cold water paddling advice?

Another approach…
Here’s my two cents’ worth. I’m more into canoeing, and happy with smaller bodies of water, so that’s my bias. I also live farther north, so I have to deal with cold water or settle for paddling two or three months a year.

If you follow the advice of some of these posters, you may also have a very short paddling season in Minnesota. Be ready for some cold water, and don’t be afraid of it. Respect it, but don’t fear it.

If you want to paddle when it’s REALLY cold out, you’ll need to find some shallow water that’s moving, but not too fast. Everywhere else will be too fast or too frozen.

Then stay close to shore in water that’s never more than a few feet deep. Bring at least two sets of dry clothes that you can change into if you need them. Keep them where they won’t be lost if something goes wrong, but where you can reach them instantly.

Forget those formulas about adding the water temperature and air temperature, etc. In Lake Superior, you could get hypothermia and die when it’s 100 degrees out. Same on any other lake in April when it’s just thawed, the sun is shining, and the temperature is getting up into the 50s or 60s.

The only difference would be that you’d be slightly more comfortable during those 30 seconds when you’re changing clothes–assuming you can get to shore and do that. If you can’t, the air temperature won’t help.

If you paddle in shallow, slow moving water with no serious hazards, and if you never go farther from shore than you can comfortable wade in 20 seconds or less, and if you have extra clothes to change into… Then dress for the air temperature and enjoy your paddle. Don’t risk hyperthermia.

If you wear a PFD, make sure it’s one you can get off quicly with cold fingers; otherwise it will slow down your clothing change. Better to skip it.

But if for some reason you want to paddle way out into the middle of a lake that’s just thawed, or is about to freeze, well… What they said, and good luck.


Human’s are Allergic to Cold Water
"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. "

Drysuits prevent your body from coming into contact with the cold water, wetsuits don’t. “Why don’t I want my body coming into contact with the cold water?” should be the question you’re asking here. The answer is to prevent and/or delay the possible physiological effects of:

Cold Water Shock resulting in the Gasp Reflex, which causes immediate drowning, even before you can release your sprayskirt to wet exit;

Cold Water Shock resulting in Coronary Arrest when the super-chilled blood in your extremities reaches your heart;

Rapid Onset of Hypothermia symptoms such as numbness, diminished motor control and muscle weakness due to your body’s restriction of blood flow back to your extremities, resulting in a decrease in ability to re-enter the kayak;

Drowning secondary to Hypothermia resulting from loss of consciousness while floating in water unable to re-enter kayak;

Hypothermia resulting in death as a result of the inability to get dry and warm, whether you remain in the water or are able to re-enter.

A wetsuit allows water to contact the skin, and does not provide adequate insulation. For the water temps you’re talking about, only a properly fitted Drysuit with insulation layers, footware with insulated socks, headware with insulation, handware, and even nose and ear plugs would be considered sufficiently protected for immersion.

Does that mean you’re guaranteed to die if you upend wearing jeans and a splash top? No. But I sure wouldn’t like the odds.

“I need non pretentious helpful non “im the authority on this topic” responses.”

Is it truly your preference to solicit advice from people who are completely clueless on this topic rather than one’s whose experience and education would qualify them as authorities?

calm down there I already came to realiz
I already came to the realization about drysuits ok nexttime check the dates and times posters post. I was in denial because I was bummed about having to get more gear and sometimes thats a kick in the crotch money wise. So you dont need to quote me anymore like Im on Larry King or something. Matter of fact. Nobody really needs to post on this topic anymore Ive read all the posts read the links that were posted and done more research and have come to realize that a drysuit is what I will need… so moving on to other peoples questions would be fantastic.

no whey!
don’t you wanna know what happens if you don’t zip up your pee zipper all the way?

or forget to “burp” your drysuit?

there’s so much to throw your way.

shop, shop,shop. There’s deals out there.

I hear you Jesse
I think your approach is very practical, which is to use some heavy neoprene. Many of the safety viewpoints listed here talk about worst case scenarios as if they happen daily. In fact, the worst thing in cold water would be a dry suit that fails. Just one little itsie bitsie hole and that beloved dry suit is a death trap. If you get a hole poked in your neoprene, you’ll get a cold spot, but you’ll probably have plenty of time to get back in your boat.

