30 Tips For Cold Weather Paddling

Rob Casey

With temps dropping into the 30′s at night and new snow in the mountains, I’ve had to accept the hard reality that it’s winter and I’ll have to start wearing more clothes to stay warm while paddling. As much as I like winter, I already miss the simplicity of a t-shirt, shorts and sandals. I’ve already begun to wear a Capeline shirt under my 4/3mm and a full neoprene hood. Disregard this article if you live in Hawaii.

One thing I’ve found that helps in staying warm on the water, is to make sure that I am warm before I get on the water and maintain my warmth after getting off the water. On frigid days, I’ve untied the board from my car without gloves and have had numb fingers in a few minutes. If my fingers aren’t thawed out by the time I hit the water, they’ll stay stiff throughout my paddle, not a good feeling. Here’s some suggestions on staying warm on land while getting ready or after your paddle:

Before the Paddle:
- Cut a foam camping pad in half and stand on it next to your car while putting your gear on. It really helps.
- If putting your wet or dry suit on, leave your hat and coat on until you absolutely have to remove them.
- Put your neoprene gloves on to remove your board off the car. A warm hat helps as well.
- Bring along an energy bar to eat before the paddle.
- Drink a warm non-alcoholic beverage prior to getting on the water.
- Check your gear before getting on the water. Is your leash attached? Do you have extra clothes, a power bar, drinking water, night light, hood, etc?
- Leave a float plan with a friend before leaving. A float plan lists where you’re going and how long you’ll be out for.
- Check the local wind direction, air temperature, tides, and forecast prior to getting on the water. A barometer will tell you if a storm is coming. NOAA and the National Weather Service have online real time data for your local weather. Webcams are useful in getting a visual check on what is really going on in your area. If you use an iPhone or similar device, find apps that are useful in checking local weather conditions.
- Stick NSI Plugs or EZ Plugs to your board so you can attach bungys or motorcycle netting. These will allow you to carry your water bottle, extra clothes, or a backup paddle on your board. If you’re comfortable working with fiberglass, leash plugs are the most secure method of securing a load on your board. Kayak deck bags which are often waterproof can also be attached to your tie-downs.
- Store extra batteries for your headlamp or paddling light in the car. Other items to store may include commonly forgotten gear such as gloves, hood or warm hat, energy bar, TP, extra car key, chemical heat packets, drinking water, etc.
- Save plastic peanut butter and similar containers to store your cell phone, GPS, or other items you want to keep dry while paddling. These stay very dry, are durable, and much more affordable than store bought waterproof containers.

On the Water:
- Dress for the water temperature even if you don’t plan on getting wet.
- Wear a PFD. While many think they’re uncool or bulky, they do keep your core warm in cold temperatures and provide pockets to store an energy bar, night paddling light, camera, watch, tide table, cell phone, VHF radio, flares, whistle, compass, skull cap, etc.
- Always wear a leash if you’re going out in frigid water and air temps, or in wind.
- Going out at night of after work? With shorter days in winter, attach a waterproof white light on your board and/or body to prevent collisions with boats. Check out the Guardian LED light. I attach one to my rear PFD or fanny pack to preserve my night vision. I have another waterproof flashlight to pull out if needed for extra visibility. Some use waterproof lasers pointers to shine at boat pilot houses if a collision is imminent. Tie your flashlight on a short string to prevent losing it in the drink.
- Carry a drybag on your deck with extra clothing or for store layers you want to remove. I always carry neoprene gloves and a hood, as well as a kayaking gortex drytop for backup clothes.
- While on the water, bring along a warm drink in a thermos to stay warm. Even warm water is helpful and still keeps you hydrated.
- Find a paddling partner particuliarly for rough water or night trips.
- Stay within your skill level. If in doubt, don’t go out.
- Put bright colored tape strips on your paddle shaft if you drop it if paddling at night or in rough water. Consider bringing along a break-down kayak paddle for upwind trips. You can attach your SUP paddle to the deck with bungys.
- In rough water or high wind, put your leg over your paddle if you’re taking a break. You can also stick it under your bungys.

After the Paddle:
- Put your board on the car first and tie it down, then remove your wetsuit, PFD, hood, etc.
- Bring a thermos of hot soup or a non alcoholic beverage to keep in the car for a warm up.
- Fill a 1 gallon container of hot water to pour on yourself to warm up and wash the saltwater off. It’ll still be warm after 2hrs in the car.
- Remove your wetsuit while standing on your foam camping pad. Some prefer to stand in a Tupperware tub while removing their wetsuit. This keeps your suit from touching the ground after removal. Put the camping pad at the bottom of the tub for insulation.
- Start your car as soon as you get off the water and put the heater on. It’ll be warm by the time you’re ready to drive home.
- Store some energy bars or a preferable munchy in the car to refuel your body and stay warm.
- If removing your suit before you go home, keep warm dry clothes, a jacket, and a towel in the car. Fleece ponchos can be purchased to keep you warm while removing your clothes underneath in public places..
- Keep a headlamp in the car to assist with tying the board on the rack after dark.
- Sounds nasty, but stand by your running car’s exhaust pipe to keep your legs warm.

— This article is based on material from Rob Casey’s forthcoming book, Stand Up Paddling, to be published by Mountaineers Books in spring 2011.

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