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Essential Gear for Cold Weather Kayaking: What You Need to Know

cold weather kayaking gear

When it comes to winter paddling, staying safe, warm, and dry is crucial. Cold water temperatures pose significant risks, including cold shock, cold incapacitation, hypothermia, and even death. To mitigate these dangers, it’s essential to equip yourself with the right cold weather kayaking gear.

Choosing the appropriate clothing is the first step in ensuring your safety and comfort while out on the water. Your gear selection should be based on the water temperature and should include items that provide insulation and protection against the elements. Whether you opt for wetsuits, drysuits, drytops, or paddling jackets, each choice has its own advantages and considerations.

Key Takeaways:

  • Proper gear is essential for cold weather kayaking, providing safety and comfort.
  • Cold water temperatures can lead to cold shock, incapacitation, and hypothermia.
  • Choose clothing based on water temperature to ensure appropriate insulation.
  • Layering with wicking synthetic fabrics and insulating materials is recommended.
  • Consider factors like breathability, flexibility, and cost when selecting gear.

Water Temperature and Hypothermia Risk

When it comes to cold weather kayaking, understanding the water temperature and its impact on your body is crucial. Cold water can pose a serious risk of hypothermia, making it essential to choose appropriate clothing that provides adequate insulation.

The risk of hypothermia increases as the water temperature decreases. For water temperatures above 60°F, clothing suitable for the weather is generally sufficient. However, as the temperature drops, additional measures need to be taken.

For water temperatures between 55-59°F, it is recommended to wear a wetsuit or drysuit to provide extra insulation. These garments are designed to trap a thin layer of water against your skin, which helps maintain body heat. As the temperature drops further, between 45-54°F, a drysuit becomes strongly recommended due to its superior insulation properties. Finally, for temperatures below 45°F, a drysuit is necessary to ensure extreme cold protection.

Selecting the Right Gear

Staying informed about the current water temperature is essential to choose the appropriate clothing for your kayaking adventure. Before heading out, check local resources, such as weather services or dedicated websites, to ascertain the water temperature in your area. This information will help you make an informed decision about the gear you need to wear to stay safe and comfortable on the water.

Remember, hypothermia can set in quickly, especially in cold water. Wearing the right gear is not only a matter of comfort but also a matter of life and death. By understanding the water temperature and its impact on your body, you can make informed choices that will protect you from the risks of hypothermia while enjoying your cold weather kayaking experience.

Staying Safe and Warm

As a kayaker, your safety and well-being should always be a top priority. By selecting appropriate clothing based on the water temperature, you can significantly reduce the risk of hypothermia. Whether it’s a wetsuit, drysuit, or another form of insulation, make sure your gear provides the necessary protection against the cold. Layering your clothing, using wicking synthetic fabrics for the base layer and insulating materials for the middle layer, will further enhance your warmth and comfort.

Remember, proper preparation and understanding the risks associated with cold water kayaking are key to a safe and enjoyable experience. Take the time to research and invest in the appropriate gear, stay informed about water temperatures, and always prioritize your safety. With the right clothing and precautions in place, you can fully enjoy the beauty of winter paddling while staying warm, dry, and well-protected.

Layering for Paddlers

When it comes to cold weather kayaking, proper layering is essential. Layering allows you to adjust your clothing according to the changing outdoor temperatures, keeping you comfortable throughout your paddling adventure. The right layering strategy consists of three key components: a base layer, an insulating middle layer, and an outer layer for protection.

paddling gear

The Base Layer

The base layer is the foundation of your outfit and should be made of wicking synthetic fabrics, such as polypropylene. These fabrics are designed to draw sweat and moisture away from your skin, keeping you dry and preventing heat loss. Avoid cotton clothing for the base layer, as it retains moisture and loses insulation properties when wet.

The Insulating Middle Layer

The middle layer provides additional warmth and insulation. Opt for materials like fleece or wool, which have excellent insulating properties. These fabrics trap warm air close to your body, keeping you cozy even in chilly conditions. Choose the thickness of your middle layer depending on the temperature and your personal comfort level.

