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What to wear when kayaking in cold weather?

Hey everyone!

I recently purchased a Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 kayak just before winter started. Unfortunately, it arrived just as it got too cold outside to use it. That being said, I'm excited to get out paddling as soon as possible. 

I guess the best way to word this question is if you were going to kayak in 50° F weather on a 38° F lake, what would be the best choice of clothing/gear to bring? I thought it would be a good idea to get a coated nylon spray skirt, a splash jacket, and water gloves. I was wondering what types of insulating layers would be the best to wear. 

For what it's worth, in terms of experience, I've never owned a kayak before. However, I've paddled kayaks in warm weather on several occasions, mostly on flat water and once on a slow-moving river. I'm sure there's room for improvement, but I think I grasp the concept pretty well.

7 Replies

a well fitted wetsuit is a really good idea.  I have kayaked in open ocean water, often 50 degrees, and a wetsuit was really critical. Frankly, I would wait for warmer weather.

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Yes, I definitely will not consider ocean kayaking until I get some more experience. However, would you say a wetsuit is necessary even on a flat lake?

The problem with a wet suit. of course, is the inhibition of shoulder and arm motion, not insignificant.  You might try a wetsuit vest, along with some other garment, like a thick fleece jacket.  Whatever you do, get yourself first into the lake and experience total immersion, a very likely possibility in even the calmest of waters.  I have scuba dove in 34 degree water and it is really cold.....

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

You always get a little wet in a kayak, even if you don't roll or paddle into rough water. Dress for the water. I'd don the neoprene, then, even in summer, you can entertain the possibility of paddling more formidable waters like Superior or the ocean.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Agree with above. The "golden rule" of colder weather paddling is always dress for the water temperature. Just like wearing helmets and seat belts, one must Be Prepared for the worse case, that being going into the water.

For winter paddling I wear a farmer john wetsuit (does not inhibit shoulders, but not as warm) with a wool long underwear top, a splash jacket, a wool helmet liner, neoprene socks and paddling gloves. And of course a life vest.   My boat is a packraft, but it does have a sprayskirt.   I usually paddle on rivers so I do get splashed.  This outfit is warm enough for about 2  hours of class II paddling in snowy conditions and then I'm totally ready for hot chocolate.  From experience I can say that it is not really warm enough for lots of splashy class III or much swimming except in the sense of not actually dying from hypothermia.   People who expect to swim wear dry suits.   Also, even though I have paddled in falling snow I try really hard to deliberately pick sunny days for winter paddling.

50f day in 38f water, not without a drysuit.

What kills most people isnt hypothermia, it is the involuntary breath that you take when your system takes a shock. If you happen to be in water it doesnt work out well mostly. Wet suits let in cold water, and your body warms it up. It is still initially cold.

The Aspire is a rec boat. Odds of getting a skirt are not outstanding, and the actual usefulness of one is questionable as you wont be edging or rolling a 30" boat.

Your best bet is to park it, get a 3mm Farmer John over the winter, and after water temps get up to about 50, put on the wetsuit and go for a swim and see how it works out. To make it even kinda reasonable, you will spend more on gear than you did on the boat.