Just because winter is approaching does not mean you have to hang up your yak and paddle until spring. Of course it’s your choice if you want to hunker down this winter with a cup of hot chocolate and a Charles Dickens classic (and if that is your decision then might I suggest our recent post on storing your kayak?), but I know there is a large group of you out there who won’t let a little cold stop you from your favorite outdoor activities. It is for that reason that I wanted to help you out with a little advice from our expert staff at ACK on how to extend that paddling season straight through Mother Nature’s coldest mood, and it starts and ends in your closet.
As winter sets in and water starts to turn solid, many paddlers will be hanging up their paddling gear until spring. For others, the cold is just another challenge to overcome before getting on the water.
I believe that winter time kayaking can actually be very enjoyable but it does pose some risks that you don’t usually face other times of the year. Before you put the ‘yak into hibernation, take a look at these ideas and tips for winter kayaking and maybe you’ll end up paddling a little more this year.
Start With the Skills
You need to be confident in your paddling ability before your first wintertime outing. The most important thing all winter paddlers need to know is what to do if you fall out of their kayak. The chances of falling out of your kayak during winter is not increased compared to any other time of the year, but the consequences of it are much worse because of the cold.
For sit on top paddlers, this means being confident in your ability to climb back onto your kayak. For sit inside paddlers, this means having good bracing technique to keep from tipping and a reliable roll in case the worst happens. Ideally, you should be practicing these skills during the warmer times of the year when immersion doesn’t pose such a great risk by intentionally jumping overboard, capsizing or rolling. However, if you aren’t 100% confident in your ability, seek out local instructors and educational resources. We have quite a few helpful books and DVDs to get you started.
Invest In Good Winter Gear
Winter kayaking gear should serve one purpose: to keep you warm and dry. This means a new set of winter paddling clothes plus emergency gear.
Clothing for Winter Kayaking
You winter paddling clothing will probably look completely different than the clothes you’re wearing on summer outings. You need to be dressing for immersion and also for staying warm in the chilly winter air. Remember, just because you don’t think you’ll be going for a swim doesn’t mean you won’t be at risk of getting wet from splash or rain. Be prepared and you’ll set yourself up for a more enjoyable outing.
What exactly you need to wear for a wintertime paddle depends on a number of factors like water temperature, personal comfort, water conditions and the type of water you’re paddling on. Remember that layers are a winter paddlers best friend, starting with a waterproof outer layer and warm inner layers.
Having some emergency gear is always a good idea when going kayaking. It’s even more important during the winter. How extensive you prepare is up to you, but consider bringing along the following items:
Give our Rescue & Safety gear a look for more ideas on what to bring along so you can be as prepared as you want.
Paddle Smart & Think Safety First
The final thing to remember about winter kayaking is to approach it with the right attitude. Don’t take risks you don’t need to and take extra precautions before you go. Paddling during the winter means there will be fewer people on the water, so you need to be able to rely on yourself and your paddling partner should something go awry. Keep these tips in mind:
Paddle with at least one partner
Make sure someone on dry land knows when you’re going out
Watch weather forecasts for bad weather and unexpected warm days
Pick spots that are close to home – you don’t want to take a long road trip somewhere and then feel like you have to paddle should bad weather arise
While you’re on the water, try to stay near the shoreline to minimize the distance you need to swim should it come to it
Always, ALWAYS, wear your Life Jacket
Winter paddling shouldn’t be something you just jump into but it is something you can take on with the appropriate preparation. If you don’t think you’re ready for it this year, keep this article in mind for when it gets warmer and start practicing and getting ready early for the next winter.
As always, if you think I missed something or just have something to add, leave a comment below!
There’s Lots of Options When it Comes to Cold Weather Paddling
Summertime paddling apparel is easy. Throw on a lightweight t-shirt (or don’t), a swimsuit, a pair of water shoes and you’re set. Ok, it’s not always quite that simple, but the point is summertime is a breeze when you compare it to fall and winter paddling. The reason being is that in cold weather and/or cold water apparel needs for paddlers change drastically, especially when there is a chance for immersion.
