Avoiding Cold Shock-practicality of hood

-- Last Updated: Aug-22-07 11:32 AM EST --

Many kayak groups paddle in winter and avoid potentially dangerous situations with proper immersion dress and staying closer to shore. What concerns me is the danger of cold water shock/gasp relfex, no matter how close to shore you are.
A common suggestion for avoidance is a thick neoprene hood, combined with ear and nose plugs. It seems in social cold water paddles that these things are impractical for conversation, yet key to avoiding life-threatening situations. Can anyone offer real life experience on cold water shock, when rolling or capsize, and if one can truly avoid it? (it concerns me way more than hypothermia)

my only real world experience
Has been an apparent resistance to it.

OTOH, whenever I paddle in cold water conditions, I get into the water to burp my drysuit, then immerse myself completely. Perhaps this helps with cold shock tolerance, because I can roll and wet exit after this, but it could also be because the rolls and wet exits are expected and anticipated.

What works for me
is taking a swim before every paddle. Gets me used to the cold. I wear a polypro hat under a thin fuzzy rubber balaclava. Works for me year round at Tahoe.

head is important

– Last Updated: Aug-22-07 12:40 PM EST –

there's a whole bunch of different kinds of hoods made out of materials other than neoprene that allow for much better hearing while still giving excellent protection agains sudden immersion or longer exposure while floating/thrashing outside the kayak. Methinks the cold "shock" issue is more significant with your whole body getting hit with cold water whereas cold water rushing in the ear drums can cause vertigo more than just pain/icecream headache.

Slowing down the rush of cold water into the ear drum as well as full neck coverage with a thin fuzzy rubber hood can be more useful than a beanie or hat,,the bottom line you gotta see what works for you. Everyone's different with different needs for protection/temp controll.

a fuzzy rubber hood or equivalent can be rolled up and stuffed in pfd pocket better than neoprene. With a thin lycra liner or thick lycra divers hood liner under the fuzzy rubber hood works it works as well as 5mm hood, while not providing as good insulation for diving it is better for rolling if it has a tighter fit.


or the equivalent. I used to carry three of these during classes for the skinny people who started to get cold after rescue practice.


here it tis. It may not work with you or feel claustrophobic around the neck with drysuit gasket but I was able to wear a lycra liner like this under the fuzzy rubber hood. Wore it once at night where the air was in the thirties and the water was below 40. Another time I used the combo during a long paddle where water was freezing on my pfd. I never rolled it in sub 40water but I did roll in low 40 degree water.

If you're neck isn't thick you can pull one or both off your neck bunched off the back of your neck or pull them up as needed. So if you're burning up you can pull the fuzzy rubber off leaving the light lycra and wear a hat or put the fuzzy rubber on and splash your face a few times with cold water. Whatever you wear water will find it's way in but this is the best combo for hearing AND slowing down the eventual movement of COLD water to your ears so that by the time it hits it's warmed up.


My experience

– Last Updated: Aug-22-07 1:11 PM EST –

I haven't tried rolling much w/o a hood in less than about 45 degree water. But I would say from the few times I was silly enough to do so (it even hurts the ears), the water temp definately impedes a relaxed and thoughtful roll.

Overall though, the hood can't protect you if you haven't continued getting your face wet as the water temps get colder. 45 degree water on the face is uncomfortable but can be tolerated if you have regularly rolled in temps down to 50 degrees or less. But if the last time you put your head under was in 60 degree water you are courting disaster.

A hood helps hugely, but staying wet as long as you can is as critical.

Paddling hood and divers hood
To avoid cold shock, wear a dry suit. To avoid a painful and sometimes nauseating experience, wear a hood. The problem is that the kind of hood that is really needed for immersion protection is a full 1/4" divers hood and it will get tremendously hot and irritating if you wear if for paddling unless the day is like 20º degrees with a strong wind.

Most paddlers wear the lighter weight paddlers hood that is tolerable for an aerobic activity and will give you some ear protection on a capsize as long as you get out quick. But for real extended immersion you would need a heavy divers hood but you can’t paddle with it on. I find for real winter waters in New England, the light weight paddlers hoods are just about worthless. If they help at all it’s keeping water out of your ears (maybe).

Most of my friends wear land based hats for winter paddling. If it gets rough, we put on the hoods and really rough, the 1/4" thick one goes on. So, winter paddling is always a bit of a gamble. None of us pre-wet ourselves - it’s just too cold for that. If we roll it’s always at the end of a paddle with our cars near by. For many of us, if we wet ourselves down we will cool down too much too early. I don’t even do lunch stops in real winter. I usually go out for 2-3 hrs and come back. I also have cold hands to worry about. Winter paddling is dangerous and you have to use caution. Many times we go up inland marsh waterways.

