Living in Montana and other northern states can be difficult in the winter months when temps aren’t exactly ideal for kayaking. Here are some tips on how to dress for success while kayaking in winter conditions, from a kayaker who always finds herself shivering!
In my opinion, a drysuit is one of the most important pieces of safety gear a kayaker can own. Not only does a drysuit extend your paddling season by several months – or in some places make it possible to paddle year-round – but it can also save your life in the case of an unexpected swim in 40 degree water. If a drysuit is out of your price range, dry bibs and a dry top used together can be a good substitute. I recommend Kokatat drysuits and drytops, as I have always found their gear to be extremely dry, reliable, breathable, and comfortable.
UNION SUIT / FLEECE ONESIE
Though this one-piece layer is not entirely necessary, I do find it to be the most comfortable way to layer for warmth underneath a drysuit. You don’t have to deal with tucking shirts into pants, shirts bunching up to your chest, and most importantly the chance of you getting a wedgie is diminished quite a bit. NRS, Immersion Research, and Kokatat all make great union suits.
*Pro tip for women! Make sure you buy a union suit with a butt flap if your drysuit has a drop seat!
ADDITIONAL FLEECE/SYNTHETIC/WOOL LAYERS ON TOP (depending on temps)
I am a naturally cold person, so I tend to wear more layers than most other people I see on the water. If I am paddling in the winter when it is below 35 degrees, I generally attempt to wear as many layers as can comfortably fit underneath my drysuit. This usually works out to be one silkweight layer for wicking sweat, one warmer long underwear layer (Patagonia’s capilene 4 works great!), one thin fleece (Patagonia’s R1 is my favorite), along with a union suit.
ADDITIONAL LONG UNDERWEAR ON THE BOTTOM
One lighter long underwear bottom worn underneath a union suit is usually all that is needed, since your legs are protected from the elements by your kayak.
THICK FLEECE/WOOL SOCKS
Acorn fleece socks are the only socks I have found that keep my toes warm inside my drysuit during the winter.
Pogies work great when river running in fall weather. But once the thermometer drops below 35, or if I am playboating in cold water, I find that mittens are the only way to keep my hands toasty warm. The NRS Toaster Mitts are my mittens of choice. They even have a handy snot-wiper on the thumb!
NEOPRENE SKULL CAP
The best protection against ice cream headaches!
OVER-THE-DRYSUIT NEOPRENE SOCKS
I only added these to my gear collection this past season, and I am so glad that I did. By keeping dirt, rocks, and sand away from your drysuit socks, they will greatly increase the lifespan of your drysuit and help keep it 100% dry for much longer.
BOOTIES WITH GOOD TREAD
Falling on your butt is sometimes inevitable when walking to the put-in over icy trails, however, a bruised tailbone can be mitigated by buying booties with good tread! I recently purchased a pair of Astral Brewers and am super happy with how sticky the soles are on slick surfaces.
These are not always necessary, but can definitely come in handy when hiking over icy portages.
A must-have item for playboating at all times of the year! Swimmer’s ear can be extremely painful and can take you off the water for weeks at a time if it isn’t treated properly. Mack’s waterproof silicone earplugs can be bought at most drug stores and can be reused several times. They even come in a handy case that can easily fit in the pocket of your PFD.