Information: outdoor clothing
Appropriate and effective outdoor clothing supports rich and satisfying outdoor play and learning.
Effective outdoor clothing is the most important piece of outdoor equipment to enable rich outdoor play and learning and enable continuous or free-flow provision outdoors. The only thing that can equal it in importance is the adult supervisors’ and setting’s attitude to the outdoors. Even with the smallest outdoor space, with the support of enthusiastic and supportive adults and effective clothing, children can access the outdoors for sustained periods, become involved in fascinating play and have the opportunity to connect to nature.
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Why is the correct outdoor clothing so important?
“The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky”.
Maintaining a comfortable temperature is key to spending sustained periods of time outdoors. If children and adults are physically comfortable outdoors they can start to explore, play and learn. Over time they will become much more emotionally comfortable and confident being outside and will benefit from the positive health and wellbeing opportunities of being outdoors.
Clothing is as important for adults as it is for children; adults need to be comfortable in order to facilitate good quality outdoor play and learning. They need to be able to move easily and to regulate their temperature to remain comfortable. If this is not the case and a leader becomes cold, they can become less interactive, less alert and often cut the outdoor play short even though the children are happy and contented playing out.
A range of layered clothing can be used to regulate temperature, see our layering tabs below.
A waterproof outer layer prevents water from making the thermal layers damp and ineffective. There is a lot of confusion about how water proof clothing is. Our waterproof rating tab explains it in simple terms.
“Human beings are 100% washable & dry able.”
It is not always obvious what outdoor clothing is needed to support effective outdoor play and learning. In this guide we discuss the various elements of clothing required, with a focus on layering.
People often talk about layering clothing but what does it actually mean and why is it important?
Layering means that clothes can be put on and taken off, when necessary, to keep a comfortable temperature. Air is trapped in and between the different layers and helps provide insulation. Outer layers can be removed if an individual is feeling too hot, allowing the body temperature to drop to a comfortable level. Keeping a base and mid layer on prevents the body temperature dropping too much when outer layers are removed. A comfortable body temperature prevents sweating during physical activity, this is important because, once the activity stops, damp from sweat can make you feel the cold as moisture evaporates.
Frequently children have too many or too bulky clothes on, which prevents them from moving easily and detracts from their ability to participate in outdoor activities. Getting the layers of clothing right really enables children to access their outdoor provision.
- base layer
- mid layer
- outer thermal layer
- outer shell layer
- protection for extremities – head, hands and feet
- sun protection
See tabs below for an explanation of and quick guide to each layer.
Base layer – to wick moisture away from the skin to keep you dry and warm
The base layer is the layer closest to your skin. If you are very active and get hot and sweaty, the base layer becomes very important. The base layer needs to fit snugly and retain some insulating properties.
It is not practical to expect children to have a specialist base layer. Most children will wear school shirts, cotton t-shirts or long sleeve t-shirts and maybe vests. Cotton is an effective base layer unless it gets wet. The group leaders, therefore, need to be aware of children becoming too hot and sweaty, so leaders can prevent the individual child becoming damp and getting cold as the moisture evaporates once the activity stops.
As a leader you will soon get to know your group outdoors and start to recognize the children who are more active or who sweat more easily. Removing layers before becoming too hot will avoid the base layer becoming sweaty and wet.
When buying a base layer, ideally avoid cotton as it retains moisture and will remain damp next to the skin. An ideal base layer is made from synthetic fabric or wool. Synthetic layers such as polyester or polypropylene tend to be less expensive than wool, are often tougher, dry quickly and do not itch. Synthetic base layers, however, can become odorous and have a detrimental environmental effect. Wool, which is now more popular as a base layer, continues to insulate even when it is wet. Merino wool is particularly good and is lightweight and less itchy than traditional wools.
Quick guide: base layer
|Who||For children||For adults|
|What||Close-fitting T-shirt or
Very thin long sleeve T-shirt
Vest, tights or leggings (if very cold)
|Close-fitting T-shirt or
Very thin long sleeve T-shirt
Vest, tights or leggings (if very cold)
|Comments||Avoid collars and hoods – any bunching and bulk around the neck and chest can be restrictive once further layers are added.||If you want to treat yourself to a great insulating base layer then we would recommend merino wool but it can be quite expensive.|
Mid-layer – to capture warmth through trapped air
Typically a mid-layer is a fleece or wool layer. A mid-layer usually has some loft (thickness) to it to help trap the warm air, but is also breathable so it does not retain sweat.
