- Kids lose body heat rapidly in cold temperatures.
- A well-designed kids winter coat can preserve a child’s core warmth.
- The best winter coats for kids keep them warm and are comfortable for outdoor play.
- This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, MD, CPST-I, FAAP, professor of pediatrics, Oregon Health and Science University.
The human body loses heat rapidly in cold temperatures, a process that begins when the ambient temperature falls below 68 degrees. This type of heat reduction accounts for about 65% of total warmth lost, and because children are smaller than adults, they are even more susceptible to over-cooling. The right winter coat can maintain a core temperature. For kids, the best winter coat also needs to be versatile enough to wear from recess to snowball fights.
To narrow down our selections for the best winter coats for kids, we consulted with two outdoor experts – Linda McGurk, the author of “No Such Thing As Bad Weather” and 1000 Hours Outside founder Ginny Yurich – and pediatrician Alisa Baer. Then we researched coats to see which ranked highest according to our selection criteria at the end of this guide. The kids winter coats featured here will help your child maintain core warmth and are available in many sizes and colors to accommodate plenty of age groups and kids’ preferences.
Here are the best kids’ winter coats in 2021
- Best kids winter coat overall: Columbia Whirlibird II Interchange Jacket
- Best kids winter coat on a budget: Amazon Essentials Lightweight Packable Puffer
- Best fleece-lined kids winter coat: The North Face Mossbud Swirl Reversible Jacket
- Best kids ski jacket: Patagonia Snowshot Jacket
- Best winter coat for babies: Columbia Tiny Bear II Bunting
With a detachable shell and liner, the Columbia Whirlibird II Interchange Jacket is a three-in-one coat so your child will be ready for both the coldest and mildest of winter days.
Pros:3-in-1 design accommodates varying temperatures, breathable waterproof exterior, multiple pockets and adjustment points, extendable sleeves
Columbia’s children’s apparel offers the same high level of quality as the brand’s gear designed for adults. The Whirlibird II Interchange Jacket is made of a waterproof, wind-breaking shell and an insulated inner jacket. The two pieces are attached with zippers and be worn together or alone. Together, they provide enough warmth for playing in the snow, going on long walks, and for making the trip to and from school on cold wintry days.
On its own, the coast’s shell is great for milder, wet days. The insulated inner jacket looks and functions just like a puffer coat and is warm enough on its own for days when the temperatures are cool but not frigid.
The inner jacket’s warmth is provided by a synthetic fill and also through Columbia’s patented Omni-Heat Reflective system, which consists of a pattern of metallic dots that reflect radiated heat back toward the body. The outer jacket is waterproof but still breathable and releases excess heat and moisture that builds up from sweat.
With Columbia’s Outgrown system, parents can snip a few seams to extend the length of the sleeves. This can help the coat last through growth spurts and even multiple seasons.
The best kids winter coat on a budget
The Amazon Essentials Lightweight Packable Puffer is a basic winter coat that keeps kids warm but an extra shell is needed for waterproofing.
Pros: Packs down small, comes in multiple colors
Cons: Occasional sizing issues, outer shell for waterproofing not included
Most kids grow so fast that they will only get a single season out of a piece of clothing. But when it comes to winter coats, you still need a jacket that will keep your child warm regardless of price. Enter the super affordable Amazon Essentials Lightweight Packable Puffer.
The coat has a polyester down-alternative fill insulation and a smooth nylon lining to provide warmth and comfort. But, while this puffer jacket will keep your child warm on milder days when layered over a T-shirt or sweater, it’s necessary to add a waterproof shell to keep a child warm and dry in cold, wet weather. The coat’s elasticized cuffs and hood also add to the jacket’s warmth preservation.
When not in use, the coat packs down into an included stuff sack. The Amazon Essentials Lightweight Packable Puffer comes in multiple colors, too.
The best fleece-lined coat
The North Face Mossbud Swirl Reversible Jacket has an extra soft lining to keep kids warm and comfortable.
