How to Make the Best of Cold Weather Paddling

Longer days and overflowing rivers have already been drawing quite the crowd this year, especially with the record high water levels we’ve been seeing all over the Ottawa area.

Whitewater enthusiasts know this makes for thrilling river runs and great surfing, but these conditions also open up many options for flatwater boaters to explore winding creeks, floodplains, shallow bays and other areas which may not be as accessible at summer levels.

Just keep in mind that even though the sun is shining and daytime temperatures start creeping into the twenties, that water is still quite frigid! All that melted snow is floating downstream at barely above zero degrees, and even the laziest of rivers are moving surprisingly fast. An unexpected capsize in early spring can be a much more serious affair, and reports are already coming in of people being hauled out of some pretty scary situations. Here are a few tips on what to wear until it’s warm enough to rock your favourite speedo:

Dry Suits

Paddlers in the whitewater community may already be familiar with dry suits. The ultimate in cold weather protection, drysuits (when combined with neoprene gloves, helmet liner and booties) allow you to remain warm and dry even when completely immersed in water.

Wetsuit and Dry Top Combination

But drysuits can be fairly costly, and many people find them too warm in the summer. A good potential compromise is to buy a wetsuit and dry top combination. The dry top will keep you comfortable while paddling, and the wetsuit will help keep you warm in event of a capsize or accidental swim. As the season warms up, leave out the wetsuit and your dry top will greatly enhance your comfort over a fairly large temperature range.

Ok, so what about those who aren’t planning on doing flat spins and waterfalls? Even if you stick to the smaller rapids, swift currents or even flat water, that water is just as cold!! Unfortunately, it is often those who do not consider themselves ‘hard core’ white water paddlers who underestimate the dangers of cold water and end up in dangerous situations. Even a quiet SUP outing down the creek or out onto the Ottawa river can go downhill pretty quickly if you slip off your board, get caught in an unexpected current, loose a paddle, etc.

Paddling Suits

Paddling suits are a great option for paddlers who prefer being on the water, rather than in the water. They function much like a dry suit and do a good job keeping wind, rain and waves away from your warm insulating layers. They make wading into the water to get in and out of your boat much easier, and will also keep you mostly dry in the event that you do capsize, while dispensing with all the bells and whistles – and the high price tag – of full-on dry suits.

Wet Suit Tops and Bottoms

Although your mind may conjure-up images of scuba divers at the thought of wet suits, there are actually many interesting styles, thicknesses and options to choose from. They range from burly, full-body, 7mm thick surfing wet suits, to 2-4mm ‘farmer john’ cuts, to fashionable, 0.5mm tops and bottoms. These pieces are generally affordable, long lasting, and adaptable to various conditions. There are even looser fitting, neoprene hoodies you can use as a comfortable sweater that protect you even when wet.

Whatever cold weather paddling gear you choose, make sure to wear it under your PFD and make sure to always have a plan in case of a capsize. Take the time to assess the merits of various outfitting options like floatation bags, spray skirts, paddle and board leashes, throw lines, etc. Depending on your vessel and destination, these items could become game changers.

Be sure to ask our paddling staff to help you sort out the various options and help you pick out the best gear to keep you warm, comfortable, and safe. Have fun out there and remember if you are well prepared, there is no need to wait until June to enjoy a great day on the water!