Kayaking in Winter: 12 Tips You Need to Know

Kayaking in winter can be, put it mildly, unattractive. Going kayaking in the winter is not the most pleasant thing to do. But I assure you that winter kayaking is beautiful and can be very healthy. There are a few tips or rules you should consider before you go rafting on a river, lake, or sea. Here are the top 12 tips and things you should consider before you face the cold and go rafting.

Kayaking in Winter pin
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Clothing for kayaks in wintertime

Let’s talk about what you wear. Consider the places where you are most likely to lose heat in the winter. Consider wearing a hat or buying waterproof gloves. Also, consider wearing thicker waterproof boots. Well-fitting clothing on the human body is essential for comfort and safety when winter kayaking.

Warning! Learn how to layer clothes

Make sure your kayak is in good shape

Repair a crack that you noticed last time. Carefully inspect the appearance of your entire kayak to make sure it won’t soak up water.

Warning! Check your kayak and accessories for damage

Think about using foam blocks and sheets

Foam blocks are great for areas where your skin may come in contact with the kayak. They create an extra layer of insulation, which is important if you’re in a cold-water environment for an extended period of time.

Warning! Keep your extremities (head, arms, legs) warm

120-Degree Rule

Water and air temperatures below 120° Fahrenheit require you to wear a wetsuit or a drysuit if you are out on the water.

Even the best-trained bodies can be shocked when they fall into icy cold water. A person who is not appropriately dressed for submersion will have no chance of escaping. The primary method of preventing hypothermia for kayakers is to dress according to the temperature of the water.

The table shows when you should wear a wetsuit and when you should wear a dry suit for winter kayaking:

70 °F (ca. 21 °C) <Low3 mm wetsuit or shorty
60 – 70 °FModerate5 mm wetsuit
50 – 60 °FHighDrysuit or 7 mm wetsuit, or wetsuit with dry-top
> 50 °F (ca. 10 °C)ExtremeDrysuit

Winter kayaking: Is it too cold?

The water temperature does not have to be a certain range to be safe for kayaking. As long as your lake hasn’t frozen over and you wear proper clothing, you can go kayaking in freezing waters. Weather permitting of course.

Warning! Learn the 120-degree rule

Prepare a dry, waterproof bag

You should always pack your belongings in a waterproof bag for kayaking. This is especially important in winter kayaking because of the greater possibility of things getting wet, if only due to rain and snow.

Warning! Keep dry clothes in a waterproof bag

Warm up before you reach for the paddle

You can warm up on or off the water. Get your blood pumping well throughout your body and your muscles well warmed up before you exert yourself. This will help prevent injuries and also make winter kayaking a little more fun.

Attention! Exercise, warm up your muscles

Plan ahead

Plan the entire float sensibly. Pack energy foods, fruits, and/or nuts. You can also pack a thermos for a warm drink. Also, think about bringing a set of dry clothes and a coat if necessary (especially if you’re getting out of the water for a while). Remember to always take care of your feet when you stop, keep them warm, and change your socks if necessary.

Attention! Plan the location and route beforehand

Adjust the length of the trip to your possibilities

Remember that winter kayaking is definitely different from summer ones. Don’t plan long escapades. Always consider the length of the trip and your abilities.

Attention! Watch the time

Check the weather before you set off

Winter, as we know, can be unpredictable (as can most months in some states of America). By checking the weather forecast before you descend, you can avoid various weather troubles that may suddenly strike you. It is also worth checking the water levels in the rivers. Heavy precipitation in the fall and winter can drastically change the riverbed. Always check the current before you go to a river, or better yet, ask a local. Also, be prepared for snowstorms, and don’t plan to go kayaking in such conditions.

Warning! Check the weather report

Stay close to shore

Winter weather conditions can change quickly and you should always be prepared to return to land safely.

