With a chill in the air this morning I thought it might be appropriate to do an article about gearing-up for cold weather kayaking. When you consider the origins of the kayak, indigenous people of Alaska, Canada and Greenland, it’s obvious that these nimble little boats have a long history of cold weather use. With the right clothing and accessory choices cold weather kayaking can be a rewarding adventure.
Lets start by taking a look at clothing. As with any winter activity the key to warmth is layering clothing. For kayaking, however, there’s an additional concern with staying dry. After all, drips, splashes and sprays do happen. Wetness robs the body of heat and can lead to hypothermia. With that in mind, choose layers carefully. Keep in mind that many synthetic materials will still provide insulation when damp. Cotton, however, will not. A long time saying among outdoors men and adventures is “cotton kills.” It has no place in your clothing selection for winter kayaking.
You’re going to want to start with a base layer. There are a lot of wonderful products available that have moisture wicking properties. This is the type of clothing you’ll want next to your skin. Your selection of the next layer will largely depend upon how severe the temperatures are. You don’t want to over dress, resulting in perspiration while paddling, but you don’t want too little insulation either. While adding and removing layers is a good option for the upper body, changing out pants is an entirely different matter. Finally, you’re ready to add a nice water resistant top layer. In a pinch you can get away with wearing a rain suit. A better option, however, is to invest in splash wear designed for kayaking: A pair of paddle pants for the lower body and a paddle jacket for the torso. These kayaking clothes will feature adjustable neoprene seals at the ankle, waist and neck. While they won’t keep you dry if you go for a swim, they will keep out the drips, sprays and splashes normally encountered during a paddle.
Keeping the feet and hands warm and dry are important goals for comfortable cold-weather paddling. Fortunately there are a lot of products available designed for that goal. On my feet I like to wear a pair of neoprene kayak boots. Mine are calf-high with a “skin seal” around the top to help keep water out if you wade in a little too deep. As the temperature drops I like to add a pair of socks inside these boots for some additional insulation. For all but the coldest days I wear a pair of fingerless neoprene gloves. I need my finger tips bare so I can operate my camera controls. If you’re not taking photos a pair of neoprene gloves with fingers would be great. When the temperatures really drop I need more protection that the fingerless gloves will provide. For those days I use a pair of “poagies.” These can loosely be described as mittens designed for paddling. The attach to the paddle and you place your hands inside where they’re dry and warm.
There are a few additions that will help insure you stay warm and dry on a winter paddling adventure. For photography I like the large, open cockpits offered by recreational class kayaks. This design makes accessing camera gear quick and easy. However, for cold weather paddling I like a bit more protection from over wash and spray. Starting in early autumn and continuing through spring I use a 1/2 spray skirt to cover a large portion of the open cockpit. This cover provides more protection for the elements and provides some handy storage pouches as well. If accessing photo gear stored in the cockpit isn’t an issue a full spray skirt offers the ultimate level of protection. In fact with a full skirt you could safely for go the paddle pants. Keep in mind, however, that the addition of spray skirts does make exiting a capsized kayak a bit more difficult. Be aware of the emergency exit procedures required with the gear you use. Another good idea is to carry a change of clothes with you, storing it in a dry bag. If you should find yourself soaked in cold-weather with a long paddle to get back to safety having the option of putting on some dry clothes could be life saving.
Below are a few links to some of the gear and accessories I’ve discussed in these articles. While it’s always appreciated if you choose to purchase from one of my online retail partners via these links… who doesn’t enjoy a commission… there are many outfitters that offer the same or similar products. Dress appropriately, stay warm and enjoy a year round season of paddling. You can bet I will.