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Cold Water Paddling

Paddling in cool waters is a blast. They key ingredient is "Know thyself." Read on for our tips on how to be prepared and paddle safely.


Know the dangers

Cool air and cold water cannot be overlooked. Even though the potential for getting capsized seems minimal, it is critical to be prepared should that happen. Anyone who decides to join the L Street Brownies for a swim on New Year's Day in South Boston knows that water temps below 50°F will take your breath away. It is pretty much like being put in a cryogenic tank (no disrespect to Ted Williams.)

Beautiful places like Bar Harbor Maine have a high water temperature in July of only 59 degrees. Maybe the air temperature is in the high 70s, but if rough seas put you in the drink, the 59 degree water with just surf shorts, a PFD, and a cotton T-shirt will have most people approaching hypothermia in 30 minutes or so.

Know the location

Choosing to paddle a narrow, quiet river to enjoy the trees is very different than paddling from the mainland of New Hampshire across open ocean to Smuttynose Island. If you are paddling a lazy river and capsize, ask yourself if you would you be able to get to shore, change clothes, and dump the water out of your boat before becoming hypothermic?

Know yourself and others

Determine your personal ability level and the ability of your paddling partners. Ask yourself and your partners how confident they are at re-entering their boat unassisted if they capsize. Does each member of your party know how to Eskimo roll? Do any members of your party have physical issues that would prevent them from re-entering their boat?

Bring the right clothing and gear

Staying dry is staying warm. The key is to know your individual tolerance level to cold air and water, then dress correctly. Knowing what to wear is a function of air/water temperature and your location and distance from the shore. If the water temp and air temp are both above 60 degrees but there is a possibility of capsize, a wetsuit is a safe choice. For the really cold-blooded people out there, a 3 mm farmer-john style wetsuit should do the trick, in tandem with a rash-guard shirt and maybe a splash top to keep the wind and spray off. For those warm-blooded people who put out the BTUs like a Midwest power plant, thinner neoprene (about 0.5 mm) may suffice.

Know why a wetsuit works

How does a wetsuit work, you ask? The idea behind wetsuits is that a thin layer of water is trapped between the neoprene and your skin. Your body heats the water and the neoprene insulates (traps) the heat. Analogy: beer coolie insulates cold brewski.

Know when you need a wetsuit

If the water is below 60 degrees and the prospect of swimming to shore is not easy, then definitely wear a wetsuit with light synthetic layers under it and have a waterproof jacket, gloves, and hat readily available if the air gets cold. By the way, readily available does not mean buried deep in the stern hatch.

Know when to wear a dry suit

If the water is 50 degrees or below and the air is the same with a stiff wind, the safest choice is a waterproof, breathable dry suit. Dry suits have latex gaskets at the neck, wrist, and ankles. Dry suits are intended to keep you completely dry from outside elements. Like a wetsuit, you want synthetic layers next to your skin to wick and dry sweat as well as provide insulation. However, dry suits are a bit tricky when it comes time to make a bathroom stop. Most men's suits have a front relief zipper and women's models can be purchased with a drop seat.

Protect the extremities

Headwear for really cold temperatures would be a neoprene hood or beanie. To protect your hands, Pogies are a nice choice if you do not want the bulk of neoprene gloves. Pogies are waterproof mittens that attach to the paddle shaft and provide an opening to slide your hands in and out of.

Don't mess with the non-negotiables

For cold weather paddling, you must have a spray skirt, paddle float, bilge pump, paddle leash, extra paddle, PFD with a whistle attached, first aid kit, basic repair items for your kayak, waterproof flashlight, and an emergency strobe light. If you are venturing out into big water bring a VHF radio, flares, dye marker and signal mirror, cell phone, compass, chart, and float plan. Always tell someone at home where you are going and when you expect to be back.

And regardless of the location, it is important to carry a complete change of clothes in a dry bag. What not to wear: cotton. Denim jeans and cotton T-shirts remain wet. In short, you will freeze your buns off. Not only are they cold but also really heavy.

Know when to call it a day

Eat, drink, and be merry, but get out before you become too tired. Cold weather and wind exposure make you burn calories and use hydration stores. If you have not had the urge to go to the bathroom in several hours of chilly paddling, this is a bad sign. Stay well hydrated and stop for frequent snacks. (Beer and coffee do not count in the hydration category.)


