Winter Paddling at its Warmest

ArticleMay 02, 2013

Cold weather and icy water can’t keep Team NRS kayaker Devon Barker off the river. She shares some helpful tips on how to stay warm for winter paddling.

My first paddle of 2013 reminded me of all the crucial “little” things that make paddling enjoyable during the winter verses being a cold experience that keeps your mind and body from wanting to boat again until the sun comes out in the spring. My first day in 2013 was warm even though it was one of the coldest days for air and water temperature I have experienced. It was 32 degrees in Riggins, Idaho and the water was reading 31 degrees on the Salmon River at the Whitebird gauge.

Kayaking amongsth ice chunks.

Oh, but the Mill Wave was in and Will Stauffer-Norris was game to go paddling, so we suited up. The Mill Wave at this level had not been in for over a year. A drysuit in good condition is a must for wintertime paddling. While the drysuit ensures a toasty, warm body I take a little extra care to protect my ears. Surfer ear – closing of the ear canal – from cold water leads to hearing loss. A great pair of earplugs prevents this and keeps you warmer. Using earplugs in combination with NRS Mystery Helmet Liner and a full-cut helmet does the trick for me.

Kayaker on wave in icy water.

Keeping your extremities warm is often the hardest part. I used to wear a combination of pogies with dry latex gloves with liners underneath. I just wanted to be able to feel my paddle. All of my friends had changed over to NRS Toaster Mitts, but I was reluctant. A few springs back I decided to try them while surfing; I kept my pogies in the back of my kayak. My hands were 100% warmer, but the change did take me about three months before I was warm and comfortable. I highly encourage you to try mitts or the NRS Maverick Gloves for winter paddling. Just remember to stick with it, as the transition can take a while. I found that adding extra paddle wax helped me to have better contact with my paddle, easing my worry about not feeling my paddle. If you are a smaller paddler, a small shaft paddle will also help with your grip. Mitts and gloves do increase your paddle grip width, which can lead to strains in your hands and forearms, but sizing down on your paddle shaft is a good fix. My hands were warm, even paddling through the ice floe and while surfing the Mill Wave.

Kayaker holding up big chunk of ice.

I also wear an extra pair of socks and use booties one size larger in the wintertime. Since there is often snow on the ground I opt for a sole with tread for a little extra traction. I also carry a throw bag but bring it inside after boating to dry it out. I sometimes have a little water in my boat at the end of a day, thus soaking my throw bag and in the winter and turning it into solid brick of rope. Drying it out insures I am prepared for my next boating adventure.

Wishing you a warm winter season of paddling.

Devon Barker-Hicks

Photos courtesy of Will Stauffer-Norris