Many of you are probably packing away your boards and winterizing them. However, paddle boarding can be a year-long activity, if you plan correctly.
In this guide, we will be giving you good actionable winter paddle boarding tips that will not only keep you safe but may even save your life.
We will briefly go through what to wear in this article, but we have a more detailed layering guide on what to wear for paddle boarding in the winter.
Let’s get to it!
What kind of layering will depend on where you are paddling and what kind of weather we will be dealing with. We will give you some ideas below.
Your head is one of the warmest parts of your body so it’s the part that you don’t have to layer up too much, especially if you are doing a more intense SUP workout. Things like a fleece headband or a beanie will work well.
If it is bright out I always also like to wear a pair of polarized sunglasses. For an affordable stylish outdoor pair, I personally like Shady Rays.
There are a lot of different things said about body layering but in my opinion, this all will depend on what your SUP skill level is, the water conditions, and how close you are staying to shore.
Before we go into suggestions on what to wear for what conditions it’s noted that you should avoid cotton at all costs! Cotton absorbs cold water and weighs you down heavily. So what you need is a base that does not absorb water. Materials like polypropylene are ideal base layers to use before layering with warmer material.
Sticking Close to Shore or in a small lake: For this I would use the same gear that you would go jogging in like fleece leggings/ jogging pants. For the top half you can have a polypropylene style athletic shirt with a sweatshirt (Like Lulu Lemon) with a jacket over it.
“Be very wary of currents or strong winds. This can put you into the danger zone. It happened to a friend’s dad of mine who almost got hypothermia by being swept up in aggressive currents and capsizing. Thankfully someone was there to save him!”– Editors Notes
Paddling a medium to large-sized lake: Depending on how cool it is I would suggest a Drysuit with a warm layer underneath depending on how cold it is. You can literally put on your normal winter gear and zip into a dry suit. Pro-tip, get a Drysuit with a relief zipper! Trust me because you never know when nature calls!
Ocean/ Surf/ Coastal Paddling: I would use a wetsuit. Have a moisture-wicking base like a sleeved rashguard or even a bathing suit. A lot of times in the winter seasons you will need something else so you can wear a fleece/ jacket or whatever feels right for the weather. The wetsuit will keep you from freezing in the water because the water is trapped inside it which allows for it to warm to the temperature of your skin. 7 -5 mm wetsuits will be warmer in colder conditions.
Remember No cotton as a base layer!
This will be a bit more of a personal choice as to how much dexterity you want when using your gear vs how warm you want your hands to be.
If you are someone who always has stuff to fiddle around with like cellphones, go pros or you are constantly taking out/ rearranging gear then you will want something like NRS Hydroskin Gloves. Or even a pair of biking or working gloves.
Now if you are dealing with colder temperatures and you will be paddling in colder temperatures you can use something like ski gloves or yout standard winter gloves.
If you really don’t want your hands to get cold you can even wear pogies! Although this will highly limit you freedom of movement and if you fall in they will fill with water and be rather useless.
Most of the time with feet you will be using surf booties. Sometimes you will even need a pair of wet socks if it’s really cold. Thicker booties, similar to wetsuits will provide better insulation. 7 mm – 5mm is usually pretty good.
“Make sure you size them correctly to your feet! I’ve had this happen and now I’m stuck with a pair of slightly smaller surf booties that crunch my feet after a while!
Also when done using them be sure to wash and dry them properly, after a couple of uses they can get pretty smelly!“– Editors Notes
What to Bring for Cold Weather Paddle Boarding
The following are Important things to bring with you while winter paddling.
This is a must anyway. Thankfully most of the time you won’t have to buy one as they come with your inflatable SUP most of the times!
A SUP leash will always allow your board to be within arm’s reach. This is good considering your board is about as big of a floatation device as you can!
Again, this is something you should be bringing anyway but in the wintertime, it’s a must-to-wear item. Your time to get back to safety is severely shortened in cold water so having a floatation device will allow you to expend less energy to get to your board or the shore.
I personally like Onyx Life Jackets as they are somewhat affordable but practical
Bring a Thermos
At the bare minimum, you must bring water with you for hydration. But I’ve also heard of other interesting things to bring in your thermos. Some of the more interesting ones include:
- A Small amount of Baileys in Water (I said SMALL Amount! 😛 )
If you plan to bring any of the above I’d recommend you bring it with some water. Think of it as a nice little treat on the water!
Another thing you can do is just bring along a thermos and leave it in the car for when you get back. Changing back into comfy clothes and pouring yourself a nice Green tea can be extremely soothing for your body.