In this article, I’ll break out the different apparel options that we carry at ACK.com and what situations you’d want to use them in.
When you go into the water wearing a wetsuit, a thin layer of water is allowed to enter between your body and the suit. The body then heats the water and allows the heat to be retained and keep you warm.
Wetsuits are available in various thicknesses which will affect the amount of insulation offered (and how quickly water will warm) as well as the flexibility of the suit. Thicker wetsuits offer better heat retention but less flexibility of movement. Paddlers usually prefer 2mm – 3mm thick suits, which just happen to be the styles you will find at ACK.com.
The most popular form of wetsuit for paddlers is the Farmer John which has full legs but no sleeves. It is more comfortable and less constricting when paddling but doesn’t offer as much protection as you’ll need for cold weather paddling. However, a wetsuit is not outerwear, it is a base layer. It’s important to note that wearing anything under a wetsuit comprises its ability to keep you warm. Instead, layer clothes on top of the wetsuit.
Cold weather paddlers should consider that while a wetsuit keeps you warm in cold air and is relatively inexpensive, it has a limited range of protection (best in water 50 degrees and above).
A drysuit is the ultimate protection for paddlers in terms of outerwear. It is a completely waterproof garment with latex gaskets at all openings (ankles, wrists and neck) to keep out all water. These are one piece suits made with nylon some type of waterproof polyurethane coating or laminate.
As outerwear, dry suits require that insulating layers be worn underneath like long underwear or specifically designed fleece liners for warmth. Choosing the right insulating layers can actually be a bit tricky because if you wear too much underneath, you risk overheating. Often a single lightweight or mid-weight base layer is sufficient. Test this out on some short paddles and find what’s most comfortable for you.
Drysuits are a great, comfortable option for paddlers in even the coldest temperatures and you won’t find anything that can keep you more dry. It’s biggest trade off is the price, as dry suits are some of the most expensive pieces of paddling apparel.
For some paddlers, a full dry suit is either too expensive or just flat out unnecessary. For example, many sit-inside paddlers see anything from the waist down as unnecessary as their lower body is kept dry by the skirt and kayak. Instead, waterproof dry wear is available to be purchased piece by piece.
Dry Tops & Paddling Jackets
A dry top is a waterproof paddling jacket with neck and wrist gaskets and waistbands to seal with a sit-inside paddlers spray skirt. A dry top protects paddlers from cold water as long as they do not wet-exit from their kayak, therefore these are great for paddlers who are experienced at rolling their kayak.
Even less expensive then a dry top is a semi-dry top which has coated-Lycra wrist cuffs and neck closures to keep out most water. Generally these don’t seal at the waist so even a paddler who has rolling experience is likely to take on water during a roll.
Dry pants are for paddlers who normally use a dry top rather than a full suit but want the added protection in case of an expected swim. These are also an excellent option for kayakers that paddle a sit-on-top kayak.
Base layers are important for every paddler planning an outing during the colder months and come in many shapes and sizes. Base layers are not meant to get wet so they should be worn underneath a drysuit or dry wear.
These popular, quick-drying polyester/Lycra spandex shirts are quick drying and most commonly worn to protect from chafing and the sun. While they aren’t particularly popular during winter months, long sleeve guards do provide a little extra warmth and UV protection and go great under a wetsuit.
Keeping your face warm on a cold weather paddle is key and ACK has a wide range of options to do just that. Popular headwear for wintertime paddles include fleece or wool caps and face masks (like a buff), lightweight balaclavas and even full neoprene hoods. It’s suggested to get something to cover your entire head and face.
Your hands are your motor on the water and keeping them comfortable is important for paddlers. During cold weather, this means wearing gloves, mittens or pogies that are durable, warm and water-resistant. It’s also important to find a pair that doesn’t impair paddle control.
