Spring flows and Summer floats are right around the corner. If you are a boater, you know this, and are likely getting excited thinking and dreaming. What pieces of gear you may need to upgrade or repair, what lines or rivers you may want to explore, or how excited you are about your first Middle Fork Permit. But this write up is not meant to go into the many details of the Spring boating season or your first multi day trip. Rather, it is meant to explore an intermediary, a temporary solution that many boaters are starting to need right about now.
Winter boating, to me, is that solution. It is somewhat of a different animal in some of the best ways, and in others, some of the scariest. Here are five tips to make your entry into winter boating a bit more comfortable, safe, and fun.
Winter boating can be so peaceful and beautiful
- Perhaps this is the season to avoid the big stuff.
Getting on the water in the winter can be a great time to shake the rust off and just enjoy quiet time on your favorite sections of water (many of which normally have a constant cacophony of voices ricocheting down the sections like the Alberton Gorge). Treat the cold water and weather for what it is. Boat for the joy of it, knowing that this may not necessarily be the time to push the big, consequential lines that have a high chance of sending you swimming. Be extra cautious of hypothermia, and double down on the idea of dressing for the swim, not the weather.
- Along those lines- dress, layer, and gear yourself appropriately.
Winter boating is so peaceful and tends to reignite that love of whitewater that may have been dormant while chasing powder turns and hockey pucks. But it should be viewed as more hazardous, both for yourself, and for any potential rescuers. My general rule of thumb is to dress so that I can stay in the for a minimum of 30 minutes completely comfortably. Dry suits (here for women’s suits) are not just a comfort for boating in the winter, but a mandatory piece of gear for cold water boating. There are many myths about air and water temperature, but the bottom line is that if it is cold water, be prepared for immersion and layer appropriately. My personal cold water layering list: Under my dry suit I wear 2-3 thick fleece layers, 1 lighter moisture wicking layer, and double, sometimes triple wool socks. I use NRS HydroSkin Socks on the outside of my dry suit to protect the booties and add extra warmth. All this insulation for my feet necessitates having a winter set of wet shoes just for my dry suit. In my dry bag I bring along an additional thick layer, a puffy jacket, ski gloves, NRS Maverick waterproof Neoprene gloves, sunscreen, extra wool socks, a warm beanie, a few high calorie snack bars, and a rain shell. Additional Tip: the rain shell is great to eliminate evaporative cooling. Wear it through the whitewater sections and remove it when the sun hits you, or when you get done with the splashes for the day.
- Re-think your necessaries.
Perhaps you have a winter helmet that has ear protection and more insulation. Perhaps you have a PFD you prefer because it has fleece lined hand warming pockets. Whatever your gear and preferences may look like, this is the time of year to double check and re-think whether something is important to have with you on the water. This is the time of year to take extra time to evaluate why something may or may not be needed in your kit. Extra fleece hats and heavily insulated ski gloves may not be in every normal boating kit, but these are definitely nice, perhaps even necessary, for boating in the winter. Leave the sunscreen in your winter kit, remembering that you can still get sunburnt from snow/water glare with no protection. Fully waterproof gloves are great as well, but be warned- once your neoprene gloves are wet, they will likely remain wet for the rest of the day. Keep them in your dry bag for when you get chilly, unless you plan on wearing them all day.
Having something to eat can make all of the difference between a lovely day and a harrowing brush with hanger. Your caloric intake will need to be higher as your body is working to keep you warm, so bring some extra snacks. I love bringing a 64 oz Hydro Flask of hot tea as well, as it’s a glorious treat on those shady afternoons when you are starting to get chilled. Bring along warm food if possible, but warm or cold extra snacks will help keep you warm and comfortable, as well as stay safe. Proper caloric intake enables you to think clearly, and to deal more effectively with stressful situations and emergencies.
This will seem like a reiteration, and to be fair, it is. But safety of you and your party is the number one thing to pay attention to. If the weather seems like it may cause problems, perhaps wait until the next sunny day. If the flows are spiking above your comfort level, winter is not the time to push that comfort level. Have an evacuation plan and a hypo kit, especially if you are in a remote setting. Have extra gear for your friends and yourself. After all, you would rather have an extra set of gloves than deal with a horrific upstream wind that results in frostbite without them.
Winter Boating can and should be fun. There are many things to note about staying safe, comfortable, and therefore happy on winter boating trips. These are just a few, and this is in no way an exhaustive effort to cover all safety tips. Hopefully though, this will help get you started, or serve as a reminder should you already be a winter boating fanatic.
Ian staying warm, and thus very happy, on a recent lap.
