Words by Rebecca Parsons
Cold weather doesn't mean less time on the water; it just means more layers and thicker neoprene. If you aren't lucky enough to live in a tropical region, you'll want to be particular when selecting your clothing for a wintertime paddle. Cold temperatures can pose a serious threat should you fall in, so it's important to be prepared and always dress for immersion. To help keep you warm, we put together this list of the key pieces of gear you’ll need for a cold weather paddle.
As always, you should wear a leash, PFD and paddle with a buddy for maximum safety. Be smart, check the conditions and don't push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
If you paddle in an exceptionally cold region or want to run some frigid whitewater rapids, a dry suit is your best bet. As the name suggests, dry suits keep you dry. They are made from nylon with a waterproof polyurethane coating or Gore-Tex laminate with latex gaskets at the wrists, ankles, and neck to ensure no water finds its way in. But while dry suits keep you from getting wet, they don’t necessarily keep you warm.
Dry suits provide little to no insulation, so you'll want to wear long underwear or some form of a base layer underneath to ensure you stay warm for the duration of your paddle. There are a number of solid dry suits on the market and while the price may be steep, it’s a small price to pay once you fall into freezing water.
Unless you reside in the tropics, you probably have a wetsuit of some kind in your arsenal. Contrary to dry suits, wetsuits trap a thin layer of water against the skin, which is then warmed by the body. Wetsuits come in variety of different styles and thicknesses, so use your best discretion or check in with your local surf shop to decide how much neoprene is best suited for your region.
Of course, wetsuits are not the most breathable apparel, so they are typically best suited for paddling when immersion is expected. The "Farmer John" is a popular paddling suit because it provides insulation but the lack of sleeves allow for maximum mobility. Most wetsuits don't come cheap, so it's important to be diligent about rinsing your suit with fresh water after each paddle and to store your suit out of direct sunlight.
When paddling in warm weather you probably don't give much thought to your feet, but as soon as temperatures drop, it's one of the first things you'll notice. If your feet go numb from the cold, it’s obviously going to be tougher to balance on your SUP and your performance will suffer. That’s why it's important to make sure you're wearing appropriate footwear.
Your best bet is a pair of neoprene booties, which will keep your feet warmer in the same way a wetsuit heats your body. There are a number of different styles and ankle types but generally speaking, the taller styles will be more effective in keeping cold water out. Similar to wetsuits, booties should be rinsed with fresh water after each use and stored in a cool, dry place.
Trust us, nothing is worse than trying to grip a cold paddle when you can’t feel your hands. That’s why keeping your hands and fingers warm while on the water is crucial to a fun and safe paddle.
When selecting a pair of gloves, you'll want a pair that provide a layer of protection against the cold water and air but doesn’t impair your ability to grip the paddle. The best best is a pair of thinner wetsuit gloves – probably no thicker than three millimeters. You can find gloves from most major wetsuit manufacturers and they’ll generally run you 40 to 50 dollars.
The majority of body heat escapes through the head, so it's essential to wear a hat or hoodie when paddling in cold weather. While you can purchase neoprene hoodies on their own, if you’re paddling in cold areas, you should consider purchasing a wetsuit that comes with a hood. There are countless options for you to choose from as nearly all wetsuit manufacturers produce a hooded suit.
Another thing to consider is that if you're doing a whitewater run or another SUP discipline that requires a helmet, you'll want a thick cap that will fit beneath your helmet. However, if you're out for a calm, flat-water paddle, an insulated fleece or wool hat should keep you toasty.
If you frequent somewhere that experiences mild winter temperatures, simply wearing leggings/pants, long sleeves and a water-resistant jacket on top should be enough to keep you warm. Whatever you choose to wear, just be sure it will be warm enough to handle a few moments in the water and always wear a leash and PFD.