Winter Kayaking

So, You’re up for a Little Winter Kayaking?

Perhaps you’ve asked yourself, “Can you kayak in the winter?” You most certainly can, but it’s definitely not a walk in the park. With the cold to freezing temperatures as the major consideration, you have a lot of preparations to make.Β 

Whether you find yourself on vast lakes, wide expanses of sea, or even the winding rivers, you have to know what you’re up against. This is why this article will help you suit up when you go kayaking in cold weather. 

But, you have to know the risks first. 

Kayaking in Winter: Know the Risks

winter kayaking

It’s natural for all water sports to pose certain risks. It’s expected, especially since the water is a fickle mistress. What more with winter kayaking, right? 

In this section, the primary dangers of kayaking in cold weather is discussed. Don’t worry, you’ll know how to work your way around this, too. 

The Risk of Hypothermia

Hypothermia, or the lowering of your core body temperature, is one of the dangers you’ll face out there. When you find yourself submerged into the icy depth, quick onset of hypothermia might be a problem. 

But, you also have to worry about its slow onset. Here, you don’t necessarily need to take a dip into the cold blue. The cold can make your hands go numb. Once numb, moving them is difficult. 

With winter kayaking, that is a big problem. How are you going to paddle? How are you going to perform a rescue for yourself or your companion? Hypothermia can even cause confusion, muddle your thinking. 

winter kayaking full clothing

How do you reduce this risk of kayaking in cold weather? Proper clothing. This means wool or the appropriate layering of clothing. Wetsuits are good for milder weather, while drysuits are more suited for the fall, up to the winter. Waterproof yet lightweight jackets offer warmth, minus the added weight once soaked. And never forget your own PFD!

For added protection, you may also wear neoprene mittens or pogies. You won’t have to worry too much about your hands going numb then! 

Of course, a session of winter kayaking also demands all the essentials. Extra hats, extra clothing, sufficient hydration, snacks can help you keep on paddling. Keep them accessible, safe, and dry. Dry bags can do this job right, and hatches are where these should be. 

Another thing to do is to practice your rescues. Sure, making mistakes upon re-entry on summer days is fine. But, the same can’t be said when kayaking in the winter. Hypothermia can set in quickly when you capsize, after all. Brush up your skills. Take classes. Practice. Make sure that you master it before you set out in the cold. 

Lastly, test your gear before facing the waterway. Have a companion with you. This doesn’t only boost morale, but you can work to get together during a rescue. Knowing your dynamics work well, too. Between the two (or three) of you, you have more snacks and supplies to go around. 

The Risk of Cold Shock

winter kayaking may cause hypothermia

Cold shock is another thing to watch out for. When paddling for long hours, this might also be a problem. Cold shock is defined by this involuntary gasp, even hyperventilation once they hit the water. In such a situation, get out of the water as soon as you can. Focus on your breathing until you calm down.Β 

How do you reduce this risk of kayaking in cold weather? Same with hypothermia, proper clothing is key to preventing cold shock. Again, know your layers. Wetsuit, drysuits, dry tops. Consider waterproof jackets, mittens, and pogies. Extra clothing goes a long way, too.Β 

You can also go winter kayaking with a buddy, so you can watch each other’s back. Again, know your dynamics and brush up on your rescue skills together. 

With that in mind, know your limits. Winter kayaking poses a lot of dangers, don’t unknowingly take a trip that’s too much for you. You can always paddle in the cold once your skills are up to snuff. Of course, you have to feel confident, too. 

Knowing Your Winter Paddling Skills

winter kayaking ice

It’s been mentioned several times, but again, you must master a few skills before you face the water in the cold. 

A self-rescue is one of the most important skills to learn. Specifically, rolling your kayak is what you need. Sure, you may opt for a paddle float, but it exposes you much longer to the energy-draining waters. Plus, the  immersion can cause shock. This results in a gasp-like reflex, ice cream headaches,, and disorientation. 

To prepare yourself for winter kayaking, practice your rolls in the cold. Take it slowly and according to your pace. Don’t neglect the basic kayaking skills, such as the strokes, turning, and bracing. 

Outside of skills, you should always paddle with a buddy. It’s good to have someone with you for a rather dangerous endeavor. 

Oh, don’t forget about your gear. 

Kayaking in Winter: The Gear Checklist

winter kayaking

What you have to know is that it’s really up to you on what to bring on your journey. Even with winter kayaking, it’s a matter of preference. 

Although, there are non-negotiables. This section will cover what you must bring during a cold paddle. 

