Out on the hills you'll often see an adult armoured to the hilt in a small fortune's-worth of the latest outdoor kit, trailing a straggling child dressed in tread-less trainers and a damp cotton hoodie. If you take your offspring outdoors a lot, then the least they deserve is clothing and footwear that's up to the job. But of course children have the annoying habit of growing, and it's hard to justify investing to the level that you may lavish on yourself.
Budget outlets and brands meet this need, but in terms of quality, value, and the environmental and human cost of cheap clothing, you do often get what you pay for, and it is arguably worth spending more than the bare minimum. This is particularly so if you're a dedicated outdoor family, and go out for long days in less than perfect conditions.
Sprayway's range of Junior Clothing hits a sweet spot where relative affordability meets proper outdoor functionality. As a parent of two active girls I often wonder why so few brands do kid's kit, and while Sprayway's range isn't huge they do have you covered with the key essentials of insulation and waterproofs, for ages 2-15.
They both look really cool: they're our favourite jacket and fleece
Over winter and into spring, we've been looking at a furry fleece, the Bianca, and a lightweight synthetic insulated jacket, the Belle. Both have been a massive hit with the junior review team, to the extent that we struggle to prize them off at bedtime. However, our experience of their durability has been polarised, one model surviving very well while the other has suffered a lot at the hands of our reviewers. Children will be children, and it turns out not all jackets are built to account for that.
The IA in their titles stands for interactive - both can be zipped into the Willow IA shell (not reviewed here) to give you a single warm-and-waterproof jacket that may make life a bit less faffy on cold days. Our experience of these bulky all-in-one things is that the kids generally refuse to wear them, so for us separates make more sense.
Fair wear and environmental standards
We should always look at the ethical standards to which our outdoor clothing has been made, but somehow it seems particularly appropriate to mention it when kitting out the next generation (who will, let's remember, inherit our mess).
Outdoor & Sports Company, who own both Sprayway and Mountain Equipment, have worked with the Fair Wear Foundation since 2012. A non-profit organisation that works with brands, factories, trade unions, NGOs and sometimes governments to verify and improve workplace conditions in 11 production countries, Fair Wear Foundation reviews brands annually to verify their progress in implementing labour standards and improving working conditions.
Along with many brands, Sprayway have also worked to reduce the harmful chemicals in their DWR treatments, and are now looking at introducing a number of PFC-free DWR technologies to their ranges.
Bianca IA fleece jacket - £30
A comparatively thick, heavyweight fleece, the Bianca is great as a warm midlayer in cold conditions, or as an outer layer when the weather is chilly but a bit less challenging. Our girls really love the furry finish. Paired with the Belle jacket and a shell, the Bianca has proved a good match for winter and colder spring days on the nippy northwest coast. This feels like a really good quality jacket, and at £30 it's great value for something that should last.
"It's completely good, I can't think of anything bad to say about it. Except I wish the pockets had zips. And the furry fleece picks up burrs"
At 419g in size 8-9yrs and 475g in size 10-11yrs, the Bianca is not by any stretch a lightweight option, and you could even find adult's fleeces that weigh less. But as it is both sturdy, and really thick and warm, that weight is completely forgivable. In fact when it comes to children's clothes it would probably be a mistake to go too light and flimsy, a subject I'll return to with the Belle Jacket.
While the kids insist on calling theirs jumpers, the Bianca is very much a jacket, both in terms of weight and sizing, with a roomy cut that fits easily over a couple of other layers. It comes out quite big for the stated age range, which may give you some welcome growing room.
There's enough length in the sleeves to avoid hem lift when the arms are raised, and a decent length at the hem to give good snug coverage at the midriff, keeping the cold out around the middle. Roomy yet close fitting enough, the snuggly hood is a big hit with both our reviewers. There is no direct 'boy's' equivalent to this model, though there's nothing (but the name) stopping them wearing a Bianca.
As well as being luxuriously thick, warm and fluffy, the 100% polyester 'Hiloft' fleece fabric that makes up most of the jacket seems very robust. Over the shoulders, down the sides of the torso and around the bottom hem you get a more conventional 'Core C' fleece, which is thinner and lighter. This makes the jacket less bulky than it would have been if it was all super fluffy, and gives the impression of being harder wearing too. The thinner fabric is also clearly less warm, which may help prevent overheating: our girls are certainly comfy running about in their Belles even when the weather is relatively mild.
"I love how it makes me feel warm and fluffy, like a bear"
Build quality is good. Ours have survived a winter and early spring of heavy use without a mark, and after a couple of washes they still have a new feel (I avoid washing adult fleeces as much as possible in order to minimise microplastic pollution, but kids manage to pick up more mud and sheep poo).
With its deep furry pile to trap warm air, this fleece is really snug for its weight, but of course it's not remotely windproof, so in chillier and windier conditions a shell will be needed over the top. When it's really cold our girls have been layering the Bianca under the Belle jacket, a combination that adds up to loads of insulation.
Stretch-bound hand pockets give them somewhere to keep pebbles and bits of sea glass. There's also an elasticated strip on the cuffs, hem and around the hood - they don't get any drawcords to tighten the fit, but keeping it simple makes sense for kids. The main zip is appropriately chunky, and so far seems robust (though it's not YKK, but a brand I'd not heard of).
