dec13_coldweatherAs 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.

For ideas on what to wear, read about apparel options for cold weather paddling or check out our Cold Weather Paddling Apparel Layering Guide.

Emergency Preparedness Gear

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!


  1. Thank you for the advice. I will wait to kayak until late spring early summer. I live in New Hampshire and it is so beautiful here, surrounded by nature here in the mountains, I don’t want to miss a thing, but I am not the greatest swimmer and the river looks so cold. I will try to find winter things to do. The advice was great though.

  2. Would it be cruel to mention that in south Texas this is our best time of year to paddle? Temps are finally down from the 100 – 110’s to 60’s and 70’s and even the occasional 40’s? C’mon down y’all!

  3. 15 today in Indiana. Not always easy to find open water. Fun to slide up on ice floes and you can get our of your boat if the ice floe is large and thick enough. I like to bring ski goggles because the driving snow can make it hard to keep your eyes open. On Lake Michigan there are beautiful ice caves at some point during the winter.

  4. Limit your time of exposure. Plan shorter trips in cold weather. Your body burns a lot of calories and expends lots of energy just to keep warm. You will get tired sooner paddling in the winter. A thermos of hot tea or coffee is good to have along.