cold water paddling advice?

I was wondering what the facts are when it comes to cold water paddling during winter months. I live in Minnesota and this year I am going to attempt cold water paddling. I have recently purchased an NRS 3mm neoprene wetsuit and plan on getting a hood, neoprene vest with sleeves, as well as hands and feet protection. I have read that with 3mm of neoprene that you can paddle any cold water that is still moving. As well I have heard the 20/20 rule = if it’s below 20 degrees F and the winds are 20mph stay ashore. I want to know if it will be safe with the gear I will have. I don’t plan on going without at least my girlfriend present from shore. I plan on starting out on somewhat small sized lakes nothing too big till I am comfortable. I don’t plan on going without a contingency plan to deal w/ hypothermia and don’t plan on swimming in it, but I believe in always being ready to deal with an unexpected capsize. I would be able to for sure get back in my kayak via the scramble technique in capsize recovery. Is the gear I mentioned enough or is it lacking? In other words do I need one of those ridiculously expensive rescue suits for the Bering Sea like on the show, The Deadliest Catch? Even if the gear I have is enough all advice and stories of experience that pertain to cold water emersion help.

dry suit!

– Last Updated: Jul-29-07 2:39 PM EST –

A dry suit (with neoprene hood and gloves) will work great for icy water, and it won't be as bulky & uncomfortable as all the stuff you're talking about. Farmer john wetsuits are fine for the summer (and with the long-sleeve neoprene jacket, safer for cold weather), but for seriously cold water, dry suits are perfect. And please don't expect your girlfriend to stand around for hours on the shore of an icy lake waiting for you to capsize. Either she'll be the one to get hypothermia, or else she'll get so bored she'll be hoping you fall in. Learn to roll and practice re-entry and rolls enough so you're independent and safe.

You should plan on swimming in it
And take a swim before every paddle. Neoprene will likely not cut it in Minnesota and you should invest in a drysuit.

Does you girl friend have a cell phone?
Calling for help is all she’ll be able to do.

How do you know you’ll be able to re-entre with a scramble? Just because you can do it in warm water? Have your tried while wearing your wetsuit? Have you tried when your fingers are numb from cold, and you are panicked?

Cold Water, Lack Of Skills And/Or Gear

– Last Updated: Jul-29-07 4:05 PM EST –

will get you in BIG trouble if you end in the water for any reason.

Combined two of the above advice -- learn more self rescue skills besides scrambling, preferably a roll, and test your immersion gear by swimming in it near shore. Don't do this just only when the water is warm but as it gets progressively colder so you acclimate and know what you're dealing with.

As far as I am concerned, NRS and most paddling FJ wetsuits are not suitable for any extended period of immersion in cold water because of flushing through the arm areas and zippers. I know because I have these and haven't used them in years. I use good fitting surfing wetsuits of various thickness for different times of the year to surf paddle in. However, I think for your general purpose, the best bet is to get one of the moderately priced drysuits that are now available within the $500 range.


So 3mm neoprene is
So 3mm neoprene is absolutely not enough even with a purchase of long sleeve neoprene vest? I’m glad I posted the question because canoe and kayak magazine in an article stated that it would be fine regarding the 20/20 rule of thumb. I loved the response about my girlfriend hoping I would drown because of boredom. Funny and good point. I just meant that I would try it on a very small lake. However I am also not arrogant and I am on a fact finding mission before I would attempt. That’s why I posted here. So being that I don’t have a huge income what would I need to absolutely have so that lets say a off duty EMS person or one of you guys or girls saw me and wouldn’t say “that guys risking his life without the appropriate gear what a Jackass.” I mean I am the type of guy that has enough intelligence that I wear my lifejacket all times even though I am an excellent swimmer, and the lake is small on a hot day. I always think when I see someone not wearing one. “No one is an excellent swimmer when unconscious.”

So what does a guy need to have? Its just that I get “Kayak home sick” during the winter can you blame me? and now that I have had about 2.5 years experience < I know that’s not a lot but you have to start somewhere< I would like to extend my kayaking season longer before the lakes are frozen so… keeping in mind that I am on a budget what do I need to get. ps thanks for your responses:)

Have an excellent roll

Jesse - your budget doesn’t matter

– Last Updated: Jul-29-07 6:40 PM EST –

Do you understand why I said that? You either have the right equipment or skills or you do not and your ability to afford it or not doesn't mean a damn thing at all.

If the water is below 40 degrees you are in extremely dangerous conditions. With skills, experience, and gear you can enjoy yourself and without them you are taking a large risk with your life.

