Winter Paddling/Camping

I’ve spent quite a bit of time paddling in winter and quite a bit camping in winter, but I have yet to combine the two.

When I paddle in the cold, I come home, kick off the wet clothes and put dry ones on. When I camp, I usually manage to stay fairly dry and of course have extra dry clothes as backup.

It seems the hard part would be the “next day” when you have to put cold wet gear back on. I talking sub-freezing temps now. I’m trying to picture sliding into a wet/frozen drysuit, skirt, and PFD. Will the equipment suffer much if put back on while still frozen. There’s really no way to dry stuff easily that I know of.

Maybe I should just head south to the tropics…


Change Your Boat
Get a canoe. You can wear dry, warm clothes all day, every day.

Got a poncho or waterproof bivy sack?
Put the drysuit and skirt between the sleeping bag and the bedroll. Your body heat will keep them soft. As for the PFD, I suppose you could pour warm water over it if it’s frozen stiff, but I don’t have a better solution. Well, I guess if you’re using a tent, you could use a cook stove or lantern to simply warm the inside air temp above freezing, but of course there’s the fire hazard and carbon monoxide issue…always risky.


I have the same issue too
now that I have a drysuit, I really only have two items that would be a pain in the arese to thaw out, gloves, and hat. And both would be wet if I went on the great lakes in winter. So every morning I would have to manage a way to thaw out my gloves. Boiling water would do it! But I haven’t tried it. I did late november one time with a neoprene wetsuit and paddle jacket, but never again. I had to sprint up and down the beach to thaw out the booties, the wetsuit, and the gloves, and then I was still freezing. So it is a lot of trouble. I winter camp, by back packing and doing x-c skiing, but that is far simpler in my opinion. I have extra clothes, and waterproof layers for my gloves, and I just stay dry. Kayaking for me is about getting wet, so I usually confine myself to day paddles in winter. But I would give it a try again with the drysuit.

Frozen gear shouldn’t be a problem
I used to do a lot of caving and the worst terror was the second day when all that wet muddy gear (now frozen) had to be broken apart and put on. The memory still makes me shudder.

As for paddling, smaller stuff like gloves, hats, booties you could put them in a ziploc and put them in the sleeping bag with you. If they aren’t to wet them don’t even use the bag and your body heat will dry them overnight. The other stuff like drysuit and life preserver will just have to put on hard and left to their own devices.


I winter
camp. hike and paddle. Don’t think I would want to camp and paddle . Too much hassle and cold gear. I can tolerate the cold but cold and wet sucks!

Winter warm
I am heading in the same direction and thinking the same thing. I have a great deal of winter camping / ice climbing behind me, as well as a lot of traditional backpacking on the Appalachian trail through days of rain. What I found out about winter camping was that the best way was to dry out while still in the gear if possible. I think that if I could keep my dry suite on long enough for the moisture to evaporate / sublimate then by the time I shed it, it would be good to go for the next day. The only things remaining would be the PFD and booties and socks. I was thinking I would sleep with my sealskins and leave my boots in the bottom of my bag. Gloves would also be slept with and the pfd would just freeze…

All theory that I am looking forward testing soon.

Greetings from the coast of Maine,


Quick shelters
For day and multi day trips it is good to have a quick emergency shelter, especially for groups. Two I have found that are compact, light, and worthy and come in 2 up to 12 person sizes.

VCP Igloo, get it from

and by Vango, an English firm. The URL will ship it here.

Sounds good
Your theory makes good sense. For some years I’ve been doing pretty much as you suggest.

One big no-no for wintertripping is to put on icy cold footwear just before one jumps into the kayak in the morning. It’s hard to warm up cold feet when paddling. To a lesser degree this is also true for the hands.

One method I’ve used with success is to put on the cold neoprene socks the moment I wake up in the morning and then put the feet back into the sleepingbag. Now while sitting up eating breakfast, the socks heats up pretty fast. Later when I get up, the paddle mitts is kept below my shirt.

The rest of my paddling gear(minus PDF and sprayskirt) is in the drybag for the sleepingbag turned inside out and is kept inside the tent. Drying gear in the winter is not an option in this part of the world.


