Winter paddling - clothing and safety

Vinterpaddling – klädsel och säkerhet

Can you paddle in the winter?

If you think about it, the answer is a given. Kayaking is originally an arctic activity practiced in freezing water. Hunting with a harpoon from the kayak was vital for the Inuit, even though the icebergs floated past the shore even in the summers.

Paddling in winter is a special experience! You are usually alone on the water. The sounds are different, more subdued and you avoid the noise from motorboats and jet skis. Rain and snow are not a big problem - the kayak and canopy cover about 75% of your body, and the part that is unprotected - shoulders and arms - are active while you paddle.

Of course, the silence and solitude also present certain challenges. An emergency requires you to be prepared in a slightly different way than in the summer. Help is usually a little further away and the water temperature is something to be respected. If you are above - avoid paddling alone! As a rule, you need somewhat larger safety margins in winter.

Slightly simplified, it is usually said that with a wetsuit you can paddle longer in the season, and with a drysuit you can paddle all year round. However, remember that the suit protects you for a limited time - you should get out of the water as soon as possible. The dry suit is also not warming in itself, you have to wear something under it. Avoid cotton! Closest to the body, I would choose merino wool. Warms even when wet, does not itch and can be used for three or four days before it starts to smell, unlike synthetic materials. The feet – at least mine – are doing surprisingly well. After all, they are protected from rain and debris deep inside and make do with woolen socks and simple neoprene shoes. Are you frozen? Take neoprene boots - regular rubber boots tend to have a hard time fitting in. They are also easy to lose if you end up in the water.

For me, the hands are a more sensitive chapter. Frozen as I am, I choose thick neoprene thumb mittens - decently warm even if they get wet. Regular dish gloves (as large as possible), with woolen mittens underneath, are used by many. On top of that you can wear so-called "pogies", a large pot-glove-like mitt that you attach to the paddle shaft, and into which you put your hands.

If you don't have a hood on your dry suit, a balaclava, "robber's hat" is warm and comfortable, interspersed with a regular woolen hat. There are also loose hoods in neoprene.

Remember that you are active in the kayak, you get quite warm from paddling. Freezers are usually made ashore. Bring a substantial down jacket in your pack! Of course, you also have change in the pack.

You can make your way across the ice for short distances with ice spikes. However, be aware of how floes accumulate in tight spaces with flowing water or strong winds. It may be free when you go out, but an impenetrable ice floe porridge when you come back a couple of hours later!

Have a mental preparedness: what do I do if I fall over? Can I take off the chapel with mittens on my hands? Test before you go!

But with a little general paddling experience, proper clothing and a bit of common sense, you can enjoy paddling even on a winter's day. I promise, it's something out of the ordinary! I remember how I myself crawled over the edge of the ice with the ice spikes on a clear day in February. The kayak fell silent as it slid into the black water and when I got beyond the headland I saw another canoeist lying completely still on the shore with his head down. I looked at him and wondered if he needed help. Before I could ask, he looked up and smiled at me, as if he read my mind:

- I'm listening to the music, he said - it was the ice crystals clinking against the edge of the cliff.

Clothing advice for winter paddling
* Dry suit
* Wool closest to the body
* A warm outer garment, preferably a down jacket, if you go ashore
* Proper gloves, preferably in two sets – a pair of wet gloves after the coffee break is no fun!
* Dry change
* Lamp. Darkness is coming fast! A bicycle light (white light!) in a plastic bag on the tire works well.

If you're above, bring a paddling buddy and stay close to shore!

Otherwise: the usual, i.e. life jacket, pump, float and mobile phone, and not least: a portion of good judgement.

Have a nice trip!