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The Ultimate Guide For The Best Essential Cold Weather Kayak Gear



Updated on 2/20/2024
Abigail ScottBy Abigail Scott
Hi, I'm Abigail 👋 Since embarking on my kayaking and boarding adventures in 2010, I've navigated rivers and lakes across North America and beyond. With over a decade of experience and countless waterways explored, I'm here to help enthusiasts like you embark on unforgettable water adventures!
Learn More about Abigail Scott

You'd better be ready when the mercury drops if you plan to hit the water. Even though cold weather paddling can be a wonderful experience, staying warm and dry in frigid temperatures requires having the right cold weather kayak gear on hand. This guide will help you fine-tune your clothing system when padding in cold temperatures. This article will walk you through the details of layering for cold weather paddling, so you're ready for whatever conditions you encounter.

Here is a layer-by-layer breakdown of everything you should wear on the water. Even though the gear you'll wear in your boat or on your SUP will depend on the current weather conditions, our guide should give you the information you need to get started.

Apparel For Cold Weather Paddling

Before we get into the details of what you should wear while paddling, lay the groundwork for our discussion with a few key concepts. Let's start by discussing:

Paddling In Cold Weather: What Is It?

We should first and foremost discuss what "cold weather paddling" really means. The key to dressing for paddling is to dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. In freezing water, capsizing can be extremely dangerous, so make sure you have the gear to be okay in the water until you can get back to your board or boat.

How Does This Affect Your Paddling?

You're in " cold weather " paddling territory when the water temperature is below 60oF (16oC). You're in "cold weather" paddling territory. Despite mild air temperatures, the American Canoe Association recommends that paddlers wear a wetsuit or a drysuit in these conditions. We'll discuss in a moment what to wear in cold weather. However, it's essential to be clear about cold weather. 

Cold Weather Paddling Apparel Principles

Now that we've covered what cold weather is in paddling, let's talk about a few fundamental tenets of dressing for water adventures in the shoulder season.

As you prepare to paddle in cold weather, here are three general principles to keep in mind:

Cold Weather Is PFD Season

We encourage you to wear your PFD while on the water, but wearing your life jacket in cold water is of utmost importance. Capsizing in cold water can cause hard water shock, a potentially deadly condition. Wearing a PFD at all times could save your life in these circumstances. Additionally, PFDs are great insulators, so they keep you warm. Are there any downsides?

Cotton Is Not A Good Choice

Cotton doesn't fly in the world of paddling. Although cotton is an excellent fabric for towels, t-shirts, and casual clothing, it does not belong in your paddling clothing. Because cotton makes you colder when wet, it will not provide you with any insulation if you are in the water.

There Are Layers, Layers, Layers.

Layering is the key to dressing for cold weather paddling so that your body can adapt to the conditions. You'll typically wear at least one insulating layer and either a drysuit or a pants/jacket combo when you're in cold conditions. It helps you stay warm and dry by improving the versatility of your clothing.

Whether you're paddling in your local pond for a short springtime paddle or planning a kayaking trip to the Antarctic, these three principles will help you enjoy your time on the water.

Do you like this article? Check out our other comprehensive article with all the latest information on warm weather paddling apparel!


Related Winter Kayaking Gear

Paddling Apparel For Cold Weather

It would be best if you now had a good grasp of when to gear up for paddling in cold weather and the basics of staying warm in chilly conditions. This section will give you an overview of your must-have paddle apparel for all your future adventures. We'll discuss all of the gear you should consider on your next cold weather paddle from head to toe.


Product tested by Board and Kayak
OR Outdoors Peru Hat
Our Overall Review

Things we like:

  • Experience ultimate comfort and performance with our new polyester windbreaker.
  • Made with 100% polyester material, this windbreaker is lightweight and durable, perfect for outdoor activities and adventures.
  • Designed with imported craftsmanship, this windbreaker promises exceptional quality and attention to detail.
  • It features a convenient pull-on closure, allowing for easy and hassle-free wearing.
  • With its hand wash only requirement, this windbreaker ensures easy maintenance and care.
  • Keep it looking fresh and clean by simply washing it by hand.
  • Our windbreaker is not just stylish, but also highly functional.
  • It boasts fabric performance qualities such as windproof, wicking, and breathable properties.
  • Stay protected from the elements while staying comfortable and dry.

