Paddling gear for colder weather

My husband and I have had our kayaks about a year now and we’ve discovered how much we enjoy paddling our local river this summer. We’d like to continue paddling during the winter months - it’s a relatively mild winter down here in Atlanta, so that should be do-able.

I am starting to look at gear to keep me dry and warm during any winter paddles we plan on taking and I am confused about the differences between “Splash” gear and “Dry” gear. Which should I choose and what are the differences?

Any advice on brands or features to look out for?

Thanks -


Splash v. Dry

– Last Updated: Jul-31-06 4:33 PM EST –

Once in a while things really are simple, but these days that's unexpected.

Splashwear is designed to keep you dry should you splash water on yourself from normal paddling. That is, keep water from getting onto your torso as it splashes off the paddle. And some splashwwear has a latex wrist gasket to keep your arm dry should you dip into the water past your wrist. Splashwear will leave you soggy and cold in the case of a capsize and swim or roll, because at least the neck and waist of the top and the waist and ankles of the pants will let water in.

Drywear is intended to keep you dry under most/all conditions, so it comes with latex gaskets or an equivalent (like Stohquist's BodyPod full suit) at the wrists and at the neck, and the legs will end in either another latex gasket around the ankles or something like Goretex booties that go under your paddling shoes.

There are truly dry and semi-dry in the "dry" category, and some out there have found that they can make some of the semi-dry stuff be quite water-proof for them. It varies. Any two piece system of drywear, pants and top, has to be mated at the waist and there are varying experiences out there as to how well that seals. Mine haven't been positive there but others have found these to work. There is also the Kokatat SuperNova, a semi-dry suit because while it is waterproof up to the neck, the neck has a neoprene closure that isn't guaranteed to keep out water. I find that I get water trickling down my neck no matter how I seal the thing after a couple of rolls, but another guy locally has found his to be very watertight. We have posited that my skinny neck is the issue.

Better drywear and splashwear will be made of breathable materials - and it is VERY much worth getting this. The stuff with a lifetime warranty is great too - most of the manufacturers out there will really replace the garment if it delaminates.

A good time to hit the sales for this stuff in Novemeber or so, when prior year models are often around, in online sources.

As to recommendations - for winter paddling it is safest to go dry, even down by you. And with that you can just put your regular winter fleece or whatever under it for warmth. Get the booties - hauling latex gaskets over ankles is not fun. If you can spring for a good dry suit, you'll find you love it more than you do your boat, your car...
If starting less aggressively, I can say that the SuperNova Tropos Semi-Dry suit by Kokatat is a pretty good deal when you compare it to the cost of getting all the separates. No lifetime warranty on the material, but I often use this suit in the winter when it'll be a jaunt on some very limited open water with friends and it's too darned cold to roll anyway. I just carry spare clothes in case something does cause dampness.

Good answer by Celia above.
For winter/spring and fall paddling here i use a goretex or part goretex dry suit with various layers of polypropolene and fleece. On the feet, woolen sox and some sort of bootie. On the head a neoprene coverring. In late spring and early summer i then go into lighter gear with a nylon dry top and a wet suit with some sort of poly top. I use the splash jacket only if i am lake paddling and do not expect to get submerged. If you can afford it, i recommend goretex. Some people like their dry suit to include booties, me i don’t. Have fun.

Not sure of your water temps
Neoprene may be adequate and it is much less expensive than dry gear. Check out the Chillcheaters from Reed

I have been using a non breathable drysuit or drybibs and either a semi or dry top for winter in Tahoe. For air temps below freezing, dry is the way to go. This is what my drytop looked like afte a paddle on Tahoe last winter I was very comfortable and was rolling to keep the ice from building too much

Other options
I’m in Western Australia at about the same latitude as Atlanta so conditions are probably similar. AFAIK no one here uses a full drysuit and only some whitewater paddlers use dry tops. All the dry tops I’ve used seem to get some water in them after a few rolls so don’t count on them being 100% dry. Semi dry tops are cheaper but will let in even more water. Wetsuits are uncomfortable to paddle in and you get wet and cold when you initially get wet but will keep you warm in the water. Fuzzy rubber is more comfortable than a wetsuit and warmer out of the water but not as warm when swimming.

