kayaking in the cold weather

9 Tips for Kayaking in the Cold Weather (For Every Season)

When out kayaking in cold weather we are never warm enough. So, I wrote you guys a list of 9 tips and some extras you can use to stay warm in the cold weather. Be sure to take the list seriously, as some of the worst incidents out on the water always happen in cold water.

Here’s my first tip: Kayak in the cold fall season so the water will be cold but not freezing. Avoid kayaking in the cold pre-season so when you take a spill you will not freeze in a matter of seconds.

To start off, I created a small list of do’s and don’ts for the three cold seasons.



Do’s Don’ts
Keep Kayaking because in fall the kayaking area’s keep getting prettier. Underestimate the water and air temperature because summer just finished.
Take enough hot drinks to finish your awesome kayaking trip. Assume limited insulation clothing will keep you warm.



Do’s Don’ts
Wear enough insulation clothing. Underestimate the strength of ice.
Be prepared for a cold-water spill. Go out on a cold kayaking trip alone.



Do’s Don’ts
Go on a kayaking trip in the beautiful blooming nature. Underestimate the water and air temperature because the sun started shining again.
Visit areas with that are only open in spring due to meltwater. Imagine all the water is ice-free. The winter fog can still create large areas of the ice.

Obviously, there are many other things to keep in mind.


Eat Enough Protein

One of the greatest tips for kayaking someone has ever given me is: “Eat enough protein.” Even when you are kayaking in the high season of kayaking be sure to eat enough proteins, so you can last a long trip.

When taking a kayak trip during the so-called cold season be sure to eat that extra bit of proteins so you can stand the cold better. When it’s cold outside your body will use more proteins to stay warm. So, when you are out kayaking, and your body is low on proteins you will get cold fast.

This once happened to me when I was out on a cold kayaking trip. I still had to paddle 30 minutes on an empty stomach. That made me super cold.

For those that hunger easily. Be sure to pack some protein bars or if you are a nut lover like me, pack some nuts mixed with raisins to have that extra protein pack available to use out on the water.


Bring Warm Drink

As the cold can be a deal breaker when out on the water, I suggest taking a decent warm drink on all your cold-weather trips. This way when taking your break, you can warm yourself up with a nice cup of coffee or tea. That should get your inside warmed up.

When out on the water myself on the early cold fall mornings, I love to drink a hot drink on my paddling break. I usually enjoy a good sunrise with a cup of hot tea. This way my trip becomes even better.


Keep Moving

As logical as this may sound some paddlers don’t keep moving when they become cold. To keep your body and your muscles from getting too cold and cramped up, try to keep moving as much as possible. If you stop moving, your body will start to cool down fast.

There are many exercises you can do inside your kayak to stay warm on a cold day. You will need some exercise to keep your legs from cooling down in the cold weather. So, try to memorize some exercises for body parts that become cold easily.

I remember that a long time ago I had a long kayaking trip and I didn’t do any exercises with my legs. I sat in my kayak for 3 hours in a row and when I tried getting out my legs were all numb. I can imagine that if they would also have been cold it would have been an even more painful experience.

One of the great exercises that I do with my legs is small lifts while seated in the kayak. Also, try moving your legs around every now and then. Besides keeping your legs awake and warm it will also keep you sitting in a comfortable and relaxed position.


Enough Breaks

When out on the cold water you will tire easier and it will be harder to stay warm when you are wet. Make sure to take enough breaks so that your body will have the chance to warm up and dry itself when you move around a bit.

When taking breaks in cold weather try taking something warm or stop at a warm place. When I went out with friends we took a few quick-fire starters and lit a small but comfortable fire when stopping for a break. This way we were able to heat our cold bodies and stretch the length of the trip quite a bit.

Camp by Umnak, on Flickr
Camp” (CC BY-SA 2.0



Prepare Necessary Equipment

To ease down on some of the cold kayaking trips I suggest taking the small list of equipment below.

Kayak seat

Since there is nothing worse than becoming wet in cold weather I suggest taking a kayak seat. This avoids sitting in water and it will keep you much warmer. (Kayak Seat: The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide) You might want to take a hot seat to keep you warm.

Having a seat also eases your position in your kayak. This will normally keep you longer on the water. When out kayaking in cold weather it will keep your body from cramping up when sitting in a bad position for a longer period. That’s a bonus because a cramped-up body will become much colder than a relaxed body.

Paddle Cord

When you spill there is nothing worse than gather all your things when you’re in the water. Imagine that you’re not just wet but also very, very, VERY cold. When in the cold-water seconds will matter.

That’s why I suggest taking a paddle cord and if you are carrying other things I also suggest attaching them to your kayak with a cord, just to save time when climbing back in.

First aid kit

When taking a cold-water trip, be sure to take a small first aid kit that carries the necessary equipment to help you out when you’ve been in the water too long.

Be sure to add an insulation blanket to your kit to ensure that you can stop your body from cooling down even more. Adding a chemical heat pack will help you to warm body parts that aren’t easily warmed with an insulation blanket like your hands and feet.

