Tuesday 15 June 2021
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Too cold to paddle, you say? Never! (AKA: how I stay warm on the water in the winter.)

As with most teachers, the weeks of my school year – particularly those leading up to the Christmas holidays – are a huge rush consisting of lesson plans, meetings, grading, life in general, oh, and did I mention lesson plans and meetings?!  Suffice it to say that I’d lost track of the calendar, and it truly stunned me when I slowed down enough to realize that it was already December.  I had two solid weeks of holiday break.  And a new boat.  And no obligations.  Now that’s a combination of events that hasn’t happened in a bit.  Sweet!

Cold temps?  My Southern self says yes; you Northern-clime types would scoff.  The thing is – and I share this with folks all the time when they look askance as I load my boat in high 20°/low 30° temps – it’s all in how you prepare.  As with anything, the right tools make a huge difference, and can also frequently make the seemingly impossible possible.

For the paddling that I do – my current postal code and day job both keep me on fresh flatwater 99% of the time – I certainly don’t have to prepare as if I were going to be creeking, or hanging out at Rock Island throwing Space Godzillas and Phonics Monkeys in front of a backdrop of icicles with smatterings of snow.  If you’re reading this particular blog post, you’re likely not going to be doing those things either.  Either that, or you already have all the gear you need, have your winter paddling system down solid, and are simply checking out an awesome read <insert my completely shameless grin here! >

So how do I stay warm for the Southern version of cold weather, flatwater paddling?   It’s a given that my quiver will include my ever present PFD with an inhaler in the pocket, my safety gear – bilge pump/throw rope/dry bags/med kit with an extra inhaler/ecase for my phone, etc., and my neo/nylon sprayskirt.  In cold weather, though, I take time to add some specific gear that I, personally, consider essential.  This includes my windproof pogies (folded short for ease of use), my über-awesome waterproof (and warm!) NRS Boundary shoes, and a 4 foot-ish x 1 foot-ish piece of 1/4″ or 1/2″ minicell.  Also, because ya just never know what may happen, I make sure to bring on the water with me a dry bag stuffed with a complete change of warm clothes (down to extra head/hand/feet gear.)   Depending on just how low the temps fall and/or how long I’m looking to be on the water, I may or may not have a vacuum flask of hot tea tucked behind my seat, and some granola bars tucked in the pocket of my PFD.

It’s a bit trickier to answer the specific question of how I dress for winter versus summer paddling, simply because it depends on the purpose of my paddle.  I don’t own a dry suit or a dry top.  Honestly, the only pieces of “specialty gear” I own related to specifically keeping me warm on the water in the winter are my pogies and my NRS Boundary Shoes.  Taking into account that my PFD provides some extreme warmth and wind protection for my core, I modify my dress for the water as I would for any winter cardio activity.  You’re likely to see me in light, wicking layers on my upper body, and either fleece lined quick-dry pants or fleece tights on my legs.  Sometimes I’ll wear arm warmers; sometimes not.  Sometimes I’ll wear my Gore-tex rainshell as a windblock (or for it’s intended use); sometimes not. On my feet, my waterproof boots and a pair of medium weight wool socks.  On my head, my favorite wool wrap (you know, one of those hugely long neck-gaiter type things that you can wear a billion different ways.)  I was thrilled to discover these things by default; there’s a couple in my gear bag now as staple items.  Always, thought I keep three things in mind: 1) the purpose of my time on the water for a particular time frame; 2) the current weather conditions; and 3) predicted weather conditions.

All else being self explanatory, I use the minicell to line the bottom of my boat.  Not only is it rather impressive just how much insulation this little piece of gear provides, it also makes for a fabulous place to stand while you’re changing into warm clothes at the end of your workout.  Also, when I’m taking folks on the water for their first winter foray, it is the second most appreciated piece of gear (pogies are the first!)  That being said, the merits of minicell are there in warmer weather, too.  It helps pad your ankles on longer paddles, and you can pull it out to sit/sleep on when picnicking or camping.  I’m all about multifunctional, inexpensive gear.

Essentially, when it gets down to brass tacks, you either want to be on the water, or you don’t.  If you DO, you’re not going to let much stop you; if you really don’t, then you’ll find myriad reasons for that as well.  Regardless of your own, personal decision, my wish for you is that when you do find yourself on the water again, it will be a rewarding, rejuvenating and joyous time for you and yours.

Happy boating, and stay warm out there!