Puttin together a Dry bag for cold water

Hey all,

With spring around the corner im getting the paddling bug! Ill be on the water in my canoe as soon as the ice clears. Im not equipped for cold water paddling and am going to get the necessary gear with my tax return in the next month or 2.

Ive been reading all the cold water immersion threads all winter and have a pretty good idea of what I should have ideally. However, Im probably not going to spend the big bucks for a dry suit, and doubt Ill wear a wet suit. Im aware that I should have one of those, but like I said, I doubt it will happen.

To mitigate some of the risk, I would stay in “relatively” low risk waters (local lakes, near shore, less than 6 feet of water or small rivers not more than 40 feet wide, but staying near shore. In both situations there are lots of houses nearby if stuff really went south). I know there is no such thing as low risk paddling in cold water though. I understand the risks well and will go out expecting to flip unexpectedly…thus, I ask: What should I put in my cold water dry bag

Ill be wearing:

Fleece/wool shirt

Water resistant jacket

Fleece/wool pants

water resistant pants

possibly neoprene shoes/boots

warm hat

Good PFD worn at all times

In the (big) dry bag:

Fleece/wool pants

Fleece/wool shirt

light wind breaker style jacket

extra hat

lighter and wax fire starter

small wool/fleece blanket or mylar thermal blanket

small towel?

hand warmers?

Candy bar?

In the boat and or car:

Thermos with hot tea or water?

I remember others chiming in with their cold water dry bag list in the past but I cant find the thread Im thinking of. Did I forget anything?

I wouldnt be going out in any questionable conditions. So assume calm wind, warm (for spring) days.

(also, Im not trying to start the usual flame war associated with cold water threads. We all know its dangerous and a good way to die if you’re unprepared. Im just wondering if I covered (most) of my bases).

I like your precautions
I’d add a couple more lighters and methods to make fire. And some method to cut wood. When I was in your boat I also packed a small “pocket rocket” type stove. I’d keep the thermos with warm fluids in the boat. I also had a good space blanket. Also watch your time of day. Leave plenty of margin for mishpap. And bring a good flashlight just in case.

pretty good list
make sure you carry plenty of water to drink in the boat. People underestimate the amount of liquids you lose in cold weather. Keep snack bars handy, you are burning calories fast. Chemical heaters work great if its really cold.

I like your list
I think you’re carrying the right stuff. Maybe throw a small pack towel in your bag. Thermos with hot liquid is important.

I paddle alone in winter as a volunteer monitoring an eagle nest at a local reservoir. The approach I take is what you describe when you say you’ll paddle near shore in good weather – I think of it as reducing risk and increasing my margin of safety. So if it’s riskier to go alone, then what can I do to offset the risk? I do wear a drysuit – now – but I didn’t always have one. I stay near shore. I wait for good weather, especially little to no wind. I go only if I’m feeling rested and well. I carry a phone in a small case that will stay dry even after immersion. I use a kayak that I feel confident in in wind and waves.

And I let someone know where I’m going and shen to expect me back. If I get to the launch site and don’t like what I see, then I turn around and go home.

So, yeah, in your situation, I’d go paddling too. I’d just do all I could to identify and mitigate the risks – and not to hesitate to abort the mission if things didn’t look right.

I like
Ah, I usually bring my phone even in warm weather but Ill be sure to bring it while its cool.

Ill add a Pelican Case with my cell phone to the must have list.

good list
I would add gloves and socks.

Good list - to add
Extra batteries for anything electronic, the spare battery back for anything like a VHF radio. Colder temps do a job on battery life.

Did I see an emergency bivy in there? I forget - nice to have if you really need to huddle down somewhere.

More food, More Thermos

– Last Updated: Jan-23-13 11:56 AM EST –

Nice start - you're brainstorming, thinking ahead.
My suggestion, go paddle, stay dry, AND spend
a good deal of time - just sittin' down AS you
might after getting soaked due to a mishap.

Carry something large to change upon - space blanket, etc.
Banks are snow covered, icy, wet, muddy, full of reeds.
Laying "something" underneath while changing, helps.

Attempt to actually completely change clothes,
strip all the way down, feel the cold wind,
and re-dress in what you brought for back-up.

You'll quickly begin to understand what you
brought, how you packed it, what you might need,
want, desire - and didn't bring.

Extra pairs of dry socks are godlike.
They also work as extra mittens in crisis.
Extra dry hats and gloves. Triplicates if solo.
Dunk-1st set wet. Recovery-2nd set wet gathering/ sweating.

Then comes body fuel - food = warmth = metabolic rate
Hot liquids help immensely and thermoses (plural) help.
Fires take LOTS of time and work; in the cold.
Boiling water takes a pot, melting snow takes a pot.
I'm a big fan of solid fuel Esbit Stoves in Emergencies.
A small metal cup, hot water, dried soup, tea.

