By Lee Richardson
What gear do you need to wear when kayaking in cold water or the winter?
Winter kayaking means a change in the gear we need to bring with us. There are 3 main pieces of gear that you may want to consider having if you don’t already:
- something to cover your hands
- something to cover your head
- something to give protection from cold water immersion.
These things are on top of the gear that you usually should bring with you, including all the required Transport Canada gear and a warm change of clothes.
Pogies and Gloves both do a great job of protecting the hands from cold weather. When it is breezy your hands do get chilly. I usually use pogies but if the water temperature is below 5°C I wear neoprene gloves. What you choose to use to keep your hands warm will be a preference and based on opinion. Pogies and Gloves have some slight differences that you should take into consideration when choosing between them. Check out our blog post on paddling with warm hands for more information.
Keeping your head warm is important for comfort but also because having it covered will reduce heat loss by about 10%. There are many different options for headwear when paddling: neoprene hood, merino wool toque, a synthetic toque and a thick warm wool/synthetic toque are just a few options.
If it is a nice bright cold day but you are not planning on getting really wet a merino wool toque will do the job. If you think your head may get wet, for instance in rough water conditions, wear a synthetic toque under a helmet. For any constantly wet head where impact with something hard is not a threat, for example doing roll practice or surfing, a neoprene hood is the solution. The thick toque is to go with your dry clothes to help you warm up off the water or in emergencies. Don’t be afraid to layer toques as well.
Kayakers should always be dressing with the potential for immersion in mind. There are basically two options for thermal protection in cold water; wetsuits and dry suits.
Dry suits are the ultimate in protection against cold water. I was told before I got mine that having a dry suit would change my life, and it did, I went from a fair weather paddler to a year-round, rough water paddler, this transformation happened because I felt confident in the protection from the cold water. Dry suits keep the water out and you can layer your clothing as you see fit underneath the suit. I wear merino wool against my skin and layer out from there with a combination of synthetics and merino wool.
The second option is Wetsuits. Wetsuits work by trapping a thin layer of water against your body which is in turn heated up and kept in place. This is why they must be tight, so that cold water is not constantly flushing in and replacing the water you have warmed up with your body. If you want to understand how a wetsuit works in more detail check out this post. There are many options for both wetsuits and drysuits and you should take some time to explore what option may work best for you. Our staff in the store in Victoria are happy to help and you can try on a broad range of wetsuits and drysuits.
With the right gear, you will not even think twice about paddling in the winter. Checking weather and tidal conditions to make sure you are paddling in conditions that are acceptable for your personal and your group’s skill set is very important, but the fear of a chilly dip shouldn’t be stopping you from getting out there year-round.
Looking to buy some winter paddling gear? Shop our recommended cold water kayaking gear here.