Cold Water Paddling Gear

Most of you are probably lucky enough to be living in a warm climate, but for those few out there that are living in areas with 4 seasons like me, I am wondering what you wear if you go for paddle in the late fall/winter. Perhaps you hang the boat up for the off season, but I am sure there are a few other crazy folk out there.

I've been looking at dry suit pants/tops or wetsuits, not sure what would be best. Any experience out there??


Submitted by watersledder on Tue, 11/21/2006 - 12:26pm

I usually put the OC-1 up and pull out the marathon canoe. I can paddle marathon in my winter running gear since it is a pretty dry boat. It's dry unless of course you take that unplanned swim....brrrrrr! I always paddle with a group in the winter, wear my life jacket, and have a dry bag of warm clothes handy. Polar plunges are no fun.

#1 Tue, 11/21/2006 - 12:41pm


Here in Maine it gets pretty cold. Nevertheless we paddle here till around Christmas. Then ,take some time off to ski and do other things untill March when we get back out on the water again.

We generally wear a hydroskin farmerjohn wet suit from NRS . If its not super cold I dont put the straps over my shoulders. Feet are covered with 1/4 inch neoprene wetsuit boots , crocs over the wet suit booties will help keep feet from freezing and they fit ok into the foot wells. On top I wear capilene or polypro and light fleece. If its blowing Ill put on a light breathable wind breaker over over this. Head band for ears or a hat .Below 30 degrees , have some gloves with you. Lots of times when its cold , Ill also have a pfd on just in case of a huli and to keep heat in. Key is to be able to shed a layer or two if you find youre dressed too warm. Bungi tie downs hold shed shirts or I put them under my knees on deck.
You can tell it
s starting to get really cold when salt water icicles begin to form on your ama and a crust of ice coats your deck.

#2 Tue, 11/21/2006 - 12:46pm

Well living in Toronto Canada and being an OC nut, I usually paddle into Dec and many times in January on warmer days (ICE permitting). I have paddled on days where the water spray from my paddle has frozen on my boat deck (yeah I know crazy...). So if you are bitten to go out in this kinda weather a few things come in real handy.

  1. Stay damn close to shore where you can walk back to land if you go over (I paddle in sheltered areas in about 3-4 feet of water) especially in Dec, Jan.
  2. Neoprene, socks, booties, gloves, pants a drytop, touque and pfd on!
  3. paddle close to your car...the key is just to get out and paddle, not to fall into the lake or ocean 5 miles out from shore.

Hey you know how it goes too many boats too little time........As frosso said polar dipping is no fun! ;-)

#3 Tue, 11/21/2006 - 12:50pm

Kanu The Rock


Here in Newfoundland on the Avalon, where we have Labrador Current and very cold water, I wear a PFD at all times and use a drysuit all year round in the ocean since the cold water temps are the critical issue. These days I actually wear a light isulated winter jacket under my drysuit top. This allows for lots of space around body/arms and plenty of upper body motion. Works well, the synthetic insulation breathes OK and you stay totally warm at the car when you're done the paddle. The issue with a huki here any time of year is loss of hand use. Staying close to shore helps. Love to hear about you cold water paddlers. I am the only one with an OC-1 on this whole island!!!



#4 Tue, 11/21/2006 - 1:54pm

Kanu The Rock

...woops meant to say "Huli".

#5 Tue, 11/21/2006 - 1:58pm

Anyone have a favorite brand or type of gloves that actually keep your hands warm. I've tried several types and various combinations and nothing seems to work when the temperatures are in the 30s. Finally got the foot combo worked out. I wear neoprene booties with fleece socks when it's just cold. When it's "ice on the boat" cold I wear chemical toe warmers in my socks. Only the hardy survive!

#6 Tue, 11/21/2006 - 3:33pm

Thanks for the replies.It's good to hear from other northern paddlers. Bob, I am in Nova Scotia so I know what its like, we now have two OC-1 paddlers in our province (and growing soon!) Send me a private message If your interested, I'd be curious to hear about paddling in Newfoundland.

I have always surfed all winter, so I don't see why I shouldn't be able to paddle. Was curious as to whether I would be better off with a wetsuit or dry suit, but it sounds like a wetsuit Farmer John with a drysuit top (and lifejacket) may be the answer. Keeping the hands warm will be the big challange, I guess I good pair of neoprene gloves is the best I can do. This set up might be alright on a warm winter day.

#7 Tue, 11/21/2006 - 3:33pm

Thanks to the Northern bruddahs for their insights on this issue. I love the long john wetsuit idea-it solves alot of problems for me. We paddle up here in Seattle on Lake Washington and Puget Sound, and the long john sounds like the perfect thing to keep the legs and feet warm while allowing freedom of upper-body movement. There's been some smokin' days on the Sound lately, but a little too chilly for shorts and booties.

#8 Wed, 11/22/2006 - 11:20am


I was out on the ocean today here, nice little swelll. The air was 37 and the water was 43, stayed plenty warm. For gloves I was using a pair of lobster claw style surfing gloves, made by oneil, they are pretty thick, I think maybe 5mm, but I am stilll able to paddle, and my hands didn't get cold over a 90 min period, not much wind either though.

