On first examination taking your canoe out in winter can seem like an uninviting, even daunting prospect. Certainly, they’ll be days when it’s wisest to stay indoors, put the kettle on and settle down with a copy of Paddler to read, but with the right gear and a little planning winter really can be the most wonderful time of the year for getting out in a canoe. Just imagine quietly gliding along the surface on a perfect, crisp winter’s day, with no cloud in the sky and the landscape shimmering silver under a dusting of frost or snow in the soft winter sun.
Canoeing in the winter also means that you’re more likely to have the stretch of river, lake of loch to yourself, and there’s definitely an extra feeling of satisfaction in knowing that you’ve braved the elements to squeeze a little more time with Mother Nature out of the year, while the rest of the country sits huddled under their duvets.
There’s probably no need to point out that the consequences of getting wet and cold in winter can escalate very quickly. Wearing kit that’s appropriate to the conditions is a must, as is carrying a little extra gear to deal with conditions if they deteriorate. You’ll also need to do a little extra planning and forecasting to make sure you get the best out of your winter voyages. This is all common sense stuff and provided you take all necessary precautions there is no need for the cold to put you off paddling in winter conditions. Here’s a few basic safety precautions to help minimise the risks of taking to the water when it’s cold.
Top Tips for Staying Safe on the Water In Winter
- Have a quick exit route in place for if somebody is getting too cold as a result of an accidental dunking or otherwise.
- Carry spares of dry warm clothing.
- Carry an exposure/survival bag as well as your usual safety kit (whistle etc)
- Take proper provisions including, food and thermos flasks with a hot drink.
- Avoid paddling alone and tell somebody where you’re going.
- Keep an eye on the forecast beforehand, be aware of incoming weather patterns and look out for any sign of deteriorating conditions while you’re out on the water.
- Days are shorter so a head torch is a valuable addition to your kit bag, just in case.
- Light-weight emergency bothy shelters are a useful addition. They provide respite from the elements in emergencies and for impromptu tea stops!
What to Wear
As the old adage goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing. Open canoeing in the winter can be breathtaking. Early morning snowy days and blustery winds can make for a stunning and challenging day out. And being suitably protected from the elements with the right gear means you can really enjoy your winter paddling experiences without frozen or soggy limbs. We’re going to look at some top tips for choosing the right kit to keep you warm whilst open canoeing this winter.
It’s All About Layers
It’s all too easy to put the biggest jacket on and off you go. The problem with having big chunky layers is that that you can’t change your temperature easily. So you range from hot to cold really quickly. The trick to staying comfortable whilst paddling, and at rest in cold conditions is adding layers that you can put on and take off as you go.
It goes without saying the base layer goes next to the skin and for winter conditions having a thicker skinned thermal can work really well. Your base layer needs to wick moisture away from your skin and out through your other layers. Avoid cotton as it won’t do this and will stay damp, which means that as soon as you stop working you’ll cool and get cold very quickly. Manmade materials and natural materials like merino wool are ideal for base layers.
When it’s cold adding an extra layer on top of your base layer is a must. Having an extra -mid layer, or even two, in your dry bag is always advisable during the winter. These are usually of the fleece or wool variety. Mid layers need to be quick draining and able to still work thermally when wet. Things like Buffalo and Paramo jackets are brilliant at this. A popular choice is a fleece, or lightweight down gilet, as this is ideal at keeping your core snug whilst giving you plenty of freedom to move.
On Your Bottom Half
The trick with thermal leggings is to get them long enough in the body to go up your back, or hunt out a pair of fleecy salopettes, or similar. We’ve even seen people use an old pair of braces to keep their leggings up. You tend to move around a lot while canoeing and you want to avoid them sliding down and exposing your lower back and kidney area, which can be really uncomfortable over a period of time. Make sure whatever you choose will keep you covered in that area and avoid the cold spots.
One-piece thermal suits
There are some fantastic all-in-one fleece suits, which can be great as they eliminate any cold spots and are very warm. Make sure you can get access for any toilet breaks, though, as stripping off by the side of the water in winter is not a pleasurable experience!
The trick with any bit of kit is to have something that’s adaptable for anything the odds may throw at you. The outer is key to keeping out the elements. Some paddlers wear mardale which are lined inside with a waterproof outer layer. These tops are great if you are not getting that wet. Great for dry crisp days, but can be a bit tough in high periods of rain. A good combination is to have a waterproof outer. And leave the warmth to the base and mid layers. There are many different tops, some with hoods and some with latex seals. Here are a few top tips for choosing a waterproof touring top.
Top tips for Choosing a Winter Canoeing Jacket
- Get a hood – When the weather picks up the chance to batten down the hatches is important. Having one that packs away along with a stiff wire peak is very useful in high winds.
- A good neck seal – Paddling with latex all the time can be uncomfortable most touring cags have a velcro option. This allows you to get a good seal when things pick up. With out being suffocated.
- Useful pockets – Having handy pockets for gear and the odd useful snacks can be handy. Make sure that that you can get at your pockets with a buoyancy aid on.
Dry trousers don’t only need to be comfortable but also heavy wearing. Whilst open boating the wear spots are generally on the knees and bum patch. In terms of warmth and keeping dry, having socks can help keep your feet warm and dry. However, socks to take a fair amount of hammering from the odds. They tend to be the first part to deteriorate. It’s also worth having a bit more room for extra layers underneath. This is important especially on the socks. As adding a pair of socks underneath your trousers can help keep your feet warm on the coldest days! Having a bib on your trousers is a must for both comfort and practicality, again it also helps keeps the trousers sitting high eliminating any cold spots.
Hands and feet
There is nothing worse than cold hands and toes. They feel it the most with circulation being poor at the very ends. A personal favourite for the feet are seal skinz socks. These socks are great for keeping your toes warm but not sweaty. Unlike neoprene socks seal skinz are more like regular socks but with a waterproof membrane. Ideal for going close to your skin to keep the heat in, under your dry trousers.
OK, they don’t look cool but rubber gloves are top notch for winter paddling. They keep the heat whilst still giving you access to your fingers. Making tying knots and unclipping dry bags nice and easy. An alternative option are mitts. These allow quick access for any rope work whilst keeping your hands warm.
Buff it up
We all know how much heat you lose out of your head. Carrying a hat makes sense but items such as buffs can be great for adapting. Ruffled up to keep your neck warm along with keeping the wind out when it picks up. If one piece of kit can do several jobs then you’re laughing!
Keep Warm and enjoy
Nothing beats being out and about in wild weather wrap up well and you can have some great days on the water! Take the time to shop around with your gear, and bare in mind that it needs to fit with your thermals on. Being comfortable on the water can make boating so much more enjoyable. So wrap up and get out there!