Ideas for hands and feet
If you wear dry gloves (like Nordic Blues) instead of neoprene, you can remove the liners and wear them until they’re dry, or keep them in your sleeping bag.

If you wear tall mukluks and your dry suit has latex or Gore-Tex socks, the boots will stay dry inside as long as you don’t step in water that goes over the top.

drying shetlter
Black Diamond used to make a mini black teepee with a poly window that was just for drying clothes. I used it on a winter multi-day trip. It really works. The black exterior, and window really absorb a huge amount of heat and it really cooks the gear dry. Sorry don’t have a URL for it.

"If you wear tall mukluks and your dry suit has latex or Gore-Tex socks, the boots will stay dry inside as long as you don’t step in water that goes over the top."

but unlikely for me, if there is a slight chance of something like this happening, fate will make it happen.

Yeah, I know what you mean
Murphy generally gets the best of us. However, I’ve found that if you tighten the top straps on Chota Mukluks, very little seepage gets through, especially during a brief submersion.

A week spent on the Buffalo River in sub frezing temps pointed up some ideas. Everything that you do not want frozen in the am must be dry, or in your sleeping bag. Especialy boots and gloves, water bottles, and filters. The stove and fuel will work better if kept in the sleeping bag. I have a “tall” bivy and had some success with things stowed outside of the sleeping bag and inside the bivy.

Newspaper (a good quantity of it)
does a pretty good job of absorbing water from neoprene, assuming you have a fire toss it in or pack it out. To warm up frozen booties stuff Nalgene bottles filled with boiling water in them. A rubber glove stuffed inside a neo glove and filled with warm water might work to thaw them out. But for sub-freezing temps I prefer neo-mittens with wicking liners and bring several pairs of liners. I carry extra an balaclava, glove liners, socks and fleece even for day trips.

For a day of Northeast winter WW open-boating, wearing drysuit w/booties in river boots, I’ve been experimenting with battery operated socks and the chemical foot warmers. I’m not too impressed with either. It might be the batteries are losing their charge quickly, as in I can’t even tell they’re working once I’m in the boat. As for the chemical warmers it maybe that there isn’t enough air circulation for the warmers to work properly. I’m still working on varying sock thickness and might get yet another size larger in boot.

Other important considerations to keeping the feet warm; footwear with room to move the toes (circulation and air barrier), keeping the toes dry (powder helps), keeping the core and head toasty warm and plenty of hydration (the colder the more you need).

I’m a bit biased
Sorry, I’m just not a kayak person. Your post did remind me of the picture on page 388 of “Canoeing” by the American Red Cross. Its a drawing of a man poling a canoe down a partially frozen creek. The text explains how winter is no obstacle for a canoeist skilled at poling.

The book is long out of print, but it is well worth grabbing a used copy if you come across it.

I have a Coleman
catalytic heater which heats up the whole tent. Turn it on before going to sleep,shut it down and turn it back on before getting up to get dressed. Problem solved.

Life ender
Although some of these heaters put out a reduced amount of Carbon Monoxide and other toxic vapors, however, do be aware that even the best of them put out this stuff enough to kill you, that the vapors are invisible not smellable and will build up in your system over days. If the tent is small, closes while you are sleeping, and or snow builds up, you are done.

A R value of 9 in a sleeping pad, will make you sleep warmer and safer. It is my preference.

Winter paddling and camping
I did a winter camping trip along the Jersey shore 2 weeks ago. Indeed, its not a great prospect to get in a wet and cold drysuit on an early winter morning. I was quite happy with the following series of events:

  • Have a long and relaxed breakfast in your sleeping bag and tent
  • Pack everything after breakfast, make your boat launch ready as much as you can in your civilian clothes (lots of fleece)
  • Last thing, jump in your cold drysuit, with lots of fleece underneath, put on your pfd, and launch immediately.
  • Now, do not stop moving.
  • Paddle hard and you will warm up quite fast without feeling icky or cold. A good gore-tex drysuit will get the humidity level inside you suit to a moderate level, and will help avoid you feeling cold.


Uh, I forgot to mention
that you should have ventilation at the top of your tent-should be a given conclusion…