Winter is one of my favorite times of the year for paddling-the air is crisp and clean and there is always free and ample parking! But paddling in cold temperatures definitely raises the level of risk, and means that an extra level of preparation is required.
Most paddlers would be familiar with the ‘5 Essentials of Kayaking’ (boat, paddle, pfd, spray skirt & helmet), but there are at least five additional items that you will always find in my boat on a winter’s day.
Headlamp- Paddling in the winter means no more sleeping in, but even the earliest starters can find themselves coming home in the dark. Headlamps have become ubiquitous and can be found in many varieties with many different price points. I use the Black Diamond Storm headlamp, which is fully waterproof and features a powerful, 100-Lumen output.
First Aid Kit- Starting with a commercially available kit from Adventure Medical Kits, I’ve added items relevant to paddling or that I find useful. My first aid kit lives in a 5L dry bag that can accommodate a bit more than the kit, so it’s often home to a headlamp of its own, my keys, or an energy bar. Tweaking the kit for your own personal use is extremely important-this keeps you familiar with what items you have on hand so that you can be maximally effective in an emergency. While the physical kit is important, even more important is first aid training. I’m a certified Wilderness First Responder and I would recommend this or a similar course to anyone who spends time outdoors.
Extra Clothing- I’ve been called over prepared, but in my opinion the winter paddler has no excuse not to bring extra warm layers. I typically bring a full change of clothes including gloves and a knit cap. I often bring one or more extra knit caps so that I can help out other members of my group if necessary. With so much extra room in a kayak, there’s no reason not to pack a 10L dry bag with some warm clothes to pull on during lunch. I always make sure these are non-cotton layers, erring on the side of more, thinner layers, rather than one bulky piece.
Shelter for a Night Out- You will always find a 20L dry bag in my sea kayak equipped with my sleeping bag, and items to make an impromptu shelter. My sleeping bag is the Mountain Hardwear Lamina 20, a non-down bag that will insulate even when wet. I’ve also invested in the SOL Escape Bivvy and the SOL Sport Utility Blanket. These items are lightweight and pack small, but could really make a night out bearable, instead of a disaster. The Sport Utility Blanket has proved endlessly useful and seems to always tag along on my trips to be used as a seat, wind protection or changing mat.
Marine Radio/Cell Phone-Sea kayakers are definitely advised to invest in a quality, hand-held marine radio. This is the definitive way to contact help near the coast, in addition to getting accurate, real-time weather reports and communicating with other mariners. Knowledge in your particular radio’s use, as well as operational protocol, will make this tool useful.
Whitewater paddlers will have less use for a marine radio, but a fully charged cell phone can certainly help in case of emergency. Cell service can be limited in many whitewater areas, which are often located in the mountains or in steep valleys.
Wherever you paddle during the winter, make sure to dress for immersion. Dave’s overview of how to dress for winter paddling will form the basis of your winter paddling attire and attitude. It’s important to remember that the five extra essentials I’ve presented here are certainly not the only items you might find necessary for a successful day on the water during the cooler months.
One of the best reasons to paddle in the winter is the extra challenge, but the most important thing to remember is that skills and discretion are your most important tools to staying safe on the water.
Here’s to the endless season!