Keeping Warm for Winter Kayaking

winter kayakMost kayak­ers hang their boats up for the win­ter, but that does­n’t have to be the case. Win­ter is often the best pad­dling sea­son: no crowds, lots of water in many regions of the coun­try, and a rar­i­fied rugged envi­ron­ment. But not sur­pris­ing­ly, win­ter pad­dling takes some decent gear to keep you warm on the water.

Dress For Immersion
When the air and water are both cold, noth­ing beats dress­ing for immer­sion. This means a wet­suit at min­i­mum. But a pad­dle­sports-spe­cif­ic dry­suit pro­vides a much greater lev­el of weath­er pro­tec­tion and com­fort, includ­ing water­proof booties that keep your feet dry when you launch and land. They’re expen­sive, but they last a good, long while and extend your pad­dling sea­son to 365 days.

Warm The Core
Like rain gear, a dry­suit only keeps you dry. The lay­ers you wear under it keep you warm. I’ve found that for pad­dling, noth­ing beats old-fash­ioned fleece. Quick-wick­ing fab­rics like cape­line are great in the sum­mer, but get clam­my when you stop mov­ing and aren’t crank­ing out the BTUs. Wool is great, but doesn’t stand up to the abra­sion of the pad­dling motion as well as it does to hik­ing and ski­ing. So fleece it is. Many win­ter kayak­ers pre­fer one-piece suits for cold weather.

Take Care of Your Hands
Con­stant­ly exposed to the cold water, your hands will be chilly. When it comes to how to keep them warm, pad­dlers fall into two oppos­ing camps, like dog peo­ple and cat peo­ple. One (the one I’m in) goes for neo­prene gloves. Oth­ers pre­fer pogies, which attach to the pad­dle shaft. They’re a bit warmer, but affect your grip on your pad­dle and are tougher to get your hands in and out of.

Your Head
When you’re wear­ing a dry­suit, it’s a lot of work to change lev­els if you’re chilly or over­heat­ing. Most of my on-the-water tem­per­a­ture con­trol comes from what I wear on my head. I car­ry dif­fer­ent thick­ness­es of neo­prene hoods that fit under hel­mets, fleece hats and water­proof ball caps for flat water. Chang­ing these up on the water goes a long way to keep­ing me in the com­fort zone.

Stay Warm on Shore
When you’re pad­dling, your body will be crank­ing out heat. When you take a break to scout a rapid, stop for lunch or deal with what­ev­er sit­u­a­tion aris­es is when you get real cold, real fast. As soon as you stop, throw on a warm jack­et over your dry­suit, put on a hat and stop the tem­per­a­ture loss. Anoth­er option is a com­pact portable shel­ter that you sim­ply drape over your group to trap everyone’s body heat. It’s basi­cal­ly the equiv­a­lent of bring­ing a nice warm room with you.

The Crea­ture Comforts
A few habits will also raise the bar in terms of com­fort. A ther­mos of hot water or a rapid-boil stove can pro­vide hot drinks or a hot lunch. A change of warm clothes left in the car at the take-out will keep you warm dur­ing the shut­tle. Rapid-ener­gy food can help some­one who gets deeply chilled restore their body ener­gy quick­ly, reduc­ing the risk of hypothermia.

Pad­dling in win­ter can be cold, but it can also be spec­tac­u­lar. In my part of the coun­try, win­ter is when the bald eagles line the rivers, the flows for white­wa­ter are ide­al, and the jet skis and crowds are gone from sea kayak­ing des­ti­na­tions. This is the year to turn kayak­ing into a 12-month sport.