Cold weather paddling gear guide
BY REBECCA BARTON-DAVIS
The holiday season is upon us, and while the weather may be colder, dedicated paddlers are still getting on the water. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes,” may be a phrase originated in Norway, but it applies just as well to the Midwest. Don’t tell a brave winter paddler she is crazy because if any excuse, reasoning or shaming could keep her from the water, it would’ve worked long before now. Embrace the cold and help the paddler on your list stay warm, safe and happy this winter!
HotHands Hand Warmers ($0.99/pair) – HotHands Hand Warmers are like the duct tape of cold weather gear and a perfect stocking stuffer. These handy little things can go in pockets, put in your boots, be taped to your foot brace for added warmth on the toes or even wrapped around your water bottle to keep it from freezing. You can even use them between layers, but words to the wise: make sure they are in a pocket or pouch, not actually on the more sensitive skin.
Joto Universal Waterproof Pouch Cellphone Dry Bag Case ($4.99) – These small pouches are worth their weight in gold, saving many a car key and cell phone from a final swim. Tie it into the boat for easy access, so you can take pictures or make an emergency call without rummaging through larger bags.
Survive Outdoors Longer Survival Blanket ($7.00) – Survival bags are light, cheap, and provide extra protection from the elements if you have to pull off due to an unplanned “polar dip.” This model is more than a space blanket but affordable enough that it can be viewed as a single use item once opened, although many reviewers seem to use it on multiple occasions with few issues.
SealLine BlockerLite 10L Dry Sack ($19.95) – SealLine sets a high standard in dry bags, and the BlockerLites are a great all-around option. Lightweight and packable, these double as waterproof compression bags for backpacking, are great for canoe camping and keep the water out even when fully submerged. Bonus: The thin material doesn’t get brittle or crack like older style bags in cold weather. It’s a simple bag done right, and you can’t beat it for the price.
Smartwool Socks – Ph.D. Medium Ski Sock ($20.80) – Any brand of merino wool socks makes a great base layer. Those who haven’t come into the Smartwool fold may balk at the price for a pair of socks, but once you slide on the first pair, you will be hooked for life. I prefer the ski socks for paddling because the extra height works with even the tallest boot.
Toko Classic Gloves ($45.00) – If you haven’t tried cross country ski gloves and mittens for paddling, you are missing out. Ski gloves come in multiple thicknesses, from unlined to thermal mittens. Each glove will have a leather palm and fingers for good grip and connection but not so sticky that you can’t switch. The backs of the gloves have extra insulation to block the wind. They may not be waterproof, but a good pair of ski gloves keeps you insulated and dry, while still having the feel of the bare hand on the paddle. Toko has the most sizing options for a customized fit. Try different thicknesses and designs to see what works best for you.
NRS Vapor PFD ($79.99) – Buying a wearable lifejacket is always a challenge. The key is to find one with large armholes for range of motion and breathability, as well as floatation that isn’t so stiff as to restrict movement. For personal preference, I don’t like to have too many pockets or attachments that my other gear can get caught on during the stroke. The NRS Vapor fits the bill in all of these areas, plus it comes in four different colors.
NRS Endurance Splash Paddling Pants ($109.00) – Dry suits aren’t for everyone, but they will keep you warm and dry. The downside is they can be hot and stiff. After talking to many other paddlers, the consensus for flat-water enthusiasts is a two-piece dry suit – making sure the pants have a waistband instead of bibs. The regular pants are less binding during the stroke so are generally more comfortable. These NRS pants come in both men and women’s styles at the same price and are well reviewed. A “matching” shirt is $99.00 to complete the set.
LL Bean Maine Hunting Shoes 12” ($169.00) – These boots probably aren’t the best for keeping warm in extreme cold, but they are a great gift for all-around wear and paddling. The flexible soles and smaller footprint makes for a nice connection with the foot brace, and they are waterproof for portaging or standing in shallow water. The leather uppers are tough for overgrown portaging. If your preferred disciplines are on bigger water, an insulated Chota or other neoprene waterproof bootie will be a better bet, but Maine Hunting Shoes are an excellent all-around adventuring shoe.