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Buying kit to stay warm on the water

Staying Warm and Dry

Staying warm on the water is one of the most important considerations when first starting to look at buying your own equipment. If you want to paddle throughout the year, keeping warm becomes a critical safety consideration. There’s a wide range of options that this guide will hopefully help you to think about:

It would be worth thinking about the type of paddling you want to do and where and when you’re doing it:

What and where?

· Calm and placid water paddling on canals, rivers or small lakes where your intention is to stay upright and dry and you can get off or out of the water quickly and easily

· Splashing about, where kids (and some adults) want to be in the water as much as in their boat

· Park and Play, where you are using a white water centre, playsport or surfing beach and will be expecting to roll, but have relatively easy access off the water and to a place of warmth

· Sea Kayaking, where you may be away from landing spots for significant periods

· River Trips, where you expect to get fully wet and may spend several hours in remote areas


· Hot Conditions (Summer)

· Mild Conditions (Late Spring, to Mid Autumn or cooler summer days)

· Cool Conditions (Spring and Autumn)

· Cold Conditions (Winter)

Clearly, the lower down you are on each of the above lists, the greater the need to pay attention to staying warm and dry. We’ll run through a number of options below that provide increasing levels of protection from the cold and provide some things to think about. We’ve split this into three categories:

1. Calm water in warmer weather and with easy access

Look at splash tops, wetsuits and semi dry cags

2. Moving water in cooler weather with easy access

Look at semi or full dry cags

3. Any water in colder weather or without easy access

Look at full dry cags and trousers or suits

Other accessories – Baselayers, Feet, hands, heads


Firstly, it’s worth understanding how a wetsuit works. Whilst the neoprene fabric is waterproof, the suits are designed to let water inside the suit against your skin, where your body heat warms it, created an insulated layer. This works well for swimming and surfing, where most of your time is in the water. When kayaking, you’re (hopefully) spending most of your time on your kayak or canoe, during which the water will drain out. Next time you submerge, you will feel the cold rush of water in top the suit and your body needs to expend energy keeping you warm. Repeat this several or dozens of times in a day and you’ll be expending vast amounts of energy to keep warm.

Having said that, for junior members who like spending more time in the water than in their boat, or for the late spring to early autumn period paddling in mild conditions, they can be a good and relatively cheap option. “Long John” style sleeveless, long legs suits give the best freedom of movement whilst providing full body cover, however any general-purpose wetsuit can be OK. Thicker winter or steamer wetsuits are less suitable as they can restrict movement and be uncomfortable to sit in for lengthy periods.

Splash Tops

With any type of paddling, you’ll get splashes of water on yourself from your paddle strokes and a small amount of water seepage into your boat. As you’ll know, even a gentle breeze on damp clothing was zap your warmth. A waterproof and windproof layer will make a notable difference in these conditions. The club owns a number of “Splash Cags” that provide this simple layer of protection. They will likely have Velcro adjustable fittings at the wrist and neck. They will prevent splashes or rain getting you wet, but they will not stop water getting inside if you capsize. They should be worn over long sleeved thermal layer or wetsuit.

Staying Dry

If you want to paddle in the cooler months of the year, it is valuable to give consideration to staying dry, even if you end up upside down or in the water. Even if you’re planning for a quick paddle, you should be clothed and prepared to be wet and outdoors for extended periods.

There are a range of options for cags, trousers and drysuits. Each of these work by providing a waterproof outer shell, with warm thermal layers worn underneath. There’s a wide range available, but hopefully this will give you some ideas of what you need. The keys choices are between fully dry or semi dry cags and trousers or drysuits. The break that down:

· Semi-Dry equipment- Will likely have neoprene (wetsuit material) wrists and necks that fit snuggly, but not tightly. They will prevent most water from getting in from spray or rain or crashing through waves, but will some let water in if you capsize or take a swim

· Dry - Will likely have latex wrist and neck seals, sometimes with a further layer on top. These will prevent almost all water getting in, including when upside down or taking a swim. Trousers or suits may either have ankle seals or integral waterproof socks.

Semi Dry options are suitable where it doesn’t matter if you get some water seepage into your thermal layers. This is best suited where there is easy access off the water to a place of warmth if you get cold, so places such as artificial white water centres, playspots or when playing in the surf.

A drysuit, is simply a one-piece version of a set of dry cags and trousers. Each have advantages and disadvantages:

· A combination of dry cags and trousers often tend to be a little cheaper and more flexible in that that can be mixed and matched depending on the conditions, however it is difficult to ensure that water won’t make it’s way in where the two garments join in the event to end up taking a swim.

· Drysuits on the other hand have no areas to join together, only a waterproof zip to give access, but tend to be more expensive and can only be worn in one way.

What do I choose?

Well that depends on what you are doing and how much you are willing to spend. Our advice would be - If you want to paddle all year, a drysuit is the right option. There may be times of year when that is overkill and a dry or semi dry cag is sufficient. If budget is tight, trousers and dry cag give a credible alternative option at a lower price point

Cag and Trouser Options

If looking at a trouser and cag option, look for double seals on both garments. These are multiple layers of fabric and can be interlaced to try to keep water out.

