Paddling tips, tricks, news and gear reviews from an Unsponsored point of view

Winter Is Coming – 7 Paddling Tips

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 – Winter Is Coming. Last week on the water was very cold and today the rivers are up and snow has hit the UK.

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.

Winter Is Coming

It’s defintely a good time to start to look at your cold weather paddling gear and assess whether it is going to be up to the job.

Keep Dry – A good dry top/trouser combo or dry suit

Keeping dry inside makes keeping warm that much easier. A drysuit or a two piece dry top/trouser combination is way better than a wetsuit. 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.

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.

A number of manufacturers now make onesies made from fleece material. They work incredibly well.

Protect Your Feet

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. I’m still currently using Five Ten Water Tennies. Parent company Adidas have announced that they will be pulling out the water sports market so 5.10s such as the Water Tennies are going to become pretty hard to find. My alternatives will be Astral’s and the Palm Equipments range of superb footwear.

Footwear with a good sole will also help insulate your feet from the cold ground.

Get Some 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.

Beating Cold Hands

Pogies or gloves. Cold hands are almost worse than cold feet. If you aren’t able to hold your paddle then you are pretty stuffed. Palm and Immersion Research make some really good neoprene pogies that are warm even when wet and can really help keep wind chill off your hands. Some paddlers like gloves but some times they can feel a little bulky and can make holding the paddle more difficult. However some years ago I had a pair of Typhoon neoprene gloves that worked fantastically.

Spare/Emergency Gear

A good set of emergency kit in a dry bag is always a good idea but is even more important when it is cold. I carry a “When it all goes wrong kit” for a bad turn of events.


Getting changed

Warm kit to get changed into after a day on the river is also a good idea. I like to carry plenty of stuff in the car. A big down jacket is always a good move.

A pocho style changing towel is worth its weight and bulk. Bioocore and Palm make some excellent ponchos. The Palm version can also be worn over your paddling gear! Other big players in this market include Red and Dryrobe. Changing robes from these guys will set you back well over £100.

Head Gear

A Buff for wearing under your helmet or even as an extra barrier to catch any drips of water that manage to find their way through your neck seal. If you want something a little more specialist for keeping your head warm then the Playboater Earwig is a solid choice. They have stopped producing the Earwig so get one while you can. You can still find the Earwig in a few places online. Both PEAKUK and Palm make similar products that are superb.


  1. Moulton Avery

    Good advice regarding the Payboater Earwig. Neo is the gold standard for head protection, and synthetics don’t even come close. Keeping cold water out of your ears is important because it’s a known cause of vertigo. As water temps fall below 50F (10C), neo also is key to avoiding the dreaded ice cream headache. Also, at some point, you’ll appreciate having protection for the base of your skull and your neck – which is why lots of cold water paddlers prefer the protection of a thicker neo balaclava.

  2. Adam

    Maybe you could update this with kit that’s still being made? The Earwig was stopped 4 years ago and the tears I shed for the Five Tens are turning crusty.

    • Unsponsored

      Thanks Adam. Earwig can still be found. A mate of mine picked one up a few weeks ago from a surf shop in Poole. Astral hiyaks are probably the only shoe I have found to be similar to my Water Tennies. That said I have had my Water Tennies for ages, they have been resoled and are holding up well. I don’t let them rot in the bottom of my kit bag and are never forced dried near a heat source. This seems to helped with them lasting longer than other reports seem to suggest.

      • Adam

        Sorry, I meant the tears (‘boohoo’ tears) are old — the Five Tens were a wonderful shoe and I was quite annoyed when they stopped making them!

        Thinking this post is most useful for newer kayakers, so it would be beneficial to those readers to list kit that’s easier to find.

        Obviously the general advice is great, as always!

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