Cold Weather Paddling

I bought my first kayak this summer and have caught the paddling bug. I’ve been out almost every weekend of this summer, but now as summer comes to an end, I don’t want to stop kayaking simply because of the weather. What are some basic things I’ll need to continue paddling in the upcoming colder months? I’m thinking a wetsuit and a sprayskirt as I don’t have either. Is there anything else I should know about cold weather paddling? Advice please!

Where are you?
What is the anticipated water temperature? A wet suit offers some protection in moderately cold water but for late season cold water paddling, nothing beats a drysuit with poly fleece underneath IMHO.

I’ll second that
I paddle till the ice starts to form here in Northern Wisconsin. December 3rd is the latest I’ve paddled. You’ve got to dress for water temps, not air. There’s less people on the water to help save your a_ _ too. A dry suit with fleece underneath, a good paddle float rescue, if you paddle alone, and common sense should keep you out of trouble.

A wetsuit will interfere with your body
motion. You could try neoprene shorts (I use some from Patagonia) with a drytop, or for risk of serious cold water swims, a drysuit.

Cold water can be a killer!
With that in mind:

A wet suit will be too uncomfortable.

If you are straying far from sure get a dry suit and make sure you can do a self rescue.

If you can’t stay near the shore line.

Or you can do like I do and wear a splash jacket and splash pants over some various layers of poly pro long johns and poly pro shirts, (depending on the day time temperatures) and then stay close enough to shore so you can get out with a short quick swim if you had a mishap.

A good spray skirt will not only keep the cold water off you, but offers a .lot of warmth in the cockpit.

We usually keep a change of clothing in a dry bag, (just in case), but fortunately have not had to use them in quite a few years of paddling.



Thanks for the advice!
Dry suit and common sense… check.

Thanks for the advice!
Those are good ideas and for the advice… thank you.

You can modify your style of kayaking
I also paddle into December and start up again in March. I choose calm days and small lakes and ponds, stick close to shore, and rarely cross an open body of water unless in good conditions.

Under those conditions I dress warmly and wear mukluks, no wetsuit or drysuit.

I have only come close to a cold-water accident once (error of judgment involving a narrow stream). That was enough to make me modify where, when, and how I kayak in the fall and spring, as above.

If you want to tackle larger bodies of water and rougher conditions, by all means follow others’ advice about wetsuits/ drysuits. Just wanted to throw out another approach.

Where are you paddling
and why do you not have a sprayskirt already? If your considering winter paddles, a dry suit, adequate under clothing, gloves, neoprene hat and a thermos of the warm beverage of youor choice are definate musts. I paddle year round in Maine and rarely not wear my drysuit. Also, practice those rescue skills and definately let someone know your plans.

Atlantic Kayak tours articles
Go to the page on the link and read the articles on cold water safety and dressing etc. It’s down the column on right of the page. They are great over-view articles on the subject.

best advice
don’t tip over.

Thanks for the advice!
Yeah, I don’t plan on crossing large bodies of water… calm rivers and lakes with accessible shorelines this WInter… as I get more experience and attend a paddling school next Summer I simply just want to paddle year round.

different standard for different seasons
Cold water is such a distinct danger, IMO, that I definitely change my paddling behavior during the winter. Water down to low 30s can be coped with comfortably and safely, but it requires careful and deliberate preparation.

Always paddle with a friend in really cold water, is my rule. Practice your rescues in cold water to know whether you’re really prepared to do them. Carry extra fleece top and bottom in a dry bag so you can change someone into dry clothes if you need to. Carry a mylar emergency blanket/bag.

And make sure you’re carrying emergency supplies, signaling devices, radio, etc, just like in warm water.

I think it’s really beautiful to be out on a winter day when the air temps have soared into the 30s, and you and your buddies are alone on the water with the seals and the brash ice. It’s also very satisfying to feel prepared, comfortable, and safe in an inhospitable environment.

Have fun!

Thanks for the advice!
I honestly don’t know why I don’t have a sprayskirt… I honestly didn’t know what they were until I paddled into someone who had one and gladly showed the advantages of them… Needless-to-say, I won’t cold water paddle without one, but for now, during these Summer months I like soaking in the sun.

Wetsuit Misinformation
You can certainly paddle in air temps down to freezing and water temps to ~ 45 degrees with a fairly inexpensive wetsuit (An Oneil 4/3 suit costs about $160 on sale)and paddling jacket NRS (~ 85$). Dry suits are fine but don’t buy into the mythology that you have to have a $600 drysuit to kayak into the late fall early winter.

Modern surfing wetsuits give plenty of freedom of movement of your arms.

In Eastern Pennsylvania that will take you through a large part of the year.

If you want you can purchase wetsuits that you can use to surf in arctic conditions, probably not much use if you are a freshwater paddler.

Now, seadart, I know you twist your
torso when you paddle. And even a sleeveless wetsuit will inhibit torso twisting to some extent. Mine did.

G2D, wrong again…
" A wetsuit will interfere with your body…

BS… a farmer john wetsuit is fine unless the water is very cold where you paddle. It definately won’t interfere w body movement…

wet suit restriction of motion
is very minimal, watch the arm action required to paddle a surfboard out through breaking waves. Most people who complain about wetsuits have only tried diving suits or old fashioned heavy neoprene suits.

Eastern PA equals dry suit

– Last Updated: Sep-08-09 10:55 AM EST –

Would for me in winter. There are those who can get away with less, but frankly until you try it it's hard to know if you are one of them. This gets pretty individual. Your water will be down to 36 degrees at full cold, lower 40's by late Nov, not so diff from here.

Regardless of what you do with your bod, you also need to cover your extremities. Hood (or two), and gloves along the lines of scuba dry gloves or NRS Reactors (really really thick), or gloves and pogies. Also want better shoes - probably 3 to 5 mill mukluks.

In sum, winter paddling costs money.

You also need to practice dumping and getting wet right into as cold as you can possibly stand it to be safe, or you are likely not to make it past such an accident in winter. Gasp reflex.

That’s BAD advice!
Spring is actually the most dangerous season for paddling, as the air may be warm, but the water remains dangerously cold. Many kayakers like you assume that the warmer air makes paddling in inadequate clothing safe, but that’s not the case. As others have said, you need to dress for the water temp, not the air temp. If you want to risk your own life, that’s one thing, but encouraging others to do so is irresponsible.