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. 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.
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 and the Palm Gradient boots from last year. Footwear with a good sole will also help insulate your feet from the cold ground.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
If you can, retreat to a good pub or cafe at the end of the day. A big mug of tea and some cake always goes down well.