Mid-weather paddling

The weather had cooled down to the 60's, but my husband and I are loathe to give up for the season yet, especially since we haven't been able to paddle the last few weeks due to life stuff. We want to try to paddle into the fall but I am a cold wimp. We paddle flat water, close to home, 2-3 hours at a time, so I don't need to be completely dry, just not wet and uncomfortable if there's a breeze. We don't have spray skirts and can't get them this season.

I assume there must be something in between bathing suits and arctic dry suits. Any suggestions on how to dress for the fall?

cool weather

– Last Updated: Oct-03-08 12:47 PM EST –

The least expensive option for protected water in cool weather is to dress like you would for a fall hike with occasional rain -- non-cotton insulating layers, with a light shell to keep splashes off. Any raingear -- preferably breatheable -- will work.

Be honest about your need for immersion protection. If you capsized would you be comfortable swimming to safety, or until you could rescue each other? Choosing routes(CLOSE to shore) and conditions that minimize your time to safety is a good idea as it gets colder.

It’s great to get out and enjoy the beautiful fall weather on the water. Go for it!

I agree with the above advice, but would add that most people grossly overestimate how far they can swim to reach shore in an emergency. It’s really not much of a safety plan, IMO. Make sure you have practiced rescues (more important for fall and spring paddling).

For fall paddles when I don’t plan to get wet, I dress for a fall hike, with a wetsuit underneath (when I do plan to get wet I wear a drytop). Safety first is the rule up here. You can get into trouble really fast when the water is cold.

(admittedly fall water temps for me are probably 15 degrees colder than they are for you)

Also, remember that in the spring, when the weather is similar to what you have now, the water will be much much colder, so don’t be lulled by the warm April sun, and slack on immersion wear in that season especially.


– Last Updated: Oct-03-08 1:02 PM EST –

You say you can't get spray skirts this fall. My interpretation of that statement is that you can't spend the money on spray skirts right now, which makes things tough because the clothing that most would recommend for cool-weather paddling isn't cheap either. One cheap option that you MIGHT be able to find is wool clothing from military-surplus stores or a catalog outlet like "The Sportsman's Guide" (I think that's what it's called). Some ex-Soviet armies still use wool clothing, and it's pretty cheap on the surplus market IF you can find it. You will still need either synthetic or wool long underwear to really take advantage of the warm-when-wet capability of wool (wearing cotton underneath wool defeats the purpose), but fortunately the price of low-quality polypropylene long johns has finally gotten pretty cheap. The absolute cheapest way to outfit yourself for this kind of weather is to use whatever warm clothes you have and wear a rain suit over the top, AND carry along a good dry bag for spare clothes to put on in case you get wet. With this miminal level of outfitting, you should always stay close enough to shore that getting out of the water and changing clothes can be done quickly.

Yay thrifts stores

Thanks for the advice. We have a lot of thrift stores in the area, so I think I could pick up random silk, wool, or synthetic bits, albeit maybe not the most fashiobale ones. Plus, we have a lot of that sort of thing in the house, just no official kayak clothes. Hubby has 20 yrs of military surplus in our basement, so I’ll bet there’s stuff in there, plus some newer army-issue under-armour. We will definitely keep close to shore. I hadn’t thought about the water temps - I just assumed they would be close to summer temps - but I have no reason to assume that.

water temps
You’re right. Water temps are fairly close to summer temps this time of year. Much closer than they will be in the spring. Again I don’t know about your area, but for comparison, up here we’ve dropped about 5 or 10 degrees by this time (to 55ish). When the weather is similarly warm in early may, the water temps will only be in the mid 40s! Just another reminder to dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.

Dress to swim
Realistically in cool weather your number one danger in kayaking is hypothermia. If you capsize into 50 degree water in wool clothing, you are not going to be able to function for more than about 10 minutes. Many people don’t last that long.

