When you're out on the water, you have to take into account two important factors — the temperature of the air and of the water. To stay safe and comfortable, it's important to dress for the water temperature, not just the air temperature. A 70-degree day might feel great on land, but as soon as you get a bit wet, you'll get cold fast. And if you end up in the water, cold water shock and hypothermia can become real concerns. Your body can lose heat up to 25 times faster in cold water than it does cold air. Remember that smaller people lose heat faster. So if you're paddling with kids, make sure they're dressed for the conditions.
There's lots of great paddling gear out there that will keep you safe and comfortable when you're paddling. On a sunny, hot day, you might be very happy in board shorts and river sandals and with a sun shirt and hat, but if the weather changes, you can get cold very quickly. That's why paddlers bring extra layers no matter how nice the weather seems to be.
Layering means bringing two types of clothing — insulation and a shell. For your insulation, bring synthetic base layers and fleece, depending on how cold you think it might get. For a normal summer day, I might just bring a warm long-sleeve shirt, but if I think it might get colder, I'll bring two shirts and a fleece. Many outdoor companies make base layers from polyester and nylon or other synthetic materials. And fleece is almost always synthetic. And for cold-weather paddling, or any time when immersion in cold water is a possibility, a wet suit or dry suit is the way to go.
Just make sure that you're not counting on anything cotton to keep you warm, because wet cotton can actually increase the rate your body loses heat. Synthetic and wool clothing will continue to keep you warm even if it gets wet. Keep those extra layers dry by putting them in a dry bag. The most basic dry bags can be very inexpensive and worth their weight in gold when you have a warm, dry layer to put on.
Remember, it's often windier and cooler on the water than it is on land. And of course, you're probably going to get splashed when you're out in a kayak. So bringing some sort of windproof and waterproof jacket is crucial. That could be as simple as a classic rain slicker or as high-tech as a waterproof, breathable jacket designed for paddling. It may even be necessary to bring a dry suit or dry top if the water or air is especially cold.
Dressing right is the key to staying safe and comfortable on the water, no matter what the weather brings. So bring your sunglasses and sunscreen, but don't forget your extra layers, too.
And remember: "Be smart, Be safe, and Have fun."
paddling.com has partnered with the United States Coast Guard to bring you this 8-part "Safer Paddling Series" featuring ACA-certified instructors Kate Ross Kuthe and Paul Kuthe. Watch them all as Paul and Kate share valuable safety tips, paddling technique pointers, and other various gear tips.