We just got out to get some winter laps in ourselves, and we sure are getting excited for the upcoming season around here. Visit www.zootownsurfers.com to get your booking secured for the season.
Stay safe and warm out there, and I hope to see you on the water soon!
One of my favorite memories from ZTS is when me and Scott Doherty hopped in the old, silver World Class Kayak Academy van with some local teenagers from Missoula and travelled north to Canada and all the way up to BC, topping it off with some world class surf at Skookumchuck Rapids. The van smelled worse than a football locker room, and our gear would repel anyone that came close. Life was simple and all we cared about was kayaking and paddling hard. That was what ZTS was – A youth kayaking club with a bunch of dirtbags that liked kayaking a lot. We all had plenty of spirit and it worked for us.
Scott (co-founder) and I always had plans to grow it into something bigger and we certainly did. I never imagined ZTS would be where it’s at today. For years, I have tried to answer the question of what the ZTS experience is but have always had a hard time putting my finger on it. There have been so many times after long days where I found myself wondering, “how on earth did we do that”. What makes it special are the guest, the guides, friends, family, countless mishaps, laughter, tears, joy, flat tires, and lost pieces of gear. Looking back, some of the more challenging days/moments are the most memorable ones.
My only goal when I started ZTS was to create a business that would allow me to kayak 250+ days of the year. I accomplished that goal for many years paddling hard and living my life to the fullest. The desire to spend as much time on the river with my family and friends is stronger than ever and there is a sense of urgency burning inside me.
I’m excited to announce that there are new owners of Zoo Town Surfers, Megan and Ian Fodor-Davis. Over the last 10 years, I have had the opportunity to build a friendship with Ian and Megan and I can assure you they are going to continue what we started and take the “ZTS Experience” to the next level.
Words can’t describe the experiences and memories I have in my heart from running ZTS for all these years. I’m most thankful for the friendships. Missoula – you have had my back since day one and I love you for that.
I will always be a Zoo Town Surfer.
If you’ve got outdoors-focused friends & family, and you have no idea what to get them for Christmas or birthdays, and you want to support small businesses & talented guides, here’s the short list of some gift ideas- all guide-made & guide-owned. Happy Holidays!
Funluvin’ Fleecewear by Kelli O’Keefe: Fun & functional fleece layers of all kinds. My Funluvin’ skirts are the most essential piece of my river wardrobe, and tons of funky patterns and styles make such a memorable gift. (Don’t forget to order yourself something, too.)
Funluvin’ Fleecewear (funluvinfleecewear.com) Instagram: @funluvinfleecewear
Kinship Leather Goods by Sarah Mallory: Handmade, detailed, and classic leather works. I won a Kinshop wallet in a salmon trivia contest and it’s the nicest wallet I’ve ever owned.
S. Mallory Goods (smallorygoods.com) Instagram: @kinshopleather
River Food by Courtney Modaff: If you’re looking for a gift for someone who loves to cook, these unique spice blends are the way to go. You can find River Food spices like Stir Fry Blend, River Rub, Idaho Pie, and many more in select stores across Idaho & Montana.
www.idahoriverfood.com, Instagram: @idahoriverfood50
CHECK OUT THE REDSIDE FOUNDATION’S ANNUAL GUIDE-MADE FAIR FOR MORE GIFT IDEAS– AND IF YOU’RE AN IDAHO OR MONTANA GUIDE, DON’T FORGET TO SIGN UP FOR THEIR ANNUAL SECRET SANTA GIFT EXCHANGE!
This advice column is fairly standard and meant to give any rookie boater some helpful hints or reminders. First you’ll figure out the gear, the on-water safety, and the basic idea of getting yourself downstream. After that comes all the stuff that makes becoming a better paddler actually difficult: the mental endurance. I have no advice or how-to’s on the mental game of kayaking, only my own limited experience thus far.
For as long as I’ve been boating, kayaking has always been intimidating. There’s plenty of reasons, but I’ve found my biggest challenge in overcoming this fear of being Brand-New. It took a long time to get over the fact that learning to kayak would mean starting over. It would mean being a liability on the water, instead of an asset. And when it came down to actually putting myself in a kayak and getting over my fear of being Brand-New, it took years of self-persuasion.
Boating is hard. Every beatdown seems like it has only ever happened to you. Every rapid seems like life-or-death to some degree for a while. Every unfortunate encounter with duder-bro paddlers makes kayaking seem like it is quite a stupid endeavor. (the people who don’t go boating to experience the river itself, but the self-gratification of running the gnar- and getting the GoPro footage.) Boating is hard, and it is also such an epic way to learn your own limits and how to challenge those limits with purpose.
