Winter Paddling Gear

-- Last Updated: Sep-15-06 12:08 PM EST --

I am 5'2, female and weigh around 170 lbs. I definitely plan on doing some winter paddling this year and thought I'd check with those who paddle during winter what gear you have that you've found is necessary and "nice to have".

Here's my list:

1: Neoprene skirt - I have this already
2: NRS Shorty Wetsuit, the style with the arms and legs cut-off (for those that are about the same ht and wt as me, what size did you buy?)
3: Gloves - which one did you like, regular gloves, the bionic gloves where the fingers are "curled" or the pogies?
4: Some type of paddling jacket and pants - since I'm on a budget can anyone suggest a style and/or maybe even a retailer that would sell these types of clothing that wont break the bank? Also, what do you wear over the wetsuit other than the paddling jacket? Is it, wetsuit then paddling jacket or wetsuit, some type of material in between then paddling jacket? Same question for the lower half of my body.
5: Shoes - I've got thunder ankles so I'm not sure if the Mukluks will fit me - any suggestions on that? It doesnt have to be Mukluks but looking for something that will be waterproof and somewhat "high" enough that if I needed to wade in shallow water to launch myself - my feet doesnt have to freeze.
6: For my head, can I just wear a regular ski cap? NRS sells some type of neoprene head covering with little holes around the ears but I was also thinking dont I also need to cover my neck?

Sorry this is so long but I just want to be safe this winter and really need advice from seasoned winter paddlers.



– Last Updated: Sep-15-06 11:22 AM EST –

with layers of polypro fleece. Get one with latex booties attached if possible. For days below 20 deg I use nordic blue drygloves otherwise I use fleece lined neo gloves. I use a polypro watchcap under a fuzzy rubber hood. For really cold days, I use a neo dive hood. Sierra Trading Post has a lot of these items on sale.

And whatever you decide to wear, take a swim before every paddle. Lets you know if your gear is working for you and acclimatizes you to the water should you unintentionally go in.

Second that

– Last Updated: Sep-15-06 11:54 AM EST –

The water will be in and around 34 degrees at the surface if you really go thru the winter, colder than freezing in areas where it is moving fairly well and that's the reason it stays open. I personally would question any paddling type wetsuit for immersion in that, let alone a shorty. By the time you add the layers to a wetsuit that might work - lots and lots more neoprene type stuff - and a good wind blocking layer top and bottom - you're at the price of an entry level drysuit.

Also gloves - pogies may not do the trick if you take a swim as well as good gloves. We have Nordic Blues, but for most of the cold stuff actually use Deep Six gloves that we found in a dive shop. They are meant to layer with a diving drysuit, gasketed wrist and all, have an inner layer that seems to trap heat really well, and unlike the Nordic Blues you can get the second glove on without help.

The curled finger gloves you are talking about are probably NRS Reactor gloves. We've tried them, but frankly the paddle shaft feel is quite poor and they seem to easily be so tight that your fingers get numb. They have their place, but these are baaad characteristics in real cold.

As to hoods, yes a full one, in fact at your size two if you go with the NRS Mystery Hood or equivalent. Even their smallest won't be real tight on your head - isn't on mine and I am two inches taller than you. A better option would be, if possible, a scuba shop. They often have stuff that is better sized for women than the paddle gear and warmer to boot.

And ear plugs - I recommend the vented Doc's Plugs that will tend to be at scuba shops, some whitewater places. Check out Doc's Plugs website (yahoo it) for dealers around you. Cold water in the ears makes most people very dizzy very fast, so would greatly increase the risk level in a capsize.

Another vote for Dry Suit
The best/most important piece of paddling gear if you paddle waters below 60F is a dry suit.

My true cold water wear includes Kokatat Expedition Gore-Tex dry suit with booties, Hederson ice cap covered by NRS Mystery Hood (full length covering neck), Deep See 4Mil Comfort Dry Gloves, MEC Mukluks. I wear polypro under the dry suit - layered according to temps.

nix on the shortie… dry suit
is best…

What to wear
I see from your profile that you’re from Iowa and paddle on lakes. Although I don’t paddle year-round due to the lakes freezing solid, I’m often out in early December and again in early spring. I also can’t afford a drysuit - at least, a custom one that I would need to fit my un-average sized body (tall and thin). So, for what it’s worth, here’s what I wear… I have a bib-top wetsuit (3 mm neoprene) and under that I’ll wear polypro underwear (top and bottom). If it’s quite cold, I’ll often put a fleece layer over the wetsuit. I did invest in a paddling jacket, which is well worth the money. (I buy most of my stuff through catalogs - NRS, Campmor and Sierra Trading Post.) If it’s windy, I’ll put a pair of nylon pants over the fleece bottoms. As you can probably tell, I like to be warm, but often end up too warm after paddling awhile, so just experiment, to see what works for you in your winter climate. For footwear, I wear fleece socks inside neoprene booties. I’ve also used neoprene socks inside paddling shoes. For headwear, I usually wear a fleece or wool hat.

This works for me, paddling on fairly calm lakes, along the shoreline. My boat is stable and I trust it, I watch the weather, know my limits, am not out rolling in December, and I try not to do anything stupid. Good luck!