In cold conditions, getting your feet wet can be a serious downer during a paddle. The standard in paddling footwear at keeping your feet warm is the Neoprene booty which comes with a thick rubber sole to provide grip and protection when walking across rocks. Neoprene means waterproof, so these are great at keeping your feet drier and subsequently warmer. They come in a variety of styles in terms of ankle types (high top, over the ankle, low top, exposed ankle, etc) and in general the taller the style the better at preventing water from getting to your feet.
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!
A few months back, I wrote a short piece that caused a bit of a stir. Apparently “storing your kayak for the winter” didn’t resound well with many, especially those residing in more temperate regions (tongue in cheek of course). But the reality for many is that the idea of putting a kayak out of commission for a few months is unheard of because of either mild winters or the utilization paddling gear designed for cold weather paddling. I recouped some of the fury through a visual presentation highlighting cold weather paddling apparel and now, in an effort to continue this positive momentum, I’d like to offer some recommendations on kayaks that are ideal for paddling during the coldest months of the year.
The concept actually, is simple — get a kayak with a combination of a higher freeboard (hull that remains out of the water while paddling) and elevated seat that will stay dry or a kayak with a cockpit that can be fully or partially covered by a skirt. Continue reading Top 10 Kayaks For Cold Weather Paddling
Fall brings cooler weather and a hint of even colder temperatures that are just around the corner but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to put your kayaks and canoes away. With a bit of preparation and apparel suited for almost any type of environmental condition, you’ll be paddling well into the winter, especially for those in the more temperate regions. What it all really comes down to is layering and synthetic materials which is proven to not only help keep you dry but also warm. This guide offers some guidance on how to dress for less than ideal conditions but regardless of what you are wearing, always take great care when paddling in colder temperatures. – Roland @ACK
Based on the sheer volume of pictures I am seeing with kids and their new and loaded backpacks on Facebook, it seems that school is back in session. Some may see it as the end of summer but the heat is still on for most of the country and before we begin to plan out our cooler weather outdoor adventures, we should all take advantage of what’s left and enjoy the warmer temperatures to the fullest extent. That said, take a look at the long-range forecast from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. If this prediction holds true, it looks like we are in for some fair weather paddling this fall!
This blog was originally published by Team Bomber member, Taylor Cavin at Bomber Gear’s news site featuring the Bomber Gear Bomb Long Sleeve Dry Top. Might be hard to believe that fall begins in just a couple of months so yeah, time to start thinking about cold weather paddling!
This season I have had the pleasure of using The Bomb dry top among other Bomber Gear products. There are several well thought-out details in the design and manufacture of the dry top that I really appreciate.
The cut: At 6′ 0″, I use The Bomb size large, and I feel that the overall fit of the dry top is nice and roomy. This makes for uninhibited range of movement in the upper body when paddling. The spacious cut of the dry top also allows the layers worn underneath to stay lofty and keep you warm. If you’ve ever had your dry top “shrink-wrapped” to you from going deep, you know that without loft you can get cold even when dry.
The gaskets: The wrist and neck gaskets used in The Bomb dry top have an abrupt taper to them (more cone-shaped than funnel-shaped). This enables the gaskets to keep water out, but allow for unrestricted blood circulation to your hands and brain (important)! Most brand new dry tops are uncomfortably snug in the gaskets, prompting the user to either trim or stretch them, but not so with The Bomb. The neoprene cuffs and collar that cover the wrist and neck gaskets are also easy to get into, but help keep out the most swash-buckling dousings from the river.
The material: The outer shell of the dry top beads and sheds water like a duck’s back. Not only does The Bomb keep the paddler dry, it pretty much keeps itself dry. This helps the dry top stay lofty and keep the paddler’s strokes from getting bogged down with water-weight.
