Winter Clothing

Before I go further, my recommendations on this page are my own personal preferences. Some may not agree but I write only from experience in freezing conditions down to -23C with a wind chill factor less than -30C. I do not recommend paddling at such low temperatures, ''Do as I say, not as I do.'' I have had mild frostbite and was lucky it wasn't worse, paddling at low temperatures frostbite and hypothermia are lying in wait like a hungry dog, take your attention away for a short time and your going to get bitten.

I can not emphasize enough the importance of training as I have mentioned before, winter paddling is for experienced paddlers only. Even on the calmest of days the cold is continuously cooling your body and sapping your strength. With the correct choice of clothing for you, the dangers from cold are significantly reduced.

Discussion is always about what you have on the outside of your body, but of equal or greater importance is what you have inside your body, ''Food,'' The body works like a central heater in the cold, but it needs a supply of fuel in order to provide warmth. With cold paddling, calories are burned of at an increased rate, emptying the fuel tank quicker than normal. Eat well before a winter tour and warm drinks and food on the way is advised.

Layer One.


Layer two.

As a third layer, I use fleece type clothing, warm and comfortable when dry. Always a fleece top with a high neck on my overbody, but when water temperatures start to rise, three layers on my lower body is too much. Three layers may be required if I am to be in cold water, but for sitting enclosed in a kayak, it is too warm for me. Too little and you freeze, too much and you sweat, then freeze. Only experience will reveal what is best for you.

Layer four.

Drysuit, there is no alternative. For almost forty years I paddled in winter using neoprene long johns and wind/waterproof clothing on top. I bought a drysuit before a winter trip in northern Norway, 2015. The very first time I used it, practising rolling and rescue techniques in ice cold water I was converted. Coming back to land with dry clothing underneath is luxurious. No more removal of cold wet clothing with urgency when coming to a tour end, and no more freezing when stopping and coming to land for a break. There are different types of drysuit available, click here for more on drysuits.

Hat, gloves, footwear.

I use a wool hat on my head, and always keep a spare close to hand in case it gets wet. Wool keeps you warm when wet, but not when exposed to very low temperatures and wind simultaneous . Ice forms on anything wet when temperatures are several degrees below zero. I have never used a neoprene hood, neoprene insulates when wet, not when frozen.

For many, gloves are okay, whether they are wool, neoprene or other. I have found firstly neoprene gloves when wet and exposed to sub zero temperatures are of no use. Neoprene is designed for in the water and my own personal belief is that it is highly over rated out of water. Gloves don't give me the grip I want on my paddle either, again my own personal preference. When I was frostbitten, I was using wool gloves, taking them off for a short time to take photographs, and when I tried to put them on again they were frozen to the point that I could not put them back on. I had an extra pair of wool gloves to put on, but my fingers had already lost feeling and I was fortunate it was only mild frostbite. But Pogies as they are called or paddle mits, fit round the paddle and you can place your hands inside easily. These give direct contact between the shaft and my hand, keep the wind off my wet skin, and being attatched to the paddle can't fall in the water while taking photographs for example. Mine are made of neoprene, but any windproof material is good.