Quick guide: mid layer
|Who||For children||For adults|
|What||Close-fitting thin fleece
Sweatshirt (school sweatshirt)
|Close-fitting thin fleece
|Comments||Avoid hoods as they can add bulk around the neck and chest and make clothing tight and more restrictive.||Try a zip-neck or a full zip mid-layer to make it easy to regulate heat. Alternatively a sweatshirt will do just fine.|
Insulation layer – to provide extra warmth
The insulation layer, whether natural, synthetic or down, provides extra loft (thickness) and therefore warmth, that is essential on very cold days. Ideally the insulated layer needs to fit snugly over the mid layer, allowing for movement. When the weather is dry but cold, the insulated layer can be worn without a waterproof outer layer. Material that is more breathable such as wool or fleece also allows the wind through, so it is important to have an outer windproof layer either built in or added as the outer shell layer.
Quick guide: insulation layer
|Who||For children||For adults /leaders|
|Down or synthetic down jacket
Thick hooded sweatshirt
|Comments||Most children’s winter coats are a jacket system that combines an insulation layer with a shell. It is worth checking that coats are actually waterproof as they may not be.||Down has higher insulating properties but it malfunctions when wet. It also doesn’t like to be washed often. Leaders often wear jackets in dirty and damp conditions so washable, synthetic fabrics are normally the insulating layer of choice.|
Outer shell layer
Outer shell layer – to protect from damp and cold
The outer shell is the singularly most important layer to get right. If this is correct, then as long as you have some warm clothing underneath, irrespective of number of layers or material type, you are more likely to remain protected from the damp and cold.
Many children do not have waterproof trousers and if they do they are often thin and not very robust. It is often necessary for settings to provide waterproofs for individuals or all of their group members.
Waterproof trousers are often worn on Forest School projects in all conditions, just to keep out the mud and damp. Waterproof coats are often only worn when it’s raining.
If you have a limited budget, invest in good trousers/dungarees as they will get the most wear. See our Buying guide for other things to consider when using your budget.
Tip – don’t tuck your waterproof outer layer into your wellies when it rains – it channels the water into the boot.
Quick guide: outer shell – waterproof layer
|Who||For children||For adults|
|What||Waterproof trousers or dungarees Waterproof jacket||Waterproof trousers or high-waisted salopette-style trousers
|Comments||Lots of children’s coats are not waterproof; they may resist rain for a short period but over time become wet through.||Many three-in-one coats offer different layers in a single jacket that separate out. You can wear just the insulating layer or the outer layer or wear both zipped together.|
People often say that you lose most of your body heat through your head. In fact, if all parts of your body were exposed, your chest and neck would lose a lot of heat as well. The fact is, your head contains your brain, and your body will try to keep it protected by pumping warm blood to it. As your head is often the only exposed part of your body, you will lose significant amounts of heat through it. Hats and balaclavas are effective ways to help you stay warm and can be easily removed and stored if a person becomes too warm. Most children will have their own hats, however, you need to watch out for poor insulating hats, particularly if a child may be prone to feeling cold.
Putting gloves on small children’s hands can be very time-consuming. Mittens are often a lot easier to put on. Mittens tend to be warmer than gloves made of the same material because fingers maintain their heat better when they are in contact with each other. Gloves increase the surface area of material in contact with outside air, which leads to increased heat loss. Wool gloves and mittens can quickly become wet and cold. If possible, source fleece-lined waterproof ones that aren’t too bulky.
Feet – socks
To keep feet warm wear wool, man-made fibre or fleece socks. Cotton socks will hold moisture and, once damp or wet, retain the cold. If you are wearing thick socks or two pairs of socks, make sure your boots are not too tight. Pressure, particularly to the top of the foot, can reduce the blood supply and contribute to the wearer feeling cold. Socks need to be pulled up and not bunched inside the boot as it will make them uncomfortable. To help prevent socks riding down into your boots, make sure they are long enough to tuck trousers into, this will help hold them up. It will also prevent the bottom of your trousers falling out of the boot and getting wet.
Feet – boots
It is important that feet do not get wet. To help prevent feet getting wet in the snow consider gaiters or snow baffles on your trousers.
Feet can get wet by:
- shoes or boots leaking water through to the foot
- water or snow coming over the top of a welly or boot
- strenuous exercise causing sweating.