You can buy an inexpensive 3/2 full wetsuit for about $100, and a high quality paddling jacket with Neoprene neck and cuff and waiste band for about $80. That will give you cold water protection down to 50 F, and maybe a little lower if you think you can swim to shore quickly.

So watch the water temps. Below 60 F, you need a wet a 3/2 suit, below about 50 you need a 3/4 wetsuit or a drysuit.

The purpose of wool

– Last Updated: Oct-03-08 5:53 PM EST –

Nobody has suggested that wool will keep you warm while you are swimming. The reason I recommended military-surplus (cheap!) wool clothing is that the original poster wanted an affordable means of staying warm in spite of getting damp from splashes while in the boat. I also recommended having extra clothes in dry storage and staying near enough to shore that getting out and changing clothes within a short time frame would be do-able. There are probablly hundreds of canoers (and even kayakers!) who capsize every year during October and November in the north country wearing ordinary clothing and it's no real hardship for most of them, and in plenty of cases, changing clothes is a more reasonable option than using immersion gear (I'd never say this about whitewater or any other situation where the person might need to swim for a few minutes). The fact that "staying near shore" is never considered a reasonable safety precaution by a handful of serious kayakers no longer surprises me, but I don't mind pointing out that it's a method that actually works for most of us average-Joe paddlers who aren't on the ocean or crossing wide-open lakes. In fact, for a lot of us, staying near shore is an unavoidable practice because the rivers we paddle are not very big. So yeah, wetsuits and drysuits are great, but for someone who has the option of hopping onto shore and changing clothes if they tip, and is clearly short of cash right now, having extra clothes in dry storage is certainly a reasonable recommendation as long as they understand that they need to avoid situations where they might not be able to get out of the water immediately.

For what it's worth, I've heard of people wearing wool who've fallen through the ice up to their waist or chest and quickly got to shore and were soon quite comfortable in spite of remaining wet for a couple of hours. I myself have fallen through ice up to my knees and never bothered to change clothes or get dry afterward with no problems when the weather was about 15 degrees. It's hard to beat wool's ability to insulate when soaking wet.

My wife and I paddle in similar weather

– Last Updated: Oct-04-08 9:10 AM EST –

and we use nylon bathing suits with a short sleeve or long sleeve poly pro t shirt.
Over that we use light weight bicycle pants (dry suit pants are way too hot), and then a long sleeve light weight waterproof splash top over that.

When the air temperature starts to get down in the fifties and high forties, we substitute light weight, (or heavy weight depending on the temp) polar fleece long johns and same material for the tops for the bathing suits, and still use the same outer splash jackets and pants over them.
When the water temperature starts to get cold, we stop using our water shoes, and use water proof knee high mukluks.

I know you said you don't have spray skirts, but if you can possibly get some for the furure, it is amazing how much warmer they will keep the inside of your cockpit as well as keeping cold water from dripping in .


I was paddling on the Potomac …
… yesterday afternoon. Air temps in the low 70s, water temps in the low 60s. I have a spray skirt and wore a short-sleeve wicking t-shirt, shorts, and a short-sleeve paddling jacket (not dry-top). Practiced some assisted recoveries so was upside down in the water a few times. Water was chilly but not what I would call cold. The paddling jacket does let water in but it wasn’t too bad since I had the collar and cuffs snugged up relatively tightly - mostly I wore it to keep from getting chilled in the breeze after I was back upright. With no spray skirt you might want to consider splash pants to at least keep water off your legs so you won’t get chilled that way; also a long sleeve paddling jacket and a long-sleeve wicking layer might make sense for you if you get chilled more easily. And, don’t forget how much insulation a PFD provides whether you’re wet or dry!

If you do other outdoor activities like hiking you may already have waterprof and breathable jacket and pants. Some have cuffs, collars, etc. that you can snug up a little that could minimize water coming in in the event of a swim but if you’re mostly interested in just keeping splash off you they should be adequate along with wicking/insulating layers.

For me, once the water temps start getting into the upper 50s I start going to my wetsuit. I do chill more easily than many other people I paddle with.

