Beat The Cold With These Winter Paddling Must-Haves

Whitewater season never ends if you dress for success

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There is no reason for the boating season to end, as long as you know how to dress for success. Winter offers some of the most rewarding whitewater experiences, with few others out on the river and stunning scenery. The key to enjoying winter paddling is dressing for comfort and safety. Simon Coward, owner of AQ Outdoors (AQ Outdoors is a paddling shop and school with locations in Calgary and Edmonton), is here to share his thoughts on the gear you need for cold-weather paddling. The following is a transcript of his video review.

Simon Coward of AQ Outdoors dressed in the gear for cold water success.
Simon Coward of AQ Outdoors dressed in the gear for cold water success. Image: AQ Outdoors

Beat The Cold With These Winter Paddling Must-Haves

Simon here from AQ Outdoors. I’m checking in from Harvey Passage here on a cool April morning with some tips and tricks around getting ready for spring paddling and paddling in colder temperatures.

Our season really never ends. Some people paddle year-round on the Kananaskis River, and they’re paddling down to -8 or -10 degrees (celsius). It’s not quite that cold right now. The philosophies though are the same.

We’re trying to dress for comfort and for safety. So if we do happen to wind up in the water and take a bit of a swim, we’re not going to end up in dire circumstances as far as cold water immersion goes, because that can sneak up on us very quickly.


For me personally, when I’m dressing for colder temperatures and longer days on the water, I’m thinking about layering.

I’m basically going to wear a fleece onesie. I wear a relatively thick one. I’ll wear a base layer on my upper body.

I’ll wear ski socks on my feet and then I wear my dry suit over the top. Then over my dry suit I wear socks. A, for some thermal protection. But B, to protect the dry socks in the dry suit. I’ll wear thin neoprene socks over the top and then some pretty beefy sort of creeking river shoes over the top of that as well.

Now if I end up standing in the water for a rescue or for any period of time I’m giving my toes the best chance of not freezing off.


Meridian Dry Suit (GORE-TEX PRO)

The highly regarded Meridian dry suit is the definitive suit for whitewater and sea kayaking. Made with lightweight, rugged, and durable GORE-TEX PRO material. Features include a double flap zipper cover on entry zipper, streamlined leg pattern, covered flexible nylon waterproof relief zippers, dual adjustable overskirt, GORE-TEX PRO socks, zippered chest pocket, and latex gaskets with neoprene punch through collar and cuffs.
  • Latex neck and wrist gaskets with neoprene punch through collar and cuffs.
  • Nylon waterproof front entry and relief zippers
  • Double front entry zipper cover to keep water out of your boat
  • Dual adjustable overskirt with "hook & loop" compatible neoprene
  • Custom color, sizing and options available

Safety Gear

Then we have safety gear. Obviously, we carry all of our safety gear.

We’ve got a neoprene spray skirt which adds an additional layer of insulation here because we have that tunnel that goes up with our PFD which is also some insulation.

Then I wear a neoprene hood. I just wear a half-cut one that just goes over my ears. I have a nice thick helmet with lots of foam in it. This has a lot of insulation just by nature.

Helmets: WRSI Current Pro Helmet by NRS - Image 4784

WRSI Current Pro Helmet

The WRSI Current Pro is based on the popular Current Helmet, with extra safety features. Removable ear pads and a stylish visor improve protection and comfort. It's high quality and safety you can depend on.
  • Comes in three sizes, designed to fit a wide range of head sizes
  • Interconnect Retention System securely holds the helmet in place
  • Removable ear pads provide extra warmth and reduce impacts from waves
  • Visor keeps sun and rain out of your eyes
Gloves on pogies on paddle
Image: AQ Outdoors

Gloves And Pogies

Now for gloves. For the longest time, I didn’t wear gloves or anything on my hands. I just sucked it up and kind of did the old every five minutes or so. But now I’ve decided that wearing gloves is A-Okay with me.

Now this depends on the temperature of the water and the temperature of the day. I’ve got NRS Maxim gloves on here which are quite thick, waterproof gloves, so really cold water gloves. They do take a lot of feel off the paddle though so a lot of people don’t like them.

Another option I’ve been growing increasingly fond of are pogies. Basically, pogies allow you to put your hands inside the neoprene sleeve and still have feel on the paddle, so you don’t feel like you’ve got this big barrier between you and the paddle shaft. They don’t offer necessarily as much thermal protection as gloves or mitts, but they certainly do take the edge off with wind, and they do keep a lot of the splashes off.

Handwear: Maverick Gloves by NRS - Image 4800

Maverick Gloves

One of our most popular cold-weather gloves, NRS Maverick Gloves combine a raw neoprene exterior with a four-way stretch interior for maximum warmth and dexterity.

Clutch Pogies

These pogies are clutch when you're paddling in frigid conditions, literally. The NRS Clutch Pogies combine our thickest neoprene construction to maximize thermal insulation with the classic bare-hand design to enhance paddle control.
Cold water gear for winter whitewater.
Feature Image: AQ Outdoors

Comfort Equals Safety And Progression

In a nutshell when we’re dressing for cold water paddling, like I mentioned, at the start we want to be comfortable. We want to have the freedom to move. We don’t want to feel all claustrophobic and that we can’t rotate or anything because that really affects performance and in turn enjoyment.

But we also do need to be fairly aware of what the implications are if we do end up in the water.

Part of that can just be planning early season, when it’s cold and you’re a bit rusty, maybe paddle stuff that you’re really comfortable with and the likelihood of a swim is much lower.

[ Get the skills for winter whitewater with a class at AQ Outdoors ]

As that water warms up, and your strength and confidence build, progress through the grades, and by the mid-summer or late summer, you’re going to be cranking. Then you can start pushing into some harder whitewater.

AQ Outdoors offers retail and kayak instruction in Calgary and Edmonton. Learn more about their school and stores at

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