Bittu Ali – Great Outdoor Provision Co.

I must say that after reading Bill’s article on Cold Weather Paddling, I got so scared that I considered giving up winter paddling for good. But then I remembered that I had been having a blast for the last 15 years -safely enjoying winter paddling. By no means am I trying to down play the seriousness of padding in cold weather; however, winter paddling is not merely doable but also enjoyable.


In fact, some of my fondest paddling memories are from winter paddling trips. A few years ago, a friend of mine named Steve Strange had converted an old school bus into a padding rig. About 8 guys piled into this bus and took a trip to the NY Adirondacks in late March for a week of padding. This had to be one of the best trips I ever did. While we had many excellent runs on rivers like the Oswegatchie, the most memorable was a trip down the Bottom Moose under snowy conditions. With an air temperature around 27 deg and the water temperature barely above freezing, getting out of your boat to scout or film some of those Class IV-V drops was unforgettable! While I can’t say that we were sweating under those conditions, I can say that we were all properly equipped and reasonably comfortable.

Equally rewarding were some of my flatwater winter paddling trips. With low humidity, few bugs, crystal clear skies and preternatural quiet, winter paddling can be a Zen experience for those who seek to escape the crowds. For example, some of the best kayak birding opportunities take place during both ends of the winter migratory periods. Whatever your paddling preference, my point remains that winter paddling can be an enjoyable adventure if properly equipped. Here is an overview of 4 different clothing systems that will effectively keep you warm while paddling in cold water.


Full Drysuit System (Gore Tex Drysuits are preferred) with Fleece, Skull Cap and Gloves/Pogies

  • Suitable for all varieties of cold weather padding, including Open Water and White Water
  • Suitable for cool November-December & April NC weather if layered lightly.
  • Suitable for cold January-March NC weather if layered more thickly.
  • Body stays dry and is the most comfortable and flexible of all cold weather systems
  • Easy to swim around in the water if one “burps” the air out of the drysuit

Paddler’s Wet Suit System (2-4mm w/reflective coating or 4-5mm with non-reflective coating) with Paddling Jacket, Fleece, Skull Cap and Gloves/Pogies

* Similar suitability as the Drysuit system above
* Less expensive than the Drysuit system above
* Less comfortable than the Drysuit system above since the body stays wet (but warm)
* More bulky and less flexible than Drysuit system above
Cumbersome to swim if one gets enough water in the paddling jacket’s sleeves

Hydroskin Neoprene
System (.5 mm w/reflective coating) with Drytop, Paddling Pants or Drybib, Fleece, Skull Cap and Gloves/Pogies

  • Similar suitability as the 2 systems above
  • Priced in between the two systems above
  • Drier and more comfortable than Wet Suit system but not quite as nice as the Drysuit system
  • System will only work in conjunction with a neoprene sprayskirt
  • Not suitable for Canoes or SOTs, since sprayskirts are not worn
  • Easy to swim around in the water for brief periods; however water begins to slowly “seep” up the sprayskirt tunnel

Hydroskin Neoprene System with Paddling Jacket, Fleece, Skull Cap and Gloves/Pogies

  • Suitable for most SE cold weather paddling in November, December and April
  • Suitable for non-Open Water and non-White Water NC paddling in January and March
  • Not recommended for February-like (or similarly demanding) conditions in NC
  • Very affordable and versatile system for most paddlers
  • Cumbersome to swim if one gets water in the paddling jacket’s sleeves

Additional notes regarding cold weather paddling systems:

  • A tight fitting skull cap is the most cost effective way to slow heat loss
  • Your hands will always be cold if you are losing too much heat through your head
  • Did I forget to tell you to wear a skull cap?

In a nutshell: Read Bill’s article so you understand the risks of cold weather paddling but know that being prepared for cold weather paddling is fairly easy to accomplish with the right knowledge and equipment. It’s also highly enjoyable!

This article is a follow up to Bill’s “Cold Weather Paddling