For many, the paddling season ends with the onset of cold weather and dropping levels. Others may have invested great amounts of money and carbon into going somewhere warmer to extend their season. But for this winter, it looks like most of us will be stuck in the icy hell of Canadian winter. The average, or at least more normal thing to do when faced with this predicament is to change your focus to something like skiing, snow shoeing, pond hockey, curling or one of the many terrible forms of recreation forced down the throats of Canadians every winter, but if your anything like me, you’re kinda stubborn, bored of skiing, never learned how to skate, and the coldest river still seems better than the fluffiest powder. In that case, this blog post is for you. You might even find it interesting if you do enjoy one of the forms of winter entertainment listed above, or it might just inspire you to consider paddling a little bit longer into the fall or start earlier next spring. Or maybe you won’t find it interesting or relevant at all, in which case I recommend navigating over to the winter sports blogs, we’re busy paddling over here...
Without further colloquial ado, here are my 5 best tips for winter paddling:
- Drysuit, non-debatably the single most important part of a winter kit. Yes, even more than a kayak or a paddle. You can fit nearly endless layers of thermals underneath, keeping your core warm even in the cruelest conditions where one might fight flowing waters. I also recommend investing in a pair of -40c wool socks, and make sure you have booties to fit them, circulation is key.
- Pick your day (obviously right..,). My personal rule is above 0℃, at least in the sun. This will limit your rapid transition into an ice block whilst on the river. If you are graced with an above 0℃ day and open/flowing water, I assure you with the right layers and gear it can be a pleasant experience.
- Pogies/gloves and a Neoprene toque. I’m not entirely certain if brain freeze can kill you, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would say yes. Fortunately, a neoprene toque is half decent insurance against this in likely the case of accidental cranial submersion. And while gloves and pogies suck, it’s often enough just to wear them until your hands warm up… or leave them in your kayak until your fingers go white, and then put them on to experience the pure pain that is thawing fingers (I believe the screaming barfies is the technical term for this experience).
- Warm up run. No matter how much you might hate running or cardio, a quick run after gearing up can get your core all warmed up and helps keep you cozy once you’re on the water.
- Extra thermal gear in your drysuit. What I’m really trying to say is, if there ever was an appropriate time for some pant stuffing, it would be winter paddling. A regular toque and some gloves stashed in the pant legs of your drysuit will provide you dry warm layers for your hands and noggin’ while waiting for shuttle. If you ever had to spend the night out you’d be even more thankful.
- More tips ahahahaha! - Consider a trip to the West Coast, in particular Vancouver Island. A ‘What’s up with…Vancouver Island’ blog post will be dropping soon, and I assure you it’s a true expose of all of Vancouver Islands liquid beauty..
Bonus tips if you are on a winter paddling and camping tip:
- Sleep in your damp thermals to dry them out before paddling the next day (my record is 5 days without taking off base layers, mmmmm)
- Boil some water before bed, fill your Nalgene and put it in your sleeping bag with you (also mmmmm)
- Laundromats have dryers…
- Pre-Covid, rec center hot tubs were the best place to spend a long cold dark evening on the road... (that’s a lie, I go for the waterslides...)
P.S. paddling in the winter does come with a higher level of environmental hazards, primarily the cold. If you’re planning a winter mission please don’t forget essentials like head lamps, fire starting supplies, a space blanket, first-aid kit, and appropriate spare thermals. Also, throw bags love to freeze, but a dunk in the river before you launch will help ensure it’s ready to help out your buddy in the event of an emergency.
Happy (winter) paddling everyone! - Koby