Kayaking in Cold Weather: How to Stay Warm
Those of us who haven’t winterized our kayaks in pursuit of cold weather kayaking may have started to wonder how we’ll manage to keep warm on our next kayaking adventure. Fortunately, just because it’s getting cold out doesn’t mean you can’t stay warm and dry during your next trip.
While packing the right gear for your next kayaking adventure is a great start, there are several other factors that kayakers should consider when finding ways to keep warm during cold seasons. Moving your body, packing the right snack, staying dry, and learning the signs and treatment for hypothermia and cold water shock are all important steps to ensure your next kayaking trip is a warm one.
Let’s start by taking a quick look at the gear cold weather adventurers recommend you wear to protect yourself against the cold. Then, we’ll talk about other ways to keep warm while kayaking, many of which are completely free.
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What Should I Wear When Kayaking in Cold Weather?
Keeping warm is a big part of enjoying your time on the water. Without the right gear, a relaxing kayaking trip can quickly turn into a teeth-clattering nightmare. Fortunately, strategically layering your clothes will help avoid this.
But the key isn’t just about wearing layers. How you layer your kayaking gear can make a big difference in your ability to stay warm, dry, and retain your body’s natural heat. Here are some quick tips for selecting the right layers:
Base Layer: Moisture-Wicking Fabric
Moisture-wicking fabrics will transfer your sweat to the material’s outer surface and prevent heavy, soggy materials. Next to being cold, the last thing you want to feel is weighed down by your clothes. Synthetic fabrics are great because they prevent water from getting in and staying in your clothes.
This merino wool base layer is my favorite choice for this layer.
Second Layer: Fabrics That Retail Heat
Layering is all about getting your clothes to do the work for you. Your base layer moves moisture away from your body, and your middle layer should keep heat close to your body. Wool is a commonly recommended fabric for this. If you find wool to be itchy or too restrictive, nylon is a solid alternative.
Top Layer: Water Resistant Shell
The top layer should consist of windbreakers or water-resistant jackets that help keep you dry and protected from elements such as wind, rain, and snow.
Other gear to consider for your next cold weather kayaking trip are waterproof insulated boots, gloves or pogies, and a dry bag to store emergency supplies and a change of clothes.
Two Quick and Easy Ways to Warm Up While Out Kayaking
In addition to wearing the right gear, there are a couple of other ways to get warm quickly. The added bonus? Many of them are also free!
One quick and easy way to stay warm is by simply moving your body. Okay, I know what you might be thinking here: how can I possibly move my body while I’m sitting inside a 28-inch wide piece of plastic in the middle of the water? While movement is pretty limited when you’re inside or on top of a kayak, you can still move your body in small ways that can elevate your heart rate and create additional body heat that you wouldn’t normally generate by staying stationary.
Here are two easy ways to generate a little extra body heat when you’re feeling cold:
How to Warm My Arms and Hands When Kayaking in Cold Weather
To keep your arms and hands warm while kayaking in cold weather try this technique. Hold your arms out to your sides so that you form a “t” shape with your body. Keep your arms straight and move them in a circular pattern. Do this for 3-5 minutes to increase your body temperature. This will also activate your shoulders and upper back muscles.
How to Warm My Legs and Feet When Kayaking in Cold Weather
Warming your legs are a bit tricky, especially if too much movement will rock your kayak close to the point of tipping. But, you can try to slowly pull one leg at a time towards your body so that your leg is touching your chest. Straighten your leg out slowly and then repeat this with your other leg. Again, the idea here is to create just a little bit more body heat so that your heat-retaining middle layer will hold it close to your body.
Of course, move within reason. The last thing you want to do is move too much and risk tipping your kayak over into ice-cold water. (And don’t worry, we’ll cover how to handle those surprising situations later in this article, too!)
Will Certain Foods or Drinks to Help Stay Warm While Kayaking in Cold Weather?
You may have thought about what kind of hot drink you’d want to pack in your thermos for your next cold weather kayaking trip, but have you thought about the snacks you want to pack and how they can affect your body temperature? Believe it or not, eating is another easy way kayakers can keep warm.
Foods high in fat, protein, and carbohydrates can actually increase your body temperature. Your body’s processing of food requires energy, and burning energy will increase your body temperature. Protein bars are a great way to fight off hunger and keep your body burning much-needed energy during cold trips.