Super warm, super cosy and a super fluffy our Bianca I.A is the go to for fun times in the outdoors. Its Hiloft fleece construction traps warm air efficiently. A grown on hood keeps the chills off. Its interactive zip means its can be zipped into our Willow I.A shell for added protection on wet days. Elastane bound cuffs, hem and hood sit neatly and comfortably next to the skin.
- Sizes: 4-5yrs to 14-15yrs
- Weight: 419g 8-9yrs (our weight)
- Hiloft fleece is super soft and warm
- CoreC™ 200 fleece inserts are light quick drying and warm
- Elastane bound grown on hood
- 2 hand pockets with fleece lining
- Elastane bound cuffs
- Elastane bound hem
For more info see sprayway.com
Belle Reversible IA jacket - £55
A mid-thickness synthetic-insulated jacket, the Belle (Enzo for boys, if your kids are picky about gendered fashion) is a good weight to give a decent warmth boost when needed, while still remaining light and packable enough for kids to carry up hills in a small child's rucksack. It is proving ideal for Scottish hillwalking and general outdoor life during this chilly spring, and because it's not too bulky I can see it still being used in summertime too. It's reversible, so if they get tired (or make a mess) of one colour, you've got a different option. The one catch is that it's very flimsy for the abuse kids will inevitably hurl at it, and as such the price does not look such good value. With a tougher outer fabric, it'd be a winner.
"It's light, it's warm, it looks great, and we love how you can turn it inside out, like having two jackets in one"
Weighing just 280g in size 8-9yrs and 310g in size 10-11yrs, the Belle is a real lightweight, and offers an excellent level of insulation for this minimal weight. For packing, it scrunches down to about the size of a coconut.
Again, the tailoring is quite roomy for the stated age range, which is what you want if you're sticking it on over other layers. On colder days our girls have often worn a baselayer and the Bianca fleece under their Belles, and their movement certainly seems unimpeded, in the sense that I struggle to keep up with them.
Length in the body is ample, which helps keep draughts out of the midriff, and as with the fleece, there's minimal hem lift when the arms are raised. The hood is decent too, though it seems a bit less generously sized than the hood on the Bianca fleece, and doesn't cover the forehead quite as well. Again, it's stretch-bound and has no drawcord adjustment, and this is probably a good thing in terms of keeping things simple; if the weather is stormy enough that they need a closer fit around the head, then the kids will probably be wearing a shell over the top anyway.
Though it doesn't stand in for a waterproof shell, the face fabric has a degree of wind resistance and the Belle has been worn sans shell without complaint in some cold, blowy and drizzly weather. This 100% polyester fabric may be light, but it's not particularly tear-resistant, and unfortunately this fragility undermines an otherwise very decent jacket design.
Children are not known for going easy on their outfits, and we are generally of the opinion that life is short and it's not worth being precious about kid's clothes. However I would say the outer fabric is too flimsy for the abuse it will inevitably receive at the hands of youngsters. After around three months of use - and I do mean wearing them almost constantly - both our girls have managed to put holes in their Belle jackets, and various bits of stitching are beginning to look quite worn. At least one seam has split, exposing the fill. If you climb trees, and brush up against the odd rusty fence, then you cannot expect miracles from your clothing; but it's notable that some similar insulated jackets we bought cheaper from Decathlon last year have yet to suffer to the same extent.
Very clearly, Belle the jacket is built more for lightness and packability up hills than rough-and-tumble durability - and that's fine if you can afford two sets of children's coats. Save it for hillwalking days where weight and compactness counts, and send them to school in something a bit less refined, and you should get a decent life out of it. That was our mistake.
"Big down side: the material gets torn really easily on brambles and branches. And it seems to show the dirt a lot... though maybe that's my fault"
The 160g weight of 100% polyester 'Inso/Therm' insulation which is used throughout the jacket has a decent loft, and seems both quick-drying and not too sweaty when they're running around or plodding up hills in the Belle. For its lightness it seems pretty warm, and I'm reassured that the girls have been comfy on cold windy hilltops - you can bet I'd have heard about it if they were cold.
Its reverse-ability is a key selling point of the Belle; the 'main' side has a lot of stitched baffles, while the other side has less external stitching. There's some reflective detailing on the quilted side of the jacket, which is a nice touch when they're out on roads in low light, but none on the reverse.
Again, the chunky and robust zip is welcome, since kids are bound to be hard on things like that: we've had no worries here so far, and the zipper doesn't seem too snaggy either, which could well have been an issue with a light insulated jacket given the general lack of care shown by children. The hand pockets are a decent size, and you get them on both faces of the jacket. While neither side features pocket zips, those on the quilted side of the jacket have a little flap to help stop things falling out.
A highly versatile insulation piece for those mini adventurers amongst us. Warm, light and packable Inso/Therm 160g synthetic insulation performs even when wet. A protective hood keeps cold chills at bay whilst a reflective trim keeps them visible on those late afternoon winter walks.
- Sizes: 2-3 yrs to 14-15 yrs
- Weight: 280g size 8-9yrs (our weight)
- Inso/Therm 160g synthetic insulation throughout offers great warmth to weight ratios
- 100% polyester outer/inner and fill
- Elastane bound grown on hood
- 2 zipped hand pockets
- Reflective print detail for visibility
- Elastane bound cuffs and hem
For more info see sprayway.com