Cold Water Clothing

The subject should be caveated - “Cold Water Clothing for the occassional cold water paddler”. I’m looking 4 months ahead to April. I got on a yearly camping trip and there’s a lake there. The lake is spring-fed, so it’s cold, even in the summer.

I already own chest-waders for fishing. My plan is to wear the chest-waders, a wading safety belt, a spray/paddling jacket and with a base layer of warm clothing underneath.

My question comes in about the base layer and paddling jacket. I know to avoid cotton and stick to synthetics. But, what are affordable items to makeup a base layer? The emphasis is on affordable/ala inexpensive, as I won’t be doing much cold water paddling in the foreseeable future.

And, while I’ll get more use out of it, what’s a good but still fairly inexpensive paddling jacket?


Best advice
Would be to get a drytop/semi-drytop and a shorty wetsuit, and wear them as a combo. It won’t cost you a lot, and they do buy you some time in a capsize situation. I’ve waterskied in early april in a wetsuit, and once I got over the cold shock, I was good for about 10 minutes or so in the water.

Just don’t count on it to save your butt in an extended swim.

Chest waders?
I don’t think I’d be wearing chest waders. Are you paddling a kayak or a canoe? I have to assume they are not bootfoot waders? You’d be better off with a farmer John and polar fleece in my opinion.

Waders should be fine.
They have an amazing amount of bouyancy. Stocking feet neoprene would be best for a kayak, but standard with boots will do if you can get in and move your feet around. Shouldn’t matter much in a canoe.

For uppers, a good wicking base layer should be plenty cheap at Walmart and the like. Next, I’d check out some thrift stores for high quality fleece. Pullovers or half zip would be good. I prefer Polartec brand fleece by Malden Mills and recently have found two great half zip pullover tops in thrift stores - one by Woolrich and the other by Patagonia - $8 each. Ebay can be another good source if you’re patient.

Layers is the key here. Also, wear your pfd. The pfd provides a lot of additional warmth.


Neoprene feet
They’re neoprene booties - not boots for the waders.

It’s a recreational kayak (old town dirigo) - so it’s got a cockpit the size of a small country. I’ve got a sprayskirt for it that I’ll be using.

I do plan on wearing my PFD.

Thanks for the Walmart/Patagonia ideas - I’d only started thinking to check Dicks for base layer stuff.

I’ve never worn chest-waders. What happens when chest-waders fill up with water? Is it hard to get out?

The float you like
you didn’t burp your drysuit. Try it sometime!

Cheap heater

– Last Updated: Jan-14-08 7:06 PM EST –

a simple dry cleaning bag will keep you warm.

This is what I do when it first gets cold.

I take the thin plastic bags from my dry cleaners and pull it over my head. The head goes through the hole where the hanger protrudes. Cut or push your hands and arms through the sides carefully so you don't tear the top seam and then wrap snug the bag up to your body

I paddle rivers and lakes in Georgia so I'm not far from shore. Bare foot wearing a bathing suit, plastic bag, cotton sweat shirt and baseball cap until the air temp drops below 40. The water temp in the river is 48-55 and the lake is 55- 60.

These bags are great for emergencies and you can always find 3-4 of them in my kayak in the winter time. Roll them up and put a rubber-band around each. Don't try to fold them.

Wader safety belt…
If they fill up with water, they’re the same weight as the surrounding water. It doesn’t become a problem until you try to get out of the water when the water inside the waders weighs more than the air outside of them.

Either way, I’ll be wearing a wader safety belt - which cinches them around my waist. Much less water can get in.

Don’t test that theory

– Last Updated: Jan-15-08 12:20 PM EST –

Put your waders on, fill them up with cold water and go for a swim and see how well you do. Several hunters and fly fishermen have drowned ( I know of one in Oklahoma last year) by accidentally stepping off of ledges onto deep water,getting caught in current and being unable to swim out of it.
Any hunter safety course will normally tell you that you are only safe in water that is below the height your waders.
I would go with something like NRS Endurance pants that seal at both ends to keep the water out.
If you still think the waders are ok, go with a pfd with no less than 16 lbs (the more the better)of flotation.

cheap base layers?
I personally hate cool weather let alone Cold to paddle. I am all about the layers. Personally I give my shameless plug again for my job at TJ Maxx. I wear under armor all the time because I get it cheap at work. Right now TJ Maxx and Marshals are trying to get rid of their winter apparel. They had a huge winter planned and Nature pretty much screwed that up with a light one.