In my opinion you should have a drysuit - the neoprene is not going to cut it - not even close.

This link will show you some drysuits - they aren't much like the survival suits you referenced. These are specifically made for paddlers. They aren't cheap so get used to it or put the boat away for the winter.

Good luck - be safe.

drysuit vs wetsuit
thankyou Ill take note I am not ignoring your post about the drysuits garyr its just that I have read that the drysuits draw back is that if water gets in your exposed and then it sounds like its just a giant condom filled with cold water, where as a wetsuit if your exposed your body will warm the layer between the skin and wetsuit. Obviously I am thinking ahead as it isnt even close to winter yet. I am having trouble finding the facts on survivalability comparison between the wetsuit and drysuit and so far it sounds like a preference. The drawbacks that I have read on wetsuits is the windchill factor and the fact that theyre not as mobile but. I saw your post “go ahead find out what happens” and Im just trying to get a good description of what could go wrong with both suits . You really havent given any factual data on why drysuits are better when it comes to hypothermia and totally failed to mention what could go wrong with a drysuit. Which sounds like blind faith. I need non pretentious helpful non “im the authority on this topic” responses.

Okay… More Info

– Last Updated: Jul-29-07 8:07 PM EST –

no, again, your NRS FJ neo and vest and hood will not work for the temps you're talking about. At least not for long. I used that combo in my first year practicing in late fall with rolls and self rescue. It was about 52-53 water temps and I was chilled in about 20-25 minutes and had to get to shore to warm up. I wasn't even in the water the whole time. (I didn't bother going out in the winter until following year when I had a pretty reliable roll and a drysuit).

For the record, I have two drysuits which are good for general paddling. I opt for wetsuits because I surf year round on a waveski, sometimes in rocky breaks. The seatbelt on my waveski and the rocks pose a problem with the drysuit in possibly tearing. This would be a disaster in the winter.

Brand name surfing wetsuits that fit are quite different from the typical neo wear used by paddlers. They are lighter, stretchier and better fitting (about 12 sizes for different body types compared to 4-5 sizes by NRS) to minimize water flushing through. If you have significant flushing, the neoprene is practically useless.

Here are the wetsuits I use for the temp ranges.

2/1 (2 mm body, 1 mm limbs) shortie, for summer in water 65 and over.

3/2 full suit for 55-65, 3 mm booties.

4/3 full suit for 45-55, 3 mm gloves and 5 mm booties

6/5/4 full suit with integrated hood for 45 degrees and under. 3mm mitts and nylon pogies, 3 mm sock under 5 mm booties.

The range can adjust either way depending on your skills. My roll is pretty reliable and I don't swim much. The several times I did swim in winter surf, in sub-40 water, it was unpleasant to say the least. I had work keep to my "head on" and stay calm while the water felt like a thousand needles on exposed skin. I don't even want to think about swimming in the gear that you described.

Some folks will say it's okay for you to go out and many others will say no. I think it's a personal choice but that personal choice should NOT be informed by a poll here but by your own experience. And, the experience can simply be derived from you walking into water up to waist and sitting down, moving around and seeing how long before you begin to feel debiliated. Now, think of being a 100 yards, 200 yards, 1/2 mile from shore. Then you'll get a real sense of the risk involved.


She can watch you die
while waiting for help to arrive. Where I live, the coldest water is 55 degrees in the winter and we can survive with a wetsuit long enough to get back in a boat. It hurts and if you are in the water much over 5 minutes, you start to feel your arms going numb. If I were paddling solo here, I’d still be in a drysuit.

Where you live, a drysuit is not optional, it’s mandatory. A good friend died here in Southern California in 57 degree water from hypothermia induced drowning last March. If you’re going to insist on trying it, leave your girlfriend at home, she doesn’t need to see you die.

something tells me
You are making decisions based on one magazine article and need to research this a bit more.

I’d like to repeat Sings post and strongly suggest you follow that advice. It’s the same thing I’ve discovered.

“I think it’s a personal choice but that personal choice should NOT be informed by a poll here but by your own experience. And, the experience can simply be derived from you walking into water up to waist and sitting down, moving around and seeing how long before you begin to feel debiliated.”

A few other thoughts,when super cold water hits your bare head as would occur in a rough water exit it’s just as debilitating as your entire body getting dunked. My rough suggestion would be to think of every dunking of your bare head in very cold water as being like being in the water for a minute. If your bare head gets dunked ten times in a few minutes it might be like being in the water for ten minutes sitting still in calm water.

