Cold Weather Kayaking: How to Go Paddling Without Freezing Your Butt Off

Do you hang up your kayak for the season once that first cold snap rolls in? If so, you may be missing out on a tremendous paddling opportunity.

Cold weather kayaking can be just as fun as paddling in the warmer months and gives you the chance to keep up with your favorite activity year-round.

Your biggest fear is probably absolutely freezing your butt off on the water, which is no fun for anyone.

But with the right preparation and gear, you’ll be nice n’ toasty. In this article, we’ll break down what you should know about cold weather kayaking and what you need to keep your butt (and the rest of your body) warm.

In this article:

man kayaking in cold weather

How to go cold weather kayaking

Going kayaking in cold weather isn’t all that different from paddling in warm weather. The only difference is how you prepare. You’ll need to ensure you’re wearing the right clothes and have the right gear on hand. 

We’ll talk about those in a bit, but first, let’s go over what stays the same when you go kayaking in cold weather. 

Stay hydrated

Yes, winter dehydration is a thing. Just because it’s cold outside and you don’t feel hot doesn’t mean that you don’t need water.

Because people don’t sweat as much in the winter, they may make less of an effort to stay hydrated. When you paddle in cold weather, you are still losing moisture.

Always be sure to pack enough water and replenish your fluids by drinking it often. 

Protect yourself from the sun.

This goes hand-in-hand with staying hydrated. Many people don’t associate winter with sunburns. Though the sun might not be quite as strong as it is in the summer, it’s still enough to cause damage.

You’ll be bundled up in more clothes when you cold weather kayak, but there may be skin that’s still exposed. Make sure to apply sunscreen and chapstick with sunscreen on anything that sees the sunlight.

Sunglasses are also a must for keeping damaging rays from reflecting back into your eyes.

There are also some new dangers when cold air and water temperatures are introduced.

Dangers of kayaking in cold temperatures

There are a few things that can happen if you don’t adequately prepare for kayaking in cold waters.


Hypothermia occurs when the body is unable to retain heat. Once your internal body temperature drops below a certain level, your organ and muscles cease to function properly.

This is caused by being subjected to cold and wet conditions. In extreme conditions, muscle incapacitation can occur in as little as five minutes.

Even in water temperatures that are 60° F to 70° F, a person can experience loss of dexterity in under 40 minutes. 

Because of this, the goal of cold weather kayaking gear is to keep you dry and warm. Though you may not plan on jumping into the water, you should always prepare as if you are going to capsize.

Cold shock response

Cold shock response occurs if you’re exposed to cold water unexpectedly like you would be if your boat capsized. It causes two things to occur.

First, it can cause an involuntary gasp for breath— even if you’re underwater. Even if your body doesn’t gasp in response, your breathing rate can increase tenfold, making it more likely that you inhale water. 

Secondly, it causes the blood vessels to close, increasing resistance to blood flow. This can cause heart attacks, even in those who are healthy or young. 

You can prevent this reflex by limiting the amount of skin that would come in direct contact with the water, should you fall in.   

What to wear cold weather kayaking 

First of all, we’d like to present a law that you should follow when cold water kayaking. Yes, law, because it’s that important.

Never wear cotton.

Cotton absorbs water and stays wet, so it is your worst enemy in cold temperatures. Here’s what you should wear kayaking instead.

Wet suit or dry suits 

If the water temperature is below 60° F, but more than 50° F, a wetsuit is recommended. Below  50° F, a dry suit is likely your best choice.

A wet suit is made of neoprene, which insulates you by letting a thin layer of water seep in between the material and your body. Your body has enough heat to warm this layer of water, which in turn keeps you warm. 

A dry suit, on the other hand, will keep you completely dry. It’s made of a waterproof material that seals with gaskets. 

Extra layers

Once you decide whether you’ll wear a wet suit or a dry suit, assemble your extra layers.

For wetsuit wearers

If you’re wearing a wetsuit, you’ll wear your layers on top of the suit. If you want, you can wear swimwear underneath as a base layer, but otherwise, you want the wet suit against your skin.

You may feel that the wetsuit is enough by itself, but if you want an extra layer, you can wear a fleece or wool sweater on top.

For drysuit wearers

With a drysuit, you’ll stack layers underneath. For a base layer, start with a fleece, wool, or synthetic thermal set.

If extra-cold conditions, add a warmer fleece layer on top of the base layer. The windproof and waterproof suit will act as an outer layer. 

Note: Always be sure that your PDF fits securely over your winter layers. 

Other cold weather kayak gear you’ll need

Don’t forget about your exposed extremities! 

  • Feet: Keep your toes warm with neoprene booties. For very cold conditions, invest in kayaking socks to go underneath. 
  • Hands: Paddling gloves are a must when cold water paddling. Make sure to look at the temperatures that the gloves are rated for when looking at different designs and brands. 
  • Head: For milder temperatures, a beanie is great for keeping your head and ears warm. In colder weather, a neoprene hood will keep your head, ears, and neck warm. This will also offer added protection should you fall in the water. 

As a general rule of thumb, cover what you can. 

Kayak accessories  

There’s one other kayak accessory that makes cold-weather kayaking a little warmer.

For additional protection against cold water entering your kayak, invest in a spray skirt. These skirts are designed to keep water out, keeping warmth in. 

Get on the water

A cold front doesn’t have to mean an end to your kayaking fun! Just throw on some layers and bundle up your feet, hands, and head and you’ll be good to go!

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