Headwear for cold weather kayaking

I’m trying to sort out all the different headwear options available to keep my head nice and toasty during winter paddling sessions. To date, I’ve just been using a fleece pull-over beanie cap that covers my head and ears. It’s been fine, but as the temperature keeps dropping, I’m sure I will want something warmer that covers more of my exposed skin.

I recently picked up a PolarTec Balaclava. I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet. I bought it more for keeping warm during land-based winter activities, but figured I could give it a try on the water, too. I have an Immersion Research Session 2.5 semi-dry jacket on its way that I bought on eBay. This leads me to other questions about headwear and dry tops. How do you keep your neck and face warm when wearing a dry top? I wouldn’t think the gasket around the neck is going to be enough to keep you warm, but what can you wear under it that won’t interfere with the integrity of the gasket? Can I put my balaclava on and pull the jacket over it? Or will that prevent the neck gasket from properly sealing and doing its job?

Doing some Google searches, I’ve seen some posts recommending using one of those neoprene dive hoods. Would something like that work?

I plan to continue paddling until the local river freezes over. So, I could be out on the water when water temps are hovering just above freezing and air temps are dipping even lower. Wondering what others wear to stay warm if/when they paddle in similar cold weather.

I have a thin polypro balaclava, a knit wool cap, a head band, and an NRS Mystery Storm Hood, 1mm neo might be a bit thin though. I don’t think I’ve had them all on my head at the same time but beyond that…

I have to have options or I end up soaked.

First off I believe your Session jacket has a neoprene turtleneck style collar? If so it comes fairly high on the neck. Perhaps I don’t paddle in the teens temps enough to warrant a scarf or balaclava. Or, I have a habit of hiking the hood base of my Kokatat Expedition so it acts like a raised collar.

As to headwear, I’ve been pleased with the Kokatat Surfskin Strap Cap as it’s windproof, fleece lined and fits under any of my sun hats which in addition to warmth keeps me from squinting overly much on sunny winter days. Otherwise, you’ll likely rotate through an assortment of hats and headbands depending on how much you need to cool off / warm up and your typical immersion level.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY




– Last Updated: Nov-11-14 11:42 AM EST –

I'm thinking I might try some layering options much like I plan to do with my feet as stated in the other sock thread. I'm intrigued by these 5mm and 6mm dive hoods I see on eBay, but I just don't know anything about them and how they (or my balaclava) would work with a semi-dry top. I'm wondering if I could start off with the dive hood as a base layer to keep water off my head, face, and neck, and then layer on additional insulation as needed.

My other concerns are that I don't want to impair my vision or hearing. One of my main reasons for taking up paddling is to get out on the water and experience nature. I don't want to wear anything that is going to significantly block my ability to see/hear the nature around me.

Yes, from the pictures of the jacket, it appears to have a relatively tall neoprene collar.

If I had to guess, I would think pulling the jacket over the fleece balaclava probably wouldn’t be ideal as the neoprene collar wouldn’t be able to seal tight against the neck. However, I think the dive hood might be okay since it would be neoprene sealing against neoprene, right? Or would that still not be ideal?

My main concerns about using a dive hood are restricted movement and impaired senses. Would a dive hood worn under the semi-dry jacket restrict side-to-side movements of my head/neck? Would I still be able to turn my head freely? Also, would the thickness of the neoprene block outside noise? Would the neoprene around the edges of my face intrude on my peripheral vision? I want to stay warm, but I don’t want to be completely blocked off from the nature around me.

Depends on how wet you get.
I’ve gone through several hoods, and tried many in the local surf shops. The Rip Curl Flash Bomb 3MM hood keeps my head toasty warm with water temperatures in the mid 40’s, and air temperatures below freezing, and is the most comfortable I’ve found personally. I use that for surf play - days when I’m in waves, wet, and rolling from the moment I launch until I’m done. It will seal out water and a good amount of sound. I also use the E-Bomb 2mm, which is even more comfortable, but less watertight. Very good for days when getting wet would be more accidental. It’s as comfortable as those NRS Mystery hoods, only much, much more effective. It feels much lighter than the 3mm flash bomb. Dive hoods in the thickness you mentioned are too much.

