What not to wear: Everything you need to know about kayaking in the cold

November 10, 2022

A summary of some basic tips for cold water paddling, with links to more in-depth information.
What not to wear: Everything you need to know about kayaking in the cold 

There is lots to know about how to best kayak in the cold. This article is not all-encompassing, but it gives you the general idea of what to think about before you do a winter or cold-water expedition. After reading these rules of thumb, check out Paddle Boston’s article How to dress for cold-water paddling. It’s a deep dive into the topic with excellent videos and information on what may happen if you don’t dress properly and capsize in icy water.

If you want to go even further with your education, then seek out qualified instruction in your area! Reach out to your local independent retailers (Find an Eddyline Kayak Dealer - eddylinekayaks) to see if they're offering any type of cold-water kayaking classes or clinics. For example, Get Outdoors Pedal & Paddle in Greensboro, NC, will be offering a specific Intro to Cold Weather Paddling class this Saturday, Nov. 12th, while other dealers like Pacifica Paddle Sports in B.C. offers rentals, tours, and lessons in the off-season by special request. Call your local retailer for more info!
Now for our top tips:

Dress for immersion
Even when the air temperature is warm, the water temperature may not be. When you go kayaking, it’s best to dress according to how cold the water is. Even though two waterways may be in close proximity, their temperatures could be very different. For example, the ocean, a nearby lake, and a river. Make sure you know the temperature of the water you are paddling, and dress according to that.  Kayaking in Spring — water may be cold even if the day is hot, a video by the  Kayak Hipster, based in the Northeast of the United States explains this principle further. Because dry suits can be spendy to purchase, he suggests looking for your first one on clearance and then finding neoprene accessories to compliment it. 

Cotton kills
For base layers, choose wool or a quick-drying synthetic fabric (like our CG Habitats Water Shirt). It’s important to choose a hydrophobic material that doesn’t absorb water and dries quickly. Cotton does the opposite. As a natural fiber it absorbs cold water, weighs you down and holds that cold right next to your skin. Wool and synthetic materials, even when wet, will still provide some insulation.

Mittens, gloves or pogies
One important consideration is what hand coverings to wear in colder water paddling. Neoprene mittens, gloves and pogies are all available. Some favorites are waterproof fishing gloves which often times allow for more dexterity than bulky paddle gloves. Another option is a design often used in whitewater kayaking, pogies. They are hollowed triangle shaped protective compartments for your hands, which attach to your kayak blade. If you’ve never used or seen them, they are quite comfortable because the wet material of the pogies doesn’t touch or reside on your hand so much as it makes a hollow just big enough for your hand which gives you much dexterity while also keeping warm and maintaining shelter from the wind. See Ocean River’s video  How kayak Pogies work to keep Kayaker's hands warm.

Trial run
Before you commit to a day of kayaking on a cold body of water, try out your cold weather gear. Jump in cold water with your dry suit, neoprene or other choice outfit. Make sure it works the way you thought it would and see how long it provides comfortable insulation and support for you while in the water. If you find that you’re not comfortable for long, then you might need to adjust your insulating layers accordingly.
Final tips
As a contingency plan, bring a full change of warm clothes in a dry bag along on your paddle trip. And eat well before, after, and during your paddle trip. Calories should be a priority part of your paddle plan no matter what, but especially in colder water and weather due to the extra calories you’ll burn trying to stay warm.

For additional tips, see Aquabound’s article,  When is it too cold to kayak? (answer: when the water's frozen solid)