Saturday, January 24, 2015

The thing about winter paddling

It was -8C and -13C with the wind chill.  Its winter time.  That its cold is to be expected.

The fresh water from the river is lighter than the salt sea water.  It formed frozen patches.  Looks cold.  Too uncomfortable to paddle?  No.  Admittedly winter paddling is not as comfortable as summer paddling.  But, it is not complete misery either.  Provided of course a few adjustments are made.

The first adjustment I make is I put my dry suit on at home over a base layer of polypro and a second fleece layer.  By the time I arrive at the put-in I'm warm from heat in the car.

I wear thin wool gloves and a winter coat to get the kayak ready so that I don't start off cold.

A neoprene skull cap is a must to prevent "cold shock" or the "gasp reflex" in the event of a capsize.  A helmet on top of that prevents heat loss through the head.

I prefer neoprene mitts over gloves.  My fingers find togetherness more comfortable than gloves where the cold wind blows between the fingers.

On really cold days, like when the temperature goes below -20C, I bring a thermos of hot water to pour into my mitts just before I step into the kayak.  That gives me a warm start.

Its cool starting out and the wind can sting on the face but its surprising how quick a bit of physical activity can generate body heat.

If we stop for a break I have along an oversized winter coat that fits over the PFD.  I take off my neoprene mitts, stuff them under the PFD next to my body and wear woolen mitts.  The neoprene mitts are toasty warm when getting underway again.

Finally, at take-out, I keep myself protected from the cold.  Latent body heat lasts for a bit if quick enough getting out of the paddling gear.  On the coldest days, I put woolen mitts on right after I take my neoprenes off, don my winter coat as soon as I take off the top of my drysuit et, etc.

Winter paddling can be quite enjoyable with a bit of forethought.  The best part is - no flies!

I'd be interested in any other suggestions if anyone wants to share.


  1. This would be cool in Ebb and Flow too.
    I woulds add safety becomes a little more challenging with pumps becoming frozen, deck lines welding to the deck, to lines becoming crisper than the supple things they are in summer. It would make for a fascinating article .

  2. Seems like everyone is always concerned about capsize.
    This can be highly reduced by using a well designed kayak that gives a stable performance and speed.
    Winter paddling is great but trips are usually short depending on the air temp. So to decide to go or not to go should normally depend on wave conditions. This should be the same for summer or winter from a safety point of view. I like a balaclava to cover my face if need be. I normally use fleece lined pogies and prefer bear hands while paddling. My rescue experience using bear hands is cold but you can grab your victim and equipment better. In winter paddling the water temp is somewhat colder but it is the air temp that is more important. Dress warm and I use thermal underwear, with polar fleece 300 top and bottom with a good breathable paddling jacket. The fleece under garment will transfer moisture to the outside. I find when I remove my paddling jacket ice is formed on the outside of my fleece. Just a note-the air temp above the water is usually not as cold as higher up. I do have problems with my drinking water freezing, deck icing up, and nostrils icing up. Hopefully this will give some more insight.

  3. Alex, it would be an interesting article for Ebb & Flow. The only problems I've had so far in winter paddling were my spray skirt freezing solid making it impossible to put on without assistance and my day hatch freezing to the kayak with my car keys inside. Luckily Brian happened on the scene and the restaurant gave him a bucket of hot water!

    Robert, capsize is always a possibility because we don't make concessions to winter. In fact Dean went over today in the rocks and self rescued with a roll.

    I had an oops moment last year that resulted in a swim. I was in the water between 7 and 8 minutes on December 24th and didn't suffer from the cold. We regularly jump in fresh water to wash our gear without effect. You might say its desensitizing training *lol*

    Pogies are OK but if the guy wearing pogies is the swimmer they will lose dexterity in their hands quickly as will the rescuer if the rescue gets complicated.

    Thanks for your comments guys.

  4. The only protection we need here New Zealand is form the sun. A long sleeve shirt an a sun hat with sun block on any exposed skin. Water temp is 70f (20c), smile.

  5. Jim, if it wasn't so far away to paddle I'd be on my way. Sounds like you're enjoying yourself.

    Tony :-)