Paddling is always fun no matter what time of the year it is. It is especially fun in the winter but you have to be wary of the cold water. There are very few kayakers ready to go out and paddle in the cold weather so it might be a little tough to find company but it is always advisable to paddle with friends. That’s because in case you capsize- which happens more often than not, you will need someone around to help you get out of the cold water fast.
Unfortunately, for most paddlers, the dangers of cold water are unknown to them and those who have never had their boat flip over rarely think they have anything to worry about. The truth of the matter is you need to know how to stay warm and dry during this time and also how to get other paddlers out of
the water in case it happens around you and your help is needed.
So what does it take to paddler in cold water? First off, we need to understand the dangers of near freezing temperatures and how they can easily turn your day in the water in to a nightmare. Then we will dive into best practices for cold weather kayak clothing – like your PFD, wet and dry suits, neoprene socks and more below.
Hypothermia doesn’t set in immediately you hit the water;it takes some time. Muscle incapacitation on the other hand occurs much faster and can easily take you from saving yourself to drifting off. It occurs in a matter of minutes and within 5 to 15 minutes, you may lose the ability to do some basic actions that
will get you or your friend out of the water like lighting a flare, using your VHF radio, turning your boat so that you can get back on it again or even calling for help. It robs you of your fine motor skills so you won’t move or even press a button to save yourself.
This is how hypothermia eventually sets in; you have been in the water for too long and the cold is starting to adversely affect your body systems. Dressing right for the cold waters is one way to ensure you have more time in the water to figure out your next move.
This is how your body reacts to the sudden and unexpected exposure to cold water. The gasp reflex is typically the first reaction your body responds with where you involuntarily suck in air to maintain oxygen levels while you submerged in water. It is the last thing you want your body to do when you are under water because it comes with a great deal of panic if you happen to gulp in some mouthfuls.
Proper clothing is yet again the key to preventing this from happening. Dressing appropriately keeps your skin away from the water even when your boat capsizes thus preventing this reflex from happening.
Always have your PFD on
The right kind of clothing we are referring to here is PFDs. You should wear your PFD all through the year. They are especially beneficial in cold weather. The PFD will keep you floating while you struggle to get yourself back on your boat. It can also keep your upper body warmer so it is better to have it on
than not .
You should know that you will be dressing up for cold weather when the temperatures are below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The risk of hypothermia is extremely high at this low temperature. Therefore, you should have a dry suit on with layers of warm clothing underneath.
The first rule of dressing for cold weather is to never wear cotton for warmth. You’d rather go with wool or other materials that do not absorb water. Cotton absorbs water in similar fashion to a sponge thus keeping you wet and cold even after you have gotten yourself out of the water.
What to go for between wet suits and dry suits
Wetsuits are made from a neoprene material that keeps a layer of water between you and the material. Your body warms this water thus preserving warmth. Wet suits come in different sizes and thickness. You can find a wet suit of thickness ranging from 0.5 mm to 7mm or more. Aside from the fact that they are easier to get in different sizes, wet suits are also the cheaper alternative.
Next up we have dry suits. They form a shell of breathable material around the body with lining around the neck, wrists and ankles. The lining could be neoprene or latex. Semi dry suits usually come without the neck lining. These types of water protection clothing don’t have any features to keep you warm so
you will need a lot of warm clothing underneath.
The choice between the two really comes down to your budget. They both serve paddlers quite well so it is all about what you can afford.
How do your head, hands and feet stay warm?
Anything that can serve as warm clothing for the head during mountaineering will serve just as well here. Get your wool hat or balaclava and make sure your entire had is covered from the cold water. Neoprene hats also work well in this case.
You should do the same for your hands and feet. Get woolen clothing to keep them warm and cover it with neoprene which ensures you stay dry. Pogies are great for your hands if you intend to go for some cold-water paddling and you could wear warm socks and neoprene booties for your feet. Some dry suits come with such booties so you might shop specifically for a dry suit with booties so that you have everything covered.
Have a change of clothes handy
This is very important in case you end up in the cold water and have to change immediately you get out. It also helps a lot in preserving your body temperature and keeping it from going lower.
You should always have some other items with you that will help you stay warm in case it gets too cold. Food items like hot chocolate and power bars are excellent additions to your luggage as well as a thermos flask of another type of hot beverage. It is also important to remember that phone batteries die
faster in cold weather so have a back-up plan such as a VHF radio.
Stay safe out there and as always enjoy your kayaking!