I am traveling from Tennessee to Pictured Rock, Lake Superior in Michigan for a vacation in mid Sept. What type of clothing do I need to kayak in Lake Superior and rivers in the UP? I am a newby to kayaking.

two animals
Rivers will be much warmer than the lake. And given the season, the lake will not be calm for long. If you’re new I’d caution against Superior except for extremely sheltered areas (Marquette and the black rocks area). i’d recommend calling an outfitter in the area who does tours, or

I’ve paddled that area in mid-september in a wetsuit, but I’ve paddled it many times and I also had my dry suit with me.

Gales of november…
If you’ve heard the song, the “wreck of the edmund fitzgerald,” you realize that superior isn’t really a lake, it’s an inland sea. The ship sank on 11/10 and storms may come earlier in the year than that.

Superior isn’t a forgiving place. The water is cold, the weather is capricious. It can change more quickly than a paddler can reach shore from even a modest distance out. Certainly, it is not a place for a novice, in my opinion.

I would recommend finding an outfitter, as suggested, and see if you can go with a guide or tour.

As far as clothing goes, synthetic fabrics. I quote from

"What to Wear

The outside air temperature is only part of this decision. The water temperature is far more important.

Plan to get wet. Wear quick dry-style synthetic fabrics, never yourself from the cold water and cooler temperatures by wearing layers. You can wear a farmer Jane/John wet suit.

Add a wind proof or breathable paddle jacket for those cooler days.

Cold Weather: The upper part of the Midwest can have cold water temperatures year round. The Great Lakes are deep and cold even in the summer. Hypothermia has a tremendous on the paddler. Being in a water temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit can cause exhaustion or unconsciousness in 1 hour. "

A search of the outfitters in the area and what they recommend is probably the best option.


Pictured Rocks
It’s a neat place to paddle, but there are sections of the coast with NO safe landing areas. It’s just cliffs straight into the water. If you’re caught there when the wind and waves start to pick up it’s a real problem. That area is exposed to the full fetch of the lake.

Current water temperatures:

If you’re a novice, I’d strongly suggest a guided tour instead of going solo.

Do your homework - check it twice

– Last Updated: Jul-24-13 1:31 PM EST –

Michigan's Upper Peninsula is beautifully BRUTAL

Plan ahead - realize hypothermia kills people.
A cold wet rain can crush the human spirit.

Know, comprehend, understand, and dwell upon,
exactly what you entering as a naturally, dynamically,
ever changing remote area with very few people.

PLEASE research it thoroughly, know how to get help.
You might want a SPOT unit, VHF radio, beacon, etc.

Superior is VERY cold
I used to live in Michigan and am well acquainted with Superior. Even in midsummer it is frigid – you don’t even want to wade into it a few inches with bare feet, believe me. I would not paddle it in ANY season without my drysuit on. In fact there have been several deaths this year from hypothermia and cold shock just in northern Lake Michigan which is not nearly as cold as Superior.

For the rivers, it depends which one. Slow shallow rivers can be not too bad but faster deeper ones can be dangerously cold. But I would be inclined to use at minimum goretex full paddling pants, wet suit booties and a semi-dry top over an insulating layer if I was going to paddle anywhere inland in the UP in the Fall. You may have overnight freezes and even light snow up there that time of year. It is pretty during Fall in the UP though. Just dress warmly.

just came back from Superior (long)
Grand Marais MI (site of the 29th Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium)

Water temp low 50s. Very near shore (less than 25 feet out) probably 3-5 degrees higher: some people were wading and splashing (not swimming)in near shore water.

In seven days I saw exactly one person actually swimming and she went for about 30 minutes. I was impressed.

As for kayaking… some rolling and rescue class students went with what they had: farmer john wetsuits w. a neo or fleece overshirt, or two piece neoprene. A few dressed in less (shorts, sleeveless top, no head cover) at rolling sessions but almost every one got tired and some got disoriented. The instructors told many they were underdressed, and to go pull on a hat and some more layers.

Kokatat, a symposium sponsor, made loaner drysuits available for free. By day 2 of classes every single one had been loaned out and stayed out til the last class on Sunday a.m.

The most longlasting people (including 95% of the instructors) wore drysuits w. insulating layers, full coverage water booties, some kind of cap or hat. Nose plugs and ear plugs for full immersion, as cold water in the eardrums can cause disorientation and loss of balance in many ppl. Have both with you.

