Cold water paddling - what to wear??

Here’s the deal…This year I’m going to be out paddling EARLY in the spring. The air temperatures will probably be in the fifties and the water temperature - well, I don’t even want to think about it. I can’t afford a drysuit or a wetsuit this year. I’ve read that cotton clothing, which comprises 97% of my wardrobe, is not a good thing to wear because if it becomes wet it loses its insulative properties. So, what suggestions do you have for “poor man’s” clothing that will afford some protection from the air temperature, wind and very cold water. I have no intension of going into the water, but you never know. I always do seem to get a little wet from water spray, paddle run-off and breaking waves. Any suggestions??

don’t even think about it.
don’t get ON the water unless you’re prepared to get IN the water.

sorry for the harsh response, but it’s a serious issue.

(maybe you can rent a drysuit–some paddle shops might do that.)

stay within 3 feet of shore or don’t go

– Last Updated: Mar-12-05 12:07 PM EST –

Stay within three feet of shore, don't let your head go under water. Go out on calm water only. Get off if conditions worsen. Get a cheap or used wetsuit and a top that keeps freezing water off your neck armpits and groin. Could be as little as $50. Used or eBay.

Really. This is the death season. Educate yourself about gasp reflex and loss of movement in arms that happens in two minutes. Every year there are many casualities nice folks not knowing what is hapening or not believing it.

or, get your will in order. really!

If you think you will never go in, that is the number one thing they find in almost all fatalities, the person stated to family he would never go in.

what kind of water?
You never mentioned what kind of water you are paddling on. It makes a big difference. If you are going out in the middle of a large lake then of course you should wear at least a drytop, but if you are just on a lazy river or lake a few feet from shore in mild conditions waders with a belt and a fleece top will work. Of course a drysuit would be ideal but it’s not always needed.

at least a drytop out there dangerous
Don’t take my word for it check out

Cold water
If you can’t afford a drysuit/wetsuit, you can’t afford to paddle in cold water.

Read this good article as well as the

– Last Updated: Mar-12-05 4:43 PM EST –

the others on this site.

If you are going to paddle without a wetsuit/drysuit, put on whatever clothing you're going to wear and give it a test. Slowly wade out into the water to see how your body will react and how long you can stand it. You may want to have someone else on shore with you. I bet you'll change your mind.

Do some research…
Some in depth research of material that has been previously posted on this site regarding hypothermia, and the testing (in water) of the clothing you say you have available, should convince you that you may be asking for some nasty natural consequences. Don’t go out on the water thinking “I won’t end up in the water”. Go out on the water thinking, “I will end up in the water”.

Cotton (aka death cloth) is not sufficient for Spring paddling.

Based on your profile, you’ll probably have your wife paddlng with you. The liklihood that something “unplanned” will occur increases quickly once you start adding addition paddlers on your trip. I’m supposing that she has the same type clothing available as you; thus the same problems you’ll have if you end up swimming.


will give you a free farmer john
It is xl and 4mm neoprene. I have a drysuit and a lighter fuzzy rubber farmer john. So no kidding, please send address and will send it to you. EVERY YEAR GOOD PADDLERS DIE ON A WARM DAY IN COLD WATER. My dry suit saved my life twice when I swam.

Please take heed!!
and take Dave up on the Farmer John. I was out on Tahoe today. The water was glass air temp 60 and water temp 40. I saw numerous folks out paddling wearing tshirts, no PFDs. I mentioned how cold that water was, even sugeesting to hold a bare hand for 10 minutes. The reply was " These boats won’t tip." Trouble is winds come up suddenly and 3ft breaking waves can swamp an unskirted boat in minutes.

Last month I took an unintentional swim in Tahoe. With the drygear it was no big deal. Not sure I would have made it if I was without immersion gear.

It still depends on what kind of water.
If you are in a pond 30 ft. in diameter that is no deeper than two feet it’s pretty safe to say you should do fine without a drysuit as long as you are near a warm car/house. A drysuit is not an immediate answer.

Well lets see
Breaking waves, water spray? Does not sound like a mill pond.

you’re right
I missed that last sentence.

My Spring Snorkeling Experiences, etc
I love kayaking, and snorkeling.

Here are some of my snorkeling observations.

I won’t snorkel until the water tops 45 degrees. And that is with a 7mm farmer john, AND a jacket, AND 3mm gloves, AND 3mm hood, AND 6mm boots.

Soon as I enter the water, the cold hits me. In a minute, I warm up and acclimate. But at this temperature I am pleasantly cool, not warm.

I’ve tried snorkeling [in warmer water] with just the farmer john. Big mistake! Just lean the wrong way, and water flows down the back or front…instant cold. That’s why I wear the jacket and hood, to prevent the FLOW of water. The wetsuit MUST be tight to the body to prevent the MOVEMENT of water along your skin.

So, in warmer water, I wear just the jacket [full length to just above knees].

Also, I am in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

To qualify as a crewman on a CG vessel, I had to jump off the moving vessel and swim 1000 ft back to it. At the time I was wearing a MUSTANG immersion suit. This is a type 5 PFD which also protects from hypothermia. It looks like a baggy snowmobile suit, but does NOT have boots or gloves. It was difficult to swim with the Mustang, much as it would be difficult to swim with several layers of clothing. Anyway, the water temperature was 60 degrees, and by the time I reached the boat my fingers were too numb to grab the ladder. They had to lift me from the water. This was a real eye opener! And, that was after a long swim at 60 degrees.

Today, I always wear dive gloves when paddling in colder water.

Just some observations that have had a big impact on me and my kayaking practices.