The Outer Layer

The outer layer is your shield against the elements, protecting you from wind, rain, and splashes. Paddling jackets and drysuits are excellent options for the outer layer. Paddling jackets are lightweight and offer good protection in mild weather conditions. Drysuits, on the other hand, provide complete waterproofing and insulation. They are ideal for colder temperatures and immersion.

By layering your clothing appropriately, you can easily adjust to changing temperatures during your cold weather kayaking adventures. It’s important to choose the right materials and garments for each layer, ensuring maximum comfort and protection on the water.

Wetsuits & Neoprene Paddlewear

When it comes to cold weather kayaking, one of the most popular choices for insulation is a wetsuit made from neoprene. Neoprene is a flexible and durable material that provides excellent insulation against the cold water. It works by trapping a thin layer of water against your skin, which then warms up and helps to keep you warm throughout your paddling session. Wetsuits come in different styles and thicknesses, but one popular option among paddlers is the Farmer John style wetsuit.

The Farmer John style wetsuit features full-length legs but no sleeves, allowing for greater freedom of movement while paddling. This style is particularly preferred by kayakers who value comfort and unrestricted motion. However, it’s important to note that Farmer John style wetsuits offer less protection compared to wetsuits with full sleeves and hoods. Depending on the water temperature, you may need to consider the trade-off between flexibility and added coverage.

If you’re looking for alternative options to traditional wetsuits, you can explore the NRS Hydroskin line of paddlewear. This line offers a range of neoprene-based garments that provide insulation and flexibility. What sets them apart is the ability to mix and match different pieces for a customized gear setup. Whether you prefer a Hydroskin shirt, pants, or socks, you can easily create a combination that suits your specific needs on the water.

Pros and Cons of Wetsuits

“Wetsuits made from neoprene are a great option for cold weather kayaking. They provide insulation and flexibility, allowing you to stay warm and move freely on the water. However, they do have a few disadvantages to consider.”

– Kayaking Expert

To help you make an informed decision, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using a wetsuit for cold weather kayaking:

Advantages Disadvantages
Provides insulation against cold water Offers less coverage compared to wetsuits with full sleeves and hoods
Allows for comfortable and unrestricted movement May not be suitable for extremely cold water temperatures
Can be less expensive compared to drysuits Traps a thin layer of water against the skin, which can feel chilly initially

Ultimately, the decision to use a wetsuit or neoprene paddlewear for cold weather kayaking depends on your personal preference, the water temperature, and the level of coverage and flexibility you desire. It’s important to find the right balance between insulation and mobility to ensure a safe and enjoyable paddling experience.

Drysuits & Paddling Suits

When it comes to cold weather kayaking, a drysuit is a versatile and highly effective option for staying dry and warm on the water. A drysuit is a waterproof garment that allows you to layer clothing underneath for insulation. It features latex gaskets at the openings to keep water out, making it an excellent choice for paddlers who want maximum protection from the elements.

Drysuits offer several advantages over other options. Firstly, they provide insulation by allowing you to wear multiple layers underneath, which can be adjusted based on the weather conditions. This layering system ensures that you stay comfortable and warm, even in freezing temperatures. Secondly, drysuits are designed to be breathable, allowing sweat to escape and keeping you dry from the inside as well.

There are different materials used in drysuits, with Gore-Tex being a popular choice known for its durability and resistance to clogging in saltwater. Tropos is another option that offers affordability, although it may not be as durable as Gore-Tex. If you’re looking for a reliable drysuit, consider the Super Nova Paddling Suit by Kokatat. Made with Tropos, it offers wrist gaskets, attached socks, and a relief zipper or drop seat, providing comfort and convenience for your paddling adventures.


To help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of drysuits, here’s a table summarizing their key features:

Advantages Disadvantages
Provides insulation and keeps you warm Can be expensive
Allows for layering underneath Requires regular maintenance
Offers breathability to keep you dry from sweat Tropos material may not be as durable as Gore-Tex

With a drysuit, you can confidently venture out into cold water knowing that you have reliable protection and insulation. Remember to always check the water temperature and choose the appropriate gear for your safety and comfort.