These features add up to make the best dry top I have used in ten years of paddling. Try it out for yourself and you’ll see that they don’t call it “The Bomb” for nothing.
@austinkayak Great review on the Bomb dry top from @bomber_gear, http://ow.ly/cehwH
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Can’t wait until spring to begin paddling again? We know what you mean. For those of us that don’t have to deal with frozen water and extreme cold temperatures, you can still enjoy paddling with a little preparedness. Think Thickskin! Immersion Research designs and manufacturers paddling gear with a focus on apparel, skirts, jackets, dry suits, layering and more. This month, we are featuring their Thickskin Union Suit. An ACK customer shared the following review with us:
I have used the Thickskin Union Suit on 4 kayak fishing trips over the past 10 days with temperatures ranging from about 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. My first reaction was that this product works just as described.
The obvious function of this suit is to keep you warm and it certainly did so without the need for excessive layering. I wore this suit with a pair of fishing pants, along with a fishing shirt topped with a fleece pullover and some rain gear. That combination kept me very warm at freezing temperatures. Surprisingly, this suit was particularly comfortable. I have noticed that many modern base layers fit particularly tight and can become uncomfortable for extended wear. This suit stayed comfortable for my entire overnight fishing trip. I was so tired when I returned home that I even fell comfortably asleep with it on!
There isn’t too much negative I can say about this product. I must say though, getting into the suit through the neck was somewhat awkward at first but I eventually got used to it. I am about 5’11 and 195 lbs and according to the sizing chart I should be a large but I noticed that it seemed a little loose. This could however, be intended.
Keep in mind hat this is a base layer and not intended to be a used as a wet or dry suit. If you plan to get wet, you may want to consider wet or dry suits.
Rating: I would give this product 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. Taking off a half a point for fit because I felt like it could fit a little tighter and still be comfortable. Highly recommend it!
Editor’s Note: We are curious, how many of you paddle during the winter months?
As I sit here getting ready for the upcoming boat shows I think back about how great of an “off” season it was. For many paddlers that reside in Texas, late November through January is considered the “off season”. Of course, we do experience a few days where temperatures will get back up into the 70’s, but for the most part it stays just cold enough, especially early in the morning to keep most folks off the water.
Well, I guess you can say that I am not like most folks. For me personally, it’s one of my favorite paddling seasons. This is mostly due to the fact that it is hunting season and with it being a bit more manageable at the store I am able to take more days off to chase after waterfowl.
Looking back over the past few months, I think about my most memorable times which started with opening weekend, paddling out into the dark at 1 am make sure that I got the spot of my choice on my favorite lake. Second to that was taking a few extra days off just before Thanksgiving to head down to the Gulf Coast for a “Cast and Blast” with my best friend which ended with a 2 day paddling trip with limits of ducks and trout. It may not sound like fun but hunting just before a cold front only to have to paddle back across the lake in 30+ mph winds and 2-3 foot swells was an exciting experience for me. Admittedly, that trip was a little too wet and cold but it was made easier utilizing a Hobie Mirage Kayak. I must also add my recent hunting trips during the coldest days of the season as of yet. There is nothing like breaking through ice in a kayak when its 22 degrees outside with a wind chill of 15 degrees. And of course, the countless days of getting up at 4 am for a short hunt just to make it back in time to open up the shop. Yes, good times indeed. I do always recommend that if you plan to paddle during the colder months, be sure you are outfitted with the proper apparel.
Now, the off-season wasn’t just about hunting and taking time off either, I was able to get some work done too! We took the time to focus on remodeling several areas of the Austin store. This includes the addition of a fully outfitted camping section, an expanded fishing section and an increased apparel offering. I am also staying busy planning for the Austin Boat Show, which is this week.
Enjoy the pictures and I invite you to drop by the store sometime soon to see how we’ve improved it. We’d love to hear about your winter paddling experiences, or better yet tell us all about these experiences by commenting below.