I would like to get on my soap box for a minute and talk about quality. When it comes to clothing it is (in my opinion) better to buy quality. Wal-Mart has it’s place but I feel that all too often they bring you the cheapest product at the cheapest price. That does not equate to a better value all the time, sometimes it is just cheaper. When it comes to being warm or safe I try to strive for quality. Companies are out to make money, but it isn’t ALL just mark up. Sometimes that money you spend is going toward better design, better craftsmenship or better materials.

Well there are my two cents, wanted or not. Just buy good stuff, save money, but really it can be worth it to spend an extra little bit. It saves you early replacement later and you can use the layers for more activities and such.


I’m not sure you need anything. This is a small lake right? Spring fed not snow melt, right? Who can tip over a Dirigo accidentally anyway? If you do fall out do you have a foam paddle float and experience using it? An inexpensive paddling jacket is just a nylon rain jacket. For layering just wear a few synthetic shirts.

Actually …
jury is out. I had to don chest waders and jump in a pool as part of a swift water rescue course. They provide ample flotation. They do make it hard to get out of the water and I wouldn’t choose to be in them for being carried down a swift moving stream, but they do not suck you under.


I’ve been wearing waders for 20 yrs. Pick a style and I’ve worn them kayaking. I’ve even swam in bootfoots.(jan. N Atlantic)

Go with it. But don’t forget the TIGHT belt. My skivvies were dry because of it! All the best,Bill

I actually DO plan on testing it.
… in a controlled environment.

The difference being that when I’m in water deeper than the waders, it’ll be calm water. I’ve fished for years, the times that I’ve been in the current have been in water lower than the waders themselves.

I can see what you’re saying though - my cousin fell in the stream once, his waders filled and he was drug downstream for a while. He got lucky and got caught on a branch long enough for him to fight his way to the bank. He said it was pretty sketchy.

TJ Max & Marshalls…
I hadn’t thought about them at all. My wife loves those stores… maybe I’ll send her shopping (shudder!).

Oh so true…
Honestly, I can’t believe that I’ll tip the Dirigo. And, if I do - I really deserve it.

I do have experience using a paddle float and re-entering kayaks (never the Dirigo, but a WS Tsunami).

For you, it’s a good idea.
The thing is, that’s the closest to cold/cold water paddling that I’ll be doing. After the April trip up there, I won’t be back on the water until well into May when things have time to warm back up.


– Last Updated: Jan-16-08 2:01 PM EST –

Am surprised no one has said this so I'll take a flyer. You're trying to get security on the cheap that can only be had by gearing up properly. If the water temps are mid-to-low fifties or lower, you put you life at risk if you go for a long swim in waders. I used to live in Montana and spent a lot of time fly fishing in 10 degree winter air and cold water temps, always next to the shore or in a drift boat and with a lot of backup if went swimming. Every year, people die from hypothermia dumping kayaks and swimming instead of fishing. If it's a one time affair and you really have to stray more than 10 feet from the shore, why not skip it. Otherwise, you can wear waders etc, but the key thing is to stay right up against the shore so if you do dump you can get out and get warm right away. You also may want to read about the gasp reflex--even a few feet from shore isn't necessarily safe. Don't fool yourself into thinking you are safe when you aren't--humans are very good at illusion, necessarily so, but in this case seeing clearly is a virtue.

Ended up buying…
… some TechWick mid-weight top and bottoms from Eastern Mountain Sports. And, some PolarTech “expedition”-weight bottoms from LL Bean. Both places have stuff on sale and at pretty decent prices.

I’ve also got synthetic t-shirts and fleeces.

I do plan on sticking with the waders/wading belt plan. And I need to pick up a splash top.

Thanks for all of the input.