Ravenspring = every one custom

– Last Updated: Sep-17-06 12:42 AM EST –

you can afford a ravenspring suit most probably. Even with the current exchange rates. Wear something under it and take a swim to check out how long you are comfy with you gear. Every ravenspring drysuit is custom make (or usedc to be)

Water under 40 without a drysuit and you are taking big chances. If the water is Under 55: I wear my drysuit if I am on the ocean.


– Last Updated: Sep-17-06 5:16 AM EST –

immersion gear extends your window to get to safety. The "window" is useless if you can get thorugh no matter the time. More important is the knowledge and skills to get back into your boat, assisted and/or alone. Unless you are confident of these abilities and have practiced quite a bit, my recommendation is to stay away from paddling once water drops below 50 degrees. There are plenty of active alternatives to paddling that can be just as enjoyable.

Gear doesn't make up for skills and judgement.


dying bad

living good

from an IL paddler to an IA paddler
get a drysuit

one big purchase instead of lots of little ones. In fact, you can still find an entry-level drysuit for pretty cheap. Besides my boat, it’s the best thing I own. Wouldn’t go near cold water without it.

No one mentioned it yet,
but we don’t go out in the winter without a spare change of warm dry clothes in a dry bag, and we paddle at least once a week in water that will be around 40 degrees and sometimes lower.

We have never had to use them yet, but it is nice knowing that we have them.

Especially if you don’t wear a one piece dry suit.



And duct tape
Not only for the boat, but to be able to tape a torn gasket back up if needed to get home.

Thank you!
These all sound like wonderful advice to me. Yes, the cost of getting a drysuit and what another mentioned as finding the right fit for “irregular” sized people like myself really makes shopping for gear quite difficult for me also. I will freely admit that when I first learned to paddle I started learning in the late fall and continued paddling until the lake froze over so yeah - there I was paddling a tub with no bulkheads or floatation bags or safety gear, no classes taken yet wearing mostly cotton type clothing - sounds like I had a death wish right… but I also hugged the shoreline so now that I know better I definitely dont want to make any “rookie” mistakes. The drysuit is the ultimate piece of clothing to have, if I could find one I can afford and will fit me at the same time. But… I am also the type of person that I wont let the fear of tipping over stop me from paddling even in the winter. I probably wont stop paddling just because I dont have a drysuit yet but I will probably hug the shoreline again this year until I can afford that suit just because its the best time to paddle - no motorboats, lots of wildlife and mainly just peace and quiet. Thanks for all the advice everyone and please keep them coming if you have any other advice or ideas you’d like to share. I love this message board - most everyone really take this sport very seriously and that’s exactly what I am looking for.

Sizing in drysuits
Honestly, a little spare material is not a big deal. It just takes a little more attention to burp it. I have a unisex medium Kokatat with shortened arms and legs because I was concerned about my shoulders with winter layers on and their assumptions, and all it means is that I have a little spare material tucked under my PFD. I may try a women’s medium for the next one figuring that the extra length in the sleeves for me will get me the room I need to work my shoulders in, but what I have now is a fine and conservative choice. In full winter layers I’d be challenged to get into it with any less wiggle room.

I haven’t experienced extra length in the legs, but after having had this suit for a bit I doubt it’d be an issue. At 5’2" that’s probably where you will mostly feel any oversized issues.

Dont become a statistic

Buy a dry suit, and if you wont, bring friends, changes of clothes, and plenty of emergency gear. Gasoline and tinder in a dry bag, flotation for your boat. Even then I suggest against it.

Hypothermia can render you useless within minutes of hitting the water. Most folks cant even get past the initial shock of entering that water.

Swimming in near freezing water is almost impossible as it sucks the heat away from your body that much faster. Thrashing your limbs back and forth in 35-39 degree water just exposes you to more cold water to take away your heat.

Paddling in those conditions without the correct gear and/or backup can EASILY get you killed.

Its not worth it. If you cant afford the dry suit, wait till spring

Winter paddling
Is best done in Florida or Hawaii. Otherwise, expect to buy a ton of expensive gear, practice in cold water alot, wash your face in cold water daily to help nullify your gasp reflex, and then to realize you never really relax while paddling in icy water. In fact, you may start to wish you were at home sipping hot cocoa and watching reruns of Blue Lagoon on the tube.

My boat gets lots of upgrades/maintenance/waxing in the winter.

(PS - As I got older I realized I don’t like cold water!)

first cold day out
paddling today. Mid 50s. W wind in the 20s. Felt good to pull on the polypro socks, zip up the drysuit, don glacier gloves and the mystery material cap, and slip out into empty the lake.

Where are you located? State, City if its ok to ask? Did you wade in the water and test out your suit?

You’re not even reading my posts! (One of them was entitled “from an IL paddler to an IA paddler”).

I’m in the neighboring state–Central IL. With just a small lake to paddle on 9 months out of the year. (Actually, not even that, since it turns into a large block of ice about halfway through.) Today it was just Marino wool long underwear & a drysuit, NRS cap, neoprene socks, boots & glacier gloves. Soon it will be that and a layer of fleece.

Get and read Sea Kayakers Deep Trouble, a book which analyzes kayaking accidents. Hypothermia was the leading cause of death. The rule in our house is Daddy can paddle as much as he wants, so long as he comes home alive at the end of the day. After my boat & paddle, I consider my drysuit the best kayak-related purchase I ever made. Hoping you’ll consider getting one too, for the sake of the ones you love.