Pros: Reversible design, soft and warm fleece lining, exterior repels water
Cons: Sizing sometimes runs small
Parents will love the super-soft lining of The North Face Mossbud Swirl Reversible Jacket as much as their kids inevitably do because this soft, cuddly coat is one that kids will love to wear. The high pile fleece and insulated fill provide plenty of warmth, while the exterior repels light rain and snow and reduces wind chill.
Even the exterior of the coat is soft and comfortable, since it’s designed to be worn in reverse, too. That reversible design gives kids more flexibility fashion-wise, while both materials — the fleece and the water-resistant taffeta — play a role in performance.
And like any good kids garment should be, the Mossbud Swirl Reversible Jacket is machine washable. Just be sure to note the sizing with care to ensure a proper fit.
Shop all The North Face kids winter coats at Amazon and The North Face
The best ski jacket
While Patagonia Snowshot Jacket was designed for use on the slopes, it’s a versatile jacket for outdoor play, family outings, and walks to school.
Pros: Excellent insulation, water-resistant shell, removable hood, ski pass pockets
The ski pass pocket built into the sleeve of the Patagonia Snowshot Jacket is a tipoff as to the design of this winter coat. It was made for use by kids carving their way down snowy slopes. As such, it can handle the cold that comes with everyday winter wear extremely well, and without that bulky puffy parka fit that so many ski coats have.
The Snowshot has a durable water-repellent shell that features taped seams for excellent wind-resistance. The inner layer is soft thanks to a polyester plain-weave lining and warm 150 gram down alternative fill. A drop tail hem offers extra protection against wind and precipitation, while the hood can be cinched down tight around the face when the weather is frigid or it can be removed entirely for milder days.
While the Patagonia Snowshot is a pricey jacket, it might last for more than one season. The sleeves have a “grow-fit” feature that allows them to be extended (or retracted) by as much as 2 inches.
The best winter coat for babies
Columbia’s Tiny Bear II Bunting covers infants head to toe and, in most cases, is safe for the car seat.
Pros: Warm, soft materials; perfect for layering; cute animal-themed hood; car seat-safe when sized appropriately
Cons: No water resistance, not heavy enough for extended snow play
While infants won’t start a snowball fight, they do need to stay warm when heading out the door. The Columbia Tiny Bear II Bunting is more than just a coat — its built-in gloves, hat, and boots make it quick and simple to get baby dressed to go outdoors. I used a previous version of this bunting on my youngest before he began to walk and I loved that I could keep him warm without needing to put snow boots on him.
Most bulky winter coats are not safe in a car seat, but Columbia’s fleece jackets and buntings are thin and snug enough that most parents will find they pass the car seat fit test. The Tiny Bear is made from a thin fleece that, when sized appropriately, is car-seat-friendly. Parents should ensure the bunting fits snugly and perform the chalk test, which is explained at the end of this guide.
The attached pants, hood, and fold-over booties, and gloves make the bunting warmer than just a thin fleece jacket alone. While the Tiny Bear will keep the baby warm while traveling and running errands, parents in colder climates will want to pair it with a heavier jacket if spending extended time in the cold. It’s warm enough for walking from the car into the grocery store, for example, but not for spending an hour hunting for the perfect Christmas tree in the snow. The thin material, however, makes it great for layering — you don’t need to remove the bunting before adding a bulky winter coat. The bunting was the coat my toddler wore most often last winter. I simply added a puffy jacket for winter walks and outdoor activities.
How to choose a winter coat for kids
A child’s smaller body loses heat faster than adults. But, on the flip side, a child that’s actively playing in the snow may generate more body heat and be warmer than an adult who’s simply supervising the fun. So, how do parents determine how many layers a child needs to stay warm? What should parents look for when choosing a coat for kids? When shopping for a child’s winter coat, consider the materials, design, warmth, waterproofing, layers, and fit.
