What to Wear When Paddling in Winter
For many of us, the onset of winter marks the end of our paddling antics, when we start to stash away our equipment for the seemingly neverending hibernation period until the waters get warm enough to brave again. Yet for those who are seeking the thrills that come with more intense weather conditions, with the added bonus of a quieter, crowd-free river, the wintery waters can provide the perfect way to make paddle season never end. While the cold water and chilly airs may not stop you from getting out in your kayak, they do present a greater threat than at other times of the year, so extra precautions need to be taken, especially when it comes to the clothing you choose to wear.
First up on the essential winter wear list is the drysuit. Watertight from your neck to your feet, this is the ideal piece to wear as an outer layer. This is a crucial aspect of your gear, especially if there is a risk of you ending up in the water at some point in your adventures. While a little on the pricier side, they are certainly a great investment if you’re planning on keeping up with your kayaking skills when it’s quieter on the water. Although, in England, this could well be the perfect piece year round, as the waters are never particularly warm! It is also a great idea to get a drysuit that features sewn-in socks, as this will keep your feet dry when you have to wade through water or when you are getting in and out of your kayak. The drysuit only keeps the water out and breaks the wind though, so you will need to get those layers on underneath to keep you warm.
So what do you wear under the drysuit?
First of all: no cotton! You will freeze and be incredibly uncomfortable if it does get wet; either from the water or your sweat. Instead, fleece is your best option, as even if it does get wet, you will still feel warm. Layer a short-sleeved shirt made from wool underneath a long-sleeved fleece top for added insulation. In the coldest weather, two layers will be an absolute minimum if you don’t want to spend your whole time out on the water shivering. While you wouldn’t be seen dead in them normally, getting a pair of long underwear can also help out in the colder climes as an extra layer for your legs. It’s important to keep your legs properly insulated if you are planning to wade through the water during parts of your trip.
If the water temperature isn’t too cold, neoprene gloves are your best bet, as they allow you to get your hands in and out quicker and easier, which can be essential when using ropes. Normal gloves alone can sometimes prove too slippery for the paddle, so when it gets too cold, wear your regular gloves underneath a pair of neoprene gloves. You may need to buy bigger ones for the winter months so that they are not too tight with the added padding of your warm gloves. Thicker neoprene mittens can also be found for when the waters get super icy; if you can stand that chill!
Though heat doesn’t actually escape from your head more than other parts of your body, whatever the myth says, it is always a good idea to have a hat as an essential part of winter paddling. The easiest option is just to whack a beanie hat on, but this can leave the back of your neck and sides of your face exposed to the frosty winter air, so a neoprene balaclava can provide some extra coverage here.
Whether or not your drysuit incorporates socks, thick wool socks underneath as a base layer is an absolute must. Neoprene boots can also keep your feet comfortable and cosy whilst in the water. These boots should be at least 5mm thick to keep your toes toasty. You must make sure that all layering on your feet isn’t too tight, as this can stop the blood flow and actually make you even colder!
With all the extra padding on your body to protect you from the winter chills, and from your Christmas dinner, your usual lifevest may prove a little too snug. Before you hit the water, check its fit on top of all your gear. Also, remember that the iciness of the air and the thickness of your gloves can make opening and closing zippers just that bit more tricky, so don’t zip away things you may need to use often or quickly.
Finally, do not forget to bring a change of clothes with you for once you get out of the water; there’s nothing worse than being stuck in freezing wet clothes. If you’re looking to get out on the water before the year is over, check out our range of kayaks for sale.