How to get ready to go outdoors
Tips to get your group ready efficiently
For many, putting outdoor clothing on, particularly with young groups, can be quite an arduous task. This section offers some suggestions on how to get your group organised and outside more speedily.
Create good communication with parents and discuss the project clothing with them. It will help to make sure that the children have the correct clothing and have practised dressing themselves for the outdoors at home or at school.
Use visual aids. Get the children involved and ask them to create a poster (if appropriate) showing the process of getting ready for the outdoors. By discussing and drawing out the different stages it can help their understanding of what they need to do. Alternatively, create a photo board or flipchart of each stage to make sure each child knows what to do at each point.
Make the process fun for you as well as them. This whole process will need to happen each time you go outdoors. Creating a song or reward system for each stage can be helpful.
Set realistic times for getting the group ready. Remember every group is different, even if they are the same age. Offer rewards to encourage the children to help each other, particularly those children who are struggling. Carry out checks along the way so you know that each child is dressed appropriately for the weather.
1. Go to the toilet before starting to put any outdoor gear on. This applies to children and adults. I have, on numerous occasions, got everyone changed and realised they have not been to the toilet.
2. Base layer. Tuck base layers neatly into the trouser waistband (this stops any external draughts reaching the skin). Tuck trousers into socks; this helps socks stay up and stops cold air reaching the skin.
Tip: make trousers as flat as possible by folding them around the leg before tucking them into socks. When tucking trousers in socks, only tuck the bottom of the trouser in, as when you come to bend your knees clothing may restrict movement if stuck down too far into socks.
3. Mid layer – for example – thin fleece or school jumper.
4. Waterproof trousers or dungarees. If there is enough room, tuck the mid layer into the waterproof trousers or dungarees – this stops draughts.
5. Boots or Wellies. Ideally get all children to this stage before putting on the outer layer. This will prevent anyone getting too hot whilst waiting for everyone to get dressed. It also gives you an opportunity to check children have the correct layers on.
6. Outer Layer. Once you are happy that everybody has all the correct clothing on, put on your coats.
7. Extremities. If necessary, put on hats and gloves before you go out. Sometimes it is better to put gloves on before putting on the outer layer as you can pull the glove cuffs up over the mid layer so that the top of the glove is then secured inside the outer layer’s sleeve.
8. Rucksack – with a water bottle and space to put hats and gloves if they are removed during the session.
Don’t forget to take spare clothing out with you, especially extra mittens, and your documentation and First Aid kit.
This guide has been developed to give practitioners honest practical information to help make sure their budgets for outdoor clothing are spent in the most effective way.
This guide is also available as a downloadable pdf.
Questions to consider when buying outdoor clothing for children.
- Number of sets required
- What clothing do you actually need
- What activities it will be used for
- How often will it be used
This will be the significant limiting factor on the type of clothing you can buy. A full class set of top quality waterproofs will cost around £1,200 + wellies and hats, with warm layers possibly costing an additional £1,500. If your budget doesn’t reach this then some compromises will need to be made.
- Do you need to buy jackets as well as trousers?
Waterproof trousers are often worn even if it is not raining, to protect from the wind, mud, damp and vegetation. If a good quality trouser is worn, the waterproof jacket is less important, except of course, for when it is actually raining.
Even if it is not raining during your session, the ground is most likely to be damp. If you can afford it, we would recommend buying higher quality waterproof trousers or dungarees and a lower quality or budget jacket. The children can use their own coats and maybe you can supplement these with a few shell jackets to use over the children’s coats should it rain.
Budget jackets are less breathable than the more expensive ones so can become damp inside if a child sweats. These jackets are fine, providing you are not planning to wear them for long periods of time. An economy jacket can often be sufficient for most situations, even robust play situations.
- Number of sets
Do you need to buy a full class set or could you manage with a smaller number, for those children who come ill-prepared or have forgotten their kit?
- What will you be doing outdoors?
What sort of activity will the clothing need to endure?
- light use – walking and light play such as splashing in puddles and running around or
- more heavy use, which may include crawling, kneeling, sitting, climbing, sliding etc
- How often is the clothing going to be worn?
Occasionally or more frequently?
- How waterproof is the clothing?
See our Waterproof rating guide below.
- Is the material breathable?
A measure of how breathable a fabric is can be expressed in terms of how many grammes (g) of water vapour can pass through a square metre of fabric from the inside to the outside in a 24 hour period. In the case of a 20k (20,000 g) fabric, this would be 20,000 grams. The larger the number, the more breathable the fabric.