Things we don't like:

  • Hand wash only requirement
Show more
Read full review

You've probably heard the adage that 90% of your body heat escapes through your head. It is not valid, but it came about because people dress in cold weather. Consider this: If you're cold, what do you do? Wrap up in a warm jacket and wear fuzzy socks to keep warm. However, you neglect an essential part of your body: your head. Due to this, while our heads aren't predisposed to lose more heat than other parts of our bodies, they do become cold when uncovered.

What is the moral of the story? Always wear a hat-especially when paddling in cold weather. There is a wide selection of hats available for your adventures. 

It's hard to beat a classic fleece hat on the water, like the Outdoor Research Wind Warrior, whether you kayak or paddleboard. Fleece hats are a staple of paddling gear lists in cold weather because they keep you warm even when wet. Alternately, a hat with more comprehensive coverage might be more appropriate for freezing temperatures or windy environments. 

The protection provided by the NRS Storm Hood is more appropriate in these situations. The Storm Hood, for instance, comes with a thin layer of neoprene to keep you warm. Also, the Storm Hood has a flexible bill that helps keep water off your face when paddling in wet conditions.


We've already mentioned that dressing for paddling is about layering for the weather. However, when it comes to your bodywear, you have a significant decision: should you wear a wetsuit or a drysuit, or should you opt for a jacket and pants? Let's examine the advantages and disadvantages of each method so you know which will work best for you.

Jacket And Pants

It's no surprise that the jacket-and-pant method is one of the most popular layering methods.

This system involves wearing waterproof pants and a separate waterproof jacket on top of insulating layers, such as fleece jackets, pants, and the like, depending on the conditions. The concept here is to mimic the type of layering you might use while hiking, but with gear specifically designed to withstand the water.

Our Overall Review
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This system has the primary advantage of being convenient. Separate pants and jackets allow you to go to the bathroom whenever you need to without worrying about zippers on your drysuit. The downside, however, is that even waterproof pants and jackets won't keep you dry if you capsize. This system will likely save you dry if you are paddling through a thunderstorm. However, your pants and jacket will fill with water as soon as you flip your boat or fall off your board.

This system is better for shorter, more casual paddles than long expeditions. You have quite a few options to choose from if you select this route. The Kokatat Hydrus 3.0 Tempest Pants have integrated socks that keep your feet dry, even as you wade through water. Kokatat's Hydrus Whirlpool Bibs, however, provide added warmth and waterproofing.

If you're looking for a jacket, either the NRS High Tide Jacket or the Kokatat Hydrus Tempest Paddling Jacket are good options. Both of these jackets have hoods, making them ideal for cold weather. When the temperature drops, your jacket's hood can make a big difference in your comfort, even with a separate insulating hat.

Drysuits VS. Wetsuits

You will need a drysuit or a wetsuit if you want more comprehensive protection from the water and cold. Drysuits and wetsuits get confused quite frequently, but it is essential to remember that they are two different products. A wetsuit consists of neoprene, a relatively inexpensive material designed to insulate you from the cold. Neoprene achieves this by trapping water between your skin and the material. Your body heat keeps you toasty warm as you warm up the water.

Wetsuits are designed to trap water between your skin and the wetsuit itself, so you shouldn't wear anything other than underwear and maybe a lightweight top underneath, making it less effective at keeping you warm. Wetsuits like the NRS Steamer 3/2 Wetsuit (for cold water) are great if you don't mind getting wet because they won't keep you dry.

Neoprene is generally a cost-effective choice for many shorter paddling excursions. However, if you live in a freezing climate, you may want to use your wetsuit as a base layer and then add a jacket on top of it to keep warm. Nevertheless, drysuits are likely the best choice for paddling longer distances or during icy conditions. As the name implies, drysuits keep you dry, unlike wetsuits that allow you to get wet.

