30 Tips For Cold Weather Paddling
By Rob Casey
Originally published in SUP Magazine in 2011, now on Men’s Journal – Updated Nov 2021.
With temps dropping into the 30’s at night and new snow in the mountains, I’ve had to accept the reality that it’s winter and I’ll have to start wearing more clothes to stay warm while paddling. As much as I like winter, I already miss the simplicity of a t-shirt, shorts and sandals. I’ve already begun to wear a thin polypro shirt under my 4/3mm and a full neoprene hood. Disregard this article if you live in Hawaii!
Winter paddling is an amazing time to get out for less boating traffic, more solitude and if you’re into surfing – more waves, rivers come back to life and there’s ample downwinding opportunities.
One thing I’ve found that helps in staying warm on the water, is to make sure that I am warm before I get on the water and maintain my warmth after getting off the water.
On frigid days, I’ve untied the board from my car without gloves and have had numb fingers in a few minutes. If my fingers aren’t thawed out by the time I hit the water, they’ll stay stiff throughout my paddle, not a good feeling. Here’s some suggestions on staying warm on land while getting ready or after your paddle:
Before the Paddle –
Outfitting and Gear Prep:
- Cut an old foam camping pad in half for standing on when changing in the parking lot. It really helps in staying warmer.
- Stick NSI Plugs or EZ Plugs to your board so you can attach bungees or motorcycle netting. These will allow you to carry your water bottle, extra clothes, or a backup paddle on your board. If you’re comfortable working with fiberglass, leash plugs are the most secure method of securing a load on your board. Kayak deck bags which are often waterproof can also be attached to your tie-downs and keep gear from moving around as they do with bungee
- Put bright colored tape strips on your paddle shaft if you drop it if paddling at night or in rough water.
- Save plastic peanut butter and similar containers to store your cell phone, GPS, or other items you want to keep dry while paddling. These stay very dry, are durable, and much more affordable than store bought waterproof containers.
- Carry a dry bag on your deck with extra clothing or for store layers you want to remove. I always carry neoprene gloves and a hood, as well as a kayaking Gore-tex dry top for backup clothes. Check kayaking stores for dry bags.
- Find a paddling partner with good skills particularly for rough water or night trips
Preparing your Car for Winter Paddling:
- Keep a headlamp in the car to assist with tying the board or kayak on the rack after dark.
- In the car, store commonly forgotten gear such as gloves, fin, leash, spray skirt, hood or warm hat, energy bar, TP, extra car key, chemical heat packets, drinking water, etc. It’s a bummer to forget your fin or spray skirt!
- Determine where or how to store your car keys. I leave mine on shore hidden around my car.
- Get a pump kit so you have hot water to pour on yourself and/or clean off your gear after your paddle.
- Bring a plastic bin to keep your wet gear in after the paddle. Some change while standing in the bin.
Preparing to Go Paddling:
- Leave a float plan with a friend before leaving. A float plan lists where you’re going and how long you’ll be out for. Check in when you get back.
- Check the local wind direction, air temperature, tides, and forecast prior to getting on the water. A barometer will tell you if a storm is coming. NOAA and the National Weather Service have online real time data for your local weather. Webcams are useful in getting a visual check on what is really going on in your area. Apps like WindAlert and Windy give you real time wind data.
- Dress for the water temperature even if you don’t plan on getting wet.
- Stay within your skill level. If in doubt, don’t go out.
Hydration and Fuel:
- Bring along an energy bar to eat before the paddle. Food helps you stay warm. Store an extra bar or energy gel in your PFD.
- Drink a warm non-alcoholic beverage prior to getting on the water and/or for after your paddle.
- Add hot water to your hydration kit!
- Products like Hammer Nutrition’s HEED can be added to your hydration kit and will provide extra calories on-water as well as electrolytes.
At the Beach – Getting Ready:
- On cold or frigid days, because I live near the beach, I put my wetsuit on at home to avoid a cold transfer in the parking lot. Then wear it home and step directly into the shower to wash the salt off.
- If putting your wet or dry suit on at the beach, leave your hat and coat on until you absolutely have to remove them.
- Put on your neoprene or other warm gloves (with grip) and a warm hat while removing your board from the car.
- Check your gear before getting on the water. Is your leash attached? Tug it hard to make sure connection is solid. Do you have extra clothes, a power bar, drinking water, night light, hood, etc? Check your paddling partner’s gear – are kayak hatches closed?
Winter Paddling Water Safety:
- Always wear a PFD. While many think they’re uncool or bulky, they do keep your core warm in cold temperatures and provide pockets to store an energy bar, night paddling light, camera, watch, tide table, cell phone, VHF radio, flares, whistle, compass, skull cap, etc. Get a bright color so you can be seen. Vaikobi makes hi-vis options.
- Paddle boarders, always wear a leash (anytime) especially if you’re going out in frigid water and air temps or in wind. Attach to your waist PFD straps if paddling in tidal or river current.
- Wear hi-vis colors
Night or Early Morning Paddles:
Tip: In rough water or high wind, put your leg over your paddle if you’re taking a break. You can also stick it under your bungees.
After the Paddle:
- Put your board on the car first and tie it down – then remove your wetsuit, PFD, hood, etc so you can stay warm.
- Bring a thermos of hot soup or a non alcoholic beverage to keep in the car for a warm up.
- Fill a one gallon container of hot water to pour on yourself to warm up and wash the saltwater off. It’ll still be warm after 2hrs in the car. Some wrap their containers with an insulator.
- Bring a pair of fluffy warm house shoes to put on after your paddle. hey’re easier to put on than socks if your feet are damp.
- Remove your wetsuit or dry suit while standing on your foam camping pad. Some prefer to stand in a Tupperware tub while removing their wetsuit. This keeps your suit from touching the ground after removal. Put the camping pad at the bottom of the tub for insulation.
- Start your car as soon as you get off the water and put the heater on. It’ll be warm by the time you’re ready to drive home.
- Store some energy bars or a preferable calorie based munchie in the car to refuel your body and stay warm. Hammer Nutrition’s Recoverlite can help restore your muscles etc after hard paddles.
- If removing your suit before you go home, keep warm dry clothes, a jacket, and a towel in the car.
- Fleece ponchos such as the SurfFur products can be purchased to keep you warm while removing your clothes underneath in public places. If you’re wearing your suit home, the poncho can keep your car seat dry and clean of salt.
Check out the original article before updating in 2021