What To Do If You Get Wet While Kayaking in Cold Water
If you end up getting wet on your kayaking trip, it’s most likely because you tipped your kayak. In this case, your first priority will be righting your kayak and getting back in. There are awesome video tutorials online that walk you through this process if you’ve never tried it before.
Next, if you’ve planned ahead, you should have a dry bag filled with spare clothes that you can change into. This is the most important step to getting warm again after a surprising dunk into the water. Following this step may help you prevent hypothermia.
Kayaking in Cold Weather? Known Hypothermia Symptoms
If you had to guess what water temperature can result in hypothermia, what temperature would you guess? 40°? 50°? 60°? Actually, water below 70° can cause a submerged body to become hypothermic. Hypothermia can impact your breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, motor functions, and mental capacity.
Every kayaker should be familiar with the signs and treatments for hypothermia. The good news is that there are actions you can take to prevent yourself from experiencing hypothermia, and several steps you can take to warm up again if you do experience it.
Getting ahead of hypothermia and recovering your body heat in these situations begins with knowing the signs and symptoms of hypothermia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the signs include the following:
- Exhaustion or drowsiness
- Confusion and/or memory loss
- Loss of motor skills, including fine motor skills and slurred speech
- Slow or irregular pulse
Now, rest assured: a little shivering is OK. It’s just your body’s natural way of generating heat. Excessive shivering, paired with these other symptoms, is when you should pause, assess, and respond to the situation.
What To Do If You Think You’re Getting Hypothermic When Kayaking
As kayakers, taking an expected plunge into the water may lead to hypothermia. But, simply being out in the cold weather without the right protections and precautions can also lead to hypothermia. So, how can you warm up if you feel the onset of hypothermia?
- Remove yourself from the water and/or find a warm shelter
- Remove any wet clothing as soon as possible (and keep on dry layers to maintain and recover body heat)
- If dry clothing is scarce, focus on warming the center of your body first. Focus on the area from the neck to the groin. Use skin-to-skin contact with others, blankets, clothing, towels, sheets, or a warm heat source to raise your body temperature.
But, as always the best course of action is prevention. So, know when it’s too cold to kayak outside and prepare properly for your winter kayaking trip before ever getting into the water.
How do Kayakers Prevent Cold Water Shock?
If you’ve ever capsized in cold water before, you know just how quickly a sudden and unexpected change in your breathing and heart rate can occur. It’s almost instantaneous. And if you’re not able to get yourself out of the water within a few minutes, you increase your risk of hypothermia.
So, the most important piece to preventing cold water shock when kayaking is learning to stay calm and work quickly to find a viable solution. Preparing yourself ahead of time can make all the difference in terms of prevention and survival.
If you find yourself submerged in water, remember to do the following:
Step 1: Breath and Float
If you are exposed to cold water, the feeling of ice cold water will be painful and jarring at first. But the initial shock of the icy temperatures will pass within a minute. Use this time to acclimate to the water temperature and steady your breathing. Flip to your back and float during this time to allow for better breathing. If you don’t have your Personal Floatation Device (PFD), now is the time to grab it if it’s within reach. PFDs can significantly increase your chance of surviving cold water shock.
Step 2: Make a Plan
When the initial shock subsides, your main task is to quickly find a viable solution. If your kayak is close by, your best option is to flip it quickly and then make your way to shore. If you are unable to flip your kayak, make your way to the shore. If neither of those options is feasible, call for help and continue trying to reenter your kayak. The goal is to flip it and get in – collecting your floating items is low on your list of priorities at this point.
Step 3: Dry Off and Warm Up
Getting yourself out of the water safely doesn’t mean you’re in the clear yet. To lessen the symptoms of cold water shock and prevent the onset of hypothermia, you’ll need to change out of your wet clothes as soon as possible.
So, there are a lot of things you’ll want to keep in mind as you prepare for your next cold weather kayaking trip. From wearing layered clothes, to packing energy-burning snacks, to getting warm after accidental spills, there are a lot of factors that go into how kayakers stay warm in cold weather. At the end of the day though, there aren’t many scenes that beat the views of cold weather kayaking.
For other tips like these, check out our kayaking tips page so you can be even more confident getting on (and off) the water.
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