#9 Wed, 11/22/2006 - 3:21pm

Aloha friends,

Good points. Other thing I do here is wear neoprene booties/socks with no soles under a pair of Nemos (I think made by 5ten). This allows your feet to get wet but stay warm. I have neo gloves that curve inwards to keep the fingers from getting tired but those surf lobster claws sound even better. I actually use the bibs/drytop system so that in summer I can sometimes use a wetsuit shorts with the drytop. For me my biggest issue is core and hands. Sea kayakers up here keep a small thermos of hot water or tea (called a "mug-up"). If you wind up in trouble you've got something to warm your core from inside out. I paddled with a seakayak buddy about 15 Km last Friday in the ocean up here and did a choppy bay crossing. With the cold water, you tend to try and pay attention. Watersledder I tried to contact you but could not access your email. If you like please try to email me, maybe it'll work that way.


Kanu The Rock

#10 Thu, 11/23/2006 - 2:02am

I as well am in the pacifc n/w and train all year around 3-4 times a week .I think the hardest thing is to keep your hands warm and I have yet to find anything that can totally keep them warm from start to finish .In the beggining my had go numb and then abotu half way through they start to warm up and thats when the pain is unreal ,lol .

Anyway ,for your hands the key is to try to keep them dry. I find and I have purchased waterproof gloves (5 finger) from a kayak store and they are a big improvement over reg neopreme cold water gloves . Sealskinz makes a glove known as a "chilblocker" thats not bad and I can't remember the name of the pair I have but they are similar .My hands actually will sweat in them after a while but in the beginning its still a little cold till you warm up ,its probably just me .

You can find sealskinz on e-bay if your not sure where to get them but make sure you get the chillblocker version .Other than that its just layering and usually I'm good w/ 2 or 3 .I did huli last jan in the cold and I could barely move it was so cold so make sure you do where a lifejacket because the cold almost knocks the wind out of you .I had never experienced that feeling before and can see how someone could surcome to the cold water very very fast as it numbs you and then its hard to get back onto your oc1

#11 Thu, 11/23/2006 - 5:38am

Aloha OCSprinter,
When you huli'd in Jan were you in a wetsuit or drysuit? There is a vagally mediated physiological response that can cause an involuntary gasp reflex or even stop the heart if you get suddenly shocked by cold water on the chest and neck. Another reason why all the paddlers up here wear thermal protection since the water's cold year round.

Kanu The Rock

#12 Thu, 11/23/2006 - 7:23am

A good safety site explaining everything about cold water immersion:

Kanu The Rock

#13 Thu, 11/23/2006 - 7:30am

I was just wearing water resistant cycling clothing and layering .

And thats exactly what happened to me when I hit the water .I rarely have huli'd but was caught offguard but close to shore .I remember I could hardly breathe and after a few seconds found it hard to move and even get back on the kanu .The water felt alot colder than the above outside temp which was in the 30 's .I warmed up once out of the water but definately a learning experience ....always wear a lifejacket !!

#14 Thu, 11/23/2006 - 7:47am

The new NRS antigravity shirt is pretty cool, available through MEC up here. Although not a PFD replacement, it offers chest and neck warmth, more flloatation and arm freedom.

Kanu The Rock

#15 Thu, 11/23/2006 - 8:48am

Anyone ever tried "sport wool" under their outer wear? I paddle with a drytop neoprene pants combination and I am warm to the point of sweating while paddling, who isn't. That is until I come out of the water. Lake Ontario this time of year is cold and the breeze can get nippy also. From what I gather wool is a good insulator even when damp/wet. I saw sport wool shirts advertised and was wondering if anyone out there has any experience with them. If they are good I'd be in the market for a long sleeve.

It is great to hear about the paddlers in the Atlantic region. Bob, I'm a transplanted Newfoundlander/"townie". Where do you paddle on the rock? I was hoping to take the family for a trip out there and it would be great to have an excuse to take the Kanu's. I have family and friends in St John's still. It would be great to hook up if you are handy to "town". I'll be passing close to Halifax along the way. You guys from the Atlantic region I'd love to hear what's going on out that way. I sopke to Max at the Toronto race last year. If you guys are out this way for whatever reason and the weather is condusive to paddling we've got enough boats at this point with plans for more to come, do look me up.

Jeff Whelan

#16 Fri, 11/24/2006 - 9:05am

Kanu The Rock

Aloha Jeff,
Great to hear from another Newfoundlander who is into OC-1. I'm just 'round the bay (Outer Cove). I paddle wherever I can on the Avalon area, I've done Cape Broyle (nice swells and caves to get even the OC-1 into), Chance Cove/ Bellevue Beach/ Rantem Harbor (eagles everywhere), Various paddles on Conception Bay (often some fun swells), the various ponds around here. I usually do quick laps and workouts on Paddy's Pond which is the local Forestry Office and has a seaplane airport with a great grassy rigging area. Its all good. Definately get in touch if you're out this way with your kanu. Try emailing me through the OC site or post a message I am always checking the site.

#17 Fri, 11/24/2006 - 1:13pm

G'day Bob!

of course, there's the ultimate answer to cold water paddling - IMMIGRATE!

There's nothing quite like catching a big South Pacific wave in the OC6 with your mates with nothing much else on except the sunnies and the 30+. Or cruising over the top of the reef in crystal clear water just at sunset.....

Down here we huli to cool off.

Aloha from Oz! Avagudwinter, mate!

#18 Fri, 11/24/2006 - 8:01pm

I am so in awe of you cold water guys! your dedication to keep going in wetsuts and drysuits is impressive..
Keep your dialogue going...It is making me feel warmer...

#19 Sun, 11/26/2006 - 5:25pm

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