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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.

Paddling Partners:

  • 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:

About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races.
Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.

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