I would look to the scuba diving crowd on this one. I’ve seen many ice divers and Lake Superior divers using heavy neoprene in the winter. I think they have substantially more expertise in cold water immersion than some of the responders to you original query. The key concept is to have a form fitting wetsuit that limits free flow of water.

Therefore, my fellow midwesterner (and we do know how to survive in the cold, thank you), I think you would do well with heavy neoprene. I do agree, however, with the posters who suggest having more than one self rescue skill when paddling in such conditions.

Peace and bear grease,


Where will it end?
“A wetsuit allows water to contact the skin, and does not provide adequate insulation. For the water temps you’re talking about, only a properly fitted Drysuit with insulation layers, footware with insulated socks, headware with insulation, handware, and even nose and ear plugs would be considered sufficiently protected for immersion”

Hey you forgot the butt plug. This advice reminds me of legal advice, verbose and so restrictive that it effectively eliminates any type of risk-taking. Might as well stay indoors for the winter, cowering in front of the computer.

Give me the occasional ice cream headache that accompanies rolling practice during a winter paddle over the alternative of the victim-mentality-risk-minimizing-plaintiff-to-be approach that is often espoused on these pages.


the difference between a cold water diver and a cold water paddler is that the diver addresses the transition to water and stays in that element. If there’s a critical problem in the package it’ll be known immediately.

Unless the paddler is in a paddling environment where rolling/getting wet is normal they won’t know what works until they get wet, at which point the transition is very shocking. With a dry suit the issue is confined to head and hands. With a wetsuit it’s your entire body.

I’m guessing you younguns are full of energy and wouldn’t have a problem, until you experienced something you’d never experienced before.

Here’s an example: I helped to run an ACA instructors workshop. Real basic stuff. Flat water. 50degree air and 47degree water. One of the paddlers was a big strong whitewater paddler. We were in the boats floating around for about an hour doing various things that finished with the person getting videotaped doing basic strokes and rolling three times. Two from set-up one one from non-setup.

I offered him a choice of neoprene beanies/hoods but he said “no, I’m fine” the energy output was so low compared to whitewater than he was glad to do SOMETHING. So he rolls over fine, rolls over again fine, rolls fine from non-setup, then tries to show off with a hand-roll. Which he doesn’t pull off after four attempts. No big deal. It’s 20’ to shore so he drags his boat over and walks up to the boat house. Except he’s walking like a drunk for the next 5 minutes. After lunch we head back out for more practice/tests and he says that’s never happened before, he’s never got dizzy and had it last that long, nor took so long to warm back up. The guy was 240lbs of muscle,could put out lots of heat if he wanted.

The sudden inrush of very cold water into a warm ear canal can cause some people a very bad case of vertigo. Not just an icecream headache but full on spins.

Hard to do a self-rescue if you can’t tell up from down. Even on flat water.

I went paddling in freezing water using combos of neoprene but it takes getting in the water to see what works. Buying the stuff, whether it’s a dry suit or neoprene suit isn’t enough.

Amen brother!
and well said.

We paddle year round in NH, albeit less frequently in the winter, and wear everything from drysuits to shorts depending on weather and where we are. Many streams and waterways around here are two feet deep. We paddle safely without immersion gear at times.

Man, I remember doing a lot spring ocean paddling (playing in surf in a perception dancer)in sub 40 degree water wearing a 3mm wetsuit with a paddling jacket, hood, and booties. Did it for years. I guess over time I built up a strong tolerance to cold water because I can honestly say in all that time I never worried about being too cold. And I sucked at self rescues. Swam a goodly amount. I couldn’t afford a drysuit at the time. The hardest part was the first immersion. I softened the blow by bringing a thermos full of warm water and dumping it in my wetsuit beforehand. It definitely took the sting out of the first wave. Once wet and warm, an occasional swim wasn’t bad at all. Never had to swim very far. I always stayed close to shore and on a beach I was very familiar with. Went alone almost exclusively.

Anyways, there are a lot of different waterways to paddle on safely without a drysuit. So many variables.

Where will it end?
It’ll end in the morgue. Rather than advise a kayaker to talk to Lake Superior scuba divers, why not take a lesson from the Lake Superior Kayakers who die every year because they weren’t properly dressed for immersion?

Following my advise will not restrict him from winter paddling. I winter paddle every year, in or near his stated waters. I come prepared for it, and enjoy myself immensely. He asked how he should prepare for kayaking in those temps, and I answered him. No, you don’t have to risk your life more in order to enjoy yourself more.