A few winters back we were coming down from a fine day on the hill and came across two people coming up towards us exchanging loud words until they spotted us. We had a quick chat, it was dad and junior making mixed progress in both their ongoing friendship and their ascent up the snow filled gullies and over iced rock. Dad was dressed for the Alps – either Arrochar or further afield – and junior was red faced and unhappy-looking in a damp cotton Gap hoodie.
Of course I don’t know the whole story, but that youngster was miserable whatever and it was only the fact it was a clear blue-sky day that stopped me worrying about his wellbeing all the way home.
It stuck with me that day, there’s the wider safety issues of course but the gear thing bothered me.
In the hills, or just on days out around the hills in the countryside or on a forest walk you’ll see folk like us in some of their hill gear because it’s comfy and practical but the kids are often in their regular gear and a pair of wellies. Of course youngsters are resilient, my daughter will play outside in the rain or snow and as soon as she thinks I’m not looking she’ll throw herself into a puddle and take her hood down and she’ll be fine, most times. But when kids get cold, it’s comes on suddenly and it’s immediately all tears and snotters, the fun’s over and we’re going home.
So why not kit kids out in proper outdoor gear and make their time outside more comfortable? Cost is a big factor here, your first thought is that they’ll grow out of it quickly and the money will be wasted. This is absolutely true of footwear, it’ll last as long as it’s the right size but clothing is a little different. My daughter Holly is now 8 and she’s been testing outdoor kit in one way or another since she was a few months old and I got in baby carriers to review. As she grew up, clothing of various types came in for review when she started venturing into the hills, which was touch and go to be honest as I had to wait for the words every hillwalker parent wants to hear “Dad, come I come too?”. I was impressed by the clothes, the engineering in many ways is cleverer than the adult equivalents as they have to do the same job of protection, allow body movement and still keep the weight down but you also have extra safety features, hood adjustments that can’t snag and choke a child for example.
Some of the kit is indeed expensive but I discovered it has surprising longevity so it’s possible to get your money’s worth. As obvious as it might seem to say this, kids seem to grow up more than they grow out and in Holly’s case she’s still wearing test kit from years ago. In fact, on the day I write this she’s off to school in a Kozi Kidz insulated waterproof we reviewed three years ago. It’s a bit short on the arms, but she’s happy and you can’t make an 8 year old girl wear something they don’t want to.
Which brings me to another point, kids won’t put up with anything they don’t like. If I’m doing a grouptest I can put personal preference to the side for a while to put something through its paces, but Holly likes or does not like. The gear can be expensive or cheap and any colour you like, but the best gear will be the stuff they actually keep on.
Kids’ gear has to be well fitting, for all we hillwalkers are looking for good arm articulation in a jacket, kids need it more. Heading up Schiehallion once, Holly disappeared into the cottage ruins and was soon crawling through the gaps in the wall, and given half a chance she’ll be hanging off a tree branch on any forest walk. The gear has to be robust to the get the most use over time and in general I’ve been surprised how long it’s lasted. Other important considerations are pockets for stones and shells and somewhere to write their name so it doesn’t go missing at school.
Sizing is tricky, you’ll see various measurements and ages on labels but trying on is the only way to be sure. The old adage of “They’ll grow into it” isn’t such a bad thing, just not too big though, hands all day inside a too-long sleeve will not a mountaineer make!
We all know how much our day on the hill is dependent on our feet being happy and with kids that goes double. These socks have been well worn, constantly wet and full of dirt or sand. But after endless washes the inner loop stitching is still bouncing back and they are keeping their shape very well. The construction is all-synthetic with a well-padded heel and toe, a thinner top and a mid-height ankle that works with boots or trainers. The toe seam is flat, no rubbing points and the whole sock has a gentle compression fit which for Holly has meant no wrinkles and no slipping down. They dry fast, usually using the car’s heater on the way home. Good all-day adventure socks.
