Best Tips for Winter Kayaking [Video]

When kayaking in the winter there are considerations to think about in addition to general kayaking safety. In this video, Aqua Bound ProStaffer, Ken Whiting, discusses winter kayaking. He covers suggested gear and also the important question of whether you should head out alone.

 man kayaking

Ken Whiting on the Ottawa River

There are many different factors to think about when you consider a cold-weather paddle trip including gear, where you’ll paddle, your experience level and whether it’s wise to go solo.

Ken covers them all in the video below:

Winter Kayaking Gear

Because Ken’s trip for this video was 14-15 kilometers (about 9 miles) he knew he’d be paddling hard so he didn’t want to overdress. But he was sure to bring along extra layers so he’d have options in case he needed them.

Here’s his gear list for winter kayak trips:

  • A dry bag stuffed with his extra layers, including extra gloves.
  • PFD, helmet (since he would tackle some whitewater) and spray skirt.
  • Two paddles—his preferred whitewater paddle plus a backup. This is especially important if you’re going out solo.
  • First Aid kit, a hot drink in his thermos, and another dry bag with plenty of snacks.
  • Zoleo Satellite Communicator—this device taps into the satellite network through your cell phone. It enables you to send and receive messages when you don’t have cell coverage.

Ken paddles the Ottawa River on a day in the mid-30s F. Although he runs several rapids on his route, he’s in a 14-foot sea kayak, not a whitewater kayak.

kayak and kayaking gear

Some of Ken’s gear for his winter kayak trip

Winter Kayaking Apparel

What you wear to kayak in the winter depends on a couple of factors. First, each of us has our own personal thermostat that determines the thickness and types of layers you’ll wear, and how many layers you’ll wear.

Second, the weather you’ll experience while you’re on the water is, of course, a big deal. Will you have rain or snow? High winds? What’s the air temperature? Will there be a wind chill factor?

Here’s the apparel Ken wears when he kayaks on these cold winter days:

  • Dry suit—These are expensive but “definitely the smart thing to wear.” If you want to kayak in the winter regularly, a dry suit is a necessary investment. Ken is wearing a Level 6 model. NRS also has a selection of them. Dry suits made for paddling start at $650-700 and can quickly jump to well over $1,000.
  • Underneath his dry suit, Ken likes NRS’s Hydroskins. If it’s colder, he’ll add another fleece top.
  • NRS Boundary Boots are calf-high waterproof and insulated boots. They’re great for all kinds of cold weather paddling situations.
  • Ken is testing his new Level 67 Neutron Mitts for this video, Level 6’s most basic paddling mitts. He always brings an extra pair of mitts or gloves along, and in this case brought a couple extra pairs in case he didn’t like the Neutrons.
  • He brought along some other layers in his dry bag in case he needed them.

Adjustments in Route for Winter Kayaking

As he mentions in the video, Ken deliberately chose the easiest line to paddle the rapids for this kind of cold weather kayaking.

Even though he’s an expert whitewater paddler and has no problem rolling his way out of a capsize, he wanted to avoid flipping in the first place—“at all costs!”

man with kayak on shore

If you choose to paddle alone be sure you have the right gear, especially in the winter

Paddling Alone: Is It a Good Idea?

In general, Ken says, paddling alone is a bad idea. Even with his many years of kayaking experience—including several years at the highest level of competition—he prefers to paddle with others.

He explains, “Even in benign conditions, when things do go wrong they have the potential of going very, very, very wrong.”

Sometimes, though, Ken and others enjoy the solitude of paddling solo. If that’s you, especially in the winter when the stakes are higher, here are some things you need to think about:

  • Get high-level training and experience so you can handle the water conditions you want to paddle.
  • Learn and be very comfortable with self-rescue skills.
  • Be sure to have the right gear and apparel. In these cold temps, a dry suit is essential even when you paddle with others. It’s even more important when you’re alone.
  • Carry a communication device with you, leave your paddle plan with someone else, and check in with them while you’re out, if possible, and once you’re back on shore.
  • Make smart choices when you’re on the water. Don’t try to tackle conditions above your skill level, especially in cold weather.
  • Keep in mind the days are shorter in the winter. Keep track of the time and earlier sunset, especially if there’s heavy cloud cover.

man kayaking whitewater

Be sure your skill level matches the waters you kayak

The bottom line: When you paddle in the winter your level of risk is higher, so your focus on safety needs to be higher, too.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Content them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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