Apparel Options for Cold Weather Paddling

There’s Lots of Options When it Comes to Cold Weather Paddling

Take on cold weather paddling with the proper apparel.
Take on cold weather paddling with the proper apparel.

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 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

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).

Shop’s selection of wetsuits.


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.

Shop’s selection of drysuits.

Dry Wear

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.

Semi-Dry Tops

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

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.

Shop’s selection of dry wear.

Base Layers & Liners

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.

Full length fleece liners, like the Immersion Research Union Suit, with front zip entries are popular for layering underneath full drysuits.

Rash Guards

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.

Shop’s selection of rash gaurds.


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.

Shop’s selection of headwear.


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.

For those not familiar with pogies, refer to this informational video.

Shop’s selection of paddling gloves.


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.

Shop’s selection of paddling footwear.



Outfitting Your Paddle…

Outfit your paddle, yes, your paddle. Just like the variety of accessories that are available for kayaks and canoes, you may be surprised to see how many products exist for paddles alone. Some items are made specifically for the paddle itself while a few others are actually made for it’s use and/or storage — either way there is more than you would have ever imagined. Here are a few examples:

Paddle Drip Rings – Some beginner paddlers wonder what they are for, long-time paddlers think they add weight to their paddles but either way, they have one purpose — to keep water from dripping down the shaft of your paddle towards your hands and into your boat. Properly positioned on the paddle shaft, they let the water drip of the paddle out side of the cockpit area of your kayak.
Paddle Leashes – Secure your paddle to your kayak so that you never loose it again. This may be especially important for those that paddle rough or faster moving water and for anglers that can sometime misplace their paddle when hooking a fish. Also allows you to drop your paddle in a hurry without wondering where it’s going to float off to.
Paddle Clips and Holders – These are actually for your kayak but built specifically to hold your paddle securely in place. These also provide a great way to take along secondary, emergency paddle. Paddle holders keep the paddle flush with your kayak and out of the way.
Kayak Paddle Grips – Usually padded, these will make your paddling experience more comfortable by easing up the tension on your grip. Many varieties are ‘slide=on’ so make sure that you have a two-piece paddle before purchasing, otherwise look for the velcro version.
Paddle Bags – Some paddles cost as much as a kayak, protect your investment by storing it in a paddle bag. Paddle bags also keep both parts of the paddle together and organized in your truck or garage and some include a handy, small pouch or pocket that you can store other items like your paddling gloves.
Paddle Floats – Turn your paddle into a functional outrigger by adding stability to a self-rescue situation.
Paddle “T” Handle – Quickly turn your two-piece kayak paddle into a canoe paddle. A great option for hybrid kayaks or for those using foot propulsion who occasionally need paddling assistance.
Gloves– Avoid blisters, gain a better grip on your paddle. Some gloves are designed for warmth and others for keeping the damaging rays of the sun off your hands. It’s always a good idea to keep a pair or two of these around especially on those longer paddling trips.
Paddle Gloves – Sometimes referred to a “poagies” or paddle mitts, they’re a great way to keep your hands warms when paddling in colder temperatures. This design in particular attaches to your paddle for easy on/off use.
Paddle Keeper Kits – Like paddle holders and clips, attaching a bungee system directly to your kayak is another great option for securing your paddle to your boat.
Paddle Visibility Kit – For those of you that paddle at night, you should take precautionary measures to avoid accidents. Placing these pre-cut reflective stickers on your paddles and your yak can make you more visible from afar.

Well there you have it! Give your paddle some love. After all, if it wasn’t for your paddle, your kayak or canoe would be completely useless. To view our complete line of paddles and paddle accessories, click here.


Fingerless Gloves Prevent Blisters

Do you get blisters after a long day of paddling? Yeah, me too.  A pair of fingerless gloves is a low cost solution.  During the summer months fingerless gloves are more comfortable than regular gloves, especially if you are in the warmer parts of the country.

Another advantage they offer over regular gloves is that they feel more like bare hands and they allow you to actually use your fingers for handling gear.  The gloves are built with comfort in mind and they already have a slight curve to them so it won’t take anytime at all to break them in.

Also, the seams are placed where they won’t cause irritation.  They are less than 25 dollars and your hands will thank you!

Amanda – Store Associate
ACK Austin