AMATEUR ADVICE HOUR: PRO TIPS FROM A TOTAL BEGINNER
#1) DIAL YOUR ROLL.
- Seemingly obvious, but a good place to start. Go to pool sessions, or the Jonsrud eddy, or Brennan’s, or anywhere. Fire off rolls until you’re dizzy. More time spent on practice equals less time spent upside down in combat. You will be a useless paddler if your roll isn’t solid, or if you don’t bother keeping it solid.
#2) DIAL YOUR GEAR.
- It is really important to have reliable gear that fits well. This goes for PFDs, helmets, drysuits, sprayskirts, paddles, etc.- and your kayak. Renting gear (hey Love Boat Library!) is a great affordable option if you’re just starting out and aren’t willing or able to invest in all the crap you need just yet.
#3) DIAL YOUR CREW.
- Knowing the right people and building a solid crew is probably the hardest part of getting into kayaking. The more you paddle, the more you’ll meet people you want to paddle with. Use your best judgement on who you trust to lead you down a new run, and remember to watch out for the safety of others as much as your own. Taking a swiftwater class is a great (but not cheap) way to sharpen your own knowledge, especially if you don’t have a ton of prior river experience.
#4) DRESS FOR THE SWIM.
- It’s pretty critical to have a general understanding of water levels and temps on any given river, and always dress for that swim. A long swim or prolonged rescue can be dangerously cold, even on a bluebird day.
(Like I said, this advice column covers the absolute basics. The rest is up to you!)
It’s easy, it’s a hot dish, and anything tastes good after a cold day on the water.
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (chopped)
- 3 cans great northern beans (14.5oz each)
- 2 cans chicken broth (14oz each)
- 1 can chopped green chilis (4oz)
- 1 cup shredded Pepperjack cheese
- 1 jalapeno pepper
- 1 yellow onion
- Some garlic, some olive oil, and whatever is in your spice kit!
Directions, sort of
- In a dutch oven or large pot on medium heat, cook chicken and onion until lightly browned. Add garlic, spices, green chilis and broth. Bring to boil, then simmer.
- Mash 1 can of beans and add it to the mix. Stir it up, throw in the other 2 cans of beans, and let the whole dish sit on low heat for 20-30 minutes.
- Serve with lots of cheese & diced jalapeno and enjoy!
- Add bouillon cubes or your own homemade bone broth for a lil’ extra flavor/texture.
- Make dutch oven cornbread (store-bought or home recipe.) Toss in some green chilis and cheddar cheese and you might convince your pals you know how to cook!
Other cold-weather meal ideas:
- Posole (if you’re seeking a more involved prep & quality meal)
- Mac & cheese w/ bratwursts (if you would rather sit by the fire and drink a beer)
Rivers are a privilege. We are lucky enough to share these wild and beautiful places with one another, and treating the river and our fellow boaters with respect is necessary in order to keep these places wild and beautiful. Be knowledgeable about the Leave No Trace principles, the river-specific regulations, water levels, and basic river etiquette.
AT THE BOAT RAMP
- Designate a concentrated space for your boats and gear, and make room for other groups to use the boat ramp.
- Do not spread out across the entire put-in area or block the boat ramp with vehicles and trailers.
- Do not put a boat on the ramp until you’re ready to move with purpose to get the boat in the water.
- Dial your gear. This includes all the required trash and human waste disposals, firepans and fire blankets, and food storage systems. These regulations can vary by river or seasonally.
- Know your campsites and plan ahead. Do NOT last-chance camp at an undeveloped site, and concentrate your use within the parameters of a developed camp.
- Be aware of microtrash! Food particles, wrappers, zip ties, etc. Microtrash destroys the quality of river camps and degrades the habitat and its species.
ON THE WATER
- If you come across another group on the water, sharing the space in a friendly manner matters. Whether it’s a nod or wave, or a quick chat about camps, rapids, the weather, whatever, it matters to be polite and welcoming out there.
- Look upstream before your group pulls out of an eddy. If there’s another group coming, it’s worth letting them pass and giving them space.
- Avoid fishing lines on other boats. That being said, avoid casting directly in front of a boat in the current.
- If you are passing another group, communicate with them and pass efficiently and in a calm stretch of water.
- If another group wants to pass you, it’s worth pulling into an eddy and letting them pass through efficiently, and in a calm stretch of water.
- If you come up on a risky scene, pull over and assess.
- If you are the risky scene, send one person upstream to signal to other boaters coming down to pull over and assess.
- Treat the river herself with ultimate respect.