What to wear in cold weather?

I just read the article on the home page this morning about the type of clothing one should wear outdoors in cold weather and then the author makes several suggestions. However, I’d be spending close to $500 just for myself if I bought the clothing he recommends. I’d like to hear what “normal” working class people wear when canoeing during the cold winter months.

Iffin’ yer spend as much time…
“in” de winter water as ah’ does (voloonterooly) - a drysuit be de only way ta go. Big bucks (lucky me, ah’ gets dem on a “Pro Deal” price) - sure but why risk a heart attack. Hypothermia is a secondary concern fer dis here polecat. Stohlquist bunny suit, Glacier Gloves an’ Chota Mukluks round out me fashoonable ensoomball. Now if Tilley wood make a dryhat, ah’d be playing submarine races wit Miss Crabtree.


I’m pretty normal in some respects,…

– Last Updated: Nov-17-08 2:05 PM EST –

...and if I want to paddle where there's a risk of flipping, I wear a drysuit. If I want to paddle where there's really no particular risk of flipping, but flipping would mean a long swim (in other words probably fatal if the water is cold), I wear a dry suit. If I'm in mostly shallow water or mostly near shore, I might wear a dry suit because I have it, or I might just wear polypro longjohns and wool pants and shirt, with a regular windshell jacket and pants over the top, which is clothing I would already have for hiking in the winter.

Even without the dry suit, good outdoor clothing is expensive. The wool clothing is something I've accumulated piece by piece over many years and I don't have much, so I don't usually think too much about the cost. My first drysuit was military surplus and cost $200, but it was losing the inside tape over the seams and had a zipper across the chest running nearly from one elbow to the other, designed for super-quick entry seconds before the helicopter takes flight, not for paddling or rowing comfort. I finally bit the bullet and got a paddling drysuit because I'd rather be a few hundred dollars poorer than dead and the ziper on the old suit was destroying my long-john shirts and abrading the skin on my arms. If I couldn't affort a dry suit, I'd stay away from situations where a capsize would have severe consequences, and for me, that WOULD be an acceptable compromise.

One other thought: Outdoor clothing isn't cheap, but nearly everyone spends money on SOMETHING that's purely for fun. I figure that since I don't play golf and pay greens fees, I can use the money I save for outdoor clothing and have some left over!

Mink is in this year.

– Last Updated: Nov-17-08 1:19 PM EST –

Serious answer, what and where are you paddling? If you are paddling a stable boat, maybe like a rec yak or a SOT, and you stay close to shore, in little sheltered coves and such, then just bundling up with noncotton fabrics, a good layering system like you would for hiking, along with a dry bag for a towel and a dry set of clothes, may suit you fine.

In the summer, I am out on the Gulf, or paddling all the way across the bay (at my house on Galveston Island) in my tippy surfski, but when the water is cold, most of the time I don't venture beyond little coves that are about 3 feet deep in my very stable SOT so even though I have a drysuit, I rarely wear it.

He’s from Texas. What’d’ya expect.

– Last Updated: Nov-17-08 11:02 PM EST –

Okay, I posted that title before Reefmonkey added any text to his post. I'm sure he knows I meant no harm, but there ya go!

“Normal” people

– Last Updated: Nov-17-08 2:03 PM EST –

Who paddle in really cold stuff put out the bucks to be safely warm, at least after the first time they capsize. Winter paddling is a pricey sport in terms of clothing unless you live way south, and for that reason many people hang up the boats and move to other activities for the cold months. Other damn fools (like us) just keep going with a good bit more than $500 on our backs, head, hands and feet.

Late fall, not winter
I paddle with my 33mm farmer john + a few layers. I’ve got probably $250-$350-ish into my ensemble.

I used it as recently as this past weekend, but we had exceptionally warm weather. AND- if it gets much colder, I’m going to soon hang up the paddle.

Normal may be stretching it,
but in Michigan I mostly leave the canoe in the garage, play with my maps and daydream about spring.