Some factors to consider are how likely you are to end up in the water, how long you will be in the water for, the water temperature, the air temperature, your tolerance to cold and how long until you can get warm and dry. It’s very much a personal thing and some paddlers here race in whitewater during winter while only wearing Lycra. If you are paddling flat water, don’t normally swim, are close to shore or can self rescue quickly and are paddling in a location where you can soon get dry and warm then splash gear with appropriate thermals would probably be enough. Asking some of the other paddlers in your area what they wear should also point you in the right direction.

dry suit for sale, cheap
Throwing this out for everyone. I have nothing to do with the sale. Might be worth looking into.

“Colder” Is Relative…

– Last Updated: Aug-01-06 6:14 AM EST –

To your tolerance and what you have adapted to. Being in the Northeast, I don't think I have ever read bouy readings down there that I would consider "cold" compared to what we get up here.

You safety factor for immersion gear has to take in consideration the combination of your tolerance, skills and equipment.

Anyway, here is a good link to read up on immersion gear:


Neoprene - Comment
The source Sing cited is great.

While you have a much warmer winter than us here in the northeast, you are also accustomed to those temps. So I would figure that cold which would have some of us from the north running around in Tshirts has you in a long sleeve turtleneck, similar for reaction to the water temps. I am not the hardiest of the lot up here and my inaugural spring rolls tend to happen with water in the low to mid-40’s, which would be way to early for most down your way.

Just a comment on neoprene - in terms of prtecting you from getting very chilled from the wind, all neoprene type garments are not created equal. Some of the higher end stuff, maybe the Chillcheaters but I haven’t checked, have lining or an outer surface that’ll block wind. But the basic Farmer John type wetsuit from say NRS doesn’t, and I have experienced the very early stages of hypothermia when air temps were in the 60’s and the wind was blowing hard wearing just a wet Farmer Jane wetsuit. I was getting my boat out of the water after some practice rolling/swimming (it was early on), and the combo of wet neoprene and wind made me instantly very cold.

I’d have likely been OK if I was dry, but you need to be prepared for the risk of a capsize. And you need something that will be an effective wind barrier to be fully ready for that, even if it’s just a basic windbreaker or a special layer in the wetwear.

A comment about our paddling…
Thank you for all of the responses! I really do appreciate everyone sharing their knowledge & experiences.

I wanted to chime in with some more details about what water(s) we will be paddling and our kayaking skill levels are with hopes that this will clarify my question a bit…

My husband and I are mostly flat-water paddlers. We do some sea kayaking, but mainly in the warmer times of the year and only on trips out to the coast. We have been kayaking on a mostly flatwater river with little chance of capsizing. We do not know how to roll - we do know how to perform self and buddy rescues and we are usually paddling with a group of people. I also plan on having a dry change of clothes for each of us on board if we do find ourselves in wet clothes and need to change to avoid hypothermia.

I am thinking that at this point, splash gear may be what I start out with and see if that will suffice. I do have good long underwear (wool, not cotton!) and I plan on buying pants and booties to wear as well.

I thought the dry vs. splash gear was much more straight forward than it seems to be. It sounds like the manufacturers pretty much call it what they want to in some cases and then adjust the price accordingly.

Thanks again!


splash vs dry gear
Dry gear is great for many conditions, but for protected, flatwater paddling, it may be more than you need. I paddled many autumns and early spring in Wisconsin with fleece plus breathable splash jackets, but only in places where the chance of capsizing was very slim. (In Lake SUperior, I wear a wetsuit in the summer, and if I went out in the fall or early spring, I’d get a dry suit.) Dry tops are claustrophobic to pull on or off, and while they’re great for rolling and diving, for what you’re thinking about, they’re probably not the right thing.

Goretex is great–I had a breathable non-goretex splash jacket which didn’t breathe very much and leaked like mad when I rolled. I gave it away and bought a kokatat paclite goretex splash jacket. It’s super comfortable and breathable, and when I want to roll in cold water, I can pull the neoprene very tight so it really doesn’t leak. This certainly wouldn’t be enough for winter paddling up in WI, but for Atlanta area lakes, it might work out very well. The Kokatat goretex paddle jacket is now on sale at nrs for $99

which is a great deal–I paid full price for it, and it’s worth the full price.