Here in Rhode Island we have the perfect paddle boarding climate eight months out of the year. You can wear shorts and a t-shirt, maybe a hoodie or a wind breaker, from April through October. But when the colder temps set in your toes and fingers will start to go numb when they are wet. Luckily, cold weather paddle boarding is very manageable if you have the right gear and know how and when to use it. Here are a few tips for when the northerly winds bring in the cold season.
And just to remind folks who may be new to outdoor activies– cotton garments of any kind should never be worn when the weather is cool or windy, definitely not when it is cold. Cotton does not dry and so provides the quickest route to hypothermia. Avoid that at all costs.
- Hat: “If your feet are cold, put on your hat” as the saying goes. When your body encounters cold it automatically draws blood from your extremities towards your vital organs. That is why cold/numb fingers and toes are the first sign you need to start thinking about conserving your body heat. And the best way to do that is by starting with a hat. Your body heat rises, just like all heat, and is released mostly through your head. Your hat will contain most of that heat allowing your body to redistribute blood to your hands and feet thereby keeping them warm. A wool hat will insulate and keep you warm even when it is soaking wet. Most poly-blend sports hats will do the same to one to degree or another. The idea is to always bring your hat when going out in cold weather.
- Thermal Tops: Paddle boarders exert a high level of energy because they are in constant motion and contend with various wind and water conditions. It is easy to overheat, so a full-on 5mm to 7mm wetsuit is not going to be the best choice unless you are stand up surfing in water that is 45 degrees or less. Paddle boarders need tops with lots of stretchiness to accommodate their stroke. A tight, form-fitting design will readily transfer sweat and moisture off the skin to the outside where it will evaporate quickly. Staying warm means staying dry. A tight fit also allows for easy layering with a windbreaker or wetsuit
- Thermal Bottoms: As mentioned previously, a full on thick wet suit can be too warm and restrictive when you are paddling. For flat water paddling, a heavy weight, wool-based or polypropylene fleece (Polartec) bottoms work. I usually wear a pair of board shorts over them for style points. There are also plenty of options for polypropylene and neoprene bottoms.
If it is very cold then another option is to get a Dry Suit. Although they can be relatively expensive, you can layer up very easily underneath them and you stay totally dry even if you encounter a mishap and accidentally fall in. That is a huge plus!
- Booties: Booties are made of neoprene, which absorbs water keeping you warm by using your own body heat to create a second layer of insulation. Most booties have thicknesses ranging from 2mm to 8mm. They are comfortable and have a very thin sole. Being able to feel the board is important because you are better able to react to choppy water, wind and other variables you may encounter. It helps you balance and allows you when moving around on the board, i.e. pivot turns, grabbing water bottle, etc. Also, you should warm your booties up before stepping into the cold water either by wearing them for a time or soaking them in warm water. Feet that are already warm before getting wet stay warmer longer than cold feet that have to go from cold to warm.
- Gloves: Cold water neoprene gloves are usually between 1mm and 5mm. If your hands remain relatively warm, a pair of light wool gloves can be your best friend as they offer the best mobility. And remember, wool gloves will insulate even if they get wet. You can also get some nice neoprene paddling gloves that offer warmth and pre-curved fingers specifically made for paddling.
These are a few things to consider when going for a paddle in the fall and winter seasons. There are a number of other considerations to take into account before you head out in colder temps such as the weather forecast, your paddle boarding ability, and your outdoor experience. In my follow-up post we will look at equipment and supplies that you will need when cold weather paddle boarding. Stay tuned.