Paddle Boarding in the winter is not for the faint of heart or fair-weather paddler. But if properly planned correctly, it will help you see a whole new side of your favorite paddling destinations. Not to mention there will be fewer paddlers and boaters out! The introverted paddler’s dream.
This guide is strictly about what to wear paddle boarding in winter conditions and is a more detailed recollection of our article on Winter Paddle Boarding.
Ready to learn how to layer? Good, let’s go
Table of Contents
The Cold Weather Test
It’s essential to have a few safety tips in mind before doing this. It’s hard for me to tell you EXACTLY what to wear because each condition and environment is unique from the other. What I can do is give you ideas and instances when to wear each set of clothing which you can find below.
- “Dress for the Swim and Not the Activity”
- The further from shore you are paddling the greater importance it is to have a Wetsuit/ Drysuit.
- If you don’t use a wetsuit or drysuit you will be paddling as close to the shore as possible keeping 20 feet distance at all times. This should be done in small calm bodies of water… (My friend’s dad almost died of hypothermia despite sticking close to the shore in a large lake (Okanagan Lake) . He got pulled out by the currents and capsized his kayak. Thankfully someone was there to save him.)
- When going out on a paddling excursion it’s best to bring as many layers as you can and adjust your layering as you step outside.
For a guide on all seasons paddle boarding we have a What to Wear Paddle Boarding guide here.
Wetsuit or Drysuit for Winter Paddle Boarding?
Paddle Board Wetsuit or drysuit? Even though the above video’s main focus is on kiteboarding they do the most detailed explanation and comparison I have seen on this subject matter.
A lot of what you wear will be down to personal preference. But when it comes to paddle boarding…
- If you are going in and out of the water on a semi-consistent basis like in SUP surfing and ocean paddle boarding then wetsuits would be ideal.
- If you are paddling in calm waters and don’t “plan” to go into the water then a drysuit will be more comfortable.
- An essential saying that I got out of the above video is “Dress for the swim not the activity”. Which essentially means dressing to prepare for falling into the water.
To understand how each is utilized you have to understand how each suit works. Drysuits are meant for keeping your body completely dry. It archives this by having gasket seals on the neck, arms, and sometimes feet. This gasket will need to be professionally replaced every 4-5 years and regularly inspected for tears.
With drysuits, you can pretty much wear what you normally would for the winter and zip on the drysuit. For longer paddling excursions I highly recommend you get one with a relief zipper. I know it sounds silly now but you will definitely be kicking yourself when you are out for long excursions and you have to take on and off your drysuit time and again.
Wetsuits are made of neoprene which is made up of nitrogen bubbles. These nitrogen bubbles trap water in between the layers of the wetsuit and allow the trapped water to warm to your body temperature. This provides you with a layer of warmth until you fall back into the cold water. Then the cycle starts all over again. Wetsuits are a favorite among surfers, divers, and many kiteboarders where you are regularly in and out of the water.
For paddle boarding purposes you can wear a wetsuit and then layer on top of it depending on how chili both the air and water temperatures are.
In terms of price, tags are concerned wetsuits are much cheaper at between $150 and $600 for a high-quality made one. The Best SUP Drysuits run you up higher at bout $1000 plus with a relief zipper and about $600 and above without.
Check Out our guide on the Best Wet Suits for Paddle Boarding Here.
The Winter Paddling Layering Guide
Below we will provide a layering guide on how to dress for what sort of conditions you may face there are out there.
One thing I will say, as mentioned in the winter paddle boarding guide, is it’s important to look at the weather conditions. If you see snow or storms coming in the forecast it’s best to just stay inside. These types of conditions can severely restrict your visibility which can make you lose sight of the shore.
Upper Body Layering
We will go through what may be perhaps the most important layering section of your body. They are the one that covers all of your vital organs!
The first layer over your body will be some sort of moisture-resistant wicking layer. Polypropylene is a great material for this as is under armor or anything fitness related.
“Don’t wear anything cotton! I tried this in the Spring time and my shirt was completely soaked and took a while to dry. Which made the paddle back in windy weather a bit more chili. I actually ended up getting sick for a few days after.
I now use polypropylene as the base layer for most colder SUP Excursions.”– Editors Notes
This will be a lot more subjective as to what the weather and water temperatures are as well as the wind chill. You don’t HAVE to have a Drysuit or Wetsuit if you are in calm conditions and you stick very close to shore. If it is fall or Spring time something like a rash guard or a fleece sweatshirt will do as well.
When you are about to go paddling bring a bunch of layers like rashguards/ fleece sweatshirts, winter jackets, and layer yourself according to the outdoor conditions. Feel too warm? Take a layer off! Feel too cold? Put a layer back on. Layering is more of a “get the destination and see as you go” type of deal.
