Winter canoeing tips and clothes

This past summer, once we all emerged from Lockdown was a summer afloat for many. Unable to travel abroad and with the beaches reopened and pretty decent weather people bought, borrowed and unearthed all sorts of water craft from SUPs to inflatables to Sit on Tops to ancient fibreglass tandem tourers to everything in between and spent the summer messing about in boats.

But winter is coming, mostly rain and strong wind so far but it will get colder, the days shorter and the nights longer…but that is absolutely no reason to stop paddling, no not at all.

Okay, getting afloat may not have quite the draw it had at the height of August but Autumn paddling is delightful, a kind of peace settles over the countryside and easy paddling on dark, calm water with yellow, red and ochre trees shedding their leaves as you pass has a special charm.

And winter paddling, especially if we’ve got high pressure sitting over us with blue skies and sun but a sharp, cold edge to the air is one of the most life affirming experiences I know. One of my favourite paddling memories is open canoeing on Poole Harbour after a very rare snowfall and stopping to make hot chocolate on a stove with the Purbeck Hills shining white behind us.

Top tips for winter canoeing

The trick is to work with the elements in your planning:

  • - Sheltered bays such as Studland (close inshore) and rivers such as the Stour at Christchurch and the Frome at Wareham offer sheltered venues
  • - Plan shorter trips, aiming to get back well before the light fades
  • - Do out-and-back rather than A-B trips so you can cut it short at any time and are not dependent on reaching an objective
  • - Dress accordingly; the air above the water is always colder and loses what little heat it has once the sun starts to drop so decent clothing and equipment is a must
  • Must have kit for winter canoeing

    If you ask anyone what the ideal piece of kit for paddling is whatever the craft, they’d probably say a wetsuit but wetsuits do have their shortcomings: they’re awkward to put on, they can be too hot if you’re not wet, you can’t have a wee without stripping off and they can feel uncomfortable and restrictive unless you’re fully submerged and people seem to fall in less when the weather’s colder, (almost as if capsizing isn’t always accidental!?) so I’m going to leave them for now, nor am I going to write about drysuits – all-in-one waterproof suits which will keep you warm and dry whatever, they can have an article to themselves sometime. Instead, I’m going to recommend a combo which I increasingly use and which works well whichever craft I’m paddling: SUP, SoT, Open canoe or sit-in-canoe / kayak.

    - Underneath – swimming cozzie

    - Thermal layer – I use a long sleeve thermal, the Yak Target top or Palm Arun when it’s really cold

    - Mid layer - a thin but warm and comfortable fleece gilet - I use the Palm Tsangpo which is lovely, I use it a lot for cycling too as I’m always a fan of a bit of multi-function in my gear

    - On top - A cagoule, ideally with latex cuffs to stop water being scooped up or trickling down your sleeves and sloshing around your elbows. Elasticated or neoprene waists will stop most splashes whooshing up and a hood can make a lot of difference. I use a Peak Adventure Single but the Yak Apollo is another excellent option

    - Legs – neoprene leggings, effectively half a wetsuit because if I’m paddling SoT it keeps my bum warm, if I’m kneeling in a canoe it cushions my knees, if I’m loading a sea kayak on the beach at Lake Pier I can kneel beside it in the gritty sand, if I need to wade into the water it’s no problem and if I need to answer a call of nature that’s no problem either. The ones I use are the Palm Quantum pants although the Palm Blaze are a bit warmer and nicer

    - Footwear - Palm Gradient boots because they have a sturdy, grippy sole for muddy river banks and slippery rocks and I can drive in them - I often get changed at home in the warm and dry and drive to the venue ready kitted up. And inside I wear Palm Index socks - I know this is a bit of a Palm fest but it is nice kit and well designed for British conditions.

    - Hands - cold hands can make you cry (speaking from experience here) and cold hands that are rewarming can make you cry even more however there’s no need whatsoever to undergo any such distress. If you want gloves, Palm Grab gloves are ideal. If you want to maintain contact with the paddle, Crewsaver open palm mitts are even warmer (I use these for open canoeing and packrafting). If you want ultimate toastiness, Yak Pogies are the ticket - Pogies are the warmest option because they trap the heat created by the friction between your hands and the paddle shaft.

    - Head - only one option really, the SCC bobble hat - unless you’re worried you might bump your head in which case I personally like the Palm Shuck helmet as it’s simple and comfy and warm.

    - Oops, nearly forgot…for your hot chocolate - the SCC flask obviously, but if you’re a bit of a bush-crafty backwoods-person, Ghillie Kettles are great - ideal for use on the foreshore where there’s an abundance of dry driftwood.

    Talk winter canoeing with South Coast Canoes

    Now, as I write this in the middle of November and Lockdown 2.0 the monthly forecast predicts a lot of lows and a lot of westerlies until the middle of December but between the squalls and showers should be cooler, calmer and even (possibly) sunny periods so give us a call on 01202 914224, send an email or order online and wrap up warm and get out there.