Transition from Cold Weather Gear

Salt water freezes at ~28 degrees…

– Last Updated: Mar-24-10 9:27 AM EST –

...depending on salinity. I've been in water that cold and even in a dry suit and a 7mm neoprene hood, it's not a lot of fun. It's quite painful on any exposed skin, but it was even worse for us that day as the air temp was only 20 degrees with a 10-15 knot wind. The only thing worse than rolling (intentionally) into that water was rolling back up into the frigid wind!

One of our group managed to stay in the water for 19 minutes, but finally got out because his feet were excruciatingly painful.

Anyway, I absolutely agree with others here that the "rules of thumb" are useless. It's hard to appreciate the effects of cold water until you've spent some time in it, which is why the best test for any clothing system is to wade into the water you plan to paddle in. If you can't handle that, your clothing is inadequate.

No, I was thinking ahead
My little episode was during wet exit and re-entry practice on a warm day near shore.

It was still enough to convince me to switch to a drysuit.

Neoprene is fine
just have a windbreaker shell with you in case the clouds and wind start to shill you.

If you are really pushing, you might go with a 2mm or 3mm shorty john. You still keep your core warm, but your legs are not fully covered.


Lumber River Swim, 3/18 & 20
I took an unplanned swim in the Lumber on 3/18. I was goofing around and over aggresive with a cross stroke while leaning the boat to the gunwale. Had on nylon gear under paddling jacket. Another canoeist helped me drain the boat and climb back in. Afterwards, I thought that the water wasn’t too bad (cold).

So, after a hot day paddling on the 20th, took the voluntary swim to knock the sweat off. It wasn’t like I wanted to float on my back and read a book, but I swam around a little and shouted “come in, the water’s great” to the other guys. Perhaps there was a shiver in my voice, because they were unconvinced.

I’m no polar bear. You should be good to go in your Piedmont rivers with little to no cold water gear, depending on your preference. If you are by yourself, you probably should be conservative, but otherwise, you should be okay.


Switch to dry suit
I don’t know what type of drytop you are using, but it does not sound quite right for strenuous paddling. Goretex or the equivilent is what you need, something that will release your body heat but not ever get steamy inside.

I reduce my thermal underwear first, reduce the water-proof outer layer last.

Since I tend to paddle strenuously, and I do not want to die, I always wear a drysuit if the water is in the 50s, even above that in challenging conditions. I burp it completely, zero air inside, so the Goretex will work releasing my body heat. I have worn as little as nothing underneath the dry suit. Wet is cold. No insulation is not fool proof, there are tradeoffs.

cold water
Where we live our water temp is mostly around 45 to 50 degrees. We do paddle in the winter with a drysuit on but most of the times we just use hydro skins on the bottoms and a rash guard on top with a light fleece on. If it is windy and a nip in the air we will wear a paddle jacket.

I know it isn’t right with the rules but our frame of mind is that we know what we are getting into and also know that if we aren’t in our boat with-in 10 minutes we are dead. Frame of mind and being aware of whats out there is essential

In steps
I don’t paddle far from shore,but this works for me.I start with a full drysuit,as the water warms I transition to shorty wet suit(only if i’m not camping) then military wool top and bottom and hat,a full coverage warm PFD.I gradualy loose the hot pfd(for a cooler one),wool pants,and last the wool top. It’s hard to dress for the water temp when it’s 60dig.,but you must.Slowing the pace will keep you cooler.A full dry change of clothes is always with me.