I live in Indianapolis,IN. Ive had my Dagger Axis for 3 yrs now but my paddling has been warm weather, I am looking at starting to put together what I need for cold weather, cold water paddlng, looking for advice on boots, thinking this is where i should start, but what then in order of importance.
starting with boots?
I would start with something to keep your core warm, particularly should you go for a swim. Perhaps look at a wet suit or dry suit first.
A wet suit (3 mm farmer john) and paddle jacket, plus other non-cotton layers you likely already have (the type of things you’d use for other sports - wool polypro, fleece, etc.) would likely be good for water temps down into the 50s (and air temp a bit lower). Wetsuit booty and neoprene hat would be next cheap steps to help.
To get for colder temps, you pretty much need a dry suit. Sizeable cost commitment, so something many people wait until they are very into the sport before getting.
Cold weather immersion gear is kind of a package deal. For winter paddling, it begins with a drysuit, period. Then add booties, neoprene gloves, and a hood. Paddling in the winter without these is like rock climbing without ropes.
Cold water safety…
While everyone else gives you advice on proper gear for cold weather, I’m going to give you the website for the National Center for Cold Water Safety:
This site explains in no uncertain terms why you should maintain a very healthy respect for the dangers of cold water. And why you should heed all the advice you will receive on proper cold water immersion gear.
When I was asking questions here on cold weather gear, someone else posted this link on P.net. I read through the entire site and finally understood why the experienced paddlers here were so adamant about proper protective gear.
A bit of a contrary view point
Many recommend that you need or must have a dry suit for cold weather paddling. I’m not convinced that is an absolute in all circumstances. What is, in my view, critical is risk management and situational awareness. Know the risks associated with the planned paddle. Note that the less you know about the risks, the greater the risk factor. Some things to consider are your skill level, the size of the group you are paddling with, the skill level and behavior patterns of that group. What is the water like. Are you in deep water or shallow. How easy is it to get to shore? How well do you know the area. What is the water level; High, low, normal? What is the weather? 25 & Sunny or 33 and wet snow? How does my equipment and clothing match with the environmental risks?
In my case, I’m almost always in a canoe in cold weather. I’m more comfortable with my skills in a canoe and they are much easier to get in and out of with dry feet at sketchy landing and launches. In most cases I’m dressed as I would be dressed for moderate land activity given the weather. Essentially, that’s wool & plastic clothing. I’ll wear Sorrels when the temps get in the 20s or below. I will also have a full change of clothing in a dry bag that is clipped into the canoe. I wore a paddling suit (lower prices dry suit like with a neoprene neck gasket rather than latex)on a solo paddle a few weeks ago with the temps in the lower 20s. I evaluated the risks and determined that being solo raised the risk level to a point where more protection was needed. Normally, I will be paddling with a small group, mostly paddlers that I know pretty well. The group has a range of skills some of which are greater than mine. In winter we will be paddling small mid-Michigan rivers that we know pretty well. In colder temps, I’m probably a bit more vigilant looking for under water branches, etc. that could put me off balance. I’m also more careful when it comes to landing and launching. In my type of paddling I’m more likely to get wet then than at any other time.
Getting back to the original question: I see that you paddle a recreational kayak. Waterproof boots are probably a good idea. Chotas, Neos, or NRS boundary boots seem to be preferred around here. Be sure to leave room for good wool socks. You will also want, at a minimum, a waterproof outer layer to keep off paddle drippings, etc. If you are thinking about big water then a dry suit, and the skill not to need one, are real survival needs.
Neoprene gloves not for everyone
My hands will NOT be warm in neoprene gloves. I’ve tried several different kinds, with no luck at all. My hands can be fine in wool gloves all day long if I add a wind-proof layer over the top, even soaking wet, but in neoprene they’ll be painfully numb in a very short time and useless within half an hour.
I’ll also side with rival51’s comments below, that not everyone needs a dry suit. It depends where you are paddling and the overall combination of conditions. As an example, people I know that have fallen through the ice in winter have been fine when only being prepared by having a change of clothes available not too far away (these were ice fishermen less than half a mile from their car). I’m not advocating that a person not use immersion gear, but the idea that all capsizes in all types of water in all winter weather conditions result in a life-threatening situation is a bit of a stretch (though I’m not contradicting the idea that in many cases this is true). Understanding the risks and the nature of the place you are paddling is most important. A dry suit is always a great idea, but not having one doesn’t mean you can’t paddle some places, some of the time.
