Forest schools aren’t like any other educational institution around. With a century-long legacy of hands-on academics, children are able to develop skills and knowledge from real experience as opposed to theoretical classroom discussions. They’ll use tools, build campfires, care for live animals, and spend all day in a variety of weather conditions (safety permitting).
Obviously, this sort of rugged environment requires a little more than the casual t-shirts, khaki shorts, dresses, and backpacks of garden-variety public or private schools. So when sending your child to Forest School, how do you prepare them for an education in all varieties of environment?
Fortunately, we have a guide just for you. Every child attending forest school is required to bring proper clothing for weather conditions on any given day, including a minimum of two changes of clothing — and clothing for both wet/cold months as well as warm/dry months.
Let’s take a look at recommendations for each category of weather.
Be prepared for summer, with the right clothing selection for physical activity in the heat and sun. For any clothing other than shoes, lightweight non-cotton clothing is ideal.
Shoes should be lightweight and closed toe. Students should stock both a pair of walking shoes and a pair of water shoes in order to be adaptable to all environments.
Decent multipurpose shoes are necessary to adapt to rapidly changing environments. We recommend Native Shoes — they make a reliable sports shoe that stands up to the environment. They’re shock absorbent, odor-resistant, and hand washable — meaning they’ll last your child all summer.
You may think water shoes are only useful at the beach, but they’re necessary for outdoor life. The rubber bottoms provide improved traction when trekking across difficult, damp terrain like steep creek beds or river banks. They’re also essential when boating, kayaking, or canoeing — or simply when hanging out at the dock.
We recommend Keen Water Shoes. These shoes have easy-to-use hook-and-loop straps, saving time with fastening. Plus, they’re made with quick-drying webbing, and the soles are comfortable with excellent arch support.
A sunhat is a natural barrier against the sun’s rays. The wider the brim, the better. Aim for 3 inches. Brims with non-uniform shapes are also better at blocking sun because the sun’s rays aren’t just striking from above — they bounce from surfaces all around. Make sure to check the UV protection rating on the hat.
Color also makes a difference in protection. Light colors reflect sun rays while darker colors absorb them. They’re both good for different reasons, so look for a design that incorporates both.
And of course, don’t forget to pack a swimsuit — and go the extra mile by including a supply of “Off” Deep Woods bug spray to keep away mosquitoes and ticks.
Rain is nothing to sneeze at. Rainy weather can introduce a number of new obstacles to an outdoor environment — slippery surfaces, rising creeks, and flash floods among them. But when your child is prepared, they can master the elements any day of the week.
When choosing protective rain gear, it’s important to keep in mind that PVC and Gortex will offer the most protection, and anything else won’t really cut it. Cotton, especially, should be avoided at all costs because it holds water and sweat to your body, causing rapid heat loss.
Each student is required to pack two pairs of waterproof, insulated boots. When making your selection, there are a number of factors to keep in mind. Mesh footwear is best for mild conditions (it’s light, plus it drains and dries quickly), but you may want something heavier for harsher weather.
When purchasing new boots, pay close attention to traction and protection — the most important features of a rain boot. If your child is headed to Forest School with a used boot, remember to renew the waterproofing for the season (one advantage of purchasing the boots we recommend below is that they do not require renewing waterproofing). You can easily tell if the waterproofing has worn off by looking for dark spots when the boot is wet.
For children, we recommend Xtra Tuff Rain Boots for warmer rainy weather up to 70 degrees (above 70 degrees, the Keens and Native shoes mentioned above should be worn). Xtra Tuff Rain Boots have rubber coverage on the entirety of the exterior, a skid-resistant chevron on the outsole, and insulation with a temperature rating of -10 degrees Fahrenheit.
For colder rainy weather (near freezing or below), we recommend Bogs insulated rain boots. These boots are rated to temperatures down to -30 degrees and are so effective that we require them for students at our school.
As a bonus, consider throwing in a pair of synthetic socks for extra protection in case your student’s feet get wet.
There are two rain pant options, and they can each be used on separate occasions. The first are pullover hiking pants, meant to go over your student’s original pants in the event of a surprise storm. The nice thing about this design is that it’s lightweight, breathable, and can be put on quickly. They’re only meant for milder weather, however. Meanwhile, heavier protective pants are meant to be worn as pants all on their own. They’re much more protective but a little less flexible.
As with other gear, synthetic insulation is the best choice for a rain jacket. Most regular jackets use down, which loses a lot of its ability to insulate when it gets wet.
We recommend Helly Hanson Rain Jackets. These jackets have a mesh lining (good because it quickly drains and dries, remember?), under the arm breathability for ventilation, and are fully sealed at the seams. They’re warm and lightweight, great in any inclement weather situation.
We also recommend making sure your student’s backpack is waterproof.
When it comes to winter gear, its best practice is to dress in three layers — a base layer, one or more insulating layers, and a waterproof outer shell. This way, you’re not only protected from the cold and elements, but you’re also capable of removing layers to adjust body temperature if circumstances prove too warm.
Base and Insulating Layer
Wool clothing is always the best when layering beneath snow and rain gear. It will keep you warm even when wet. As we mentioned when talking about rain gear above, it’s imperative to avoid cotton material at all costs — wet cotton will retain water and sweat, leading to drastic heat loss.
For a warm base layer, we recommend wool shirts and pants such as Ella’s Wool — these products include lightweight, pure merino wool pants and shirts designed for temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Ella’s Wool describes the base layer as a “second skin.” The super-fine fibers also mean the wool isn’t itchy.
You’ll want an insulating layer of fleece shirts and pants overtop the base layer, such as these sweaters from Helly Hansen.
And be sure to pack extra socks. We recommend Smart Wool’s kid socks.
Outer Insulating Layer
Finally, for your outer shell, you’ll need a coat, snow pants, boots, a hat, and gloves. Check out our recommendations here:
As you can imagine, purchasing all of the clothing listed above will be a little more expensive than a typical back-to-school shopping trip at your local Walmart. However, you can save some money by purchasing gently used clothing, as long as the protective elements are not compromised.
If you have any specific questions about forest school clothing, feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help.