Once in a while I might go out and then it’s with 2 pair of polypro long johns, full-zip skiing windpants over those. On top, polypro long-sleeved T, fleece vest, and then sweater, storm parka over those. I find a fleece neck gaiter VERY helpful! (And cheap!) And a wool hat.

I take a dry bag with towel and extra fleece layer and hat – and I stay on shallow calm water I could quickly get myself out of.

Once hypothermed, thrice shy.

Wow! 33mm wetsuit! :wink:
Surprised you can even MOVE in that thick of a wetsuit, let alone paddle in it! SNORF!

I know, I know. You meant 3 mm not 33mm. I’m just funnin’ with ya!

Mark, I gotta be honest here…
Asking that question on here will not get you a simple answer. The answer you get will be similar to asking people what they pack in their car during the winter- Here’s what you might get will say:

Heater, extra set of snow tires, chains, salt, hay, headlamp, BBQ Grill, 17 blankets, 4 par of snow shoes, road flares, Duct Tape, compass, GPS, weather radio, shovel, map, guide to hitch-hiking…and on and on…

There really are a bunch of safe people out here and they are just trying to keep people prepared for worst case senario’s. However, my answer to your question is this… I’m 31 and been paddling in the dead of the winter since I was 10 and still alive and kicking)

Thermal wool pants and shirt- $35

Waterproof Adidas Pants- $15

Wool front-zipping jacket- $15

North Face Coat- $100 (this is for all winter activity, not just kayaking)

Stocking Cap $5

Mukluks- $65

Minus the winter coat- $135 and snug as a bug in rug!!

I think it is all what you feel comfortable with- I’m OK knowing if a flip I very well might get wet and cold and die…

But more than likely what will happen is I will get wet and cold and well… wet and cold-

Paddle on even if there is ice on the paddle!!!

I misread your title/subject
I thought, “yeah- 3mm.” And then read your message and thought… “ohhh… haha.” Well, you know. It’s not a wet suit unless it’s over an inch thick.

And, for the record - my 3mm wet suit worked just fine testing out that ski.

wet suit
The water here is now 58 degrees so it is wetsuit time. For scuba diving and a long time in the water I wear a thick wetsuit with a hood. My thin wetsuit is enough for a quick swim to shore. But my wife and I remember that in 7 years of paddling flatwater neither one of us hs ever capsized. But like anything a lot depends upon location and conditions. If you cross large bodies of water when there is a lot of wind and whitecaps you might want a drysuit. But for paddling around close to shore with a reasonble distance from shore and warmth… Hypothermia is real and will really kill you . But you don’t die instantly even when the water is 50 degrees. Dry clothes in a dry bag along with a towel and a lack of modesty in getting the wet stuff off and dry stuff on counts for a lot.

Hey mark,
I am not sure where you are from and how cold it gets where you will be paddling, but for what it is worth.

I live in the mountains of North Carolina and paddle in a lake where the day time temperature is usually in the 40’s.

My wife and I dress in layers.

We will wear light weight poly pro long johns and same material long sleeve T’s, (real cheap at Walmart) with a pair of water proof, breathable light weight biking pants over them and a light weight water proof, breathable splash jacket over the top.

If it is real cold and windy we will wear some polar fleece between the under garments and the outer wear.

We use water proof knee high insulated NRS boundary shoes with smart wool socks on our feet.

You can spend big bucks for the above, or find a lot of “or equals” in Wally World.

Just what ever you do, don’t wear anything out of cotton. If it gets wet, it will stay wet, and you will end up freezing very fast.

If your way up north, forget about paddling until ice out, and snuggle up to a warm fire until spring.





How much risk?
I don’t typically get into these debates but I just went through this choice too. Bottom line is how much risk are you taking and willing to take?

What happens if you go swimming? That is the real issue. It can kill you. I looked at a lot of things. I am paddling a pretty stable boat and odds are I am not going to flip it. I would be more cautious in the winter because of the temps but the what if’s bother me. I would have to change my style of paddling. Some of my favorite places to paddle are along bluffs so there is no getting out to change clothes.

