple of terms, we will look at possibly the two most important qualities of outdoor clothing; staying dry and staying warm.
Plan on using your jacket or pants in the snow? Then fully insulated is the way to go. The best types of garments have body-mapped insulation to provide maximum warmth at a minimum weight. This means there is typically more insulation through the core areas of the body, and less in the extremities. Levels of insulation can vary greatly between manufacturers though, so do not assume a “fully insulated” jacket is the ultimate in warmth.
Generally you will see waterproofing and breathability mentioned together, often the 5K-30K scale is involved. This one is simple, the higher the number, the better the waterproofing. As a general rule of thumb, and physics, the more waterproofing you have, the less breathability. Now this is changing on a daily basis as more technical pieces do a better job of blending the two, but generally a 5K item breathes better than a 30K one. Chose your clothing based on the conditions you will be riding in. Let’s say you’re on the east coast and your winters are full of freezing wet snow, 15K or higher would be a must, (also anything with Gore-Tex). On the other hand, if you are riding out west or somewhere a little more on the dry and sunny side where the temperatures maybe don’t plummet so much, the lower end of the scale would work fine.
Now are these two areas the only two one should be concerned about when making a purchase? The simple answer is there is no simple answer, but no comes close. Every year ratings are changing; new materials are being invented and new terms being coined. But this is a good place to start. In short, do your homework. Read up on the items before you make a purchase. There is a vast amount of knowledge out there available to today’s consumer and it is right at your fingertips. Take 40 minutes out of your week and become an outerwear expert, indulge in that inner nerd, or just learn something you didn’t know before. You may not be the life of the party chatting up other parents about how many K’s of waterproofing their kids’ coats have, but your little ones will certainly appreciate your conviction on the hill.