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In winter, my 6 year old is still a fair weather cyclist and her 3 year old sister is always a passenger. We ride every (week)day, save for the odd day where we have had uncharacteristically heavy snowfalls for where we live, in Calgary, Alberta. As such, going on 7 winters of walking, cross country skiing, and now biking with little kids has helped us to perfect the art of keeping kids warm, even when they are sedentary, sitting in a trailer or box bike.

I don’t have a lot of experience riding a longtail in winter and I know that it is a little more work to keep them warm, but it is possible if you choose to.

Kids sitting in a bakfiets or bike trailer are not generating the heat that you are while biking. But, if you have a cover — which I highly recommend, chances are they will benefit from the ‘greenhouse effect’ under the cover. I know that in sunny Calgary, our kids definitely heat up under the clear plastic covers.

You will have to experiment with trial-and-error for mastering the appropriate outfit for your climate, your kids, and the duration of your trip, but you have do a way to carry extra layers (or store the ones that are shed), so you’ll be okay!

With infants and small toddlers, it admittedly is challenging to keep them warm past -15C (5F) when they’re sitting for longer than 30-45 minutes, due to ahem compliance issues and just because they’re so tiny. (We always found cross-country skiing tricky past this temperature for that reason, but biking easier due to shorter trips.) But, it is possible.

What to Wear

These are the combinations that seem to work for us. Our kids are now past the itty-bitty stage and are much hardier, they can also communicate their wants and needs — something especially helpful with our preschooler, but it is also a tool: Instead of fighting to wear mitts, for example, I pack the mitts and go (keeping them warm under my jacket), when she says her hands are getting cold I ask her what she’d like to do about that, she says ‘put on my mittens’. Done, no struggle. Annoying if that happens within less than 5 minutes of rolling, but still faster than a threenager meltdown resulting in a half hour delay in departure!

If the kids shed a layer, the deal is they are responsible for putting it in the Chariot or box of the CETMA.

You’ll be surprised to read that my kids are often just dressed in street clothes as their base layer, even for extreme cold. Last year my eldest was at a forest school-style kindergarten and lived in Merino, poly, and fleece base layers. Unfortunately, those are highly impractical for either child’s school this year as the kids overheat. So, when we are scooting around town on bike or by foot, regular clothes with the following layers works fine. Cotton socks, however, do not work past -3C or so for my eldest; that said, she rarely wears thick wool socks and often prefers thin ones so that her feet don’t sweat all day when inside at school.

+5C to -3C
(41F to 26F)

-4C to -12C
(25F to 10F)

-13C to -30C
(9F to -22F)

Winter Helmet

You’ll notice that I only included something to put on your kid’s head in the coldest of the categories. We choose to wear helmets, plus it is the law where we live for kids to do so. This year we moved to winter helmets rated for biking and it’s been awesome. We use the Bern Nina‘s and snap in the winter liner for the colder months. The only downfall is that it makes chatting a bit trickier because your ears are pleasantly smothered in half an inch of minky fleece!

In really cold temps, a thin fleece balaclava works really well. My kids both hate it when the balaclava gets wet with condensation from their breathing (and — let’s face it — snot). Thankfully, their awesome snow suits have good collars that they can tuck into if they eschew a damp balaclava.

Other Tools

It is important to dress well, especially if you end up stranded somewhere; be prepared, just like you should be when you get in a car in the winter.

We often do a few extra things to keep the kids cozy, though. We have:

  • added some foam to the box of our bakfiets (old foam tiles),
  • we use blankets, and
  • we have a down stroller bag that we still use, too.

Occasionally, we add a hot water bottle (filled with hot water from the tap, not boiling water). And, I usually have a chemical heat pack hand warmer somewhere, just in case (but, I honestly never use them).

If we are somewhere long enough that we need snacks and it is really cold, I always try to pack warm food: tea, hot chocolate, soup, etc.

If anyone doesn’t want to wear mitts, myself included, the unused mitts go under my jacket so that they’re warm and easily accessed when needed.

Keeping Kids Warm

I hope that these tips help you to embrace winter more and help your kids enjoy it, too! Active transportation keeps the season alive for us and regularly being outside has taught the kids to love their warmwear, even my 3 year old understands how effective her snow suit is at cold temps now (finally).

Wishing you much luck and happy trails!

Any other tips you’d add to help keeping little passengers warm? Please comment below.