Bring Your Mobile Phone or VHF Radio
VHF radio, what’s that? It’s a bigger handheld radio that you bring with you that gives you instant communication between yourself and other boats, marinas and the US Coast Guard. You don’t HAVE to have this in local populated areas. However, if you are going somewhere remote it may just be a lifesaver!
As long as you have service a mobile phone should be good. Just stay close to civilization and make sure you have sufficient service! Take note of this during the summertime before attempting this in the winter.
A Pair of Warm Clothes
This is for when you get back into your car. You can bring whatever you feel will make you comfy and cozy. A favorite of mine is big baggy hoodies and warm sweat pants as well as a change of underwear, and shirts.
Winter Paddle Boarding Tips
Below are some tips that you must learn if you are to tackle some cold weather paddling. Before reading these you should be aware of some facts by the National Weather Service about Cold Water immersion.
- A PFD Significantly increases your survival rate
- Body heat can be reduced 4 times faster in cold water than in cold air
- Cold shock can be just as severe in water temperatures between 50-60 F (10-15C) as it is at 35F (2C).
Check the Weather and Understand the Conditions
When you are looking at the weather don’t just glance at the forecast for the day. You should be looking at a bunch of other factors such as:
- Take a close look at water conditions. Anything below 60 F is dangerous and represents a real risk of hypothermia.
- How much wind there is and the direction it’s coming from
- The temperatures of both the air and the wind chill (subtract the temperature from how many knots the wind is blowing and that will be the wind chill)
- Make sure that it’s Clear out, meaning no precipitation.
All good? To start off with paddling against the wind, especially if you are on an inflatable paddle board! You want to do all of the hard work when your energy levels are at their highest. Then you can enjoy a lighter cruise on the way back.
Plan a Route
It should go without saying that you need to know the area you are paddling in. You should have at least paddled it in the summer so that you are aware of the characteristics, obstacles, etc. Also, give yourself a minimum of an hour before dark to get back. Especially with inflatable paddle boards, you have to account for taking down time and changing into different clothes.
If you do not have a drysuit or wetsuit you need to hug the shoreline within 20 feet.
Have a Float Plan and Tell a Friend
A float plan is an overview of an excursion you can give authorities in case the person goes missing.
Now you don’t have to make it as fancy as the link above but you should at least tell your family/friends/ loves ones where you will be, what time you are launching and what time you are getting back.
Have a bit of courtesy and call/ text them when you get back from your paddling excursion. If you are in the middle of nowhere bring a handheld VHF Radio with you. But I only recommend this for advanced paddlers who have experience in cold conditions.
Ideally you Should Paddle with a Friend
The first few times you attempt winter paddling you should go with a friend who is experienced in these conditions.
If you don’t have one join paddling communities on Facebook! I’m part of one in Vancouver and everyone is super friendly, helpful, and best of all they have the same passion as you!
It should also go without saying that you should be experienced and well versed with your paddle board and a variety of conditions in the summer before even attempting this. Probably the best tip would be to stay close to shore!
Avoid Ice At All Costs
What I mean by this is do not paddle into floats of ice, no matter how thin it is. This is doubly true for inflatable paddle boards to be safe. Paddle in clear calm areas of still water and paddle around ice floats.
It goes without saying that you should NOT ATTEMPT to climb and walk on thicker ice flows.
Below are some FAQ’s about winter paddle boarding that many people ask me.
How Cold is Too Cold for Paddle Boarding?
Most of the time its not so much the air temperature (unless you’re in -20 weather) but more the weather conditions. Stay clear of storms and conditions that limit visibility.
Water temperatures between 50 F and 60 F are hazardous unless you are experienced in the cold. So stay clear of this.
How Do I keep my feet warm when Paddle Boarding in the Winter?
You should have a proper pair of booties with you that are high-top like rain boots. The thicker the neoprene material the warmer it will be. If your feet are still cold you can get a pair of wet socks for extra insulation.
Do I need a Wetsuit or a Drysuit?
To keep it simple a Wetsuit will keep you warm if you are expecting to be thrown into the water more. The neoprene from the wetsuit traps water against your skin to warm it to your body temperature. Wetsuits are used for things like coastal paddling or SUP Surfing. Anything 65 F and over should be wetsuit territory.
A dry suit keeps you completely dry as it has gaskets on the head, arms, and feet. Drysuits are more for calm paddling conditions where you don’t expect to be thrown in the water but are good to have for safety reasons.