How cold is too cold?

I’ve seen a few threads lately about water temp, wet suits and safety. I haven’t seen anything about threshold temps. Is a 70-75 degree day and 55-60 degree water doable to paddle in?

of course - - -
what do you mean “doable” … i and numerous others on this board paddle in alot colder conditions than that all the time.

That sounds…
…like a good paddling day to me.



let me clarify
What I mean by doable is…without a wetsuit.

It Is The Water Temp

– Last Updated: Apr-08-04 2:24 PM EST –

you need to be concerned about, along with your skill level to do self/assisted rescues, and the immersion gear and your distance/conditions from land.

I would say, if you're a beginner, you should have immersion protection to provide more margin of error against less skills.

Check this site, read the info, take some classes and then decide:

Personally, under 60 degree I would have immersion protection with either a drysuit or neoprene farmer john, base layer and a drytop (I have a pretty dependable roll) . And, even in water temps of 60-70, I have on at least a wetsuit, even if it is short farmer john. Even though I have decent self rescue skills, I don't have much much tolerance for cold and I know that. So, I like more margin for error.


Since you asked, I’ll give a view

– Last Updated: Apr-09-04 9:23 PM EST –

ON a pond in a 29 inch beam kayak fully sober, no wetsuit, yeah I might go for that. It's not smart and I'd stay close to shore but yeah I might do that. It would not become my routine.

If there are large ripples and I am in my sea kayak and the water temp is below 60 I am it a wetsuit at minimum.

Water Temps
Our ocean water temps here off NORCAL run from low 50’s to high 50’s. I am in the water alot because I am a very poor kayak surfer!

A 3mm farmer john with fleece top is OK for me down to the low 50’s. But that is just me. I swim in cold water alot.

I certainly would not go without a wetsuit in ocean water below 60.

If it is too cold to swim without protection, it is too cold to kayak without protection.

The best thing is to prove it to yourself by swimming somewhere protected to see how well you can stand it. Tolerance to cold water varies from person to person.

Variance In Cold Toleration
heck I get cold standing in 70 degree pool spotting folks in practice sessions. And I have a fuzzy rubber farmer john on.



That’s because you so svelte

– Last Updated: Apr-09-04 8:46 AM EST –

and have a high (oops had to edit) mass to surface area ratio.

Members of the walrus cult like me fare a tad better if swiming in cold water. (or is it all the practice I get? ;-) )

I’ll wear a neo hood next time in the pool. That might help. :slight_smile:


It is for me, unless…
…the seas and weather require a wet or dry suit.

I have gone out dozens of times in water a lot colder than that but with the air temperature in the seventies. I’ll usually have a polypro long sleeve or short sleeve T, a long pair of light weight polar fleece bottoms, with a pair of water proof cycling paints over them.

The reason for the double pants is to keep my bottom warm from that cold inside bottom of the yak.

I dress for the weather more than the water temperature, since I won’t paddle in bad weather in cold water.


Jack L

Read The Details On This Site
I would like to add something to what Sing just said. Make sure you look at the details, read through all the pages in the Table of Contents at the bottom of this page. This should give you a pretty good picture of the risks and allow you to make a good decision. I was surprised to find that hyperthermia, while a serious threat, is not the only major risk factor. The initial shock is a major factor as well. I know when I fell into cold water with a wetsuit, I did still experience the initial shock described on this site.

Like Sing, I tend to get cold easily. When I had my cold water incident, my body fat was a few points over 20%. Now it’s under 20%, so I know it’s worse now for me. I also will start shivering with a 1mm neo top & rodeo neo shorts at pool class. So, your body is a factor as well. Ask yourself whether you get cold easily outside, then imagine magnifying the heat dissipation by 20x.

A good suggestion that has been made here many times, is to just walk into the water up to you waist dressed the way you want to dress and stand there a couple of minutes and see how your body tolerates it.

Take care…Lou

Fat Percentage…
several years ago, a fitness instructor measure my fat content. It was 12%. I would like to think it is now much lower (yeah, right!)… :slight_smile:

This does have an impact on individual tolerances.


That’s Really Great!
You must be very atheletic! Don’t think I’ll ever get it that low.


cool weather squirtin’
Yesterday the air was in the upper 60’s & water was 54. I wore my drysuit 'cause I was paddling my squirt boat & go under a lot. I was hot when I put in, but was very comfortable after getting wet.

The Key Words…

– Last Updated: Apr-09-04 5:14 PM EST –

are "several years ago..." More like 4-5 years ago. ;)

Here is where "fit" folks get into trouble. They're good athletes and/or swimmers. They think if they capsize in cold water, they'll just swim to shore. Their very fitness and low body fat work against them. They're much more efficient in pumping blood to the working muscles. And there, the cold water just sucks out the body's warmth.

Think of the Marines who died in the Potomac. These were fit folks, more fit than the overwhelming majority of Americans. As marines,they were swimmers too. Yet, they couldn't make it to the nearby shore...

Why would the average paddler think they can do better..? Wear your PFD and your immersion gear in cold water. Simple.


partly true

– Last Updated: Apr-09-04 5:22 PM EST –

I agree but what partially offsets this is the higher metabolic rate of a fit condition. Burning calories = warmth. Of course, you will need to keep fueled.

Wetsuit Thickness vs Temperature

– Last Updated: Apr-09-04 5:44 PM EST –

Here is a webpage listing wetsuit thickness vs appropriate temperature ranges.

They note that "Appropriate boots and gloves are also important, for both warmth and protection. When combined together hoods, boots and gloves account for about 30% - 40% of your thermal protection".

I do a lot of snorkeling wearing a 7mm farmer John with Jacket, hood, gloves and boots, depending on the water temperature.

In colder water, I am comfortable with the whole shebang, but freeze without the gloves, boots, and hood. Especially the hood.

I often wear the jacket most of the summer snorkeling here in Michigan. Why? Even though the water may feel refreshing to casual swimmers, it is amazing how downright cold it can get after an hour or more of constant immersion.

The point is, don't assume that a wetsuit will keep you warm, and safe, in 55-65 degree water just because that is the low end of the temperature range listed for that suit. Without boots, gloves and hood, you should probably look at the upper end of the quoted temperature range for a more realistic idea of what a wetsuit can do for you.

This is all assuming, of course, that you might end up in the water for a prolonged period of time. Wearing a 3mm wetsuit in 50 degree water will just prolong your suffering if you fall out of your kayak and watch it blow away from you in the ocean.

Mind Games
Like you Sing, I’ve got about half an ounce of body fat on me. I’m still striving to hit the 150# mark!! I hate being cold after being hypothermic a couple of times so cold water in my eyes is considered a killer, once I get cold I have a mighty hard time getting warm again. BUT, I really think a lot of it is psychological for me. Just the thought of getting totally wet is enough for me to start shivering and the few times I’ve dumped in cold water I’ve been cold even though I’ve changed into dry warm cloths, had some hot liquids and something to eat. Somewhere in my grey matter is a little switch that says once you are cold that’s it buddy!! Now, where is that pizza, sub, and milkshake, I need to put on some weight!!