Fitness Paddling in Winter....

With winter coming up, I’ve been re-thinking the way I approach cold water paddling. In my kayak, I’m mainly a fitness paddler. In cold temps down into the 30’s, I find that a light weight shirt is all I need or I’ll overheat. My main safety strategy has been to paddle along the shore line so that if I capsized, I could easily get out of the water and I also have a complete change of dry clothes packed. I’ve been considering buying a drysuit for safety reasons but I’m afraid that I may not be able to use it because it would become a roasting bag during a workout (and I’m a heavy sweater).

So, how do you guys/gals approach this? I’ve never had on a drysuit so I don’t know what the insulating properties would be (I’m hoping not much). Also, do they “breath” well? I would hate to be all squishy from sweat build up in a drysuit…kinda defeats the purpose :wink:

Yup. You’ll Be Wet…

– Last Updated: Oct-03-09 7:12 AM EST –

underneath. Just use one layer to make sure you don't overheat (tho' if like me, you'll still sweat and get soaked). Even though wet underneath, you'll be safer if you happen to go over, provided you can do a fast remount. In the cold, with a single layer, the trick is to probably not stop until you finish your route. If you do and you're wet, you going to get cold.

I surf paddle and gave up using a drysuit because I would get totally soaked underneath from the sprints through the break zone. Than I would get cold while sitting outside waiting for my wave. These days, I wear a wetsuit which -- AHA! -- keeps me warm even when wet. If I feel overheated, then I just do some rolls and cool off while waiting for my wave.

Don't know what kind of kayak you have, but if it's rollable, then learn to roll. Rolling gives you a lot more options of what to wear and be safe. You can roll with a drysuit and cool off that way as well. With winter paddling, I find it's much easier to cool off then to try to warm up once I get cold.


How close to the shore? How deep is the

– Last Updated: Oct-03-09 8:04 AM EST –

water? How is your gasp reflex? Are you in a narrower river or on the shore of open water? If there is a reasonable chance that you might have to sustain an immersion time long enough to render you useless or hypothermic, then protective outerwear is a good idea. My Stohlquist white water suit does a fine job of allowing perspiration out, however, I don't think there is any suit that will let the volume of sweat out that you are hinting at. If you feel there is little chance of any dangerous immersion time then I would say the choice is yours. If you could see yourself in the water for more than a minute, then the choice is obvious in my opinion. Have a great winter. I think sculling is a better and safer way to cool off than a complete roll, it also spares you the ice cream headache. Salt water paddlers generally are not paddling in 32 degree water and the salt is usually good for your sinus whereas sweetwater is not. Bill

give your safety strategy a try
Maybe you should intensionally capsize near shore and try it out to see if it works. If it doesn’t, you might want a plan B (wetsuit, drysuit). Drysuits don’t insolate. It’s whatever you wear under them that does that (e.g. polypropalene, fleece).

Skip the drysuit

– Last Updated: Oct-03-09 7:00 PM EST –

If you are paddling for fitness and sticking close to shore, get a farmer john wetsuit and jacket. It sounds like you're a bit of a 'furnace' if you are comfy in a light shirt in 30 degree weather. Fj wetsuit is easy to paddle in, will protect your core but allow your arms to radiate heat.

If you get chilled, put on the 3mm jacket. If you get hot, shove a chunk of ice inside your wetsuit.

I like options. I have a dry-suit, fj wetsuit and two wetsuit jackets. If I was winter paddling a river or close to shore for fitness, I would use the wetsuit. When I paddle big, open water in the winter, I use my dry-suit.

for all of the suggestions thus far. The more I think about it, the more I think a drysuit would be a poor decision. I do like the idea of a FJ wetsuit. I’m sure I could do a search but if any of you guys/gals have some links handy to post here, I would appreciate it.

farmer john
I paddle all winter for fitness and racing w/ the water temp in the 30s and wear a farmer john. However I stay near shore and carry a marine radio; also I am in good shape and try to practice a cold water self rescue once a year (even though in 10 years of paddling the only time I have gone over is while surfing). If you wear under armor underneath you don’t have to wash the wetsuit as offen.

I would continue to paddle just the way
you have been. - (that is close to shore).

The dry suit will be a waste of money for you. Both my wife and I got them about eight years ago, and we never use them just for the same reason you thought.

You will sweat your killionies off.

In the temperature that you are talking about, we wear light weight stuff with a light weight splash jacket and light weight water proof cycling pants. Usually the jacket comes off before we are through a few miles.



My biggest problem is gold hands.

We always bring a set of dry clothes in a dry bag in a hatch

what works for you
The only way to know what will work for you is to give it a try. If you’re going with a Farmer John wetsuit and thermal top, bring a friend/spotter along for the experiment, and try capsizing in the water temp you plan to encounter. Personally, I’m not sure I could rescue myself in mid-30 degree water wearing that, even 100 feet from shore, but there’s a lot of personal variation in that, so you just have to try it yourself.