The 3 mm blocks out sound. The 2 mm is much better for this. Neither block vision in any way, nor any other surf or diving hood I’ve used. The little holes around the ears in the NRS Mystery hood or otherwise - I think the idea is to help you hear better. They whistle. Even a breeze, they whistle. I hear nothing but wind whistling through the tiny holes. If you have a hat over the top to prevent any wind from getting to the little holes, that will take care of that. But then you have a hat and the hood with holes blocking sound.

I wear hoods with a dry top all the time. The dry top is already in place. You just put a hood on. No tucking into gaskets. If you have a collar outside of your neck gasket, that’s fine. I don’t think you would have to worry about that.

You have to really enjoy what you’re doing that is requiring you to wear neoprene if you’re going to continue to do it. It allows you to do something that you couldn’t otherwise do. It cannot compete with the comfort of things that don’t have to take immersion into account. But it’s gotten comfortable enough that I don’t notice it much.


kayak hood or surf hood
I have a NRS mystery storm hood which is super thin rubberized pile. I paddle with it pushed back acting as a neck gaiter most of the time unless its a winter surf session. I tried the kokatat version but it would slide up over my mouth which I didn’t like. I paddle with it pushed back most of the time.

The mystery hood is great just in case piece to carry as it can really warm you up quick.

I also have a surfing hood which is 4mm I think and great for mid winter rolling practice but too hot for paddling.

Hooded vest?

– Last Updated: Nov-11-14 2:32 PM EST –

Has anyone tried one of these hooded sleeveless wetsuit vests? I'm wondering if something like this would not only provide the hood for warmth and protection that I'm looking for, but also add a little more torso insulation when worn with the farmer john wetsuit I picked up.

I'm contemplating a layered system such as this:
1). Polypro base layer top/bottom
2). Farmer John wetsuit
3). Hooded sleeveless wetsuit vest
4). Fleece top and pants (or fleece onsie)
5). Windproof/waterproof pants
6). IR Session 2.5 semi-dry top

If I pull the dry top over the vest, the neoprene collar of the jacket should seal against the neoprene neck of the hooded vest, right?



Several to choose from

– Last Updated: Nov-11-14 3:27 PM EST –

In the colder part of the year, I use a brimmed neoprene cap (3mm) or Kokatat Surfskin Bill which is similar but not neoprene, or an O'Neill Hyperfreak 1.5mm dive hood. The dive hood is warmest, with the added advantage of keeping the neck warm and face sealed off. The extra coverage actually makes the hood warmer than the 3mm cap even though it is thinner. Hearing is barely reduced. The integral, thicker hood on my winter 5mm wetsuit reduces hearing more than the 1.5mm hood does (duh).

I've only worn the 1.5mm hood with a non-hooded wetsuit so far but I expect that with a drysuit I'll just let it hang over the neck. I don't know if it's long enough to tuck between gasket and overcollar.

I am getting confused
Your concern about sealing the neck gasket. If you are paddling hard enough you don’t need a tight seal, the warmth from your torso will keep things fine. If you go swimming no semi-dry neck gasket is going to keep you dry regardless of what layer is or is not under it. Semi-dry is semi-protective under immersion.

If you are talking about a cold neck, I go with the Mystery hood by NRS as the best option. I usually have it on in winter paddling, just not always pulled up over my head. But the extension down over your neck helps even if it isn’t all tucked in.

The Kokatat hood, which I also have, does have the layer that you have to push down away from covering your mouth. As an all day long head garment the Mystery hood works better.

Dive hoods - I have a couple of them - are very thick neoprene compared to paddle wear. Probably too hot to stand for paddling, though they are ideal for rolling in really cold stuff. And they smush your face up kind of funny because of how tight they fit, so you’d want to stay away from family members with cameras wearing one.

