Hand Wear for Paddling
Every paddler has a different opinion of what constitutes the best way to keep your hands warm while paddling. Of course, a lot of the decision is based on the conditions you expect to be paddling in. It’s because of varying conditions when paddling that you will probably end up owning a couple or even several pairs of hand wear. Besides providing warmth, hand wear will protect your hands from sunburn, chafing and blisters and cuts from sharp objects. The choice is whether to go with gloves or pogies.
Pogies are a mitt that attach to your paddle allowing a bare-handed grip on the paddle shaft. They wrap around your hands creating a micro-climate similar to that created by a sleeping bag. The body heat from your hands warms up the air trapped inside the pogies and keeps them warm. Very importantly, the provide an effective barrier from the wind.
There are pogies designed specifically for kayak and canoe paddles.
The main advantage of pogies is the retention of a bare-handed grip on the paddle shaft allowing a better ‘feel’ and awareness of the paddle’s position. For a lot of paddlers, especially those paddling challenging water conditions, this is can be crucial. Secondly, they can be very warm and are still one of the best time-tested ways to keep your hands warm in cold conditions.
The primary disadvantage of pogies is they are colder when your hands are underwater, such as when punching through waves or rolling. In these conditions, they fill with water, thus losing any advantage of the micro-climate. However, your hands will warm up again quickly if this activity isn’t continuous. You can also blow warm air into your pogie to quickly help raise the temperature. Secondly, pogies offer no cold protection if you are walking on shore or find yourself swimming. Finally, they don’t provide any protection from chafing or blistering. However these issues generally dissipate as your hands toughen up and your paddling technique improves.
A good pogie is designed to allow you to easily slip your hands in and out of them. For this reason, the neoprene ones are the easiest to use and are the warmest. Pogies with very long or limp sleeves can be very difficult to get on, certainly not something you want when you are paddling in rough conditions. In warmer, but windy conditions, nylon pogies, often with a synthetic liner, are good for protecting the hands from the chilling effect of the wind.
I am sure by now we have all worn gloves in our life and defining what a glove is, seems unnecessary.
Gloves provide continuous protection for your hands whether paddling, walking around on shore or swimming. They also provide protection from chafing, blistering, cuts and abrasion.
The disadvantage of gloves is that there isn’t a single glove which will work well in all conditions. The thinnest ones, while great for keeping the sun off and protecting your hands from abrasion and blistering, are no match for a cool breeze. However, very thick gloves, the ones best able to keep your hands warm on the coldest days, can significantly reduce dexterity and the ‘feel’ on the paddle shaft. Any neoprene glove over 3mm thick is going to be impractical for paddling.
Gloves, because they keep your fingers separated can get still cold when they’re wet, and one of the keys to reducing this problem is having a good fit. If your gloves are too tight your hands are going to be cold. The same goes for gloves that are too big because they allow too much water in. Some gloves come in Mens and Womens sizes so make sure you get the right fit for your hands.
If you decide to use thicker gloves make sure you get ones that have a built-in ‘bend’ in the fingers otherwise they will not only constrict your fingers making them colder, but the constant tension of trying to bend them will tire your hands. The final downside of gloves is that they do wear out and they can wear out quickly if you paddle a lot. Manufacturers use leather and synthetic materials to improve the durability of the glove, but these materials can make your grip on the paddle very slippery, this is why you will find many paddling gloves come with grip dots. You can also coat the palms of your gloves with a thin coat of Aqua Seal to help improve the grip as well as prolong their life. Some paddlers use surfboard wax, such as ‘Sex Wax’ on the paddle shaft to improve their grip.
If you paddle in very cold conditions, you could consider neoprene mitts. They can be very warm, but like thicker neoprene gloves, they can significantly reduce your dexterity. Their lack of dexterity can also become a hazard in difficult situations, such as removing your spray deck, holding onto your boat during rescues and they are useless if you need to undo zippers, hatch covers, fire flares or call for help with an electronic device.
Of course, there is nothing stopping you from combining a thinner glove with a pogie, taking advantage of both options this works well for paddlers who do find they like to have some chafing protection for their hands. In the end, you will probably have to try a few different things to find what works best for you. Whatever you try, give yourself some time to adjust to the new feel.