How to keep warm while kayaking in winter | Choosing kit for canoeing and kayaking in the cold

Every time winter rolls around you have to decide, are you going to hide in the gym for months on end or are you going to get out there on the river, paddle hard and enjoy the lovely outdoors?

A quick straw poll round Gentoo Sports HQ reveals we’ve all had some great paddles during the winter – going out when its snowing makes everything eerily calm and serene, messing around when the flow up is great fun (but be sensible!), knowing you’re out getting fit and enjoying yourself whilst others are too scared is always satisfying, and the rivers aren’t full of rented pleasure boats that can’t steer. Plus, if you’re training for something starting early in the spring like the Devises to Westminster race you really can’t avoid getting the miles in over winter.

But what to wear? Whether racing, training or touring you’ve definitely got to get your clothing right or you’re going to have a miserable time, if you don’t have kit that’ll keep you warm you’ll be wasting energy heating yourself up that you could be using to paddle.

Between us we’ve racked up hundreds of winter paddles so here’s what we’d recommend:

Thermals:

These are a staple in everyone’s kit bag; you simply can’t go wrong kitting up in theWhite Thermalrmals. Most flatwater kayakers just layer up the thermals as it gets colder, two or maybe three is normally enough, even in the deepest depths of winter. Thermals wick away moisture and trap warm air next to your body as well as being a soft comfortable layer next to your skin. We’d look out for thermals with a lowered back so you won’t be exposing your lower back (its pretty horrible getting a cold blasts of wind on bare skin) and long enough sleeves that they don’t slide up your arms during your paddle. Another tip from is wearing a short sleeved thermal as one of your layers often gives you more shoulder movement than wearing all long sleeved tops but experiment, everyone is unique!

Gillets and kags:

Sometimes if you’re going for a long paddle thermals by themselves wont quite cut it. Keeping the wind off makes a big difference to how warm you’ll stay. Personally we love gillets because you get a lot of extra warmth without any extra restrictions on your movement, but kags can be a good choice too – just make sure you can still rotate but without getting one that’s so baggy you feel like a sail every time the wind blows.

Leggings:

Obviously covering your legs up and not just wearing shorts is going to keep you warmer but most of the time going the whole hog and wearing thermal leggings is overkill. Wearing Lycra leggings and a spray deck (see below) should mean your legs getting cold isn’t too much of an issue. If anything the feel of the leggings on the seat is probably most important, which is why we chose ours to give you easy movement on the seat.

Spray decks:

Keeping water off your legs and trapping some warm air in your boat with a spray deck makes a real difference to staying warm. There are a few choices, zip vs non zip, neoprene vs nylon, and every one has its place. Neoprene is really warm, but is more expensive and does soak up a bit of water and thus add a bit of weight during the paddle. Non zip also tends to be warmer as it you don’t get water dripping in, but it’s a lot more effort to get in and out of the boat, so for longer paddles where you’re portaging locks the zippy deck tends to be preferred. Phoenix make some great decks the Gentoo team have been using for a while.

Pogies / paddle mitts:

A lot of people, us included, don’t really love the feel of paddling in pogies (you just can’t feel the paddle quite as well) but once the mercury drops there’s no denying it – you need pogies. Pogies are basically a loose fitting mitten that attaches round the paddle shaft with Velcro that you can slide your hand in to. They let you hold the paddle directly without a layer of material dulling the feel, like a conventional glove would do. They keep your hand warm by trapping the air round your hands and keeping water from running down the paddle shaft over your hands – a double wammy of warmth! Paul’s been out in the depths of winter and had ice on his paddles but still had warm hands wearing just Suzy pogies. You can get your hands in and out pretty easily once you’ve used them a few times so don’t worry that you need gloves – pogies are nicer!

Shoes:

If you’re doing flat water paddling and you aren’t planning on portaging then footwear might not be necessary. Lots of people appreciate the protection for their feet, but many prefer the extra feel on the footrest of going barefoot. It is warmer if you cover your feet though so it’s something to consider if you aren’t coping with the colder weather or know you are going to be portaging a fair bit.

Extras:

Still cold? Maybe it really is a bit too nippy to be out on the water but maybe a few tweaks could be all it takes.

  • Wear a hat
  • Try a buff
  • Or a balaclava
  • Wear a buoyancy aid, if you don’t already
  • Warm up inside to get your core temperature up before you start

Safety:

Remember it gets dark quick, a light on your deck is often a good idea and sometimes a requirement. If you’re planing on going for a long touring paddle it might be worth taking some extra kit in a dry bag ( I know I’ve fallen in in winter and someone gave me spare kit and I really appreciated it!) and some high calorie food like sweets (just in case, not as a post paddle treat!). The BCU have more safety advice if you need it.

I think we can all agree staying warm is vital and there’s always going to be a few ways to approach it but hopefully we’ve given you some useful tips and a good grounding in where to start. If you are just starting to build you your kit stash, maybe you only started paddling in the summer, then getting some thermals is probably going to be the place to start, then supplement with a spraydeck and some pogies once the weather worsens.

Image credit flickr.com/photos/dawn_perry

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