Remember you can always take off layers when you are paddle boarding. So it’s better to pack more than less. Just bring a dry bag and kneel when you are taking off layers on the go.
If you are paddling further off the shoreline the importance of a drysuit/ wetsuit becomes much more substantial.
Of course one of the most important things to wear is a PFD! You want one that gives you enough freedom of movement and has pockets that you can put your hands into to get warm. I personally like the Onyx Movent life vests but there a ton of other like Stolquivst and Mustang Survival.
We have a good selection of some of our favorite PFD’s here.
Avoid using belt PFD’s because your survival is largely based on your ability to pull the cord. If you fall in and get hypothermia, you have a very small window, and a simple inflatable life vest won’t make sense for the situation.
Lower Body Layering
Your legs/ waist will be the most likely part of your body to get wet so the importance of this being protected cannot be understated.
Obviously have some sort of underwear or bathing suit as the very first layer. From there are a few choices that you can have on. Both men and women can start their base layer with jogging leggings or even track pants if you are sticking close to shore in a small calm body of water. Remember no cotton!
Over jogging leggings, you can have winter pants/ skiing pants or a lower-piece wetsuit or drysuit. Again how you layer this will ultimately depend on how far away you are from the shore. Winter/ Skiing pants will do close to shore but if you are venturing further out a drysuit would be an essential bit of material.
Don’t forget, you will be constantly moving so you don’t want to be in something that is too hot to paddle in either. Test it out by moving around outside and see how it feels to you.
A lot of this will come down to personal preference. Some like their traditional wool winter caps while others prefer skull caps or even balaclavas. You don’t have to overthink this one but it is important to remember that your head is a major heat source in your body so having some sort of hat/ cap on will help keep you feeling warmer.
If you are paddle board surfing or doing some ocean paddling it’s better to have some sort of neoprene head gear on like a skull cap or a balaclava.
I personally was happy wearing my wool Canadian winter hat out at Salt Spring in March.
Like your head, a lot of this will be down to personal preference and how much dexterity you prefer vs how cold it is. You can use anything from light hydroskin gloves all the way to skiing/ winter mitts.
One thing I must say about pogies is that they are not completely waterproof. So If you take fall in the water there may be water that seeps in.
One thing that I will say is to look for paddle boarding gloves that have some sort of curvature to them. If you get straight gloves your fingers will get blisters.
I would suggest bringing a few pairs of gloves with you so that you can adjust to a heavier or lighter layer as you go.
I personally like to wear a pair of surf booties. But if the temperatures get more extreme you can layer them with waterproof socks. Your feet will be the part of your body that will be in contact with the water the most. So it’s essential that you get something that is waterproof or traps water in like a wetsuit. NRS make a great pair of boundary boots that keep your feet warm in cold conditions that go all the way up to your calves.
“One thing I wanted to state is the importance of getting the size right. Don’t just guess! I’ve had this happen to me only to be stuck with a pair of surf booties that cramp my toes.”– Editors Notes
Winter Layering FAQ’s
Below are some Frequently asked questions we get about winter paddle boarding.
Can I Wear Leggings Paddle Boarding?
Yes, you can! If this is the only layer of clothing on your lower body then it’s best to stick very close to shore. Leggings can be used at temperatures above -1 C.
What Shoes Do You Wear Winter Paddle Boarding?
I personally like to wear surf booties as that is the part of your body that submerges the most. Surf booties provide an insulating layer of neoprene that traps water against your skin and transforms it to body temperature. If your feet are still cold you can use wet socks as an extra insulating layer.
You can also use boot-style waterproof shoes like NRS Boundary Boots. A lot of this comes down to personal preference though.
Why Are My Feet Always Damp When Paddle Boarding?
You feet are often damp when paddle boarding because of a combination of sweat from your feet and water that seeps into your wet shoes/ surf booties. If you wear either of these there’s not really a way around it as when launching and landing on shore most of the time you will have to put your feet in the water.
So What Do I Wear Paddle Boarding In Winter?
Here is a quick layering guide as to what you can wear paddle boarding in the winter.
- Upper Body: A moisture-wicking layer like polypropylene or Under Armor. Followed by a Fleece and a Winter jacket depending on the temperature.
- Lower Body: Underwear, leggings, and/or water proof winter pants. Jogging leggings and track pants will work IF YOU STICK CLOSE TO SHORE.
- Head: Personal preference but can be wool winter cap, a hydroskin hat beanie, or a balaclava. If you anticipate going into the water get something that is a similar material to a wetsuit.
- Hands: Anything from Hydroskin gloves and winter/ skiing gloves to winter pogies can do. A lot of this will come down to how much dexterity you want vs how cold it is. There are a lot of different styles of paddling gloves out there.
- Feet: I personally use surf boots but as stated above you can use waterproof boots. If you are wearing a wetsuit or drysuit make sure that they do not get in the way of the sealing layer.
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