Wind-blocking layer and white hair

– Last Updated: Oct-06-08 9:26 AM EST –

I've been warmed back from mild hypothermia in a soaking wet wool sleeping bag - woke up exhausted and uncomfortable but I still woke up. Hard to argue against the ability of wool to help when wet unless you try actually swimming in it. It gets heavy.

That said, you will tend to be unsheltered from the wind when on the water so no matter what is underneath, you need a wind blocking layer on top or the thermal value of the underlayers is lost.

I question hard and fast answers for someone sight unseen. I know that I chill a heck of a lot more easily at 57 than I did at 37, and much of the advice that works for someone younger or even guys who are my age is way off the mark for me. I'd regularly be freezing my tail off if I dressed the same as many others in our little paddling network.

My advice would be to keep sticking your head and body in the water as the temps drop, like even bring a spare layer just to use to wade in before the paddle starts. When you can't make yourself do it any more because of the chill, you need better paddling clothing.

wet suit
Costco and Wal-Mart sell them.

If you are paddling in waist high duck ponds don’t worry about it.

Derric Hutchinson talks about wearing hiking clothes on a paddle. Derric Hutchinson can roll and get back into a boat in seconds, he has spent a long life practicing.

I have had to deal with hypothermia twice this year so far. Both had “thermal protection” both faired badly with a capsize.

$50.00 for a wet suit is money well spent, sometimes they turn up at thrift stores for $10.00.

I wear a dry suit almost all year; the exception is when I am on a small pond showing friends basic paddling in warm water.

I am disappointed in some of the responses. Cold water rips heat out of you using instant conductivity to the temperature of the lake (wool and windbreakers slow this down a little but not enough.)

Cold water issues mess up practiced skills.


http://www.kayakers.nf.ca/photoofmonth/photoofmonthwinnerapril07.htm It is me just behind the seal.

Extending your season is rewarding, but a shorty wet suit is likely the minimum I would paddle in and don’t wear cotton.


Two Good Points
Yeah, everyone has a different tolerance for cold temperatures. I’m one of those who just CAN’T keep hands and feet warm as well as most people, and I’ve been that way since I was a little kid. For example, I have yet to find a paddling glove that will keep my hands warm once it gets cold. I’ve tried several different kinds, and they don’t work for me no matter how much some folks here rave about how good they are. What DOES work for me is lightweight wool gloves inside nylon windshell mitts. I was so glad I brought them on a cold, rainy-day group trip a few years ago when I was actually counting on my brand-new super-thick neoprene gloves. The fancy paddling gloves let my hands become painfully numb in about 20 minutes. I switched to the wool gloves with the windshell mitts over the top, and even though they instantly became soaked right through from rain, my hands warmed quickly and remained warm for the rest of that cold, rainy day. And the effectiveness of those windshell mitts in combination with a decent insulation layer is related to your other good point, about wearing wind-proof clothing. Unless I’m wearing a drysuit, I always pack a rainsuit, but in cool weather it gets used much more often for a wind-blocker than for rain. As a wind-blocker, it is easily the most important piece of clothing I have.

Sprayskirt caution
Unless you are talking nylon sprayskirts on a plastic boat, which tend to pull off the coaming if anything too easily, I’d not get pushed into sprayskirts to solve your cold weather paddling issues right now. Obviously you haven’t practiced wet exits with them. We’ve had people show up in a local paddling group with their brand shiny new neoprene deck sprayskirt on even an RM boat, because someone said they should use them. Then they darned near drowned because they had never practiced with it, and didn’t realize that would have been a good idea until after they had capsized in real water.

Add cold water to that mix and it gets bad fast.

Frankly, if you aren’t protected enough from the temps that that you can’t take it without a sprayskirt, you are probably dressed way too lightly for the possible capsize and immersion.