KEEN Men's Newport H2 Sandals, Black/Stone grey - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Men's Newport H2 Sandals, Black/Stone grey
PRICE: $100.00
SALE: $64.98
EMS Men's Sessions Shorts - Eastern Mountain Sports
EMS Men's Sessions Shorts
PRICE: $50.00 to $50.00
SALE: $22.98 to $24.98
EMS Men's River Shorts - Eastern Mountain Sports
EMS Men's River Shorts
PRICE: $35.00
SALE: $16.98
KEEN Women's Clearwater CNX Shoes, Gargoyle/Norse Blue - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Women's Clearwater CNX Shoes, Gargoyle/Norse Blue
PRICE: $100.00
SALE: $49.98
KEEN Men's Newport Sandals, Chestnut - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Men's Newport Sandals, Chestnut
PRICE: $100.00
SALE: $64.98
KEEN Women's Newport H2 Sandals, Slate  - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Women's Newport H2 Sandals, Slate
PRICE: $100.00
SALE: $70.00
ADIDAS Men's Climacool Boat Lace Water Shoes, Black - Eastern Mountain Sports
ADIDAS Men's Climacool Boat Lace Water Shoes, Black
PRICE: $70.00
SALE: $39.98
TEVA Women's Tirra Sandals - Eastern Mountain Sports
TEVA Women's Tirra Sandals
PRICE: $80.00
SALE: $56.00
KEEN Women's Newport H2 Sandals, Ensign Blue - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Women's Newport H2 Sandals, Ensign Blue
PRICE: $100.00
SALE: $70.00
EMS Women's Sessions Shortie Shorts - Eastern Mountain Sports
EMS Women's Sessions Shortie Shorts
PRICE: $35.00
SALE: $14.98
ADIDAS Men's Climacool Boat Lace Water Shoes, Collegiate Navy - Eastern Mountain Sports
ADIDAS Men's Climacool Boat Lace Water Shoes, Collegiate Navy
PRICE: $70.00
SALE: $39.98
EMS Women's River Shorts - Eastern Mountain Sports
EMS Women's River Shorts
PRICE: $35.00
SALE: $24.98
EMS Women's Sessions Shorts - Eastern Mountain Sports
EMS Women's Sessions Shorts
PRICE: $39.00
SALE: $14.98
KEEN Women's Venice H2 Sandals, Black - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Women's Venice H2 Sandals, Black
PRICE: $95.00
SALE: $59.98
KEEN Men's Newport H2 Sandals, India Ink - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Men's Newport H2 Sandals, India Ink
PRICE: $100.00
SALE: $64.98
THE NORTH FACE Men's Pacific Creek Board Shorts - Eastern Mountain Sports
THE NORTH FACE Men's Pacific Creek Board Shorts
PRICE: $55.00
SALE: $34.98
O'NEILL Women's 24/7 Tech Crew, L/S - Eastern Mountain Sports
O'NEILL Women's 24/7 Tech Crew, L/S
PRICE: $45.95
SALE: $34.98
EMS Women's Session Shorts - Eastern Mountain Sports
EMS Women's Session Shorts
PRICE: $45.00
SALE: $34.98
NRS HydroSkin Socks - Eastern Mountain Sports
NRS HydroSkin Socks
Socks - Buy 3 eligible packs or pairs and get 1 FREE! This item is eligible.
PRICE: $29.95
TEVA Women's Numa Print Sandals, Grey - Eastern Mountain Sports
TEVA Women's Numa Print Sandals, Grey
PRICE: $60.00
SALE: $44.98
NRS Freestyle Neo Water Shoes - Eastern Mountain Sports
NRS Freestyle Neo Water Shoes
PRICE: $49.95
EMS Men's River Shorts - Eastern Mountain Sports
EMS Men's River Shorts
PRICE: $35.00
SALE: $19.98
O'NEILL Men's Swift Board Shorts - Eastern Mountain Sports
O'NEILL Men's Swift Board Shorts
PRICE: $49.50
SALE: $29.98
NRS Men's Boater Gloves - Eastern Mountain Sports
NRS Men's Boater Gloves
PRICE: $19.95
KEEN Youth Newport H2 Sandals - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Youth Newport H2 Sandals
PRICE: $50.00
SALE: $29.98
NRS Men's Hydro Gloves - Eastern Mountain Sports
NRS Men's Hydro Gloves
PRICE: $39.95
NRS Women's Boater Gloves - Eastern Mountain Sports
NRS Women's Boater Gloves
PRICE: $19.95
KEEN Women's Rose Sandals, Aluminum - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Women's Rose Sandals, Aluminum
PRICE: $85.00
KEEN Women's Venice H2 Sandals, Sweet Grape - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Women's Venice H2 Sandals, Sweet Grape
PRICE: $95.00
SALE: $74.98
TEVA Boys' Tanza Sandals, Dark Olive - Eastern Mountain Sports
TEVA Boys' Tanza Sandals, Dark Olive
PRICE: $50.00
SALE: $34.98
TEVA Women's Tirra Leather Sandals, Rust - Eastern Mountain Sports
TEVA Women's Tirra Leather Sandals, Rust
PRICE: $85.00
SALE: $59.50
KEEN Women's Whisper Sandals, Bossa Nova/Gray - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Women's Whisper Sandals, Bossa Nova/Gray
PRICE: $90.00
SALE: $64.98
KEEN Men's Owyhee Sandals, Slate Black/Rust - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Men's Owyhee Sandals, Slate Black/Rust
PRICE: $95.00
KEEN Women's Rose Sandals, Burnt Henna - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Women's Rose Sandals, Burnt Henna
PRICE: $85.00
SALE: $49.98
KEEN Men's Class 5 Sandals, Burnt Olive/Black - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Men's Class 5 Sandals, Burnt Olive/Black
PRICE: $80.00
TEVA Women's Hurricane XLT Sandals - Eastern Mountain Sports
TEVA Women's Hurricane XLT Sandals
PRICE: $60.00
SALE: $34.98
THE NORTH FACE Girls' Class V Coloma Water Shorts, Closeout - Eastern Mountain Sports
THE NORTH FACE Girls' Class V Coloma Water Shorts, Closeout
PRICE: $25.00 to $25.00
SALE: $16.98 to $17.98
KEEN Men's Newport H2 Sandals, Dead Dye 2 - Eastern Mountain Sports
KEEN Men's Newport H2 Sandals, Dead Dye 2
PRICE: $100.00
TEVA Women's Tirra Slide Sandals, Jade  - Eastern Mountain Sports
TEVA Women's Tirra Slide Sandals, Jade
PRICE: $60.00
SALE: $44.98
O'NEILL Women's Atlantic Board Shorts - Eastern Mountain Sports
O'NEILL Women's Atlantic Board Shorts
PRICE: $34.00
SALE: $24.98

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