1. drysuit- specialty store
2. wick layers, fleece- sporting goods store
3. balaclava- sporting goods store
4. neoprene booties with extra room- specialty store
5. wool socks- sporting goods store
6. pogies- specialty store
7. synthetic sleeping bag stowed in dry bag (for rewarming)
8. mat for changing on, preserving drysuit feet
9. 2nds of everything but the drysuit so you can paddle two days in a row and start with dry stuff
10. 2nd dry suit in case of catastrophic failure, or to take a friend
My suggestion is go all in for true “winter” paddling in IN.
I like that…
“If you are thinking about big water then a dry suit, and the skill not to need one, are real survival needs.”
Well said - I wonder if I will ever get there
Quite the list! As an owner of the Specialty Store i especially appreciate your recommendation #10.
I’d suggest a variation to #5. Watershoes, sized large enough to accommodate the extra sockage and not come off inadvertently. It’s the drysuit socks that are being protected. Neoprene not a mandatory material. I usually recommend the Astral Brewer or Rasslers.
See you on the water,
The River Connection, Inc.
Hyde Park, NY
I agree, neo not for everyone…
or for every situation. I have a pair of NRS Maverick neoprene gloves with the Titanium lining that’s supposed to help keep your hands warm. My personal experience with these gloves is that my hands get uncomfortably cold and start going numb in air temps below 45° or so. Sure, they keep my hands nice and dry, but the cold still seeps through. For me, these are COOL weather gloves, not COLD weather gloves.
The coldest I’ve been out paddling so far is in 17° air temps. Not sure what the water temp was, but the water near the river’s banks was skimmed over in ice, and water that splashed onto my deck and paddle froze up pretty quickly. In those kind of temps, my hands have stayed nice and toasty wearing a pair of Cabela’s Gore-Tex mittens with a pair of ThermaSilk glove liners under them.
Dry Suit Religion
You might also want to check out threads about using wetsuits in cold weather.
Surfers use wetsuits to surf in subzero air temps and ~ 32 F water temps. You would be looking at much less expense than a dry suit, but it’s not convenient as you will be wet if you swim, and you need to roll or splash water on yourself to stay cool while paddling. A decent 4/3 surfing suit will keep you warm down to ~ 45 F water temps. A thicker suit for freezing water temps.
Paddling on very cold water without a wetsuit or drysuit is inviting death unless you can wade to shore in a minute or two. Also many people who do this have never experienced the gasp reflex that drowns may novice paddlers even in shallow cold water.
I like my neoprene and
not cold feet. So for really “warm” feet I wear wool socks, then the latex built in footies (on drysuit), another pair of wool socks (must have oversized booties to allow this), knee high panty hose (to make sliding into the booty easier) and lastly ankle high neoprene booties. That’s more than you need to survive but what I actually need to have for “warm” feet in the winter in WV.
Now some of my paddling buds have used the Astral shoes. They are having some durability and sizing issues (mail ordered on clearance). They seem to run small, rip out, possibly as a result of the sizing, and in one particular case the rubber sole has come unglued. I like the idea, look, and grippy rubber sole on the Astral but just don’t think it would stand up to my rough treatment or be as warm so I haven’t been tempted to purchase a pair.
On the other hand, watchin’ my buds strugglin’ to put their too small shoes, while tellin’’ me what a great deal they got, and watchin’ their shoes fall apart has been good entertainment for me.
Hard to find folks to paddle with you in the winter. You loan ‘em a drysuit, get ‘em hooked, then they turn around buy their own and you got more folks to paddle with. Me loanin’ a suit is me bein’ selfish.
In the winter, sometimes it feels like it takes longer to get dressed than it does to actually paddle.
Too many unknowns
If you have good skills, know the local area and weather patterns, stay near shore, and have your car nearby with a dry change of clothes ready, you don’t have to go full-bore with the same gear that would protect you on an offshore expedition.
Especially if you are talking more shoulder season than mid-winter paddling. It’s not clear from your post whether you’ve only paddled in warm conditions and want to expand the season, or you are going to paddle all through the winter.