- Are the seams welded & taped?
Often fabric is fully waterproof, however, where two pieces are joined together, water can leak through the seam. For clothing to be fully waterproof, the seams need to be sealed. This is achieved through taping or glue/heat welding.
Seam taping covers the tiny holes made by the needle in the sewing process so they don’t leak. This is done using a heat application of thin waterproof tape.
Sometimes seams are bonded together using glue or heat, but typically they are first sewn, then taped. Garments can be either “fully taped” or “critically taped” – the difference is that a fully-taped garment has every seam taped, while a critically-taped garment is taped only on high exposure areas like the neck, shoulders and chest. Without adequate seam-sealing you’ll get wet even with the best waterproof/breathable fabric.
- Is the material made in a way that is environmentally considerate?
See our outdoor clothing Environmental guide below.
- Do you require additional features?
10.1 Reflective strips and patches
Many children’s outdoor clothing ranges have reflective strips as standard. This is to make the wearer more visible in low light and is a good safety feature if clothing is to be worn around traffic.
10.2 Stirrup straps
Stirrup straps help keep trousers in place over welly boots. In our experience, these straps can wear out or worse, apply pressure to the ankle seam which results in the clothing ripping around the hem or cuff.
I always remove straps and allow trousers to hang loose or put elasticated cuffs higher up wellies to allow for kneeling and a range of movement, so less pressure is applied to the material.
10.3 Adjustable fastenings
Many outdoor clothes have adjustable velcro strips and poppers allowing for room for growth.
Elasticated ankle cuffs help hold clothing in place over welly boots.
What’s the difference? High budget vs low budget clothing
Higher specification waterproof clothing is made from more robust materials that are often both breathable and waterproof. Better quality clothing will offer taped seams, waterproof protected zip systems and soft-feel material around the collar and cuffs where material is likely to rub on children’s skin.
This clothing is often designed not to rip. If it is snagged and a small tear occurs, it can be repaired with a patch or some tape.
Good quality, lower budget clothing is often waterproof but less robust and not breathable. It is more suitable for less adventurous outdoor play, where children are less likely to come in contact with abrasive surfaces and spiky plants and shrubs. Often these clothes will rip easily if snagged.
Suggestions on how to spend your budget
Budget 1: less than £20 per child
If you are wanting a waterproof jacket and trousers for light play situations then a quality pack-in-the-bag jacket and trouser set is perfect.
We recommend the Result pack in the bag. We have tried a number of budget brands but none are as robust and waterproof as this set. It is excellent value for money. This set is ideal for keeping the wet out but we do NOT recommend it for adventurous outdoor play.
If your outdoor play is going to be more adventurous then we suggest that you buy trousers and not jackets. Most children will have their own coat and so you will be able to buy some better quality, more robust trousers. Ocean trousers and dungarees, and Muddy puddles trousers are all less than £20 each.
Muddy Faces recommends Ocean trousers and dungarees for this type of outdoor play.
Budget 2: £20-£35 per child
As your budget increases, there are more choices in terms of clothing. At Muddy Faces we stock a range of waterproof trousers and dungarees that are robust and waterproof and ideal for adventurous play. Have a look at Muddy Puddles, Abeko, Ocean and Togz.
Muddy faces recommends Togz trousers, dungarees and jackets.
Budgeting for children’s waterproof clothing – Muddy Faces products at a glance
We are very happy to discuss your clothing requirements and arrange for samples to be sent out (no obligation to buy). Please note: samples need to be returned by you unused if you do not want to purchase them. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your requirements.
Download this information in our free pdf – developed by Muddy Faces to help practitioners purchase effective outdoor clothing on a range of different budgets whilst maintaining the emphasis on supporting free play outdoors. Contents include • budget • use • quantities & other needs of group • qualities to consider • buying suggestions (pdf).
Waterproof ratings guide
How waterproof is your clothing?
We believe outdoor clothing is the most important piece of kit you can have to enable sustained play and learning outdoors. Through your feedback, over the last decade, we have developed a range of waterproof clothing meeting the diverse needs of many different types of settings.
How is waterproof rating calculated?
For fabric to be considered waterproof, it must resist the pressure of a column of water 2000mm tall. The level of resistance is called the hydrostatic head*. The higher the hydrostatic head, the more waterproof the material. i.e. 4 raindrops is extremely waterproof!
