With the right gear, you can paddle even in cold conditions.
By Trent Jonas
If you enjoy canoeing in cold weather months, preparation is key to doing so safely. The most crucial considerations are staying warm, staying dry, and being prepared in the event that you do end up in the water. These things all require practice, a little common sense, and the right equipment. Here are some thoughts about what essential gear for cold-weather canoeing you will need.
The first piece of gear you’ll absolutely need is a personal flotation device (PFD). If you go into cold water, you will need all of your energy to move yourself to safety. In some cases, the shock of entering very cold water could cause you to briefly lose consciousness. A PFD is vital to keeping you afloat and alive in the event of a capsize. You need a reliable PFD, so avoid inflatables, which may malfunction, or have been discharged, or under-inflate in cold conditions. Look for a full-sized PFD that will offer a little extra insulation over your core and a whole lot of flotation when you're in the water. A vest like the NRS Rapid Rescuer has additional safety features, including large pockets for essential gear like a GPS, phone, or fire-making essentials.
When you’re in cold water, a dry suit like the Stohlquist EZ, can mean the difference between being able to effectively rescue yourself in frigid waters or succumbing to a hypothermic stupor. Unlike a wetsuit, a dry suit repels, rather than absorbs, water. A dry suit will prevent cold water from getting to your core areas and reducing your body’s temperature too rapidly, buying you extra time to get to safety and warm up.
Paddling gloves are nice to have in all weather, offering improved grip on the paddle and preventing blisters after a long day on the water. In colder weather, they serve the additional function of keeping your hands warm and dry, protecting them from wind and paddle splashes. Look for full-fingered gloves with plenty of padding and insulation but with flexibility sufficient to allow uninhibited grip and mobility. Outdoor Research’s Upsurge Paddle Gloves were designed specifically with cold-weather paddling in mind.
Between launching and pulling, getting into and out of your canoe, portages, rough water, and paddle splash, keeping your feet warm and dry can be challenging in a canoe. During warmer months, wet feet aren’t that big a deal, but in cold weather, warm, dry feet are crucial. Look for footwear that will protect your feet in and out of the boat and that can be safely submerged in the event you have to put your foot into the water. Boundary Boots, from NRS, were designed specifically for folks who canoe in cold weather conditions.
Last, but certainly not least, we come to your head. It only makes sense that, in cold weather, you will wear something to keep your head warm. But if you’re going to be out on the water in a small, open vessel like a canoe, you’ll need a little more. You want something, like Kokatat’s Surfskin Balaclava, that will not only keep your head, face and neck warm, but also protect it from wind, precipitation, paddle splash, and cold shock due to immersion.