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Three pictures, one with a kid in the forest wearing blue shellwear. The second picture is of a kid with long brown hair wearing a dress and a blue raincoat. The last picture is of a kid sitting in the forest wearing leopard printed shellwear.

Rainwear or shellwear: which to choose for your child?

For us grown ups, a bad weather day is a good excuse to stay in bed. But for little ones, playing in the rain or snow is by far the most fun! Yet it’s this weather that really puts your child’s outdoor gear to the test. It’s essential to choose hardy garments that will stand up to mucky weather conditions without inhibiting movement or causing discomfort.

Both rainwear and shellwear have different advantages and disadvantages - what’s key is to find a practical, functional garment that suits the climate where you live and your child’s lifestyle and activity level.

Rainwear

Rainwear comes in two styles: lined and unlined. Lined rainwear is suitable for cold weather as well as mild but wet winters. Unlined rainwear doesn’t offer much protection against the cold so the garment should leave some space to add a warm layer like a fleece beneath. Swedish brand Tretorn offers a good selection of both lined and unlined rainwear for toddlers and older children.

Keep in mind that rainwear doesn’t tend to be breathable which means too many layers underneath might cause your child to sweat. That makes this style of outdoor gear best suited to less active outdoor play. You can read more about breathability in our guide to kids’ rainwear.

Rainwear is able to repel water as its surface has been treated with a water-repellent finish. Avoid garments with perfluorinated chemicals (PFC) as these man-made chemicals are harmful to the environment and the wearer. Look for materials that are PVC/vinyl-free, phthalate-free, lead-free, and PFC-free.

Two pictures, one with a kid with long brown hair standing i pink rainwear. The other picture is of a kid sitting on the moss in the forest. The kid is wearing beige shellwear with leopard prints.

Water column is measured in millimeters and indicates how long a garment will keep out water. Look for rain gear with a rating of over 5000mm, as well as taped or sealed seams. Together these features will keep your child bone dry even during the most torrential of downpours. A garment with a waterproof rating of at least 2000mm can be called waterproof provided it has taped seams.

There are a couple of options when it comes to buying rainwear for kids. Rain suits include a jacket and bottoms, or you can choose a rain coverall which is often better for younger children. Don’t forget the rain boots either! Iconic British brand Hunter does a whole range of waterproof items from umbrellas through to rain jackets and, of course, their world-famous wellies.

Shellwear

Shellwear is a versatile outer garment that protects against the elements at all times of the year depending on what your child has on underneath. It works with the layering principle so you can quickly add or remove layers when the temperature and weather changes. Zip closures on the shellwear by Finish brand Reima make it super easy to slip your little one in and out of the garment.

In the colder months, you can layer your little one up with a fleece while in more temperate weather a light sweater or tee like the colorful organic cotton clothes by Frugi should do just fine.

Shellwear is still sufficiently water resistant (for the difference between waterproof and water resistant, read our guide to rainwear) while also being more breathable than rainwear. This means that the fabric allows perspiration to release through the material itself. Breathability is measured in g/m2 and the higher the rating, the more breathable the garment. For active kids, a breathable fabric like GORE-TEX is essential. You can dive deeper into the features of shellwear in our essential guide to choosing shell clothing for kids.

Two pictures, one with a kid in the forest wearing a blue hat, blue shellwear and gloves. The other picture is a kid on the beach a windy day wearing rain boots and rain clothes.

But just like rainwear, you should remember to read the label to choose good materials. For example, the shellwear from Didriksons is free from PFCs while the shellwear from Kuling is treated with BIONIC-FINISH®ECO so you can be sure your child is wearing materials that are free from hazardous substances.

The fabric is more flexible than rainwear and is incredibly durable. So many people choose shellwear over rainwear as it keeps kids happy, warm, and dry. It can also normally be machine washed as it doesn’t have the same coating as rainwear. After a few washes, you may want to re-waterproof shell garments to maintain water resistance.

Pro parenting tip: combine rainwear pants and boots with a shell jacket for active little ones who like stomping (and sitting!) in puddles. You get the durability of rainwear with the bottoms and the ease of wiping them down and drying them off, with the benefits of a shell jacket.

Rainwear vs shellwear: which to choose?

Ultimately, both rain gear and shellwear have their pros and cons. For many parents, the answer will be to invest in a set of each since they are suited to different activities and times of year. Your child can never have too much fun outdoors, and with the right garments you’ll feel confident that they are prepared for anything!

Two pictures, one with a girl with long brown hair, wearing a dress and a blue raincoat. The other picture is a blond youger child looking a bit mischievous wearing a dark green shelljacket

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multiple children wearing different rainwears