I love that I live in an area where there are lots of lake and rivers to float. In fact I love it so much I do it all year round. I am also fortunate to live in the South, so when I talk about winter kayaking, I’m really talking about kayaking when the temperatures are around 40-50 degrees. But I love winter kayaking. With the right gear and preparation, you can kayak all year round and enjoy it.
The following are the six main ways I ensure that I enjoy my winter kayaking trip and do not end up hating it because I’ve turned into an icicle.
1. Wear a skirt
No, not a skirt you would wear to a dance, but one made for your boat. A skirt is cover that fits around you and encloses the cockpit of the boat. This prevents water from dripping on your lower body. It also prevents a pool of water from pooling under your rump in your seat. It will also keep it off of your feet. (More about feet later.)
I don’t do a great deal of whitewater kayaking, mostly because I’m not skilled enough. So most of my winter kayaking is done on flatwater lakes and rivers. That way there is not too much water splashing into the boat. So I do not use a skirt.
However, when I kayaked on Lake Superior in Michigan this past summer we wore skirts then. Even though it was in the middle of July, Lake Superior was freezing cold. We kayaked under waterfalls so the skirt helped us stay warm. And as for the people we saw swimming, I’m not sure they were sane.
2. Wear moisture wicking clothes, stay away from cotton
It is extremely important to wear the right clothing when going on a winter kayaking trip. One thing is certain, as much as you try you are still going to get drops of water on you. The first time I went on a winter kayaking trip, I didn’t think about this fact. Fortunately I wore pants that do not absorb water. As I raised my paddle and the water dripped on my legs, it simply rolled off into the bottom of my boat.
My go-to pants are a pair of fleece-lined running tights. It keeps the moisture of my body and helps me stay warm. A light rain jacket can also help keep you dry.
Moisture wicking clothes, like polyester blends, will pull the wetness away from your skin and be more comfortable. Cotton on the other hand will hold that water close to your skin and make you cold. Moisture wicking is also good to keep you dry if you work up a little bit of sweat.
3. Keep layers in dry storage
Speaking of working up a sweat. If you are paddling across a lake where you have to put in a lot of muscle, you’ll want to wear layers. That way you can be cooler while paddling and add a layer when you stop to fish or for a break.
But you are going to want to keep those extra layers in a dry bag. One of my kayaks has a dry storage compartment. However, it is not truly dry, water still seeps in. I’m not too picky in the summer, but for winter kayaking I don’t want any water to get on my clothes.
Even with a dry storage compartment, it is always a good idea to keep things you don’t want to get wet in a dry bag anyway. I lost an iPhone to trusting dry storage one time – an expensive mistake.
4. Go when the sun is out
The warm sun rays can make such a difference in how you feel outside. Especially if you are in a plastic boat that can soak up the heat and reflect it back on you.
You might also be careful about going out when there is a lot of wind. A lot of wind can make you much colder. It will also make the boat hard to steer.
5. About your feet
When my feet are cold, I am miserable. But one mistake I made in the past was wearing my hiking boots. The first thing I did while launching the boat was step into the water. I soaked my socks and the inside of my boots. I had to paddle the whole trip with wet and cold feet.
On that same trip, I had to get out of the boat a lot and push it over log jams. My feet were constantly in and out of the water. With the waterproofing on my boots the water that got inside the boot never drained out.
On that trip, I believe I would have been fine with just river shoes. But if you want a little more warmth, try wearing wool socks under your river shoes. Wool will still keep you warm when wet. You could also wear wool socks with tennis shoes, but stay away from hiking boots or shoes that are waterproof. Your feet can breath inside them better than waterproof boots.
If you think you will be winter kayaking a lot, they do make special shoes that cover your feet and keep you comfortable.
6. Know your limits in winter kayaking
Finally, simply know what your limits are. If you know you are generally miserable sitting on the lakeshore in 40-50 temperatures maybe you need to go out in 60 degrees for your winter kayaking trip. Don’t forget you will be moving some in the kayak, so you will be a little warmer than just sitting on the shore.