Paddling in Cold Weather
It may not feel like it everywhere now, but September marks the end of summer and, eventually, the coming of cooler fall weather. This time last year, our team was talking about kayak storage options to help people get ready for the cold winter months. Boy, did we get an earful (or eyeful, technically, since responses were sent via email). We were reminded that many of our customers have yearlong paddling seasons and that ‘kayak hibernation’ wasn’t a term they were interested in hearing!
It makes sense that paddlers would want to stay on the water. With less recreational activities taking place, fall and wintertime water offers a more quiet and solitude experience. It means less bugs too! Pests like mosquitoes seem to disappear from cooling waterways as soon as Labor Day passes. But before you jump in your kayak and hit the lake, remember that long exposure to the cold can present a safety factor: hypothermia. I’ve outlined 5 things that I think anyone looking to extend the length of their paddling season into the winter months should consider.
1. Start With The the Basics
Keeping warm on the water as temperatures start to drop isn’t as hard as you think. Make sure you have all the basics like your PFD, spray skirt (for sit insides), bilge pump (also for sit insides), whistle, paddle leash and first aid kit. Add to this list a complete change of clothes in a dry bag just in case you fall in the water and want to change later. It may go without saying, but be sure that none of the clothes you wear or pack are cotton. Cotton dries slow, meaning you’re going to be cold if there’s even a slight breeze out, plus it weighs you down. Just don’t do it. What should you wear? Well, I was getting to that…
2. Layering Is A Paddlers Best Friend Against the Cold
You’ll want to take on the cold with the appropriate paddling apparel, and that means layering with synthetic materials proven to keep you both warm and dry. I’d recommend starting with a good base layer in early fall and then adding piece by piece as the weather gets colder. Refer to our Cold Weather Paddling Apparel Layering Guide to see how you can best do this.
Keep in mind that when it gets colder it will be more important to keep as much covered as you can and this means investing in things like neoprene socks, paddling gloves (or pogies) and headwear. One really great headwear option that’s just arrived at ACK is the Buff Thermal Pro, which uses a Polartec fabric to cover your neck and head as well as merino wool for your chin and mouth.
3. Don’t Paddle On An Empty Stomach
It’s important that you hydrate whenever you’re paddling but it’s easy to forget when the sun isn’t beating down on you. In fact, keeping well fed and hydrated will help minimize the risk of hypothermia if you happen to fall in the water. Carbohydrates and foods high in fat will give you both energy and warmth. On especially cold nights, I recommend bringing along a vacuum sealed flask of your favorite warm beverage (non-alcoholic) like hot chocolate or cider.
4. Familiarize Yourself With Rescue Techniques
Even for a paddler who is dressed for cold water immersion, a swim can still bring on hypothermia if you aren’t prepared. Knowledge of rescue techniques and regular practice with your paddling companions (and cold water paddlers SHOULD have partners) are essential. Rolling is particularly important to know for sea kayakers or anyone else in a sit-inside because the inability to perform this will mean an extended exposure to cold water. All paddlers should also be able to re-enter their kayak should an accidental capsize occur. If you aren’t comfortable with these skills, make sure someone in your group knows this and is prepared to help.
5. Wear Your PFD!
At risk of sounding like a broken record, my last tip is a reminder to wear your PFD. Not only is it an added layer of insulation but they will keep your head above water, increasing your ability to fight against hypothermia dramatically. Just take a 10 minute lesson from the Cold Water Boot Camp if you don’t believe me:
Cold weather might be hard to imagine for some of us (like my fellow Texans) but for many cooler fall temperatures are just around the corner. Don’t let them mean an end to your paddling season but also remember to be safe on the water. Have something to add to my list? Just leave a comment below!