5mm henderson
Surely not as thick as the hood Jay mentions, but I did just buy a Henderson 5mm that covesr the neck as well. Seems more substantial than my NRS Mystery hood.

on a Maine camping trip I kept a 7mil hood behind the seat. If there was any chance of being in the water for long and far from land I wanted max heat retention on the head, no ifs ands or buts.

All I used it for was going upside down with a mask and looking at things. Here in the Chesapeake it’s like tea water so the chance of actually seeing things was too tempting.

I use a 3 mm farmer john with a 2 mm
jacket, neo booties, neo gloves. When it’s very cold, in the 20s or so or if there’s hail, freezing rain, strong, cold wind and sometimes even if it’s just snowing, I will put on my hood. Its a ultra stretchy material from NRS. Works fine. I realize I should have a dry suit, but I’m an old lifeguard and spend lots of time in the water both cold and warm. I use very long safety lines and the river I paddle most is narrow enough that I could swim to safety in 10-15 min from anywhere.

I guess, in a word, acclimate.

Henderson Titanium Hyperstretch
I have had good luck with the Henderson Titanium

Hyperstretch dive hood. It’s stretchy neoprene,7mm with a 5mm neck. Fairly easy to take on and off and gives excellent protection from cold shock.No need for a zipper so I sometimes alternate from the hood for rolling sessions and back to a winter hat for just paddling if it’s not too rough.

No idea what the titanium is for…marketing hype or real utility ???

Cold water in ears
equals instant vertigo for me. I use Dr. Proplugs to keep the water out of my ears when paddling in cold water. http://www.proplugs.com/aboutus.shtml


Dry suit or top doesn’t stop cold shock
Although I certainly use a dry top for cold water paddling, even with multiple insulating layers under it, I found that it didn’t prevent the cold shock sensation when suddenly immersed.

I lived in the southeast for several years and paddled whitewater year round. The best time of year for many runs is the spring. Even in Jan and Feb I never had a bad experience with cold shock if properly dressed.

After moving to NE Pennsylvania and running creeks in the spring basically in snowmelt, I had a different experience. Sudden immersion produced a sense of weakness and sluggishness that a drytop didn’t prevent. I’m not sure there is any type of practical clothing that prevents this, but I did find that repeated exposure made it somewhat more tolerable over time. I really only had this experience with water temperatures at or below 40 degrees.

Trust to your comfort zone on this one.
If there’s a chance you’ll have your head in water below 40 degrees or so, get a water tight hood on. Personally, I want to keep the hearing I have left. Cover your neck the same way to prevent the gasp reflex. Once you’re out of the surf zone, or if there’s no realistic chance of immersion, feel free to ventilate. This is my hood:


And their westite:


It has a soft seal on the face opening with a drawstring to cinch it up around the leaky spots (temples and beard for me). When not in use, I can pull it back off my head so the face hole is around my neck, ready to pop on in two seconds. I can’t hear a thing anyone says with it on, but then, I wouldn’t be trying to listen to anyone the times I’m wearing it. If it’s a quick word, I can still pull a corner back to carry on a conversation tho. I can paddle in freezing water without gloves or nose plugs with little discomfort, but keeping water out of the ears is a must for me.


Drysuit most important
My experience matches well with what Jay posted.

I paddle year-round and roll every time I go for a paddle. I live near DC so I don’t experience quite the cold intensity or duration as Jay, but I do have to take my ice picks with me occasionally.

I’ve never experienced cold shock/gasp reflex, but I always have my drysuit on during the winter.

I’ve tried various hoods, some worthless and some not (I now always have my 5 mm Henderson Hyperstretch with me) when out in icy cold water. I’ve found that even with minimal head protection I have not yet come close to experiencing cold shock/gasp reflex. However I have found that if my ears come in contact with cold water that I can get vertigo after repeated exposure. If I wear a hood that lets extensive cold water reach my ears I’m only good for two rolls in a row before I start to get vertigo - which of course isn’t fun while sitting in a kayak surrounded by more icy water. Ice cream headaches and painful ears are bad, but to me they are nothing compared to vertigo.

have you tried the lycra liners? They seem to slow the flush of water down enough for it to warm up before it goes in the ear.

Hey Neighbor. I’m in NEPA also.
Are you anywhere near Scranton?

splash water on your face and neck
that is my trick. It works well for me and I don’t really like the cold water. If the splash on the face and the back of the neck are too much of a shock I head back to the car.