What to wear when paddling in the the cold

What to wear when paddling in the the cold

Do you wonder what paddle clothes to wear when it’s cold? First, start by adding the air temperature, wind chill, and water temperature. If it’s below 120F, it’s essential to add insulating warm-when-wet clothes. Above 120F, cold weather clothes aren’t essential but nice to have, especially for multi-hour trips. We’ll need to wear clothes that evaporate sweat while protecting from the elements of wind, cold water and cold air. By winter in our 4-season climate, all of the items below will be essential!

From the inside out:

Underwear: Cotton underwear will get soaked with sweat or water. Instead, wear a spandex bathing suit or top/shorts as underwear. Bring regular ones for afterward.


Start with a 3mm sleeveless Farmer John wetsuits and a PFD over your chest. An alternative to wetsuits are drysuits, which are expensive but outperform when it’s winter, because they keep cold water completely away from the body. Quality drysuits are Kokatat for kayakers and StarBoard for SUPers. Drysuits are just a top layer and require insulating clothes underneath. Full-sleeve wetsuits aren’t recommended for paddling.


Your arms will be bare if you wear a Farmer John wetsuit, so put on a splash jacket to keep wind and water away. Because splash jackets (like drysuits) add almost no insulation, you’ll need an insulated long sleeve top under the spray jacket. Use merino wool, fleece or polyester – like for skiing or hiking – because they’re warm-when-wet. Have fun and experiment. Just not cotton.


A wetsuit will keep your legs warm. Wear 5-7mm high top booties. Always wear clean socks – ideally wool – to prevent smells. Neoprene footwear under 5mm isn’t recommend for the cold. Booties must dry well after use otherwise they’ll start stinking.


Use light neoprene gloves with good grips for multi-hour trips or when it’s winter. Kayakers love using pogies (aka paddle mitts) on top of light gloves.


Have a wind-friendly wool hat that can cover your ears.

Other kayakers and paddleboarders often have excellent gear recommendations, so ask around for advice. Our guides are ready to assist with outfitting. If you want to know more about cold weather paddling, check out our blog post or ask us.

See you this winter!

The Team at Manhattan Kayak + SUP

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