Essential winter kayaking gear: Canoeing in cold weather

Mar 18, 2019 BY AWE365 Team

When kayaking or canoeing in cold weather conditions there are several factors that need to be taken into consideration. With that in mind we’ve put together this list of the essential winter kayaking gear to take paddling.

Essential winter kayaking gear Canoeing in cold weather Flickr CC image from Antarctica by

Canoeing in cold weather

The first risk when heading out on the water during winter or colder conditions are the frigid water temperatures. It can very quickly become life threatening if you fall in. Winter also brings less clement and unpredictable weather plus shorter days.

So you need to plan carefully and have a backup in case things go wrong. This should all be in place before setting out.

In many places you probably won’t be that far away from other people. But this doesn’t mean you should be complacent. Just because there’s a village a mile up the river or down the coast it doesn’t mean that help will arrive quick enough to save you.

So have the right gear and be practiced in using it before the need is real. You should be self sufficient in most aspects, however don’t be too proud to call emergency services if you need them.

Essential winter kayaking gear Canoeing in cold weather Flickr CC image from USA (rough and ready confluence) by Northwest Rafting Company

Essential winter kayaking gear

This is what you need if you are going kayaking or canoeing in cold weather:


You need warm gear whilst paddling in the winter and extra clothes in dry bags to get changed into when you return. These will help keep you warm when you stop, and are vital if you get soaked and need to change.

However, whilst paddling in cold conditions, I cannot recommend a dry suit strongly enough. It’s just a sensible bit of kit. And with so many models on the market you’ll easily find something comfortable and warm.

Getting wet in these conditions, no matter how experienced you are, can quickly lead to the onset of hypothermia. Get a dry suit, second hand on ebay you can get a bargain.

Essential winter kayaking gear Canoeing in cold weather Flickr CC image from d'hiver sur le Cher in France by Sybarite48

Food and drink

Something warm to drink and eat is a great boost on a cold day, and a brew also helps to keep your fluid levels up. It’s good practice to take some form of warm drink in a flask, or the means of making one when you stop.

Hot food on winter kayaking adventures is a huge bonus. For day trips soup in a flask is a great option. But high energy foods such as dried fruit and nuts, chocolate, are always a good idea plus some carbs to fuel you through the day.

Personally I like to plan a stop in a pub or cafe on route so I can sit indoors and have a hot meal. But avoid alcohol at any pub stopovers: it can thin the blood and make you colder.

Emergency kit

Make yourself an emergency kit. This should contain a form of shelter like a space blanket. Also include a light source for signalling (and to help you see) plus a means to make fire (electric lighter, matches in sealed tub or flint stick).

Essential winter kayaking gear Canoeing in cold weather Flickr CC image from Bridal Veil Falls Oregon by Sarah McDevitt

A basic first aid kit is always a must. Also essential winter kayaking gear are some emergency high calorie rations, such as energy bars or Kendal Mint Cake etc. Plus a means to collect water and purify it if on a kayaking expedition.

Rescue gear

From helping yourself to helping others a towline has many uses when paddling. And it should be kept close to hand to use in an emergency.

It should include aids such as stirrups, floats and sea ladders as the water can sap energy quickly. These help when climbing back into your boat or helping others get back into theirs.

Imagine you return to shore and it’s dumping breaking waves, or the surf zone has become dangerous? With a towline you can swim in pulling your boat fifteen meters behind to avoid the risk of being hit by it.

Kayaking towline Flickr CC image from California by mikebaird

It’s also useful to help you in exit on slippery banks. Plus it can be used to tie down a boat in high winds or just to attach it to a pier or another boat.

Spraydeck and skirts

Get a neoprene spray deck. These will give a better seal for rolling and keep the warmth in your kayak whilst keeping the water out. Also, an expedition skirt for a canoe wouldn’t go a miss as they keep you warmer from the waist down.


Use neoprene gloves or mitts to keep your hands warm and dry for as long as possible. They will get wet I know but you’ve got to try!

I use neoprene diving gloves that have a leather palm. These work well when wet and the leather palm provides a good grip on the paddle.

Canoe vs kayak Wikimedia image by David Uriarte

But for kayaking trips when you need really warm hands, neoprene mittens can’t be beaten. They keep the fingers together and keep the hand warm, although they can take some getting used to and feel clumsy at first.


Another piece of essential winter kayaking gear is to have a form of communication just in case. At the very least have your phone, if it’s not waterproof put in something that will protect it.

VHF radio is better and particularly useful for more serious kayaking or canoeing in cold weather. You can then regularly check in with a shore contact, and you can tell the coastguard your passage or float plan.

This helps reduce the number of false call outs they act upon. Because they can contact you to confirm details before sending out the search party. Finally, a flare could very well save your life.

Cheap adventure holidays 28 tips for budget adventures Flickr CC image of kayaking during expedition Argut in Alaska by Paxon Woelber


You need to be seen. Even if you are planning to be back before it gets dark you can easily be delayed so lighting up your kayak could save your life. Plus carry spare batteries and emergency light sources in your PFD (personal flotation device – a.k.a. lifejacket).

…and relax

Before you set out on a trip put on your extra layers and check your PFD still fits and is comfortable. Likewise check everything can be suitably stowed in the boat or about your person.

But the most essential thing for kayaking or canoeing in cold weather is that you relax and enjoy it. There’s no point in going through all the preparation and planning for a trip and then spending the whole time worrying.

Relax into the paddling as for the most part it is no different to a summer kayak outing. If you worry about capsizing because the weather’s cold you will become tense and more likely to capsize.

Planning a kayak trip? Then check out our kayaking holiday discounts as you could save a fortune on your next adventure.


Canoeing, Kayaking, Sea Kayaking
Drysuit, Rash Vest ), Safety, Water Clothing (Wetsuit, winter

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