Drysuit Options

When you’re looking at drysuits (or trousers for that matter), there’s range of options that would be worth giving thought to.

Spraydeck Tube

This is an extra layer of fabric around the waist that is normally fitted over the spraydeck with Velcro. It prevents water running down the suit and into your kayaks. Whilst paddling or rolling in white water, you could reasonably expect to get a few litres of water into your boat without a spraydeck tube. If you are primarily Canoeing or Paddleboarding, this will not be an issue

Socks or Ankle Seals

Most suits and trousers now come with integral waterproof socks. This allows you to wear warm dry socks underneath the suit and boots or other shoes on the outside. Some will come with latex ankle seals, the same on those found you’re your wrists. These leave your feet oursid ethe protection of the suit, so you would need to think about wetsuit socks or boots to keep your feet warm

Access zips

Drysuits most commonly have a long zip across the rear of the shoulders allowing you to get them on and off. They are difficult to open and close alone though and normally need someone to help you open and close them. Some suits have over the shoulder zips which you can use on your own. There are a small number of suits that have either zips around the waist or between the legs that give alternative options.

Relief zips

When nature calls, a suit without a relief zip means taking off buoyancy aid, spraydeck and all of the top half of your drysuit in order to take a leak or use a toilet. Most manufacturers provide either a mens “Relief Zip” or a ladies “Drop Seat”, meaning you can go whilst still in kit. Don’t under estimate how valuable these can be when your floating several miles off shore or in a wild and rainy Welsh valley.

Sea Kayaking

Because of the different conditions faced when sea kayaking, there are a number of extra options available on sea kayaking suits, such as higher collars and hoods and larger pockets for radios etc.

Breathable fabric

Many suits will advertise themselves are have a breathable fabric. If you are doing strenuous exercise in a non breathable outfit, clearly, you will have sweat and condensation build up inside your suit. Whilst this are certainly “better” fabrics, they are also more delicate and harder to look after as well as having a shorter lifespan. The “breathability is also compromised under you buoyancy aid, spraydeck and inside the kayak as well as when the garment is saturated.

Lifespan and Warranty

The old adage is that you get what you pay for. The more premium items will normally have a greater lifespan, however some cheaper options do give value for money. A set of kit that cost £200 and needs replacing every two years, may be better value that something costing £800 that may only last four years.

When suits, trousers and cag start to fail, you will either find:

· Latex seals split – though these can be easily and relatively cheaply replaced

· Abrasion, tears or pin holes – A single bramble thorn may not leave a visible hole, but if it has punctured the waterproof membrane, it will let water in. These can repaired

· Seams start to leak – repairs can be undertaken but once this starts it can continue to be a problem

· Fabric begins to “Delaminate” – In essence the waterproof membrane has reached the end of its life. In this instance there is little than can be done to repair – although some manufacturers will provide a warranty on their fabric.

Well looked after, rinsed, dried and well stored suits or cags should last at least 3 to 4 years of use (assuming use for twice a month for 8 months of a year).


Budget Standard Premium

Semi Dry Cag £75 £150 £200+

Dry Cag £175 £250 £300+

Dry trousers £100 £150 £200+

Drysuit £500 £750 £1000+

Other extremities

Paddling in cold and exposed water or in wintery conditions can be uncomfortable on your extremities. But worry not, there’s a few options


Skull caps are available cheaply from a number of manufacturers. Think of them as a fleecy hat or a wetsuit for your head. They sit under your helmet and can keep you a little warmer. High spec helmets tend to not need them as they will often have integral or removable options for the head and/or ears


Options depend on the conditions. If you don’t need insultation (either because you are paddling in the warm or because you have a drysuit with integral socks, you have loads of options available, including paddling specific or more general footwear – eg old trainers. Most paddlers will wear a thin pair of wetsuit socks over their drysuit socks for extra warmth and to protect the socks from damage. If you are paddling in colder conditions without integral socks, a pair of wetsuit boots will be worth a look

If you expect to be walking on smooth ground and short distances (club sessions, white water centre etc), cheap and simple water shoes, wetsuit socks or lightwight wetsuit boots are fine, whereas if you expect to be walking on rough ground or over larger distances, look at options with a thicker sole.


Hands are perhaps the hardest this to keep warm, but there are three main options

Paddling gloves – This are paddlesport (or at least watersport) specific and will be made from thin neoprene. This can really hep with the temperature, but many paddlers find that they make gripping the paddle quite difficult

Open Palm glove – Similar to above, these are wetsuit style glove, but that enables you to have direct palm and/or fingers on the paddle, which increases your feel and grip on the paddle, but are not as warm

Pogies – These are fitted to the paddle shaft and create a pocket into which you insert your hands . They come as either windproof (thin fabric to stop windchill) or insulated, which tend to be neoprene or fleece lined and help trap heat


Whilst children seem to not feel the cold, it is mostly the early warning signs that they ignore. If they get very cold, their bodies are less able to cope with extreme or prolonged cold. Whilst this guide is framed around older juniors and adults, there are a few options available for kids equipment. Ask us about this if you need some help

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