Top 4 Paddling Tips for Winter


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For Seattle-based REI Outdoor School instructor Valerie Cleland, kayaking offers her a chance to unplug, reconnect and explore the outdoors from a new perspective. She’s a firm believer that cooler temperatures and less daylight shouldn’t keep people from getting out on the water. In fact, a moonlit tour of Lake Washington is among her favorite kayaking trips to lead.

Valerie loves helping people gain the confidence they need to get outside. For new kayakers, she recommends taking a kayak rescue class to learn techniques for the wet exit, self-rescue and how to help others get back in their boats.

Whether you’re kayaking, paddle boarding or canoeing, here are her top four tips for paddling during winter.

1. Dress for submersion. It’s a best practice all year round, but especially in cold weather. Valerie’s go-to outfit: a dry top with neoprene capri pants. She also recommends a full dry suit.

2. Follow the 120-degree rule. The sum of the water and air temperatures should add up to at least 120 degrees. If not, consider wearing a neoprene wetsuit or a dry suit.

3. Wet feet means cold feet. Valerie opts for neoprene booties, which allow your feet to get wet but will still keep them warm.

4. See the stars. Use the fewer hours of daylight to your advantage and take in the night sky from the water. Pack your waterproof headlamp and consider using deck lights so it’s easier for other boats to see you.

As always, be sure to bring safety equipment and the Ten Essentials, as well.

Not sure where to get started with paddling? REI stores and boathouses offer an array of paddling courses.

Find a Paddling Course Near You

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