Look after your waterproofs and they will look after you!
It is essential to look after your outdoor clothing for it to retain its waterproof level. Every wash reduces the lifespan of the clothing. We recommend, for most outdoor clothing, all you need to do is simply slosh the clothes into a bucket of water, rubbing any stubborn areas with a cloth, and then rinse in a clean bucket of water. For individual brands we have care and sizing guides. Just follow the links in the description for each product online.
*For modern technical fabrics, waterproof capability is measured by its hydrostatic head. This is where the fabric is held taut under a tube/column of water one inch in diameter. The taller the column of water, the greater the pressure and therefore the more waterproof the material. For example, a fabric that is waterproof to 10,000 mm fabric means that the column of water will be at a height of 10,000 mm (32.8 feet) before water would begin to leak through the fabric. For fabric to be considered waterproof, it must resist the pressure of a column of water 2000mm tall.
Waterproof clothing, if maintained in the correct way, should last for a long time, giving good value for money. You can very quickly reduce the effectiveness of waterproof material, so it is important to understand the clothing and how to care for it correctly.
This information is also available as a downloadable pdf.
Caring for your waterproof clothing is a bit of a balance. Dirt and residue can build up on your waterproof clothing, affecting the garment’s breathability and waterproof efficiency.
Washing the garment too frequently reduces the effectiveness of waterproofing clothing. Our experience at Muddy Faces is that incorrect washing is the most common reason for waterproof clothing failure.
Clothing is better left muddy than machine washing. Even if you are following care guides exactly, the waterproofing of a garment will be reduced each time they are machine-washed. We have set out below washing and care guidelines for waterproof clothing.
PLEASE REMEMBER to refer to the care labels for each specific garment and carefully follow the instructions.
The way you clean your waterproofs can make the difference between them lasting a few weeks to lasting a few years.
We try not to wash our waterproofs in the washing machine at all. We leave them muddy and brush the mud off when it dries, or use the bucket cleaning technique (see below). The clothing rarely looks as clean as it did when brand new but we prefer our waterproofs to last for as long as possible rather than looking pristine.
- Fill a bucket with cool water
- DO NOT ADD ANY DETERGENT
- Before washing the garment, brush off any loose mud or dirt
- Close zips, velcro fastenings and flaps on jackets and trousers
- Put the waterproofs into the bucket and slosh them around
- Two buckets may be necessary if garments are particularly dirty
- Hang up to dry in a position that allows air movement
Waterproof clothing should never be washed using ordinary detergent or fabric softener. The chemicals in detergent can break down the composition of the fibres with each wash and strip the fabric of its waterproof coating.
Washing waterproof clothing in a machine, even if following care instructions carefully, can reduce their waterproof lifespan. If you do wash items in a machine make sure the detergent compartment of your washing machine is clean of any detergent or softener. If you run a hot wash program whilst the machine is empty, prior to washing the waterproofs, it will clear any residue from detergent or softener.
Remember to always check the label of your garment for exact care details.
After washing the garment hang it up to air dry, or tumble dry on a low or medium heat, IF garment care instructions allow.
Heat can affect waterproof materials. Most garment care labels will state NO HOT WASH AND NO TUMBLE DRY. Heat can delaminate certain types of materials.
Make sure all waterproofs dry before storing away, to avoid them becoming moldy or musty. Avoid storing in direct sunlight.
If you notice that the fabric of your jacket or trousers is absorbing rather than repelling water you may need to re-waterproof your garment.
This information is also available as a free-to-download pdf. Waterproof clothing should last for a long time, giving good value for money, but you can very quickly reduce its effectiveness – this guide explains the qualities of waterproofs and how to clean, care for and store them correctly (pdf).
The OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 is an independent test and certification system for textile raw, intermediate and end products at all stages of processing.
The tests for harmful substances cover
- legally banned and controlled substances, chemicals known to be harmful to the health (but not yet legally controlled), parameters for health protection
- Taken in their entirety, the requirements go far beyond existing national legislation.
The OEKO-TEX® testing for harmful substances is always geared towards how the textile will actually be used. The more closely the product is in contact with the skin, the stricter the human ecology requirements that it must meet.
The prerequisite for textile products to be certified under the OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 is that all components of an article, without exception, comply with the required criteria – so not only the outer material, but also the sewing threads, linings, prints etc and any non-textile accessories such as buttons, zips, rivets etc.