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Sudden winds blowing against you can prevent you from returning to shore if you are too tired, so make sure you always have enough energy for the return trip.
Time flies in the winter when you’re passionately kayaking, so it’s easy to lose track of how far you’ve come and what’s next.

Warning! Do not swim too far from the shore

Always carry the means to call for help

A dry-case phone should suffice, but if you’re planning multiple trips, a GPS tracker might be a good investment. If you are planning a solo rafting trip, be sure to let those on shore know the expected duration and route.

Warning! Let others know that you are going kayaking

Shorter days

Remember how much daylight we have during the winter… The days may be shorter than you think, especially if the weather is already cloudy. Planning is key. Never kayak after dark. For winter kayaking, especially at the beginning, it is important to use a professional organizer who is prepared for winter requirements. A well-organized winter kayaking trip is a guarantee of safety and a great adventure.

Warning! The days are shorter in winter


Is it safe to kayak in the winter?

Kayaking in the winter can be safe, but it requires additional precautions and the right gear to ensure your safety and comfort. Here are some factors to consider when kayaking in the winter:
Cold Water Gear: You’ll need cold-water gear such as a drysuit, wetsuit, or layered clothing to provide insulation and protect against hypothermia.
Skill Level: Ensure you have the necessary kayaking skills, including self-rescue techniques, to handle the challenges of cold-water kayaking.
Weather Conditions: Check the weather forecast and avoid kayaking in extreme weather, including strong winds, heavy rain, or thunderstorms.
Layering: Layer your clothing for warmth and consider using a waterproof and windproof paddling jacket.
Shorter Trips: Plan shorter paddling trips in the winter to minimize exposure to cold water.
Buddy System: Paddle with a friend or in a group for added safety, especially in case of emergencies.
Communication: Carry a communication device such as a VHF radio or a waterproof phone case for emergencies.
Navigation: Be proficient in navigation and carry a map and compass or a GPS device.
Know Your Limits: Be aware of your cold tolerance and know when to call off a trip if conditions become challenging.
While kayaking in the winter can provide a unique and serene experience, it’s crucial to prioritize safety, be well-prepared, and make informed decisions. Always err on the side of caution and consider your gear, skills, and the conditions before venturing out on a winter kayaking adventure.

How cold is too cold for kayaking?

The ideal kayaking temperature can vary from person to person, depending on factors like personal tolerance, the type of gear you have, and the water temperature. However, a general guideline is that water temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) can be considered too cold for kayaking without appropriate gear. Here’s why:
Risk of Hypothermia: Cold water below 50 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to rapid heat loss from your body, increasing the risk of hypothermia if you capsize or get wet.
Limited Time in Cold Water: In water of this temperature, your time before the onset of hypothermia symptoms can be as short as a few minutes to half an hour, depending on your clothing and body condition.
Importance of Proper Gear: To kayak in cold water, you’ll need specialized gear such as a drysuit or wetsuit to provide insulation and protect against hypothermia.
Challenging Self-Rescue: Cold water can impair your coordination and self-rescue abilities, making it more challenging to re-enter your kayak if you capsize.
Safety Concerns: The combination of cold water and potential exposure in cold air can pose safety concerns, particularly if the water temperature is significantly lower than the air temperature.
It’s essential to prioritize safety when kayaking in colder conditions. Be well-prepared with appropriate gear, ensure you have the necessary skills, and check the weather and water conditions. If you’re unsure about the suitability of the weather and water temperature, it’s best to err on the side of caution and choose warmer days for your kayaking adventures.

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When should you not kayak?