Learn the symptoms of hypothermia to stay safe and avoid accidents. It will not only benefit you but also your friends that will join you on your kayaking trip.

Obviously adding all the normal products to your first aid kit is important. You will never know what happens when you are far out on the water.

Spray Deck

Especially in winter using a spray deck on your sit-in kayak will be a great option. The spray deck will keep your lap dry from water and assure you the cold water will stay outside of your kayak. There is nothing worse than taking icy water inside your kayak.


Prepare Protective Clothing

One of the best ways to protect yourself against the cold weather is dressing in many layers. Remember, you can always take a layer off when your too warm, you can’t add a layer that you didn’t take along. However, when out on the water there are some other things that you might want to consider.

Spare Clothing

Well, we have all taken a spill at least once, hopefully, that happened in warm weather so that you dried up well. Imagine taking a spill in the cold and treacherous water. Try kayaking home for 30 minutes in wet ice-cold clothes.

It’s not such a good idea. Therefore, I suggest taking a spare set of clothes.

When you decide to take a spare set of clothes, be sure to carry them in a dry bag. (Dry Bag Buyers Guide And My Top PicksIf you take a spill and they are not in a dry bag your spare clothes will also be wet. Another disaster you do not want to happen.

Also, a bucket waiting for you in the car will be a great idea. When you took a spill, you wouldn’t want your wet clothes to ruin your car’s interior.


When you go out on a cold kayaking trip another great tip is to take a dry-suit. Besides layers keeping you warm a dry suit will keep you dry, meaning that you will be less cold.

Some might argue that a wet-suit should also work. Yes, to some degree a wet-suit will also work, but it will allow the at first cold water to touch your body. Depending on how cold your cold kayaking trip will be it will probably be better to wear a dry-suit instead of a wet-suit.

I feel confident to say, however, that a dry suit will be much more comfortable in a cold condition! You will also be able to wear a layer of thermostatic wear underneath your dry suit.


Besides feet and legs, one of the other body parts that will turn cold fast is your hands. Luckily hands are easily protected by a decent set of gloves.

Especially when wearing a dry suit waterproof gloves will be a great option to add to your outfit. They will keep your hands dry and warm.

Cold hands will loosen your grip on your paddles and your ability to keep a steady paddling speed. When your hands start trembling you will slow down and become even colder than you already were.


 Besides your hands, you also want to protect your feet. So, some waterproof shoes will also be a great addition to your outfit.

On one of my recent kayaking trips, my left foot got wet. Don’t ask me how because I don’t remember, however, the last part of my trip was almost unbearably cold. I borrowed a close top kayak from a friend and my foot just wouldn’t dry up, like it usually would with the sun and wind on it. Even though the weather wasn’t that cold, my foot was cold all the way into my bones.

I decided never to experience that again, so I went and got myself a set of kayaking shoes. They make sure my feet dry fast and won’t get too cold.


Although this might not be the safest of headwear I would suggest taking a hat when taking a wintery kayaking trip. Whatever I do outside in colder temperatures, since I cut my hair a bit shorter my ears keep freezing up. So, I would really suggest taking a hat to stop your ears from getting too cold.

Obviously, this doesn’t only count for ears but most likely for everything attached to your head and your head itself.


Personal Floatation Device (PFD):

Well because I think safety is important I didn’t categorize this under protective clothing. Taking a decent PFD is important on the average kayaking trip. When taking a cold kayaking trip, its necessity just skyrockets. When you’re in the cold water for a few minutes staying afloat will immediately become difficult. Therefore, wearing a PFD is important.

When you are planning on going to cold waters that you do not know well. Or maybe to some wilder water areas I would even suggest taking a Life Jacket for your own safety.

Cold water is very treacherous so making safety even more of a priority on cold water trips is important.

Besides the safety reasons that your PFD or life jacket will provide, it will also be a great extra layer of insulation you wear all trip long.


Always Maintain

When you are planning to take a cold-water kayaking trip I would suggest giving your kayak a good checkup. Cold water is the worst place to find out your kayak or paddles have a problem. Plus giving your kayak a thorough checkup is never a bad idea. (Proper Kayak Maintenance 101)

Try using your hands to paddle to the side of a large icy lake. Your hands will be freezing after three simple strokes.

When you maintain your kayak well a lot of cold and icy experience will be avoided. Like water, I’m thinking about icy cold water, inside your kayak because of a small rupture. A kayak in a bad condition is a definite no go for cold kayaking trips.

Remember, unless you have a special kayak, ice is your worst enemy. Try avoiding icy waters or icy stretches of the water as much as you can.

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9 tips for kayaking in cold weather



Hope you find this post helpful. If you find anything wrong or outdated, please leave your comment below. I’ll update it as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading, Happy kayaking.

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Moulton Avery
2 years ago

Visit the National Center for Cold Water Safety so you can give better information next time around.

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