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 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 guards.


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.

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.

The two most important aspects of cold weather paddling is staying warm and dry. The right gear can help guarantee that your day on the water is comfortable and enjoyable!