  • Personal Flotation Device: Safety first! Get the best fitting PFD for you. Consider getting one with few to no zippers, as they can get iced up. 
  • Drysuits: This piece of clothing offers ample warmth, dryness, and protection during nasty conditions. It’s a must-have and can last for a really long time, depending on the material. Couple this with a spray skirt, then you’re safe from the water potentially leaking into your clothes and cockpit. It’s almost as expensive as the kayak itself, although it’s a worthy purchase. 
  • Long Underwear: Aside from drysuits, long underwear is essential in keeping your warm. This type of clothing should cover your legs, even up until your torso. 
  • Mid-Layers: A good mid-layer or two is recommended when you go kayaking in winter. You may opt for a fleece, crew-neck pullover with no zipper. The zipper will only get in the way, and might even rip your drysuit’s neck gasket.
  • Wool Socks: This is a good one to go along with comfy socks and neoprene boots. Again, these socks are meant to keep your feet snug and dry. 
  • Neoprene Hood: Another item to have is this certain type of hood. It should fit snugly on your head, to prevent cold water from seeping in and out of the hood. A good piece of gear that minimizes the risk of acquiring cold shock. 
  • Neoprene Gloves: As winter kayaking relies on a good drip on a paddle, you need protection for your hands. These gloves, or mittens, can prevent your fingers from turning into ice. Keep in mind that it might restrict your movement, but at least your hands won’t go numb! 
  • Neoprene Boots: A major consideration in choosing these boots is its size. Choose one that is roomy enough to fit wool socks or drysuit socks. Your foot should stay warm and dry inside the cockpit, after all. 
  • Sprayskirt: As mentioned before, this is a good combo with a drysuit. A good sprayskirt keeps the wind out and fits securely around you. Consider getting one with a grab loop to prevent it from freezing closed or on your kayak’s deck. 
  • Tow Ropes: Towing might become necessary when a paddler is incapacitatedt. A winter spray might freeze everything on deck, so deck-mounted two ropes might help you out of a sticky situation.
  • Rescue Stirrup: Another piece of gear is the adjustable stirrup. Think of it as a fabric ladder. Once looped around the cockpit and height adjusted, you can step right into your back after an unexpected dip. Keep in mind that the buckle freezes quickly, but you can submerge it into the water to thaw. 
  • Ice Picks: Another tool essential for a capsize event. You can stick these onto the ice and use it as leverage to pull yourself  up.
  • Communication Gear: From whistles, radios, flares, and strobe lights, stock up on all the communication gear you need. This is essential should you face emergency situations while winter kayaking. 
  • First Aid Kit: A necessity of emergency situations. 
  • Extra Clothing, Food, Water, etc.

Know how to move around and prevent certain events? Check. All stocked up on the essentials? Check. The next thing that can help you paddle out in the cold is a section of tips! 

Kayaking in Winter: Parting Tips!

winter kayaking river

It’s all a matter of utmost preparation, and an emphasis on gear that can save you from sticky situations. 

Familiarize the Way

What you have to do is to keep on thinking ahead. With winter kayaking, the margin of error is much smaller than you think. So, choose a route you know or one with a lot of safe landing options. Research and ask the locals about the usual weather conditions. 

All of the preparation means that you shouldn’t challenge yourself much more than the sport already poses. Kayaking in winter isn’t a walk in the park. It’s to err on the side of caution.

Dress Well for the Cold

Again, layers are your best friend. Dressing for immersion is key. The air is cold. The water is cold. Through convection, both elements draw heat from your body quickly. The water also touches your hull. And this certain conduction steals heat from your body. 

There’s also the risk of getting cold or hypothermia once you take an unexpected dip. Re-entering the kayak can be difficult by that time. Wearing the most appropriate clothing can reduce the risks mentioned above. 

Acquaint Yourself with Fire

With winter kayaking, heat is what you must seek. Therefore, fire can be your friend. Aside from the usual gear, take a saw with you so you can collect dry wood. If you’ve got extra cash, you can also opt for gas stoves. 

This makes the paddling experience much more exciting, especially if you plan to kayak for a few days.

When Cold Camping

winter kayaking experience

For those who want to go winter kayaking for a time, maybe cold camping is an option. In this case, buy a tent with heat-retaining properties. Set it up on dry ground. If the snow is unavoidable,  let it set for 30 minutes before pitching your tent. 

At Your Own Pace

Enjoy your paddling. You don’t always have to paddle for a good sweat. Allow yourself to bask in the sights. Flow with the water, because winter kayaking is beautiful, too. 

Paddling away! 

And that’s pretty much all you need to know about winter kayaking. Again, this sport isn’t an easy task. Better prepare yourself and double-check from all angles to ensure a rather safe kayaking journey. 

Sure, the water is more challenging in this season. But, the experience is much more enjoyable if you know that you have taken all precautions. 

Stay safe, and have fun kayaking!

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Review written by: Tom

Hi! My name is Tom. During the year I try to be on a paddle board as much as possible. By reading this blog you'll stay updated on everything I test on the water :)