Drytops & Paddling Jackets

When it comes to staying dry and protected while kayaking, drytops and paddling jackets are popular options. These waterproof garments offer advantages and disadvantages depending on your needs and the conditions you’ll be paddling in.

A drytop is a waterproof jacket with neck and wrist gaskets that provide protection from rain, spray, and light waves. It’s a great choice for paddlers who don’t anticipate wet-exiting from their kayak. However, it’s important to note that drytops are not designed for full immersion in cold water. If you’re looking for a garment that offers more comprehensive protection, you may want to consider a drysuit.

Paddling jackets, on the other hand, are also waterproof but don’t provide full immersion protection like a drysuit. They are better suited for protection from rain, spray, or waves in warmer water conditions. One popular option is the Tropos Super Breeze by Kokatat. This affordable paddling jacket offers comfort and protection in less-than-ideal conditions, making it a reliable choice for many kayakers.

While drytops and paddling jackets have their advantages in terms of protection from the elements, it’s important to consider their limitations and choose the right garment based on the specific needs of your kayaking adventures.

Comparison: Drytops vs. Paddling Jackets

Feature Drytop Paddling Jacket
Immersion Protection Partial (not designed for full immersion) Partial (not designed for full immersion)
Waterproof Yes Yes
Neck & Wrist Gaskets Yes No
Comfort Good Good
Protection from Rain, Spray & Waves Yes Yes
Full Immersion in Cold Water No No
Price Range $$ $


When it comes to cold water kayaking, having the right gear is essential for your safety and comfort. Insulation and layering are key factors in staying warm and dry on the water. Choosing suitable clothing based on the water temperature is crucial to prevent cold shock, cold incapacitation, and hypothermia.

Neoprene gear, such as wetsuits, can provide insulation by trapping a thin layer of water against your skin. If you’re looking for more comprehensive protection, drysuits are waterproof garments that allow you to layer underneath and offer breathability. Drytops and paddling jackets are suitable for milder conditions, providing protection from rain, spray, and waves.

Remember to layer your clothing using wicking synthetic fabrics for the base layer, insulating materials for the middle layer, and a neoprene or waterproof outer layer. Swim-testing your gear before heading out and practicing capsize and recovery techniques in a safe environment are also crucial for your safety.

So, whether you choose a wetsuit, drysuit, drytop, or paddling jacket, make sure you have the right cold water gear to keep you safe and warm while enjoying your winter paddling adventures.


Why is it important to wear appropriate clothing in cold water?

Wearing appropriate clothing in cold water helps reduce heat loss and minimizes the risk of cold shock, cold incapacitation, and hypothermia.

What clothing should I wear for paddling in cold water?

The appropriate clothing depends on the water temperature. For colder temperatures, wetsuits or drysuits are recommended. Layering with wicking synthetic fabrics, insulating materials, and a paddling jacket or drysuit is also important.

How does water temperature affect the risk of hypothermia?

The risk of hypothermia increases as the water temperature decreases. It is important to be aware of the water temperature and choose appropriate clothing accordingly.

What is the purpose of layering clothing for paddling?

Layering allows paddlers to adjust to changing outdoor temperatures. The base layer wicks sweat and moisture away from the skin, the middle layer provides insulation, and the outer layer offers protection from the elements.

What is a wetsuit and when should I wear one?

A wetsuit is a neoprene garment that provides insulation by trapping a thin layer of water against the skin. It is recommended for colder water temperatures, but the thickness should be chosen based on the specific conditions.

What is a drysuit and when should I wear one?

A drysuit is a waterproof garment that allows layers to be worn underneath and offers breathability. It is recommended for colder water temperatures and provides better protection than a wetsuit. Drysuits can be more expensive and require maintenance.

What are drytops and paddling jackets used for?

Drytops are waterproof jackets with gaskets at the openings to keep out water. They provide protection from rain, spray, and waves but are not ideal for full immersion in cold water. Paddling jackets offer similar protection but are more suitable for warmer water conditions.

What should I consider when choosing cold weather kayaking gear?

Safety and comfort should be the top priorities. Consider the water temperature, insulation needs, breathability, flexibility, and level of protection required when choosing appropriate clothing for cold weather kayaking.

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