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here’s no reason you can’t get on the water this spring as soon as the ice
versatile and comfortable. With the latter, since
goes out. Paddling in the cold is safe and fun as long as we remember what
there is no rubber neck gasket which some
our mothers taught us—dress for the weather, sure, but also for the water.
believe is the Achilles heel of the full drysuit,
As a general guide, follow the 100-degree rule: dress for cold water any time
you’re spared those embarrassing neck hickies.
the water temperature and air temperature add up to less than 100 degrees F (37
In warm, calm conditions when you’re not
worried about flipping, you can just wear the
C). Also take into account other factors like your experience, the distance you are
bottoms to keep your lower half dry.
from shore, water conditions, and whether you’re solo or in a group. If in doubt,
consider the water temperature, assume you’ll go over and dress for immersion.
The point is to be safe and also comfortable, and with the right clothing, you
Under Layers
can have both.
The warmth of a drysuit comes from the
layers you wear underneath: a base layer
and an insulating layer. For the base layer,
Your body in cold water
wetsuits are generally made of 3-millimetre
wear a synthetic fabric such as polyester or
neoprene. In warm air temperatures, it can be
polypropylene that wicks moister away from
When dressing for cold water—anything below
more comfortable to wear a wetsuit all day than
the skin. The insulating layer can be synthetic
about 15 C (60 F)—it helps to understand
a drysuit, especially a shortie or farmer john–
such as the Immersion Research Thickskin
what happens physiologically when you are
style suit that covers just the core. Wetsuits offer
Union Suit (; $95 US),
immersed. There are really two dangers to
the versatility of adding a splash layer such as a
merino wool, or a synthetic-merino blend such
prepare for: the shock of initial immersion, and
paddling jacket for protection from wind, spray
as Woolpower, which is woven with terrycloth
the cooling effect of prolonged immersion.
and rain. Wetsuits are less expensive, longer
loops to hold a layer of air next to the skin.
This is a key point made by the world’s
lasting and easier to maintain than a drysuit
Merino wool is pricier than synthetic but
leading authority on the subject, Gordon
(there’s nothing worse then blowing a gasket or
has several advantages: it doesn’t feel prickly
Giesbrecht , director of the University of
getting a pinhole in your drysuit).
like traditional wool; it absorbs up to 30 per
Manitoba’s Laboratory for Exercise and
cent of its weight in water while still providing
Environmental Medicine. Nicknamed Professor
insulation; it is a renewable, natural product;
Popsicle, Giesbrecht has voluntarily lowered
it doesn’t retain odours; and for après paddle
his body temperature below the hypothermia
A drysuit creates an actual barrier between
fireside safety, it’s flame resistant.
threshold (35 C; 95 F) over three-dozen times
you and the cold water. Drysuits are made of
for the good of science.
completely waterproof material complete with
Contrary to what you might think,
latex seals on the wrists, ankles and neck. The
Splash Layers
Giesbrecht’s experiences show that it takes
best suits use waterproof-breathable materials
When the water temperature is relatively
some time to become incapacitated by
like Gore-Tex to reduce condensation, and
warm but the air temperature is cold, consider
hypothermia in cold water. His 1–10–1 principle
include essential features like built-in socks and
putting on a paddling jacket and pants. These
explains what happens to the uninsulated body
relief zippers.
splashproof items are perfect for wearing over
in cold water: In the first minute of immersion
By creating a wall between you and the
wetsuits. A hooded paddling jacket (such as
you gasp and hyperventilate; the danger in
water, a drysuit eliminates the “gasp” effect
the Kokatat TecTour Anorak shown) also saves
this stage is that you’ll panic and inhale water.
when you hit the water. How long you can last
weight by doubling as a raincoat.
If you can remain calm, control your breathing,
once immersed is determined largely by what
begin to tread water or hold onto your boat,
you wear underneath. With a drysuit you have
the initial shock will subside and you’ll have
the ability to regulate the warmth by adding or
Hats, Mitts and Booties
about 10 minutes of good muscle function to
subtracting under layers. The best way to refine
Extremities get the final word. Neoprene
call for help, climb back into your boat or head
the layering system is to jump in the water and
booties and gloves, with additional neoprene
for shore. Then the cold starts to take effect but
see how it feels.
bootie and glove liners for extra cold conditions,
you’ll remain conscious for about one hour.
You have a choice between a one-piece
work wonderfully. For the coldest conditions,
Dressing properly can prolong every stage
drysuit or a two-piece drysuit (shown here),
use pogies (mitts that Velcro to a paddle shaft)
of this process: reduce the shock of cold water
comprised of a jacket and pants or bibs. A
and wear thin neoprene gloves underneath.
immersion; increase the time you have to
one piece is the norm, because it’s the most
For the head, a balaclava-style paddling hood
rescue yourself; and increase your survival time
watertight. There are advantages to a two-
provides the ultimate warmth, or you can wear
if you have to wait for rescue.
piece, however. First, with the top and bottom
a neoprene or fuzzy rubber skull cap (helmet
being separate, you’re able to get more
liner) or a plain old wool tuque. AK
movement in the groin and shoulders, and
better options for fit since the top and bottom
Wetsuits are snug-fitting garments made of
can be purchased in different sizes. Also, for the
neoprene rubber that let in only a small amount
upper layer you can wear either a full drytop
of water, which is then heated by the body to
or another type of jacket such as a hooded
provide a protective layer of warmth. Paddling
anorak—which is not as watertight but more 4
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