Colder Weather Paddling

Please read the full article as cold weather paddling isn’t for everyone! 

Falling in cold water fully dressed

This blog post is to create awareness of the reality of cold water and better prepare you for colder weather safety and paddling! 


It’s important to keep in mind the worst-case scenario which is falling in! And be prepared for it.
I’ve done winter practice rescue when falling through ice wearing a full set of clothes (boots, socks, mitts, under layer, outer layer etc) and have jumped in the Atlantic Ocean off the Antarctica peninsula (saltwater has a lower freezing temp of -2C).

Trust me when I say it will take your breath away and slow everything down (muscles and brain). It’s not fun or something to take lightly.

I would not recommend winter paddling without the proper equipment such as a dry suit or thick wet suit. See blog post: Winter Paddling

Here is a great video to watch: Reality of Cold Water 

What is cold water?

Technically 15C and lower however typically cold shock kicks in around 10C.

Check water temperatures before paddling! Just like you would check the weather and wind

Sea Temperatures World Wide

Canadian Government Sea Temperatures

Be Prepared:


When cold weather paddling, try to go with a friend and stay close to shore.

Wear your life jacket! Not only will it be an extra layer of warmth (be sure it’s adjustable to fit over your extra cold weather layers) but cold water will zap your muscles and thus your ability to function/swim the same way.  According to Lifesaving Society, 35% of drownings happen from October to April when most people have no intention of going into the water.

Your clothes aren’t going to drag you down with weight right away. The air trapped in the clothes will help keep you afloat temporarily.

In addition to wearing your life jacket be sure to wear your leash so your board is close by!

Pack Extra:

Bring an extra set of warm layers in a dry bag (Make sure to test the dry bag before taking it out! Especially if you buy a cheap knock-off brand)

Let’s face it, you could fall in, even if you are a confident paddler with good balance; you need to be prepared! Don’t go paddling if you aren’t properly equipped, aware and prepared.

I also like to bring instant hot warmers such as HotHands and if it’s a longer paddle away from the land I’ll bring a hot beverage.

Après Paddle:

Bring an extra warm jacket, gloves, socks and footwear to put on afterwards. Even if you had a sweaty paddle or got a bit wet on the water or from packing up your wet equipment, a fresh change of some clothes will go a long way!

I also love to bring hot tea or coffee to enjoy and warm up afterwards! Yeti or Hydro Flask.

I went for a dip fully dressed, no dry suit or wet suit on in 3°C (37°F) water temp so you can see what it’s like.

Here is what happened and what I learned: *Keep in mind I knew I was going in the cold water so I was expecting it!

  • Cold shock and a gasp of air as I hit the water. This would be heightened if I didn’t know I was taking a dip!
  • Water didn’t fully seep into all my clothes right away. It took a few seconds before they became heavy (I never felt like they were dragging me down, just slow-moving)
  • I could swim to my board but very slowly (I’m a strong swimmer)
  • It was extremely difficult getting back on my board
  • adrenaline kicked in!
  • Air temp was around 10°C with little to no wind making my paddle back to shore warmer & easier. I would have been shivering and likely got hypothermia if the air was colder.
  • I was cold but I didn’t freeze since I was wearing layers that when wet will still keep you a little warm (Wool, Polypropylene, etc) and was able to get to shore right away to change.
  • I got changed into the clothes from my dry bag *you should take off as much wet clothing as possible. I didn’t strip down for the video

What I wore: *I was warm paddling before the plunge!
– thick polypropylene long sleeve
– thick fleece jacket
– wool toque
– neck gaiter
– polyester tights
– fleece leggings
– polyester wind resistance pants
– wool socks
– insulated rubber boots
– polyester gloves

*the insulation in my rubber boots took 2 days to dry

You take a dip! What next?

Shock and panic will occur. Breathe!


Get your breathing under control.

Immersion in coldwater can quickly numb the extremities to the point of uselessness and slow your muscles down, making it very important that you are already wearing your life jacket.

Coldwater will cool down the body quicker than cold air and make it difficult to function the same way.

In addition to wearing your life jacket properly be sure to have your leash on so your board is close by.


Get out of the water as quickly as possible.

Remember to stay calm.


Get Out of the Wet Clothes

Take off as much wet clothing as you can and put on the extra clothes you packed in your dry bag.

Pull up to shore or have a buddy help for balance and holding items.


Head back to your launch point!

Don’t be a hero, remember you’ll be in shock so you might think you’re okay but will need to go get fully changed and warmed up!

What to wear:

Dress for the water temperature, not the air!

Check out the blog post: Winter Paddling for information on drysuits and wetsuits.

I want to start by saying cotton is not your friend! Cotton will hold water or sweat and become cold and damp and can be dangerous to wear in cold weather.

  • Base Layer: wicks away moisture from your body

Polyester and polypropylene don’t absorb water making these materials hydrophobic which is perfect for wicking away moisture and therefore a great base layer.

  • Mid Layer: maintains body heat to protect you from the cold.

Wool and fleece will absorb water but will keep you warmer than most fabrics, even when fully wet.

Down is a great insulation layer however it’s useless as soon as it’s wet. Down is a great layer to bring to put on after a paddle.

  • Outer layer: shields you from the wind and rain

Waterproof/breathable shells such as one made of Gore-Tex can often be pricer and we could go into an entire blog post on waterproof/water-resistant, windproof/wind resistant, softshell/hardshell – you get the picture.

Stick with something you’ll be comfortable with in regards to movement and the current weather conditions.

This layer won’t matter if you take a dip as it’s not a warmth layer but does protect you from the wind (and rain) which is exacerbated when wet.

Winter paddling is an entirely different story! If you do not have the proper equipment such as a drysuit or a thicker wetsuit for the cold water temps wait until the water warms up! Read the blog post: Winter Paddling


Keep in mind you don’t need to break the bank with high-end brands; especially if you’re just starting it can be expensive and you might not know what works best for you just yet.

Costco brand “Paradox” often has good base layers. I’ve also found some great mid-layers at second-hand stores (I wouldn’t recommend second-hand for base layers unless you know the previous owner)

If you have the ability to spend a little more, try and shop local or do some research on the brand you are buying. MEC, Mustang Survival, Patagonia, Arc’Tyerx  and Kokatat (paddle specific) are great companies with high-quality stuff.

Other things to remember and consider:

  • Head: A toque is important as 40-45% of heat is lost through your head!
  • Feet: wear wool socks with rubber boots (insulated ones are best) or buy some neoprene booties. Keep in mind with neoprene you’re feet will be wet for the entire time but on the flip side your feet will stay warm when wet.
  • Hands: Don’t forget gloves! You need your hands to paddle. You can also layer with fleece or synthetic fabric mitts and gloves. I start with a warm pair and attached them to my life jacket with a carabiner once I’m warmed up.
  • Too warm: Bring a dry bag (with your extra set of warm clothes, more below) with enough space to de-layer and store your clothes. Remember you should be warm as you’re dressing for the water temp. not the air.
  • Peeing: Going pee will help you warm up! When you have a full bladder your body is using energy to keep the urine warm.
  • Fit: Clothing shouldn’t be super tight. Creating a small bit of air between layers will keep you warmer

Don’t take the risk if you aren’t comfortable, knowledgeable and experienced preparing and dealing with worse case situations. 

The adventure isn’t worth your health and safety!

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