All this involves sitting/kneeling down - on something.
Then I usually want 2 of them, one to sit upon,
and one to wrap myself, or stop wind.

I hate cheap mylar stuff. It's noisy, it rips, its small.
Prefer stuff with grommets, build wind block, etc.
String, cordage, dental floss, extra shoe laces, etc.

Another fire starter?
I think you are thinking about the right stuff, and I think many of the ideas that came up are good additions to your list. One thing that occurs to me is that manual dexterity can go away in a hurry, AND fire-starting material may not be too good (picking and breaking little twigs would be no fun when cold and in a hurry either). In that situation, a big road flare, one that lasts 15 or 20 minutes, might be the perfect fire-starting aid.

I would add:
high calorie food (bars of some sort)

warm socks and footwear

warm gloves

hand/foot/body heating packs

for your thermos I’d make it a high calorie drink like hot chocolate.

nrs mystery hood
These things are awesome. windproof warm when wet. I mostly use if for winter rolling and surfing but I carry that an a pair of neoprene glacier gloves all the time kayaking.


I Agree
Good list and since I can spring for a drysuit and lost my wetsuit on some godforsaken river in ME a few years back I resort to packing like you have listed. I opt for fleece over wool though for weight reasons. I typically carry at least two lighters with me and in the recent past I my GF brought home some road side flares which I ended up using for firestarters, they are absolutely bomb proof and will get a pile of wet wood going when you need it most. I try to pack one for most trips mow. Just food for thought. BTW we try to go out as much as possible even in snow and ice, nothing like dodging ice floes or even riding them for a while!


Butane lighters often fail

– Last Updated: Jan-23-13 5:06 PM EST –

If it's cold outside, butane stays liquid, no gas.
When no fumes, no ignition, lighter fails.
Redunancy saves lives, multiple back-ups help.

I own and use - Spark Lite along with BlastMatch
- http://bepreparedtosurvive.com/History%20of%20the%20Spark-Lite%20Firestarter.htm
- http://www.ultimatesurvival.com/ust_website/root/blastmatch.html

Learn about CharCloth - make your own

I still like my Esbit Stove, got me out of many a jam.

Keep it together!
Good list for starters, and others have already given you some more good ideas.

I mainly paddle sea kayaks, usually on cold waters, but you may get some ideas from this P.net article:


One thing you’ll want to consider is how you’ll keep the bag with you as you spill. I have finally adopted the old Coast Guard axiom, “If you don’t have it ON you, you won’t have it WITH you”, and I now carry my emergency stuff in a small backpack.



Keeping the bag with him - no problem

– Last Updated: Jan-23-13 6:22 PM EST –

He won't be paddling in places where getting separated from your gear and/or boat is the result of a spill. Since he put that qualification up front, I'd say he's got it covered. You are right that people paddling in more extreme conditions can get separated from their stuff. Still, I can't imagine how anyone could put all the stuff in this emergency kit in a back pack, and wear it, while paddling.

perhaps a pocket knife
or some other kind of folding knife would be useful. Ibuprofen is the total extent of my first aid kit.

Not too worried

– Last Updated: Jan-23-13 8:50 PM EST –

Ya, I dont do much paddling in strong currents. Especially not early or late in the year. Im sure Ill catch that bug in the next year or 2.

My standard practice is to bungee my gear to my boat so that if I do flip its all together. Ive laughed at people's stories of running after their stuff down the river bank. Hopefully that won’t be me. Certainly not in cold water.

Also, that emergency stove and rescue blanket are awesome. Ill definitely order a couple of each.

Looks good for moderate temps
in the 30s & 40s. I would want more core insulation in the 20s & colder. A couple of things that I would add to what the others have suggested: wooden matches in a waterproof container - Lighters don’t always work well starting a fire. They are sometimes more useful getting the match lit. Also, you are likely going to put those nice dry socks you just put on into wet boots. A trick that I learned from someone else is to carry bread bags with you. Dump the crumbs out when you finish a loaf and save the bag in your paddling gear. I’ll usually have 6 or more along just in case. I need to remember to save a few as my stash is getting low. I’ve handed a few out lately.

I’d stick
with wool and skip the fleece. Also, I’d carry a PLB. Stick very close to shore. Leave the solo cold water stuff for a time when your paddling and survival skills both are well honed from actual experience - not just from reading.

I carry a folded sheet of Tyvek (about 6x8’) house wrap in the bottom of the bag, and several pieces of thin line - being able to rig a windbreak or rain shelter when wet and in the wind is a Very Good Thing…

Very solid advice here - but me, I just don’t do cold water without a drysuit…used to, but no more…