10 + Tips for Fall and Winter Cold Paddling Clothing

With lots of rain, wind and dropping temps, many paddlers have stored away their paddling gear with their sights on winter sports. But others are still paddling. Fall and Winter paddling can bring super glassy conditions, clear water visibility and quiet days on the water. Fall colors and blueish-silver winter skies add to the landscape. Big storms bring epic downwind sessions on saltwater and lakes as well as more consistent surf on coast. And one of my favorites, no ferry lines!

Below are some tips for how to dress for paddling in what some call the 'off season'.  Note that everyone runs at a different temperature when it comes to the cold. I tend to get cold, whereas my instructor Joe wears minimal clothing, even in Winter as he's always hot.  I wear a full surfing wetsuit in surf and whitewater, Joe may just wear a farmer john (sleeveless wetsuit). In summer I'm still wearing a full wetsuit, Joe will be in shorts and a rash guard top.  Follow your instinct. If a friend says they're wearing a farmer john on a big windy day, maybe that's not the right solution for you?  I always dress for immersion as I like to surf every boat wake and wind wave I see which increases my chance of falling in.

FLAT WATER CONDITIONS - Minimal if any wind, current and/or bumps

Tops - There's several options for those wanting just a top or a top to go with a bottom for paddling. ProMotion has a nice zipperless top.This can be worn by itself or with a rash guard top under. I also like neoprene hooded vests which can go over or under a wetsuit top or jacket. These provide an optional hood and nice warmth for the upper body. In summer I'll wear the jacket and/or vest with shorts. RipCurl has a nice fleece lined hooded vest while ProMotion has a wind resistant vest. Rash guards also provide insulation under each of these.                                                    

Kayakers can use their paddling tops (Goretex or nylon) with a rash guard or other non-cotton thermal layer under. Good brands are Reed ChillCheater, Kokatat and NRS. I've even put a hooded vest over my kayaking spray jacket. That said, a windproof water resistant shell can work in this way as well. I believe in using what you have. I'm still using a kayaking splash top from 2000. Try before you buy - not all hoods fit every head. Some find connected hoods to be claustrophobic. I know many folks who buy asap on Amazon, but it's never fun to return things.  Kayak shops will have more of the Goretex/Nylon products.

Paddling hoodies are a great option too. SeasonFive, NP and ION have great water and wind proof hoodies that are great for winter paddling. Many are made for kitesurfing but work for SUP too.

Bottoms - NRS has a warm yet flexible paddling pant. I've used mine for years. The zippers at the ankles have blown but it still works. ProMotion has options as well as does Reed ChillCheater, a UK company and SeasonFive. These go well with a paddling top or alone in warmer months. I know many that race in polypro bottoms. The local fashion choice is to put a pair of surfing shorts over your bottoms.  I also wear neoprene shorts under my wetsuit in winter and under my wetsuit pants to boost heat when needed. Then use them with shorts in summer. All of the above companies have the shorts.

Hoods - Hoods are great for keeping your noggin warm. Some are attached to hooded vests and wetsuits. But you can purchase them separately as well. I keep a ProMotion hood in my PFD to use when I need it.  Some have neck and head coverage or just head (also called a skull cap). I wear mine under my helmet at DP for comfort and warmth. They also work to keep the water out of your ears.  I've liked products from NRS, Kokatat (fleece lined), ProMotion, and ReedChillCheater (have a high visibility orange).  I like a hood vs a thermal cap with a chin strap as they stay on my head in surf, rapids and high winds or after fall.

Gloves - Some hate gloves, I love em'.  They also protect your hand from the paddle on long days and add grip.  I use Glacier Gloves that are fleece lined. NRS's Maverick glove is a nice one and turns in at the wrist to reduce water from coming in. I also stuff these in my PFD if not in use. In time the fingers will blow out but they still work. I usually go through one pair a year. Kayakers will see more wear on the upper thumbs.

Booties - Like gloves, some love em' and some don't need them. I get cold and like to protect my feet from rocks, barnacles and glass on the beach or parking lot.  For two years, I use the NRS FreeStyle and Desperado WetShoes for myself and for our class rentals. They're fleece lined, waterproof and cheap but also durable, at around $49 or less if NRS is having a sale. I used to use the 7mm Xcels but they were $90, lasted on season and had poor traction underfoot. There are zip up booties if you don't like ankle high but they're not waterproof. I recently brought my FreeStyle booties to Oahu for reef protection - worked great. 

Tip: Place your wetsuit legs over your booties to slow water from coming in.

ROUGH WATER - i.e.: Surf, rapids, downwind, cold, etc..
Full Wetsuits - In rough water conditions (or actually anything now) I wear a full surfing wetsuit. Since I get cold, I'm already using a 5/4mm.  On balmy days I'll wear a 4/3mm. Wetsuits these days are flexible, comfortable and over $300 dry due to liquid sealed seams. With practice, easy to get in/out.  I use RipCurl but also like the NRS 4/3mm. O'Neil has a good suits as do many others such as Xcel, NP, Hotline, etc. Read more about full wetsuits here. Definitely try before you buy as necks can be too loose or tight, arms short or long, etc. Patagonia's R4 isn't made above an XL or us big guys. Also many wetsuits sizes are off - by a mile. I wear a XL t-shirt but wear a XX or XXL wetsuit. :)  Wet wetsuit tip - put your hand or foot in a plastic bag and then stuff in the suit - it'll slide right on. 

Shorties are fine for flat water or with other items layered over-under. Farmer John/Janes are a common choice for cold blooded folks. They are armless wet suits insulated by a rash guard under and/or a jacket or hood over. I would only wear one in summer whereas Joe wears his in surf and tidal rapids in winter.

Drysuits? I'm not a fan for SUP as they're hard to swim in and require a bit of maintenance to keep them in good shape.  If you already have one, use it. I switched to wetsuits a decade ago. If interested, good suits come from Kokatat, Ion, and Ocean Rodeo.

Changing Robes are a great innovation for changing your clothes in a public area. I usually use a towel but on hormonal rain days wished I had something more substantial. I did see a guy at the coast using a shower robe which was clever. Companies such as ProMotion make one as well. Check out this one, make your own or let me know if u find one that is water resistant and not cotton.

Changing Tip - Stand on a yoga mat, cut piece of camping sleep pad or in your dry bucket to keep your feet warm.

30 Tips for Better Winter Paddling - My article in SUP Magazine 

Any questions give me a holler: salmonbaypaddle@gmail.com / 206.465.7167
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Hooded Vest
Full Surfing Wetsuit

NRS Freestyle Booties

Glacier Gloves