If your bare hands are frozen in 60 seconds it won’t matter that your core temperature has a theoretical window of 20 minutes before going downhill,you need your hands to work all the time.

I mention the head and hand issue because head/hand coverings are things people put on and take off while near very cold water. If the air is a still balmy 45degrees and you’re heating up and feeling overdressed it’s quite shocking to discover that your core is quite comfy but your head and hands are severely impaired if dunked. You need them to take care of the rest of you.

dry suit, “rescue suit”, exposure suit
"ridiculously expensive rescue suits for the Bering Sea like on the show, The Deadliest Catch"

A dry suit isn’t an exposure suit. A dry suit does trap air with whatever dry insulation YOU add underneath. Gaskets at wrists and neck prevent water from intruding. Think of somthing like a Scuba divers dry suit. It’s not a survival suit that you’d find on a boat where floating in the water is the expected activity.

A drysuit will only fill up with water if you tear it or forget to zip it up. When the water is in the 40’s I’d suggest it’s not worth subjecting your body to a sudden flush of cold water against warm skin.

these are drysuits designed for paddlers

these are exposure suits appropriate for floating bodies from boats.

“survival” suit

A one piece wetsuit will work just
fine if you can gat back in your kayak. As a diver I dive in the winter and a wet suit worked fine for me before I saved enough to get a drysuit. I have been diving in 31 degree water and was fine once the water in the suit warmed up which did not take long at all. If you have a good self rescue or assisted rescue you should be ok. Notice I said ONE PIECE not FJ or 2 piece.I would practice near shore and make sure you are ok with it. I would also get a drysuit, much more comfortable safer and it is nice on those cold, windy days to just get out of the drysuit and be DRY.

from personal experience

– Last Updated: Jul-29-07 9:34 PM EST –

you've got a basis to work from. I'm not sure the poster has been in 35-45degree water.

If you're a big well insulated person familiar with diving and the poster is a skinny person unfamiliar with cold water immersion a full 5mm-7mm wetsuit might not even be warm enough.

ok ok geez I will buy a drysuit
take it easy its not like Im going to find snow where i live right now and from what I have read I am planning on getting a drysuit. I got the point lets keep it friendly and not act like republicans defending creationism while a guy holding a fossil in his face keeps saying evolution hehehehahahha

You aren’t exactly getting the point. Re-read Sings comments. What works for you in conditions that can kill you(you mentioned wintertime paddling) isn’t going to come from suggestions or numerology. It’ll come from you getting in the water. You appear to be taking this as a challenge of some sort, it’s not. It’s information just as saying “a 3mm suit is for Xdegrees, a 5mm suit is for Y degress”.

If you knew welding and I didn’t and came in arguing about wearing a polyester flannel shirt and you said “you’re going to get yourself killed” it wouldn’t be a slam, it would be information.

Take this as information, not a slam on you.

information is downloaded in my brain
information received thanks for the posts folks:)

also I am signing up to learn to roll

Peace and chicken grease

Cold weather
A drysuit would be the obvious choice but due to budget constraints I use a drytop and wear a farmer john under it. You really need a reliable roll and some experienced friends if your going to paddle in cold conditions. I have also learned to stay home if the conditions are wrong.

I paddle rivers, almost exclusively, year round in Missouri.

Ill go dead of winter when its 25 degrees air temp… dunno about the water but id imagine around 40 deg roughly in the middle of winter.

my situation varies from yours since your in lakes, but you asked for some advice so I figured it wouldnt hurt.

I dress for the air temp, using layers. No wet or dry suit, sometimes jeans or sweats and hooded sweatshirt or light jacket on top of the layers.

Since im never more than 20 yds from shore, if i get an unplanned wet exit I can just swim myself and boat to shore and drain the water out oand dry off.

Ive had several bad situations in wintertime, logjam or hidden boulder will give me an unexpected ice cold bath. I just be sure that I carry something to make a fire. I usually pack an extra set of dry clothes just in case, but normally I can start a fire, get warmed back up and dried out slightly.

Its not pleasant, but it works for me.

Like the others have said, practice in cold water… I was a lifegaurd for 4 years, and have been swimming like a fish all my life, but the cold water WILL take your breath away regardless, and heavy clothes make it difficult to swim when youre body gets that cold shock and you cant breath.

Best bet, is to be extra careful, and NOT FLIP THE BOAT, but its unavoidable sometimes. Just be prepared and keep calm.

dunno if it helps you much, but thats my experience