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Winter Kayak Wetsuit for Paddling

   March 23rd, 2016   Posted In: Articles   Tags:


Winter paddling is a foreboding challenge that has traditionally been reserved for only the most hardcore of paddlers. The freezing temperatures and equally chilly water prevents many kayakers from venturing out. However, owning the proper gear and kayak wetsuit can allow you to experience what is actually a joyful experience paddling in a winter wonderland. The snow and the ice can create breathtaking scenery and water levels tend to be surprisingly good during the winter months. There is also a certain magic in the air that is felt by those who are brave enough to seek it. Don’t let cold weather get you down, pick up some wetsuits for kayaking and prepare for adventure!

Through 25 years of kayaking, I have found several excellent gear combinations to make the winter kayaking experience into a pleasant one. In my early days, I used the combination of a farmer john kayak wetsuit and a dry top. This proved to be more than adequate for getting out and feeling comfortable. The dry top will keep your upper body dry, and the wetsuit uses your own body heat to keep you warm, even when wet. For a paddler on a budget, this is an excellent way to go. However, if you have the money to spend, I highly recommend getting a drysuit. A dry suit will keep your body almost totally dry and will allow you to withstand colder situations than the wetsuit/dry top combo. Staying dry in cold weather is a comforting feeling and the peace of mind of knowing you will be warm even if you have to come out of your boat is worth its weight in gold!

Hand Protection

Keeping your hands warm is also a very important part of survival on the water in cold weather. Having the wrong gloves can change your pleasurable excursion into a miserable struggle. I prefer the NRS Toaster Mitts since I find that having my four fingers together in the mitten keeps my hands very warm. Plus, the 2.5mm thickness of the palm is slightly thinner than the traditional 3mm required for winter paddling and allows for easy grip. Some people prefer the individual freedom of five finger gloves, but I found that you need a thicker glove to keep your hands as warm as the Toaster Mitts. Thicker gloves can make gripping the paddle more difficult. For the best grip, pogies can’t be beaten during cold weather. You grip the paddle with your bare hand with a shell that attaches to the paddle shaft. This is a very warm option when things are going well but it leaves your hands exposed if you need to let go of your paddle for any reason.


Proper footwear can also make a huge difference in allowing your feet to tolerate the cold. The correct sock layers will help but choosing the right shoe is the most important part. Many paddlers prefer sturdy water shoes that have firm soles to make hiking easy. However, I prefer to have a flexible sole and have used the NRS Watershoe for more than a decade. You sacrifice some grip while walking but you gain a lot more comfort and flexibility when inside the kayak, which can help blood circulate in your feet.

Head Protection

Since a great deal of heat can be lost through your head, a good helmet liner is also a must for winter kayaking. I prefer a thin fleece liner since it is still warm and fits nicely under the helmet. However, for more extreme protection of your head in cold water, the neoprene liners can’t be beat. They can be difficult to get under your helmet but provide unmatched protection and warmth if you plan to flip several times on your river trip.


Preparing yourself for the cold weather will change your outlook on paddling in the winter. The experience of testing yourself against the elements on a river provides an unmatched feeling of accomplishment. Find a gear combination that works for you, and you will be out there experiencing the fun of winter kayaking before you know it.

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Bobby Miller is a team paddler for Accent paddles, Immersion Research paddling gear, and Shred Ready helmets who resides in the Mid-Atlantic. He started paddling at the age of 8 and has traveled around the United States to kayak difficult whitewater and compete in races. Bobby is always looking for new, crazy waterfalls to run and obscure steep creeks that are off the beaten path. He enjoys the thrill of trying to find order in the chaos that whitewater provides.

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