Dry clothes
You were the only one to mention that - excellent point. What good is it if you’re close to shore, fall in 30 degree water, two miles from your car or any houses? It does happen. I have a friend - 4-star excellent paddler who was just trying a new kayak in a marsh inland waterway with street clothes on. Got out to take a leak, slipped in the mud and fell in about a mile from civilization. He told me he was in absolute agony all the way back. You can’t breathe in 30 degree water for quite a while plus you have gasp reflex to deal with. If you want to bicycle in your underwear in winter - no problem but cold water is a killer.

sold the drysuit
Too tight on the neck and wrists. Too much work to wash all the dirty clothes. Please consider crosstrain. Ride the bike or hike or go the gym. Then you have fewer overuse injuries and you wil be strong and fit for spring.

Cross country ski gear
been doing this cold weather training for years. For everyday workouts on cold days!!!

Sporthill 3sp top and or pants. breathes and is wind resistant.Been using it for 12 years doing both skin and paddling. Best money ever spent on gear!!! Use layers as needed. Windy days wind breaker with side vents over it works ok. foam pad on floor keeps feet warm even if water is near freezing.Light Nylon pogies and 1/2 skirt for most days alows air to escape and not get too hot.

Got mild hypo thermia a couple time being really sweaty and slowed for warm cold fast.

Change clothes immdiatley after getting out of the water. Set your boat down and go into your vehilce and change. bring mittens in boat to put on after stoping

Any questions contact me.

Cheers Dan

Dry suit
Sounds like the people on this topic either do not know how to wear their drysuits, or their drysuits are inadequate quality.

You need to burp all the air out of the drysuit. I just wade in, submerge to neck level, hold open the neck gasket.

You need an adequate quality drysuit. Mine costs close to 1K, is gortex. It lets the heat out no problem. When I do get too hot, I just roll to cool down. When I am dressed right, rolling about once an hour works fine.

I paddle hard, and do a lot of sprinting. No problem overheating in my drysuit, even when air temp is as high as 70.

Dress like your CC skiing.
I agree with Murn, dress in layers like cross country skiing. I’ve been paddling winters for over twenty years mostly here on the Missouri R. some times with temperatures in the teens(which by the way is coming too way soon here in Montana,predicting high of 19 on Friday). I also pick calm days and follow the first rule of winter paddling…Don’t get wet!

Good luck, be safe.

Doesn’t rolling give you brain freeze?
I don’t roll so I just would get out and swim to cool down but if I put my head in the cold water it is awful!

How do you deal with the brain freeze and the gasping/heavy breathing when you face head goes under?

cold water
You dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. If the air’s 30 the water is likely cold enough to kill. What’s your life worth?

Bill H.

In the OP’s situation, I disagree
He says he paddles close to the shore.

He can easily get out of the water in a capsize situation.

I tested the waters in glacier Bay, Alaska and in the arctic circle’s Noatak river, (water temperature by my thermometer was 38 degrees.

I dove in paddled a few strokes underwater, and then a half dozen strokes above water. Then was forced out by the cold. My head felt like ice cream, but other then that I had no problem.

The lake water that I paddle in here in the high country of NC gets into the 30’ and 40’s in the winter, and we have had to break a skim coat of ice several times in the bays.

I do as he describes and stay close to shore and enjoy the paddle in comfortable clothing.

If I had to wear my dry suit, it gets so hot and is so noisy, I would rather stay home and not paddle.

If I were a roller, or going to be far from the shore, then by all means I would dress for immersion.



No headache if you’re dressed for it.
I roll in winter (water in the low 30s), wearing a drysuit and neoprene hood. If I do more than three rolls all at once I’ll get a bit of brain freeze, so I don’t do a whole bunch in a row like I might in a pool or during summer. I’ll space them out over a paddle to keep in practice, or to cool down.

I’ve never felt compelled to gasp when my head goes under. I’d guess if your dressed for it (head and neck covered too) it’s much less of a concern. Perhaps regular exposure (from roll practice) also makes a shocked gasp less likely if you go in unexpectedly. Or maybe some people are just more susceptible to it than others.

Perhaps not paddling hard enough -:wink:
When a dry suit gets wet from active paddling or rolling, its “breathing” properties diminish to close to nothing. No matter how expensive, simply because it gets wet on the outside and the water is a rather effective barrier to anything trying to come out. Only cure is to renew the repellent layer every other time you use the suit so that it sheds water and has enough surface to evaporate. Or paddle slooowly so no water spray comes over you. And without a PFD so that you have your torso open and able to evaporate -:wink:

For me, in a dry top/pants combo I sweat like a pig when I paddle hard and stay relatively dry if I go sigth-seeing… Combination of being thorougly soaked from paddle or wave spray, having a PFD and sweating out a few quart or more of sweat over the workout.

You don’t wear a drysuit for the typical
days of paddling when everything goes fine. You wear it for the days when things don’t go fine. I asked earlier questions that would give some idea as to the odds of you having to sustain a prolonged immersion. If the odds are low, you might make a different decision than if they are high. Either way you look at it you are making a personal decision about your safety. There are plenty of people who don’t wear seat belts, smoke cigarettes, have unprotected sex, and so on and so forth. Where we paddle in the winter you would be carzy not to have adequate protection and the group would not allow you to join in without it. Your decision.

Finally, even with my drysuit and neoprene hood, I cannot do a single roll without a pretty good pain right at the top of my nose(ice cream headache). It hurts, but it is worth it as it helps me be more prepared for what I might encounter. Kind of like a drysuit. Bill