Paddling rivers in winter (northern winters) can take some creativity to stay warm.  Here’s a few tips to keep you paddling in the ‘off season.’  With a warm wetsuit or dry suit and related gear there’s no reason to stop paddling in winter – unless your water spot is frozen over.

Before the Paddle:

Wear your wet or drysuit to the river.  If your drive to the river is less than an hour, wear your wetsuit to avoid having to put it on in a cold parking lot or alongside the road.

Bring a 1-2 gallon jug of hot water to pour on your hands before going out or on yourself after the paddle.

Warm Dry Booties. I’m a big fan of NRS’s fleece lined thick soled WetShoes not only for walking on rocks but also keeping your feet warm on cold pavement or ground. Try to keep your feet at dry as possible in frigid temperatures.  I use the NRS Wetsocks which solve all those issues.

– Bring an old foam camping pad to stand on while changing in the parking lot. This will keep your feet insulated and warmer.

Changing Poncho. These oversized fabric ponchos cover you up in public and keep you warmer when changing into your gear. I prefer ponchos which are water resistant and wind proof.  Get 1-2 sizes larger so you can change underneath.  This is a good one by Gil.

Bring a puffy warm coat and hat to put on while taking your board off the car. I don’t remove my coat until I’m ready to head out to the river. Same with coming back – coat goes on as soon as I get to the car while loading gear, or after I take my wetsuit off (if I do so there).  Warm grippy gloves are great too for changing and loading gear.

After the Paddle:

– Start your car immediately to get the heat going.

Keep your gloves and hood on til your board is tied onto the car.  I get coldest if I remove my gloves before changing out my clothes or tying the board down after the paddle.

– Have a warm non alcoholic beverage ready to sip while loading.

Stand on your foam pad while loading gear and/or removing clothing.

A Few Essential Safety Gear Options:

Get a quick release river SUP leash like the NRS Quick Release Leash. And know how use it.  Attach to your PFD side straps.

Lifejacket (PFD). Get a river kayaking style vest style PFD with a quick release belt to attach your leash to. A vest style PFD will keep your core warm. I like one with pockets to store essential gear such as a power bar, knife, whistle, etc. My favorite for rivers is the MTI Vibe which comes with a quick release strap.

Helmet. Always wear a helmet in whitewater. SUP’ers like minimalism, but in this environment you’re more likely to hit your head than on open water.  And in winter it keeps your head much warmer. I use Gath helmets as they have great ear coverage, are flexible to your head and have innovative designs.

Always paddle with a friend who has solid river skills and can rescue you (and vice versa).  You always read about the benefit of paddling in groups. It’s not helfpufl if your buddy can’t swim or help you when needed. Check each other’s gear before hitting the water.

Learn More..

Read my 30 Tips for Staying Warm in Winter for Men’s Journal.

Photo: Spokane River, 12/27/14 Charlie & Chris Cindric
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 and Kayak school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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