I looked the knee high neoprene boots. $75-$125. Did nothing expect keep my feet dry getting in to the boat.

I looked at wet suits. $200 more or less. Annoying to put on and off. I hate getting out of wet suit when it is cold. Still need booties or some kind of footwear.

I finally decided a dry suit was the best and most comfortable option. It wasn’t that much more than a wet suit but it was a BIG purchase for me. I could wear less expensive warm clothes under it. I decided to watch for a used one, maybe one that had damaged seals. I couldn’t pay $500+ as I pay cash, I don’t do payments. I don’t make a lot of money either.

I searched the web almost daily for a deal when I found a very good price on a new Kokotat semi-dry suit. Under $350 so I jumped on it. Not cheap but it could save my life. I don’t worry about getting dumped and it should last for many years.

be safe , don’t take chances …
… with cold water, dress for it or stay out .

I stay out when water gets down to mid 40’s , paddling time gets less and less from low 50’s on down to mid 40’s …

Why ??

I don’t own the proper and safe Drysuit gear yet .

Someone here gave me this link so I keep it … here it is again for you .


nothing new in what’s said in that link , but just giving it a quick read helps reinforce “why” you don’t want to take chances with cold water immersion .

just because it says 30-60 minutes to reach exhuastion or unconsciousness at 40*-50* water temps.,

doesn’t mean that you are going to survive if you get out in say 15-20 mins. … chances are you will be in a medical emergency situation long before reaching the max time limits given …

Hypothermia is a killer in progress well before your final breath … be safe and don’t gamble with the time and temp. predictions … you are just as likely to lose as to win …

Really depends on the water temps
and the conditions you would be in.

A wetsuit with layering is enough to keep you warm in some areas and much less effective in some The colder climates. If you are on big water where a long swim is more likely, you need better protections than someone fishing a 50 foot wide creek with easy access banks.

Find people in your area and loook around at your local retailers (even wally world) for good deals on the right types of layering clothes.


Mark, I presume …
you’re in WI, so outer layer is drysuit. See the gloves thread for ideas of hand protection. Mukluks or equivalent are nice for the feet, but with a drysuit with socks you could wear most any footwear to protect the socks. Usually a fuzzy rubber or neo hood works well for the head. Inside would be layers of wool or fleece, maybe with a base wicking layer.

I would also suggest you paddle with friends who are equally equipped with above items and experienced in cold water paddling. Find a club in your area and don’t be bashful about asking questions.

Or, find a nearby pool with kayaking classes and skill building sessions.

Be safe.


Drysuit - best investment

– Last Updated: Nov-18-08 5:17 AM EST –

in paddle gear I ever made. I’m in New England and paddled for a couple of winters in a wetsuit, splash top, and as many layers of neoprene socks as I could get on my feet. In real cold weather, I’d wear a neoprene jacket under the splash top. It didn't matter - I still got cold - especially my feet. I was protected, but I wasn’t comfortable, and I was rarely warm.

Finally sprang for a drysuit last year – what a difference. In real cold weather I wear polypropylene long johns, a fleece union suit, and a couple of pairs of wool socks under the drysuit. (Make sure you get a drysuit with booties.) Add neoprene gloves and a hat or helmet liner and I stay nice and warm all day – even after a swim or two.

If you are like me, you will spend a lot of money buying less expensive winter gear only to find out that the drysuit was the best option all along. If you live up north and are serious about winter/early spring paddling, skip the intermediate steps and buy the drysuit.

Winter Clothing in Louisiana
I actually live in the New Orleans, LA area so there are many days in winter where the air temp will reach 60 degrees. I was just wondering if spending $500 or more for winter clothing was crazy or not. I realize it is definately needed for safety but can I achieve this same level of safety by spending less and if so where?

Try swimming in it
Seriously - go into the water as it gets colder as it will be and try swimming. When you can’t take it any more without getting more stuff, then make your choices. No one can give you hard and fast information - some people can tolerate colder water than others and the only way to find out where you fit is to get wet.