Winter is a great time to hunt up sessions in indoor pools where you can get your skills down and get ready for a really active and successful spring season. It may be worth looking that way for economic reasons as well - one of the other values of pool time is that you can talk to other paddlers and get some good advice on what is best for your climate and how to find it on sale.

New to kayaking…
.and learning as I go along. I live in the NorthWet, wehre we don’t get overly cold (40’s in the winter) and so I am hoping to paddle all season. I have a collection of non-cotton bicycling clothes, and have been able to buy some Kayak specific clothing; Splash top (Kokatat Gore-Tex), neoprene socks to go with Keen water-shoes and I just ordered a NRS Farmer John 3-2 wet-suit (long story, but I had a bunch of credit at REI I “needed” to spend). I also have both a leaky nylon spray skirt and just got a neoprene skirt.

So my silly question is; is it “ok” to wear a long sleeve base layer top under the Farmer John and nylon pants over as the temps drop? Second silly question, do you wear anything under the Farmer John?


3/2 Farmer John?

– Last Updated: Oct-07-08 6:44 PM EST –

A Farmer John is a sleevless wetsuit. The 3/2 designation means 3 mm thickness in the body and 2 mm thickness in the arms. What you probably have is a 3 mm farmer john. You can wear a long sleeved nylon rash guard under your farmer john. In wet suits it's common to wear nothing underneath. In the coldest weather I wear some Oneil neoprene shorts under my wetsuit. The NRS wetsuits zip down the front, not wearing underwear of any kind is painful and I would suggest wearing a nylon speedo or form fitting swimsuit or polypropylene underwear. You can wear nylon top or bottom over the wet suit. For added warmth you could get a 2 or 3 mm top to wear over the farmer john and/or semi dry top and extend the range of cooler water and air temps you can stand.

Now the bad news. With a 3 mm farmer john you are only going to be safe in paddling in water down to about 55 F maybe bit lower. Ocean temps in the Northwest drop into the 40s in the northwest in the winter so this probably is not going to cut paddling on open water, you probably want a dry suit or a more substantial wetsuit if you are going to be paddling on colder water. I have no clue what lake temperatures will be where you are but I believe fairly cold.

Oops I just noted you are in a Canoe, well if you stay close to shore, and you are only paddling lakes at low altitude you may be OK.


– Last Updated: Oct-08-08 10:04 AM EST –

As above, there are a variety of sources. Things to keep in mind with wetsuits - you still need a wind blocking layer. They only work in the water, a wet wetsuit in the air is of no use. Many (like me) find that you really want a thin layer of something underneath because otherwise areas that sweat get rashy. Rashguard from NRS or alternative light silk layers work for many.
They need to fit tight - a loose wetsuit is also no particular use because it won't hold a thin layer of warmed water against the body.

For paddling if it's a basic wetsuit, many people prefer paddling wetsuits like those from NRS (look at the pics at nrsweb.com) that are open on the arms and upper chest because that's where you need freedom of movement. That said, as you get into higher quality wetsuits that are more techincally designed than the basic NRS hydroskin job, you may find that some are quite comfy even with full coverage. These are great suits and, for many paddlers, probably the equal of a drysuit with a splash jacket added. They also are pricier though - more than basic wetsuits and less than most drysuits.

One comment of "arctic" drysuits - due to an ostomy I wear mine nearly year round to stay dry. In warmer weather I just put jogging clothes under it is all (and I can roll to cool off). You could just hop over to shore and stand int he water to cool off. So they aren't just for really cold days, they just wear out faster if you use them like me. Even in a canoe, they might eventually be the way for you to go for more of the year than you are thinking of now.

Also, gloves - try a scuba shop for their diving dry gloves. They are no more expensive than the really cold weather paddling gloves and as warm or warmer. They also can be gotten on and off without the aid of a second person or surgical instruments, like Nordic Blues.

Under wetsuit
I wear a pair of lycra shorts and a light long-sleeved top under my wetsuits. With a brief-style swimsuit I ended up with seams and edges in uncomfortable places.