There are certain conditions and situations when you should avoid kayaking to ensure your safety. Here are some circumstances in which you should not kayak:
Adverse Weather: Avoid kayaking in extreme weather conditions, such as strong winds, thunderstorms, heavy rain, or dense fog. These conditions can be hazardous and reduce visibility.
Cold Water and Hypothermia Risk: When water temperatures are very cold, avoid kayaking without proper cold-water gear, as hypothermia can set in quickly if you capsize.
Strong Currents and Tides: Kayaking in strong currents or tides, especially in unfamiliar waters, can be dangerous and challenging. Ensure you have the skills and experience to handle such conditions.
Limited Visibility: Avoid kayaking when visibility is severely limited, as it can make navigation difficult and increase the risk of collisions with other vessels.
Inexperienced or Unprepared: If you lack kayaking experience or haven’t prepared adequately for the trip, it’s best to refrain from kayaking, especially in challenging or remote locations.
Medical Issues: If you have a medical condition that could be aggravated by physical exertion or exposure to the elements, it’s advisable to consult your healthcare provider before kayaking.
Restricted Areas: Observe any local regulations or restrictions that may prohibit kayaking in specific areas, such as protected wildlife habitats, private properties, or military zones.
Solo Paddling in Remote Areas: Paddling alone in remote areas, especially if you lack self-rescue skills, can be risky. It’s safer to paddle with a group or in areas with readily available assistance.
Intoxication: Kayaking under the influence of alcohol or drugs impairs judgment and coordination, making it unsafe. Always paddle sober.
Fatigue: If you’re tired or physically exhausted, it’s not the right time to go kayaking, as fatigue can lead to accidents and poor decision-making.
Unstable Mental or Emotional State: Avoid kayaking when you’re emotionally or mentally unstable, as it can affect your ability to make sound judgments.
Safety Equipment Issues: If you discover that essential safety equipment, such as a PFD or paddle, is damaged or missing, do not go kayaking until it’s repaired or replaced.
Safety should always be your top priority when kayaking. Make informed decisions based on your skills, the conditions, and your state of readiness to ensure a safe and enjoyable paddling experience.

How do you stay warm in winter kayaking?

Staying warm during winter kayaking is essential for comfort and safety. Here are some tips to help you stay warm while paddling in cold weather:
Wear a Drysuit or Wetsuit: A drysuit is the best option for kayaking in frigid conditions, as it keeps you completely dry. Alternatively, a wetsuit provides insulation even when wet. Wear appropriate thickness based on water and air temperatures.
Layer Clothing: Wear insulating layers, such as a moisture-wicking base layer and a thermal mid-layer. Choose synthetic or wool materials that retain heat when wet.
Paddling Jacket: Invest in a waterproof and windproof paddling jacket to protect against wind and spray. Look for one with a high collar and adjustable cuffs to prevent water from entering.
Neoprene Gloves and Booties: Neoprene gloves and booties keep your hands and feet warm. Make sure they are waterproof to maintain warmth.
Pogies or Neoprene Mittens: Pogies are hand covers that attach to your paddle, allowing direct contact with the paddle shaft. Neoprene mittens are another option for keeping your hands warm while paddling.
Neoprene Hood or Beanie: A neoprene hood or beanie helps retain heat and prevents heat loss through the head.
Thick Socks: Wear thick, moisture-wicking socks to keep your feet warm inside your booties.
Personal Flotation Device (PFD): Ensure your PFD fits comfortably over your winter layers. Some PFDs are designed with added insulation for cold-weather use.
Stay Dry: Avoid excessive splashing and water entry to prevent moisture from seeping into your clothing. Use a spray skirt to keep water out of your kayak’s cockpit.
Pack Warm Drinks and Snacks: Bring a thermos with hot beverages and high-energy snacks to maintain your internal body temperature.
Know Your Limits: Be aware of your cold tolerance and plan shorter outings in extreme cold.
Safety and Communication: Carry safety gear, a VHF radio, and a waterproof phone case for emergencies.
Paddle with a Group: Kayaking with others provides safety and support in case of unexpected situations.
Always check weather conditions and forecasts before heading out and be prepared for changing conditions. Staying warm during winter kayaking is essential for enjoying the experience while minimizing the risk of hypothermia or cold-related issues.

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Is 65 too cold to kayak?

