Tips for Cold Weather Kayaking

From late fall to the middle of winter, tips to keep you safe and comfortable out on the water

As temperatures drop, the snow will soon start to fall and the water on lakes will begin to freeze. Many kayakers will take the changing weather as a sign of the end of their paddling season and store their gear, waiting out the winter. If you’re one of those paddlers thinking of stashing away your gear, you should know that you don’t have to give up your time out on the water just because it’s chilly.

Sure, there are some challenges to paddling in colder weather—dips in temperatures require more clothing and preparation and paddling experience and skill is especially important when the water is so cold. But there are also quite a few benefits to cold weather paddling. Fewer people paddle in the late fall and winter, so you’ll likely have the water to yourself. Another unappreciated benefit: the annoying mosquitos are long gone and of course, the sights can be incredible (think fall foliage, snowcapped mountains and eventually ice formations).

Every kayaker should give cold weather paddling a shot, check out our tips to be well prepared and warm throughout your adventure.

What You Should Wear:
life jacket or other PFD (personal flotation device)
—a drysuit
—a hood, hat or skullcap
—gloves or pogies
—warm socks and paddling boots
—as it gets colder, layers are key to keeping warm
—bring a change of clothes in a dry bag

Equipment You’ll Need:
a spray skirt (for sit insides)
—bilge pump (sit insides)
—paddle leash
—whistle and signal light
—first aid kit
—consider heel pads or a seat pad to minimize the chill from the water

Tips for safely managing the cold and avoiding hypothermia:
—stay hydrated, preferably with warm fluids (non-alcoholic)
—be sure to eat before you go, especially carbohydrate-rich foods and pack snacks
—paddle with a partner or group
—be familiar with rescue techniques, know how to roll and re-enter your kayak
—always wear a PFD

How cold is too cold?
While this is mostly a judgment call for each individual paddler, when the air temperature dips below about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, water will begin to freeze on your kayak and equipment. Be sure to break the ice off any areas or items you need access to before it builds up.

In the winter, when the air and water hit extremely low temperatures, paddling becomes especially risky. Only experienced paddlers who know rescue and roll techniques should go out in the winter. It is essential to know the conditions before you go. Know the signs of hypothermia, know your limits and enjoy the winter waters.