The Bekita is a simple waterproof jacket in a two-layer waterproof and breathable fabric with a drop liner. The fabric is soft, so it’s pleasant to wear but it’s tough as well, having seen a good bit action both outdoors and at school and it’s wearing well. Arm movement is okay, the drop liner means the drape is good too so it must feel fine when worn, she keeps it on anyway. The hood is okay, shaped to fit the head with a single rear Velcro volume adjuster. There’s some elastic at the sides of the face which does help the hood to move with the head a little bit, so no ending up just looking at the inside of the hood. There’s also elastic at the hem to help keep the tail down when the wearer is running around and the cuffs have regular velcro adjusters.
Nice touches are a fleece chinguard and lots of reflective detailing. There are two zipped hip pockets sized for little hands. The zips are hidden behind storm flaps and could do with cord zip pulls as they’re fiddly to work without them. It’s a nice looking jacket which was half the battle to make sure it got used, but it’s proved to be a good performer.
This soon became Holly’s “mountain onesie”. It’s a hoody made from a polycotton/elastane, baselayer-weight, fabric treated to repel insects, so it looked like the ideal campwear for Scotland. Truth be told the midges go straight for me and ignore Holly anyway, so we have no idea if the repellency actually works. However the Oniko is ideal as campwear, comfy for sleeping in with the hood for a bit of extra tent cosiness or just as loungewear anywhere. It’s kind of anonymous too so Holly could run around the campsite without feeling like she was in her pyjamas. Although the fabric has a baselayer feel to it, the cut is loose so no good for active use or layering. That’s me talking though; Holly would give it a go and would wear this every day if she could.
Fancy bottle designs to bribe kids into remembering to drink? Aye, I’m happy with that. It’s a 400ml BPA-free bottle with a leak proof bite valve, that is leak proof if they remember to click it back in place, something that’s not guaranteed I’ve found out. It’s a standard Camelbak format with the internal straw and it’s quite a big diameter so not ideal for the smallest hands and using with mitts or even gloves can be a little tricky. I discovered that when something isn’t dad’s or hasn’t been borrowed, junior might be a little more likely to endorse it and carry it. So while the bottle might just be some product repackaging to get parents to buy it, it does seem to do the job.
Holly’s first big hill was Ben Vrackie where she decided not too far from the loch that the view was better from my shoulder for the rest of the way. Now though she has not only to walk herself, she has to carry some of her own kit. Kids packs come in two varieties, simple, almost toy ones and the scaled down proper-spec ones we have here. The Trailblazer was an instant hit with its included 1.5L bladder with the hose never far away from supplying another sip of juice. The harness is good, causing no problems, the back is well padded, the zipped main compartment has plenty space as does the outer zipped pocket. There are two side mesh pockets, a bungee stash area and side compression straps.
I like that the Trailblazer along with the other packs here doesn’t patronise youngsters and the spec and construction is as good as an adult pack but this does bring the weight up, again something common to all the packs featured here. The Trailblazer does the job though, you can cram it with kit and head out as both Holly and her fellow pack tester Jake (also aged 8) have done and if you’ve got a short back or aren’t too tall this pack will work for you just as well without looking in any way like you’ve got a kids pack on.
Layering is something most of us will be used to. It’s still my preferred choice for outdoors, I like the flexibility. I noticed with Holly when we first started doing kit reviews was the fewer layers the better, she didn’t like the faff or the bulk so the Alana Parka seemed like a good choice for general winter use as it’s insulated and waterproof.
I looks like a casual parka but the cut is excellent, completely tree climbing compatible. The fabric is waterproof and breathable, it’s warm and there’s additional fur trim for a little insulation boost. The detailing is excellent, inner cuffs poppers that don’t get long hair caught in them (it can be an issue, been caught out with that before), large pockets, inner poacher pocket and removable hood. Any time we’ve been heading north the past couple of months the Alana has been the first choice, works fine over a base layer or a light mid. The parka can get hot pretty fast if Holly has to work a bit harder, so it’s not so great for bigger hills, but for general cold weather outdoors use it’s been spot on.
