If I can keep my hands and feet warm on my winter paddles I'm happy to be out in the cold and wet weather. It took a lot of years to figure out how to achieve this state of bliss for my extremities. Here are some of my methods for keeping them warm while paddling in the winter season.
Illustrations by Leon Sommé
I'll start with my feet as they are the easiest to deal with. Start with two layers of socks — one thin pair, wool or poly, and one pair of big thick woolies.
Put on your dry suit or If you haven't purchase one yet put on a pair of Kokatat Hydrus 3L Launch Socks. This step is essential as you will suffer cold feet if you don't keep them dry. Next is a good 3 mil bootie a few sizes larger than your summer booties (I wear size 9 in summer and 11's in winter).
The other two things I do are:
- I put a thin ~1/4 inch piece of closed cell foam in my kayak that goes on the hull of the boat from my seat to the bulkhead under my legs and feet, this gives me insulation from the cold water my boat is moving through.
- I also carry a thermos of hot water to pour into my booties on breaks! This helps bring blood back to my feet and is a great mental booster. In desperate situations you can use pee!
Hands are a bit tougher as the dry suit doesn't protect them from getting wet. The options are numerous and any combination is appropriate based on the wetness and cold of the day. Here are my most often used methods.
As the seasons start to cool but I'm not yet ready for gloves I use a single pogi. I put the pogi on my paddle and roll it around the shaft and pin it with a velcro strap. If my hands get cold I open the pogi and put it on one hand until it warms then I put it on the other hand until its warm and then roll it up again or keep switching it from hand to hand if it stays cool.
I switch to gloves as it gets colder. The gloves I wear are water proof (which doesn't mater too much as they will get wet inside no mater what you do) but more importantly they are wind proof.
If it gets colder out and the gloves aren't enough I will do the single pogi trick with gloves. This will get me through most of the season unless we get an arctic blast.
If it gets really cold I wear gloves with a pogi on each hand.
If I plan to do a lot of in water practice or am working on skills using pogies feel awkward. At these times I go with paddling mittens. They are the bomb when its freezing cold.
And don't forget about the thermos of hot water I poured into the booties. It is essential for keeping hands happy in winter. Pee may sill be an option if desperate for some.
I also always carry a second pair of dry gloves or mittens in my day hatch to put on for the paddle home at the end of he day or trip. It allows you warm hands and functioning fingers to be able to strap your boat on at the end of your paddle!
I cut the extra wrist length off my mittens so hey are easy to pull on and off as needed. and I cut a notch for my watch so it is visible for navigation. A dab of aquaseal on the stitching prevents unraveling.
This system makes paddling in cold environments not only tolerable but enjoyable. Since weight and space were a major concern on the Iceland expedition I used the gloves and single pogi and never suffered cold hands. Iceland is also where I discovered the foam pad in the boat works to help keep feet warmer. After days of cold feet I found a piece of foam on the beach stuck it in my boat and it made a huge difference.
The Brands I choose:
First, don't buy neoprene gloves, mittens or pogies without wind block, they can be colder than bare hands.
Pogies: Snap Dragon Hyper Hands Pogies. You can slip your hands or gloved hands easily into the slot without needing a second hand or your teeth as most pogies require. They roll up nicely and they are wind proof.
Mittens: Kokatat Inferno Paddling Mitt are great for wearing in your pogies as they are simple and not bulky. NRS Toaster Mitts are also great. They are bulkier than Kokatat Mitts, but are very warm and they have a nose wipe built into them!
Gloves: I like Patagonia R1® Gloves because they are wind proof, warm, grip the paddle nicely, and Patagonia makes products to last. And they are one of the most environmentally minded companies in the world and that matters a lot to me. The other excellent choice is NRS Maverick Gloves.
Booties: NRS Unisex Paddle Wetshoe. They are durable, warm, have a zippered side and are made from neoprene.