While many of you are basking in the heat of summer, the other half of the world is enduring the freeze of winter. Being my first winter since 2010, I have been trying to embrace it. So here is some advice on how to dress for cold weather paddling so you can still enjoy the magic of getting out on the water, whether you plan to be throwing down some freestyle action or hitting up your favorite run!
Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you can’t paddle…. Assuming your waterways are not all frozen solid! The key is to gear up for the conditions and you can still have an amazing time! I’m loving the ocean surf and river kayaking even when the ground and air is frozen, thanks to my amazing gear!
Here’s my advice…
I have never loved my Kokatat icon dry suit so much! If you can keep your body warm and dry you will be so much more comfortable and happy on the water! If you don’t have a dry suit, a good dry top and dry pant combo will do the same job (assuming you don’t swim). Gore-Tex is the best option for cold/winter paddling as it stays dry and provides superior breathability. However, anything is better than nothing when it comes to a waterproof layer.
Underneath my dry gear I like to wear fleece insulation. I find Kokatat’s thick Polartec OuterCore layer helps hold in my body heat and keep my body at a comfortable temperature, without having to wear multiple layers that limit movement. But you can layer as needed for the conditions your dressing for.
You lose a large amount of heat through your head. Always wear a helmet not only for safety but also to keep your head warm. I highly recommend using a skullcap underneath your helmet too, as this keeps in far more heat and will help minimize the ice-cream headache that comes with winter paddling.
Earplugs can also keep your body far warmer. It is incredible just how much heat you lose through your inner ears with cold water rushing in and out! Plus it will also save your hearing and protect you from possible surgery in the future.
If you have poor circulation like me or the temperatures and wind-chill are just too much, I highly recommend using pogies. They still allow you to naturally feel your paddle, but protect and insulate your bare skin from the harsh temperatures, keeping them warm and functioning! You can also use gloves, but personally I find having small hands it is harder to hold my paddle with a thick glove on. This is why I prefer pogies as I can still feel and hold onto the paddle shaft as normal.
Good booties or warm insulating shoes will also help keep your whole body warm and comfortable during winter paddling. Your body loses a lot of heat through your feet, so by wearing warm footwear you can keep your circulation strong and your body warm! Neoprene shoes like the Portage will fit comfortably in your kayak and keep your feet warm even if they get wet. If you have a dry suit with socks then you can also wear wool socks underneath to assure your feet stay toasty warm.
Wear a PFD that fits snug and covers your torso well. This will help keep you warm and safe while in the water. I love my Kokatat Maximus Centurion PFD even more in the winter for these reasons; it has high flotation and I can cinch it tight to keep my whole torso warm.
Make sure you have a boat and spray skirt that do not leak. This will keep the cold water off your lower body, keeping you warmer longer. This also means you can play longer without needing to worry about emptying out your boat! I find my Snap Dragon bungee skirt on my Jackson Kayak keeps me the driest, whether I am freestyling in a hole, ocean surfing in big waves or just river running one of my favorite stretches.
When there is snow on the ground, I like to pretend I am walking on clouds - Takayuri Ikkaku