200g merino is a good all-round fabric, comfortable, works across a good range of temperatures and can keep you smelling fresher. Here its cut into a matching kids baselayer set which we’ve had mixed results with. EDZ’s merino has an initial mild prickliness against the skin. It disappears quickly and the fabric works very well but try telling that to a fractious and itchy 8 year old. A couple of washes later we tried again and the top did get worn this time, but the cut didn’t really work with short arms and a neckline that was annoying her, so off it came. The leggings however have been a winter constant. On cold days out they’ve gone on, stayed on and there has been no issue or comment. The seams are not flatlocked but they are soft and the waist is a wide merino covered elastic band. Good length in the legs and just enough stretch in the fabric to keep proper mobility.
The Corker is a little unusual as it has still some stiffness and shape when empty due to the construction. This makes it easy to pack and find kit inside, and Holly has enjoyed using it. The zipped access is nice and simple, there’s an internal organiser with mesh and zipped pockets, an external bottle pocket and bungee stash area on the front. It looks a little “urban” which means it doubles well as a school bag but the fabric and construction are hill ready. It’s a tough little pack and has probably been Holly’s first choice from the test models. From my point of view I like the general layout and the harness, it’s simple and well-shaped with a chest strap but the main zip has stiffened up over time and this could become an issue in the future.
The Mount Lows are waterproof trail shoes with robust uppers and a sturdy toe bumper. There’s a well-shaped heel cup and Holly’s had no issues with the fit or had blisters which is always a relief. The sole unit is decent, it’s aggressive enough for soft ground and she jumps around quite confidently in them. The Mount Low’s are nicely flexible which I like, but are very heavy indeed for the size which is a considerable downside.
Of all the kids gear on review, this was the one I kept thinking was mine. It’s nice and simple with elastic cuffs, drawcord adjustable hem, stand-up collar and two zipped pockets set above a pack hipbelt. The pockets are fleece lined and there’s some reflective detailing front and back. The shell is a nylon ripstop which will last well and has good weather resistance, we’ve got away with it in snow and light rain. The insulation is Primaloft Gold which is thick and traps a lot of heat. Basically size is the only thing stopping me wearing the Youth Belay Expedition. It’s a great bit of kit with a couple of minor niggles, one is that the cuff elastic is too strong and the pocket entries are a bit tight. But Holly wears it happily, even in this plain black.
The Jet is described as a youth pack but anyone on the shorter side could use this as a hill or multisport pack. The spec is good with a soft harness, hipbelt, buckled lid with internal and external pockets, side pockets, stuff pouch on the front and another big zipped pocket on the front. There are compression straps , webbing to add axe/pole loops or attach bungee and the padded back system incorporates a bladder sleeve for an hydration system. In use it turned out that it’s probably still a little big for Holly and I think it’s also probably a little over-complicated for both her and me but it caught the eye of Joyce (wife/Holly’s mum) who seems to have adopted it as it fits her short back length very well and works just fine full of kit.
The Last Word
The gear is mostly good I’m happy to say, over the years I’ve come to appreciate the effort put into kid’s kit and that includes the budget brands too, many of whom are hesitant to include their gear in the reviews unfortunately. There was no hope of doing a grouptest, I can wear a dozen near identical items for a few months but Holly wouldn’t. I can tell when she’s happy though, if she’s fumbling to get into a pocket and take note of what she picks first when we’re going out, so this long term test gave me a broader look at some current kit and the only real issue I found was sizing.
The Craghoppers waterproof is size 7-8, the Keela belay jacket is size 9/10, the Didriksons parka is size 140 (Scandinavian body measurements equating to 9-10 year old girl) and they all come out at the same actual physical size. Trying on in a shop is the safest bet, but you know how quickly you’ll wear through a child’s enthusiasm doing too much of that and I don’t know how much of a bribe a promise of Kendal mint cake from the outdoor snack stand is worth when your little one is about to enter meltdown.