Whether 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius) is too cold for kayaking depends on several factors, including personal preferences, experience, and the type of gear you have. Here are some considerations:
Cold Tolerance: Some kayakers are comfortable in cooler temperatures, while others prefer warmer conditions. It’s essential to know your cold tolerance and dress accordingly.
Gear: Wearing appropriate cold-weather gear, such as a wetsuit, drysuit, or layered clothing, can make kayaking in 65-degree weather more comfortable.
Water Temperature: The temperature of the water is crucial. If the water is significantly colder than the air temperature, it can pose safety risks if you capsize. Be prepared with the right gear to handle cold water.
Wind and Conditions: Wind, rain, and other weather conditions can make 65-degree weather feel colder. Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
Duration of Trip: Shorter paddling trips may be more manageable in cooler temperatures, as prolonged exposure to the cold can lead to discomfort.
Experience and Skill Level: More experienced kayakers may be better equipped to handle cooler temperatures due to their knowledge of safety and self-rescue techniques.
In general, 65 degrees is on the cooler side for kayaking, and it’s essential to be well-prepared with appropriate gear and safety measures. Be aware of your own comfort level, the conditions, and the water temperature when deciding whether to kayak in 65-degree weather.

Do people kayak in the cold?

Yes, many people kayak in cold weather, especially in regions with colder climates. Cold-weather kayaking is a popular activity for those who enjoy paddling year-round. However, it’s important to take extra precautions and use appropriate gear when kayaking in cold conditions, as the water and air temperature can pose safety risks. Here are some key considerations for cold-weather kayaking:
Cold-Water Gear: Wear a drysuit or a wetsuit to stay warm and dry in cold water. Layering is essential to provide insulation.
Paddle Safety: Be well-prepared for the possibility of capsizing in cold water. Learn self-rescue techniques and practice them regularly.
Weather Awareness: Monitor weather conditions and be prepared for changing weather, especially in colder seasons.
Shorter Trips: Consider shorter paddling trips in cold weather to minimize exposure.
Communication: Carry a communication device like a VHF radio or a waterproof phone case for emergencies.
Buddy System: Paddle with a friend or in a group for added safety.
Navigation: Be proficient in navigation and carry a map and compass or a GPS device.
Cold-weather kayaking can offer a unique and serene experience, but it requires additional safety measures and gear to ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure.

Does cold weather hurt kayaks?

Cold weather itself typically doesn’t harm kayaks, but it can affect kayak materials and components if precautions aren’t taken. Here’s how cold weather can impact kayaks:
Material Contraction: In extremely cold conditions, kayak materials, especially those made from rigid materials like fiberglass, may contract slightly. While this isn’t a significant concern, it’s important to store your kayak properly to minimize temperature fluctuations.
Brittleness: Extremely cold temperatures can make some materials more brittle. Polyethylene, a common kayak material, is less prone to this, but other materials may become more fragile. Avoid impacts with hard objects in freezing conditions.
Safety Concerns: Paddling in very cold water poses safety risks if you capsize. Wearing appropriate cold-water gear, like a drysuit, is crucial to stay safe in chilly conditions.
Proper Storage: When not in use, store your kayak indoors or in a climate-controlled space to protect it from temperature extremes.
Maintenance: Regularly inspect your kayak for any cold-related damage, such as cracks or warping, and address these issues promptly.
In general, as long as you take appropriate precautions and practice good kayak maintenance, cold weather should not significantly harm your kayak.

Will a kayak crack in cold weather?

Kayaks are generally designed to withstand cold weather, but extreme conditions can affect them. Polyethylene kayaks are less susceptible to cracking in cold temperatures compared to rigid materials. However, it’s essential to take precautions, such as storing your kayak indoors or using kayak covers, to protect it from extreme cold, especially if it freezes or experiences significant temperature fluctuations. Be mindful of impacts with hard objects in freezing conditions, as these can potentially cause damage. Regular maintenance and inspection can help ensure your kayak remains in good condition during cold weather.

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