Since buying a couple of merino tops a few years back I am completely sold on the stuff. For years I had been using Helly Hanson Lifa or Sub Zero Factor 1 thermals. All of which developed that characteristic kayaking odor.
Up until very recently my thermal base layer of choice was the Howies merino surf thermal. The merino is thin, the arms are nice and long and also include thumb loops. These are superb when your putting on your drycag or dry suit as they help prevent the sleeves rolling up. The neck is a turle neck so you get a bit of protection from latex dry cag seals. Unfortunately they stop production of these quite a few years ago and I needed to make a change simply due to wear and tear.
Now not all Merino is made equal. There are different weights and depending on the quality of the wool and what it is mixed makes for some good and some bad merino gear.
As merino gear has become more wide spread and popular I think the overall quality has gone down. Some of the initial big players don’t seem to producing gear that lasts as long as I think it should.
We’ve just about hit that time of the year in the UK when it gets darker earlier and earlier, the weather has begun to turn and the water is that little bit colder. It’s a great time to start to look at your cold weather paddling gear and assess whether it is going to be up to the job.
Being cold is not just uncomfortable it can also be life threatening. Having the right gear for the right conditions is key at any time of the year but the margin for error during the colder seasons is much tighter.
A good dry top/trouser combo or dry suit. Keeping dry inside makes keeping warm that much easier. Even some of the two piece systems (dry top and dry trousers) available are getting close to being as good as a dry suit. Price is sometimes much better as is the flexibility of the system.
Solid footwear. Wet river banks and slippery rocks are not a great combination if you have dodgy footwear. A good pair of river shoes or boots are worth there weight in gold. Currently using Five Ten Water Tennies or the new Astral Rassler. Footwear with a good sole will also help insulate your feet from the cold ground.
Good socks. Conventional socks only really work if you have a dry suit with built in dry socks. I tend to wear ski socks when I have my drysuit on. If you don’t have a dry suit there are alternatives that will work when wet. You could wear a pair of neoprene boots but I have found that although they are great for keeping your feet warm the ones I have used have never had the greatest amount of grip. I much prefer using a combination of a good set of footwear (see above) and a thin neoprene sock. Various manufacturers make thin 3 and 4mm thick neoprene socks that can help keep your feet warm even when wet.
Base layers. I love merino kit – it’s warm when wet and doesn’t smell! But any good, thin base layer will do the job. Colder = more layers. Polartec fleece also works really wet in cold/wet conditions.
Although this guide is directed at students in reality it will apply to anyone thinking about taking up the sport. Over the next few weeks many students will be starting Uni and will be looking at joining a club. In most cases the Kayak/Canoe club in a university will be the best club to join.
Since buying a couple of merino tops a few months back I am completely sold on the stuff. For years I had been using Helly Hanson Lifa or Sub Zero Factor 1 thermals. All of which developed that characteristic kayaking odor.
My current kayak thermal of choice is the Howies merino surf thermal. The merino is thin, the arms are nice and long and also include thumb loops. These are superb when your putting on your drycag or dry suit as they help prevent the sleeves rolling up. The neck is a turle neck so you get a bit of protection from latex dry cag seals. I managed to pick up two of these thermals before they stopped producing them, one of which was found new on ebay. They do come up now and again. The NBL or NBL Light are probably the closest match and are in the current range (I own a couple of these as well).
Staying both warm and dry makes any kayaking adventure that much more pleasant. I’ve been kayaking for over 25 years now and am amazed how much the kit has moved on during that time. Way back then getting soaked to the bone was pretty much a standard feature of paddling even if you didn’t swim. Even though staying dry is much easier and therefore makes keeping warm itself so much easier it’s important to get your insulation layers right.
I tend not to feel the cold as most folk but I still pick my insulation layers really carefully to make sure that I not only stay nice and warm but that I do not over heat. I personally find overheating way worse than being too cold.
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