Want to keep paddling into autumn and winter, but can’t seem to keep your hands from freezing? Want to paddle all summer in the sun, but don’t want your hands to shrivel up and look like prunes at the end of the season?
It’s time to get yourself some kayak gloves!
Do you need gloves for kayaking?
There are several reasons to wear gloves while kayaking. Sun protection, wind protection, cold protection, or maybe even protection from calluses and blisters are just a few of the reasons to wear kayak gloves.
When kayaking in weather colder than 0° Celsius (32° Fahrenheit), some sort of kayak gloves, mittens or pogies are absolutely essential. They become necessary for not only comfort, but also safety. If your hands are too cold to pull your sprayskirt, or grab onto rocks on the river bank to hold onto, then you become a burden on your paddling partners. If your hands are too cold to operate a throw bag, then you are unhelpful in a rescue situation. Thus, if you are paddling in the winter when it is cold, kayak gloves are essential.
Types of handwear for kayaking
Kayak gloves are made out of durable neoprene. They work just like any other pair of gloves, and keep you warm by trapping body heat against your skin.
Some people also like to use kayak gloves in the summer as a layer of protection against the sun. Most of these gloves come as the fingerless type, with the tips of the fingers being free to tackle any task that may come up.
For a good pair of warm kayak gloves, check out the NRS Maxim Gloves.
One of the advantages of using kayak gloves as opposed to mitts or pogies is that they retain your dexterity. You will still be able to do simple tasks with your fingers, like buckling your helmet or unzipping your PFD pocket. You will also be able to safely use a throw bag in case of a rescue. Some find that gripping the paddle is easier in gloves than in mitts.
A disadvantage of using kayak gloves is that they tend to be less warm than mitts or pogies. Because your fingers are spread apart rather than bunched together, they produce less heat and lose heat faster than they would in mitts or pogies.
Pogies function in a similar way to kayak mitts, but instead of being attached to your hands, they are attached to your paddle. Pogies use a velcro system that wraps around the paddle shaft, allowing the paddler to fully grip their paddle with their bare hands, while having their hands fully covered and protected by a neoprene layer.
Pogies are advantageous to use in cold weather where you will need to have access to your fully-functioning fingers as fast as possible. Pogies are good for paddling harder whitewater in cold weather as you will not lose any dexterity in your fingers, and will be able to perform rescues just as fast as if you didn’t have anything on your hands.
Pogies are disadvantageous because they increase the weight of your paddle by quite a bit. This isn’t as noticeable when you are just doing a short stretch of river, but the weight does become noticeable on longer river trips or multi-days paddling trips. Pogies are also not as good for playboating or freestyle kayaking, as they will become water-logged if you are flipping over frequently.
How to use kayaking pogies
Kayaking pogies are fairly simple to use once you get used to them. Simply un-velcro each pogie so they are both laying open, then wrap each pogie around your paddle shaft where your hands normally sit. Re-velcro each pogie together so each pogie sits on the paddle shaft nice and snug. Your pogies should be able to be moved around the paddle shaft if you take your time to move them, but they should be snug enough on the shaft that they don’t slide around randomly while you are paddling.
For a good pair of pogies, check out the NRS Mamba Pogies.
Mitts are the warmest type of kayak handwear you can purchase. As long as you keep your body moving and your blood pumping, your hands will be kept warm in below-freezing temperatures while using mitts.
The advantage of using mitts is the warmth. Hands down the best warmth you will get in any sort of kayak handwear.
The disadvantage of wearing mitts is that you will have next to zero finger dexterity. Simple tasks like buckling your helmet or unzipping your PFD will require you to remove your mitts. Removing your mitts will then expose your fingers to wind, snow, rain and cold, thus actually making your fingers colder than they would be in gloves.
You will also have to remove your mitts in the case of a rescue situation, as you will be unable to operate a throw bag or river knife while wearing mitts. The task of removing your mitts will make you slower to the rescue.
With this said, NRS does make a pair of mitts with open palms. The NRS Veno Mitts aid in paddling grip and also give you easy access to your fingers. You won’t have to take the mitts completely off to access your fingers—just the top part of the mitten.
For another good pair of kayak mitts, check out the NRS Toaster Mitts.
Kayak gloves, mitts and pogies built for warmth are all made of neoprene. The neoprene traps water against your skin and uses body heat to warm your hands up. The warmest mitts will have at least a 3-millimetre-thick neoprene layer. Pogies will have 5 millimetres or more. Kayak gloves aren’t always as warm as the other options, so make sure to check how thick the neoprene is before purchasing.
Kayak gloves built for sun protection are normally made out of polyester, with some neoprene bits added around for fit.
What to wear in different seasons
When paddling in summer, the Mustang Survival Traction Open Finger Gloves are a good option to keep your hands protected from the sun.
On a chilly autumn day, when the weather hasn’t quite reached zero degrees yet, a pair of kayak gloves will do just fine.
In winter, it’s time to break out the mitts and pogies when the temperature drops below freezing. Mitts will be better for days on the water when you will be flipping over quite a bit. Pogies will be better for when you are running harder whitewater, and want easy access to your fingers.
Kayak gloves, mitts and pogies should be cared for just as carefully as you would care for your drysuit. They should be removed from your paddling bag every evening and dried out, just like you would dry out your drysuit after paddling.
Kayak gloves and mitts tend to wear out around the thumb, right where you grip your paddle. If holes develop around the thumb area of your mitts or gloves, simply sew them back together with dental floss, add a dab of aquaseal, and they will be like new!