Lake Superior cold water sucks the energy out of you. If you are alone and kayaking this can put you in more trouble. You don’t expect to get that tired that fast, dexterity diminishes and poor decisions become more likely.

Regardless of air temps you have to dress as though you are going in the water, and going in fully. Follow the advice to rent/be guided by reputable outfitters. They will often have Farmer John/Jane wetsuits to rent, to which you can add your layers, or a few will have drysuits. Hats, gloves, socks, in multiples.

Also, as to kayaks, the reputable outfitters on Lake Superior all use kayaks 15 feet or more w. dual bulkheads.

You can find those who rent rec kayaks and sit on tops, but they are mainly for in the harbor use, or to explore the excellent (and warmer) lakes like Grand Sable or Kingston. I enjoyed those myself on personal paddling time.

For many reasons Lake Superior is a fascinating, technical and often difficult body of water. By September she should be at her warmest, but that’s still going to be under 60 F. And she can whip up

mini-climates w. thunderstorms, lightning, hail, winds 40 mph and more, and go to momma waves. We had everything but the hail this past week. We still got most of the trips out, and all the classes in.

Never underestimate her.

If you must go solo (not recommended): Go overprepared w. your layers and be ready to rent the right ones if you don’t have them. Drybag extras in your boat.

Be sharp on all the rescues you know, esp if going solo: Carry water, energy foods, a means to make fire, a C blanket (space blanket),small first aid kit. Signalling devices as mentioned above, take everything from a simple mirror to a flare. Personal Locator Beam. I found a foil sleeping bag that would allow me a to sleep overnight in relative comfort. Tarp or small backpacker’s tent is not overkill if paddling alone.

Whether solo or not, you do want your own VHF radio (the USCG monitors all the Great Lakes, the emergency channel is 16. Commercial vessels are required to keep Ch 16 open, and many pleasure craft do, too. Listen to NOAA the morning you paddle, again before you launch, and set for weather alerts, because Superior comes on fast and doesn’t care if you’re ready.

As noted, Lake Superior is cold all
year. There is an old saying and one my father, who was an avid fisherman, repeated. “Lake Superior never gives up her dead.”

Higher end wet wear and/or drywear
The clothing you will need is, as above, likely to cost a good bit more than you are used to needing back home. And there are safety considerations for a newbie as well…

Would like like some advice on where to hook up with an outfitter from whom you could get a guided tour and rent the clothing?

Guide referrral

I highly recommend Jessie Hadley of Woods & Waters Ecotours. I know her personally and professionally and in 2009 took one of her tours (using my own kayak and clothing) on the Potagannissing Bay (off Drummond Island, Lake Huron).

She has great boats, quality gear and is ACA certified, as are her guides. She knows the best parts of the UP - where to paddle, where to stay, eat, fish, look for agates, etc.

She can rent you a wetsuit and has a paddleshop in Hessel, MI (in the eastern UP and maybe half an hour east of the Mackinaw Bridge which you will cross to get to the UP) if you need extra layers or other northern paddling gear.

Her trips range from Drummond Island to the eastern tip of the UP to Isle Royale, which she just came back from 10 days ago (guiding). You can explore Lake Superior, the fine inland lakes, and/or one or two of the clean, pure and scenic rivers… depending on your length of stay and stamina. You can do a number of day trips or ask her about a camping/paddling package.Your options will be many.

Her safety record is outstanding. She has both single and double (tandem) kayaks which are full on seakayaks w. dual bulkheads, smaller cockpits, full perimeter lining, etc, in both composite and plastic. In order to paddle skirted (recommended as waves on Superior kick up quickly) she will make sure you can wet exit cleanly. Woods and Waters also has a day class in self and assisted rescues which would make a fine learning opp & get you in the paddling groove, esp. as you say you are a newby.

Jessie will have you ready as can be to enjoy all the Upper Peninsula has to offer a kayaker.

She can customize a trip for you for one day or multi days, to include rivers if you like or perhaps there is a group she is already taking out in your timeframe in September.

(note: usual disclaimer that I’m not affiliated nor do I receive anything for providing this referral)

something else to consider
Heavy rain up that way yesterday, perhaps the lake turns over which will lead to colder water temps near the surface.