Neck gasket
Yep, I know the neck gasket on a semi-dry top is not going to keep me dry in the event of an immersion (but dryer than if I wasn’t wearing a semi-dry top). Since I have no experience with such gear, I guess my concern was whether or not wearing something under the semi-dry top that protruded through the neck would somehow reduce the ability of the neoprene gasket/collar to provide ANY protection from a possible immersion.

Here’s what I got…
Just to give myself some options for layering up, I picked up an O’Neil hooded vest. It has a super-stretch polypro pull-over vest with a 2mm neoprene hood attached. The hood is kind of unique in that the polypro material from the vest attaches to the neoprene hood higher up the neck (closer to the chin area). But the neoprene from the hood actually hangs down to the base of the neck kind of like a neo skirt. I’m thinking this should work well with my new (to me) IR semi-dry top. I can pull the dry top over the hooded vest and then pull the hood’s neo skirt out from under the collar of the dry top and let it hang over neo neck of the dry top. That should add extra splash protection, extra wind protection, and a little more insulation. I think my neck is probably going to stay warm just fine.

Anyone else have or use one of these O’Neill vests?


actually, mine does keep me dry

– Last Updated: Nov-13-14 4:06 PM EST –

What you're not being informed is that no dry suit will keep you completely dry on the inside. Sweat and condensation prohibit that.

But Celia is wrong when she says "no way" because i've experienced the contrary.

I know you're leaning toward latex, but I have a problem with people who answer questions from everyone else's perspective. People ought to know that a neo neck gasket can conceivably keep them dry.

Kep Warm
Freezing outside, I’ll use three fingers of my favorite whiskey.

Thanks for the personal experience…
input, slush. I hear and understand what both you and Celia are saying. From what I’ve been reading all over the web about neo seals is that the degree of immersion protection (or lack thereof) is very dependent on who’s wearing the clothing, what other clothing they are wearing it with, and the environmental conditions in which they are paddling.

Some folks say their semi-dry tops/pants with neo seals keep them plenty dry as long as they don’t go for extended swims.

Some say the neo seals just keep them “dry enough” to avoid cold shock.

Some say the neo doesn’t seal very well with their body type and lets water in. So they don’t count on it for immersion protection.

Personally, I don’t know what to believe and will just have to experience it myself. Although, I’m kind of confused with the whole neo seal thing. In that other LONG thread I’ve been involved in, it was explained to me by several people that neo IS waterproof. And if a neo suit/glove/bootie/etc. is leaking, the weakness is most likely the seams not the neo. So, which is it? If neo is supposed to be waterproof and makes such a good insulating suit/glove/bootie/etc., then why is it suddenly unreliable and not considered a “dry” component when it is used as a gasket/seal on a semi-dry top?

Why waste the cash on that
when you can light up something cheaper (Sterno) and still get a flame.

Neo varies
There is waterproof neo. There is such a membrane in some of the surfing suits and many of the fancier diving neo-type suits, for example, and my diving boots that look like regular neo have such a mebrane as well. Not that they stay very dry once water comes over the top, but that factor still makes them warmer than if not.

However, the basic paddling neo is usually not so refined. And it is very bad to be out in cold air with a wind blowing at you in the usual paddling Farmer John because it doesn’t block wind either. Fast track to hypothermia - been there done that. Fastest dash to the car I have ever had once I realized my teeth were chattering.

So it matters exactly what neo you are talking about. Also, the neo for these other purposes is often thicker than the usual paddling Farmer John. OK in colder weather but not so good as things warm up.

Unless you’re getting wet…

– Last Updated: Nov-13-14 9:49 PM EST –

I'd wear a comfortable regular hat and maybe neckwarmer. If you're rolling surfing or getting your head wet then some type of neoprene hood is great. Ear plugs are also a big plus if you are getting your head in the cold water...