Materials: A coat’s materials play a big role in how much heat is retained. The ideal material is warm, yet makes a coat that isn’t too bulky to play in. McGurk prefers synthetic down alternatives that hold heat well, even when wet. Although down holds heat well, it loses the ability to hold heat when it’s wet. What a coat is not made from is also important. McGurk recommends coats with water-repellant coatings that do not contain perfluorochemicals (PFCs). PFCs do not break down in the environment, and lab animals exposed to large doses experienced adverse effects, according to a CDC fact sheet.
Design: The design of the coat is also essential to consider. Winter coats for children tend to fall in one of these categories:
- A puffy coat is light and easy to play in, but it needs to be paired with an outer shell, such as a rain jacket, in order to be waterproof. An outer shell will also protect the coat from tearing, which is common with puffy coats.
- Three-in-one coats use a warm inner layer, often made of fleece or polyester, and a waterproof outer layer. Both layers can be worn at once for winter play, while the inner jacket works well for cool fall days and the outer jacket can be worn without the inner layer as a raincoat or windbreaker.
- Other winter coats are designed as a single garment consisting of both a waterproof outer layer and insulation for warmth. These coats are less versatile than the three-in-ones but may be easier to zip since the multiple zippers of three-in-ones can confuse younger children.
Warmth and waterproofing: Always consider the climate the coat will be worn in. For wet, cold winters, McGurk says a waterproof, windproof coat is a must. The colder the climate is, the more insulation parents will want to look for. For all climates, a coat that’s breathable will help keep active kids from overheating.
Layers: Coats for outdoor play should have enough room for layers underneath. In the coldest temperatures, winter coats work best with layers. For babies and younger children who are unable or unlikely to tell you if they are too warm or hot, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using one more layer than an adult would be comfortable in. Yurich recommends using merino wool as a base layer. This material is warm, but wicks away sweat, she says.
Fit: Parents should also consider how a coat fits. A well-fitting coat will allow a child to move around and play. If the sleeves are creep up on the wrists, the coat is too small, McGurk says. If the sleeves are cover the hands, the coat is too big. Some coats have a clever extend-to-size feature, which allows you to snip some stitching to make the sleeves longer. Both McGurk and Yurich said they tend to go up one size to get two or more seasons out of a coat as well as to allow enough room for layers underneath. Sizing up can also help make the cost of a coat more reasonable.
Winter Coats and car seat safety
Parents should never size up when looking for a coat that’s safe to wear in a car seat. A large, thick coat can create as many as 3 to 4 inches of extra slack in the car seat straps. This increases the chances of injury in a car crash, explains Alisa Baer, cofounder of car seat safety advocacy organization The Car Seat Lady and a nationally certified child passenger safety instructor. The force of a car crash takes all the extra puff out of a coat. When that happens, the car seat straps or seat belt that once looked snug no longer fit properly and the child may move more in an accident or even slip out of the restraints.
To determine if a coat is safe for a car seat harness, use Baer’s Chalk Test (you can follow along with this video). With the child wearing the coat, buckle them into the seat and properly tighten the straps. Use a piece of chalk and mark where the tail strap — the strap that you pull to tighten the harness — comes out of the seat. Then remove the coat and buckle the child, tightening only to the chalk line. If you can pinch the straps or fit more than one finger underneath, then the coat is too bulky and should not be worn in the car seat.
Older children and even adults are also safest without buckling a seat belt over a bulky coat, Baer says. In the front seat, a belt tensioner locks in a crash, pulling the belt tight against the body. That removes the tension from the strap. However, most back seats do not have a belt tensioner, so coats will introduce extra slack. Even with a belt tensioner, all seat belts will work better without an overly large coat, Baer says.
Of course, cold is dangerous to a child as well, but the American Academy of Pediatrics says that a thin, snug-fitting coat such as a fleece jacket can be both safe in a crash and in the cold. A thin jacket along with a hat and gloves can keep a child warm when walking from the car to a building. Layering with a long-sleeve onesie and fleece leggings also helps, Baer says. Bring a warm winter coat to slip on over the fleece jacket for outdoor play or in the event the car breaks down.