I wouldn’t “start with boots”, though. Get the boots AND either a full wetsuit or a drysuit, plus gloves and hat/hood. Throw even a little bit of wind on wet skin and it feels much colder–so don’t try to get away with a partial outfit.
IMO, the gloves are the hardest thing to dial in. They just don’t allow the feel that bare hands do. You could try pogies instead, but keep a pair of gloves to put on if/when you stop for a break.
Drysuit is a good option, but if it tears, it is useless. In Alaska I use a drysuit or about 5 mil neoprene on the bottom and a heavy neoprene tuilik on top. I use neoprene socks and booties for the feet.
Judgement and skills
are #1 and #2 on my list of water safety. The issue is that not everyone learns judgement well enough, or they haven’t the experience to apply same. What often happens is that an individual with insufficient judgement goes only only to find that they don’t have the skills they need to survive. We call these “accidents,” but often, they really aren’t.
You wrote: Many recommend that you need or must have a dry suit for cold weather paddling. I’m not convinced that is an absolute in all circumstances.
And I absolutely agree with this. And I agree a great deal with what you say here. By the way, I, and most safety experts, consider wool clothing as immersion protection, the issue is that more modern materials of sufficient density will give you extra time in the cold water before conditions become dire. If, in your judgement, you think you may or will need extra time, then go with the wet or dry suit.
My rule of thumb is that a drysuit is better when conditions drop below 50F. I’ve done dives in 47F water with a wetsuit too dense for paddling. I was protected, though there were some chilly moments - this coming from someone who, after his swim this morning took a 58F outdoor shower after leaving the pool. My dive buddy was MUCH more uncomfortable than I was, so individual variations have to be accounted for when judgements are made.
You wrote: What is, in my view, critical is risk management and situational awareness. Know the risks associated with the planned paddle. Note that the less you know about the risks, the greater the risk factor. Some things to consider are your skill level, the size of the group you are paddling with, the skill level and behavior patterns of that group. What is the water like. Are you in deep water or shallow. How easy is it to get to shore? How well do you know the area. What is the water level; High, low, normal? What is the weather? 25 & Sunny or 33 and wet snow? How does my equipment and clothing match with the environmental risks?
And you are right. These judgements should be made before every paddle and often aren’t. Even I am guilty of taking a cursory view of a familiar trip and setting out without considering how that day might be different from any other. I went out on a paddle with my (at the time) novice son on a familiar and comparatively safe body of water. It was summer in Ca. and storms are virtually non-existent, but one rolled in and changed the conditions from easy to moderate. We were both okay and he did an admirable job of handling the boat, but I was really happy that he had a wetsuit.
…relevant stuff about paddling judgement deleted to save space :).
You wrote: Getting back to the original question: I see that you paddle a recreational kayak. Waterproof boots are probably a good idea. Chotas, Neos, or NRS boundary boots seem to be preferred around here. Be sure to leave room for good wool socks. You will also want, at a minimum, a waterproof outer layer to keep off paddle drippings, etc. If you are thinking about big water then a dry suit, and the skill not to need one, are real survival needs.
And here is where you and I diverge slightly. I am concerned that we are dealing with someone with fairly limited experience, and thus judgement (and skills) which is suggested by the original post
For this reason, I tend to err on the side of a wetsuit, at minimum. I can’t assess the conditions accurately where he will be (and you may well have better knowledge of those than I, so I will be much more conservative, as is my nature). Your experience with cold weather is relevant, but you are a skilled paddler who can rely upon recovering from any errors you make. My issue here isn’t that a novice will die from a single immersion in cold water, it is that the conditions that caused the first capsize will likely still exist after the recovery and there are high odds that additional capsizes will occur. A wet or dry suit is, in my opinion, a better option for novice paddlers. If I have misinterpreted the original poster, I apologize, but I still maintain that until judgement develops, novices in cold water are best dressed in excellent immersion gear.
Over time, as judgement and skills (particularly self-rescues) improve, I have little issue with anyone making a sound judgement to wear more comfortable, and less protective, gear.
That’s a good description of how experience and conditions interact in deciding what’s an acceptable level of preparation for a given situation. I’m sure most people who’ve been doing this for a while have seen people putting themselves in extreme danger paddling when the water is cold, where a casual observer, and the paddlers themselves (obviously), wouldn’t, and didn’t, recognize the severity of risk.