These waterproof-breathable membranes, such as Gore-Tex, keep the water out at all costs. The point is that your drysuit should keep you dry on the water, even if you wear insulating clothing underneath.

One of the downsides of drysuits is their high cost.

The Kokatat Gore-Tex Radius Drysuit with SwitchZip is one of the most famous expedition drysuits with Gore-Tex layers and a hood. They are hard to beat when it comes to quality. The Kokatat Hydrus 3L Meridian Dry Suit, which uses Hydrus fabric instead of Gore-Tex, is an affordable option that gets the job done.


Cold hands are unpleasant, and you'll want to ensure that you keep your digits warm while you're paddling. You can imagine how difficult it is to keep your hands warm in cold, wet, and windy conditions on the water. So, it's generally best to wear neoprene gloves, which protect you from the cold very well.

Product tested by Board and Kayak
Our Overall Review

Things we like:

  • 100% Polyester
  • Imported
  • Hook and Loop closure
  • 2.5 mm Micro Plush Neoprene body
  • Hole cut out on other hand for end of paddle
  • Wide mouth opening to get your hands in and out easily
  • Pull tab at the base of the wrist

Things we don't like:

  • The material is 100% Polyester, which some users may find less comfortable or breathable compared to other types of fabrics.
  • The hook and loop closure might not provide a secure fit for all users and may require frequent adjustment during use.
  • The 2.5 mm Micro Plush Neoprene body might not offer sufficient warmth or insulation in colder temperatures.
  • The hole cut out on the other hand for the end of the paddle may be inconvenient or uncomfortable for users who do not paddle regularly.
  • The wide mouth opening may allow water or debris to enter the glove, potentially affecting grip or comfort.
  • The pull tab at the base of the wrist might be prone to snagging on objects or getting caught during activities.
Show more
Read full review

 You'll want to wear pogies, such as the Level Six 2mm Pogies when kayaking in moderately cold temperatures. That might do the trick. The pogies create an insulated chamber around your paddle as you move along the water, protecting your hands from the cold. So, they're a great option to have when you need a little more skill in moderately cold conditions. However, if you're paddleboarding or in a frigid climate, neoprene gloves and mitts would be better. Depending on the requirements, you might want to consider the lightweight NRS Maverick 2mm Gloves. The thick and cozy NRS Toaster 3.5 mm Mitts are a great choice in freezing weather.


Last but not least, there are paddling shoes. Unless your paddleboard is in a hot climate, you may already be used to wearing shoes when paddleboarding. However, keeping your feet warm is the number one priority if you're paddling in cold weather.

Therefore, neoprene booties are hard to beat. High-top neoprene booties, such as Kokatat's Nomad Shoes, are a good option for cold climates. Due to their double lining of neoprene and extra thick outsole. Alternatively, the hot NRS Boundary Boots are a great choice when the temperatures drop. They have thick neoprene around the foot and the lower leg during all weather conditions.


Being prepared with the proper clothing is the key to staying warm and dry on the water during the shoulder season or the winter. Knowing what gear you need for your adventures and building a system that works for you are vital to layering for cold weather paddling.


Frequently Asked Questions

How safe is winter kayaking?

It is only safe to kayak during winter if you are fully prepared to submerge in freezing-cold water. Rather than the water itself, the primary hazard is the cold. Cold water can cause hypothermia quickly. Drowning occurs as a result of loss of dexterity and exhaustion.

Do people kayak in cold weather?

Many kayakers prefer the winter because there are fewer people on the water, and the sights are usually different. Kayaking in the winter requires more preparation and respect for the elements than paddling on an 80-degree day in the summer.

What gear is needed for cold-weather kayaking?

Dry suits are designed for colder water (and air). It's made of waterproof material and has watertight gaskets at the openings to keep you dry. Wear long underwear or another layer of insulation under it to adjust the degree of warmth. You still need a wetsuit if the air is hot, but the water is cold.

Is it necessary to have warm water for kayaking?

A temperature of over 50 degrees makes kayaking much more enjoyable, but temperatures over 70 degrees are the best for kayaking.