My wife and I have been on a few guided and unguided kayak trips in sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks but we're definitely beginners. We recently purchased a used pair of tandem Helios inflatable kayaks for flatwater use on Northern California lakes, estuaries, and slow rivers. In some cases, we'll be bringing along the kids (3-5 yrs old).
I've been devouring information here and elsewhere about water temps, hypothermia, cold shock, and appropriate clothing, but at this point I think I'm just getting more confused.
We plan to kayak in weather ranging from mild to downright hot, but in some cases (like the upper end of Lake Natoma or many Sierra lakes) the water temperature could be quite cold (mid-50's to mid-60's). We're definitely the type to take it easy and stay relatively close to shore, and the IK's seem like they'll be relatively easy to re-board if necessary (we still need to test that theory, though).
Basically, we want to be dressed sufficiently for a brief unintended swim without baking in the California sun, and we're struggling to decide on some versatile "starter gear" without breaking the bank. (We all have appropriate PFD's).
Clothing we're looking at includes NRS hydroskin or similar "light" neoprene; 2-3mm farmer john/jane wetsuits; rashguards; and paddle tops. (Drysuits seem like overkill for our needs and budget, but feel free to correct me...)
Any suggestions for a few pieces that would work well to cover the range of 3-season conditions we're likely to see here?
Any specific suggestions for toddler/kids-wear?
We typically paddle in water that is mid-fifties to mid-sixties with our kids (age 3 and 6). They each have shorty wetsuits. I think the current ones are made by body glove. You should have no problem finding kids suits in a surf shop. We usually pay $30-45 for them new.
reentering your IK after capsize
Do test your inflatables to see how you’ll reenter. Pick a warm spot (swimming pool?) and see what you can do. I was surprised not to be able to reenter my Innova Sunny (?) after capsize. I don’t paddle it often but I like it and I’ve got to work out a way to get back in without flipping it. But that standard with all of our kayaks – we just have to learn how to self-rescue.
It sounds as if you’re taking a very careful approach, which is especially important with kids along. Paddling near shore with them is a good idea, I think.
rules of thumb
The rule of thumb I use is based on water temperature. If water temperature is below 60, I am wearing a 3 mm farmer's john. Above 70, I am generally not worrying about it.
Between 60 and 70, I take into account other considerations, particularly air temps. I may do a farmer's john, something lighter (2 mm shorty, .5 mm mysterioso paddle shirt, etc), or possibly even no thermal protection.
If I get too hot wearing what I am wearing, I get wet to cool off.
I live in SF Bay, and mostly paddle salt water. Ocean doesn't drop below 50 for us even in middle of winter, so the 3 mm (with added layers of paddle shirts, polypro, etc. when needed) has worked for me. If you paddle in some of the snow melt creeks or lakes filled by snow melt, you could see temps below 50, which adds a new level of consideration.
Thank you all for the clothing advice and additional tips!