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When you're looking for kids jackets, there are some features that are going to make all the difference in the world to your child. Since you're getting a winter jacket anyway, it may as well be one that has the features your child really needs. And yes, you can do this without breaking the bank! Here is what to look for in a child's jacket.
Water resistant cuffs on sleeves, not cloth knit cuffs
Pay attention to the cuffs at the wrist. This one will make the biggest difference if it's cold and rainy or if it ever snows where you live. When you find a jacket you like online, make sure you zoom in on the product image to see what the cuffs look like at the wrist - if you're shopping in person, inspect the jacket for the same thing.
Most jackets have moved away from cloth cuffs but a few styles are still being sold with cloth cuffs, typically made from a heavy-duty knit material. You don't want this because knit cuffs get soaked easily when playing in the snow or if it's cold and rainy. This then results in your child's regular top getting soaked at the wrists underneath which is unpleasant and can even put him or her at risk of frostbite if you live in a cold area.
Situations where cloth cuffs might be OK
If there are cloth cuffs underneath the water resistant sleeve and if the water resistant sleeve extends out past the length of the cloth cuff, then this style may work out fine. The cloth cuff in this situation is keeping the sleeve snug to the child's body to keep the cold out at the wrists, yet the waterproof part of the sleeve extends out past it. This means your child's cuffs are likely to stay dry.
And of course, another situation where cloth knit cuffs are OK is if it doesn't get particularly cold or rainy where you live.
Having a hood on your kids winter jacket sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many kids jackets are being sold without a hood.
Even if your child has a separate hat they plan to wear with the jacket, it's always best to have a hood on the jacket. If your child ever loses his or her hat or forgets to bring it, you still have the hood. In very cold weather, I recommend putting the hood on over the hat. And of course, if it's rainy, the hood will be water resistant while the hat probably won't be. Your child can always keep the hood down when they don't want to wear it.
The bottom line about the hood is that it's a must for your kids winter wear. If you're purchasing a child's jacket, it really needs to have a hood.
If you're buying a second jacket for fashion reasons, then you can live without the hood, but your child's primary cold weather winter jacket needs a hood.
A reflective strip somewhere on the jacket is ideal. It's not a total deal-breaker not to have it, especially if your child is never out in the dark. But if your school or daycare drop off or pickup ever happens in the dark in winter, then a reflective strip will be immensely improve your child's safety and visibility to other drivers. The same applies if your child waits at the school bus stop in the morning, particularly if they need to cross the road to get there.
The reflective strip on kids winter jackets often isn't at all obvious when inspecting it in normal lighting, but if there is a line of white piping anywhere on the jacket then it's probably made of a reflective material and this is what you want. Product descriptions don't always mention the existence of a reflective strip, so look for a line of white usually running horizontally across the jacket somewhere.
Warmth sounds too obvious for a kids jacket, but it's important not to get carried away purely by fashion considerations when you see an awesomely cute trendy child's jacket. You'll also need to look at the practical warmth the jacket provides. If it gets cold in winter where you are, you'll definitely need a thick jacket for your child. This is because there is no other substitute for a thick jacket.
By contrast, if your child needs a thin jacket and doesn't have one, it can always be cobbled together by wearing a lightweight raincoat or rain shell over warmer layers (or a sherpa-style thickly lined hoodie if it's not raining). But you can't replace a thick jacket with other alternatives.
Waterproof or water resistant
A jacket should keep your child dry if it's raining or snowing. Therefore, it needs to be waterproof or water resistant. Most children's winter jackets are made of an appropriate material that will keep your child dry, but it's worth being aware of this factor when buying.
A section that can be closed across the mouth if it gets below freezing where you live
For very cold weather, you'll want to get the type of jacket whose hood has an extra strip at the bottom that fastens in front of the child's mouth with a velcro-like closure. This strip keeps the mouth and chin warm and help avoid frostbite in cold weather. This strip does not have to be closed up every time you put the hood on, it's an optional extra closure that your child can use or not use depending on the weather.
You can see this strip in the graphic at the top of the article, where the strip with the closure is visible and resting on the child's shoulder while not in use.
You won't need this feature unless it gets below freezing where you live or unless your child likes to play outside for awhile in cool weather. If you want this, you're most likely to find it in jackets labeled as ski jackets rather than just winter jackets.
Where to find the best children's winter jackets and coats at a cheap price point
My recommendations for wonderful yet affordable kids winter jackets are: Old Navy, The Children's Place, and Amazon.com. If you're looking for cute designs that are geared more towards toddlers and preschoolers, still at a cheap price point, I recommend Carter's.
If you're willing to spend more for the best quality and engineering, then go for the children's jackets at Columbia.com. And they often have sales and discounts so it's well worth a look.
If winter is coming, your child will need other cold weather items in addition to a jacket - find out here how to dress your child for winter without breaking the bank.