Gear Up and Stay Warm this Winter: Cold Weather Paddling Accessories

Table of Contents:

1 Introduction to cold weather paddling and clothing accessories

2 Introduction to cold weather hand accessories

3 Gloves: Lightweight & Half Finger

     3.1 NRS Hydroskin Glove

     3.2 Kokatat Lightweight Half Finger Glove

     3.3 Outdoor Research Active Ice Spectrum

     3.4  Buff Aqua Gloves

4  Gloves: Mid & Heavyweight

    4.1 NRS Paddler’s Glove

    4.2 Glacier Glove Perfect Curve Glove

    4.3 Sea to Summit Solution Glove

    4.4 NRS Reactor Rescue Glove

5  Mittens

    5.1 NRS Toaster Mitts

    5.2 Kokatat Inferno Mitts

    5.3 Level Six Neoprene Mitts

    5.4 Xcel 7mm Mitts

6  Pogies

    6.1 Stohlquist Toaster Pogies

    6.2 Kokatat Hydrus Mitts

    6.3 Shred Ready Creeker Pogies

    6.4 Salamander Yampa Pogies

7  Conclusions & Further Reading  

 

It’s that time of year again. The days are shorter, cold winds blow, relatives send you ugly sweaters and socks, and for many it means digging out the holiday

lights and stowing the kayak for the winter.  But just because it’s ski season, doesn’t mean you have to put the paddles away until spring.  For the motivated types, you can extend your kayaking season long into the winter, as long as you have the right accessory apparel.  No, I’m not talking about that fuzzy elf hat.

 

Before we get into the specifics of how to stay warm out on the water this winter, anyone contemplating winter/cold season paddling should plan to get additional training and education on how to paddle safely in cold weather. Winter brings cold air and water temperatures, both of which can create hazardous paddling conditions and complicate capsizes, swims, and rescue and increase risk of hypothermia from submersion, air exposure, or both. Research local conditions, go with a pro, or take a cold weather paddling course.

 

If you’ve ever gotten your head, hands, or feet wet and then been exposed to blustery winds, you know how quickly the chill can set in. Having wet hands, feet, and head come with the territory of kayaking and really can’t be prevented. Spray, rain, wind, even the act of dipping the paddle in the water, all result in some level of sogginess.

 

Most cold-weather paddling accessories are designed, not necessarily to prevent your hands, feet, and head from getting wet, but to keep you warm and comfortable despite that. Working just like wetsuits for surfers, most paddling gloves, boots, socks, and caps use neoprene and other warm-when-wet materials to insulate your fingers, toes, and noggin from the elements and trap and warm any water that does come into contact with your skin. Because leaks are so hard to prevent while paddling [unless you are using a dry suit which keeps your body and feet fully waterproof], these accessories work with moisture to keep you warm if not completely dry.  Protecting your extremities is a safety and comfort issue and a critical component of your overall winter paddling wardrobe.

 

In the following review we focus on protecting the most obvious and critical extremity: your hands. In cold water, hands and can quickly lose their dexterity or become numb, rendering your kayak’s steering and power systems useless. Keeping your hands warm, even while wet, is not only an issue of comfort but am issue of safety and functionality. You wouldn’t drive a car without air in the tires or gas in the tank, would you?  You need your hands to steer, provide power, adjust equipment, tie knots, haul ropes, and maybe pull in that record-setting sport fish.

 

Here are a few options for keeping your hands warm while paddling, which are usually the most exposed and most crucial for maintaining dexterity and comfort while out on the water.  

 

GLOVES:  

Wearing gloves while paddling is a no-brainer.  Even for cool-weather paddling, wearing a thin neoprene glove can be a great way to keep your fingers happy and prevent winds from drying your skin. This category has the most options, which can make buying a challenge. The good news is that almost any “water-sports” glove will help keep your hands warm while paddling, as long it’s made with neoprene for water repellency and warm-when-wet insulation.  The main factors you’ll have to weigh when deciding on a paddling glove come down to price, style, features, durability, and thickness of the glove. Here are a few options from thin to thick and general use to highly specific.

 

Lightweight & Half Finger Gloves:

On the thin end of the spectrum, the NRS Hydroskin is as it sounds: a thin, dextrous paddle sports glove allowing for maximum range of motion and contact, while proving wind and sun protection and adding a thin layer of insulation for cool weather paddling.

                         

Pros:

  • Simple design
  • Sticky palm grips
  • Comfort against skin
  • Snaps on wrist cuffs
  • Fit well

Cons:

  • Only for moderately cold weather, not good at extreme hot or colds conditions
  • Expensive for a lightweight glove

 

Need even more finger dexterity? You could cut off the fingers of your new paddling gloves, or simply buy these: Kokatat Lightweight Half Finger Glove keeps your palms protected with double-layered Amara synthetic suede while breathable nylon/spandex material keeps the rest of your hand protected and comfy. Reinforced at all high wear areas, these combine durability and dexterity without compromising either. Cutouts leave finger and thumb tips for fine motor movement like tying flies, grabbing zippers, or untangling your fishing line and newly tied fly.

Pros:

  • Awesome durability
  • Very secure wrist strap
  • Good breathability on back of hands
  • Extra palm protection

Cons:

  • Slightly bulky material
  • Not particularly grippy palms

 

In southern climes, winter paddling has its challenges, too. Especially when touring on lakes, backwaters, or open ocean, you need something to alternately protect against harsh drying winds and sun while keeping your hands cool. Sounds like a tall order, but the  Buff Aqua Gloves  are up to the challenge. Great next-to-skin feel, SPF material blocks out the rays and help your hands regulate its temp in mildly cool to blazingly hot conditions. Grippy palms add the the picture of a well-rounded, cool/warm weather second-skin. And they break the monotony of black neoprene with some fun colors.

Pros:

  • Ultra comfortable feel against skin
  • Great UV protection
  • Affordable
  • Fabric wicks and keeps hands cool in hot weather

Cons:

  • Not very durable
  • Do not insulate particularly well in cold water

 

Similar to Buff’s glove, the OR Active Ice Spectrum Sun Gloves  are another solution to those in between seasons, when sun may be intense, water may be cool, and you need just a bit of thermoregulation on your fingers. The main difference are the shorter fingers. OR’s legendary lifetime warranty add another comparison point.

Pros:

  • Great UV protection
  • Backed by Outdoor Research’s unparalleled “Infinite Guarantee”
  • Super comfy against skin (wicking/cooling)
  • Good for sun protection for other sports (i.e. backpacking)

Cons:

  • Not much for palm grips
  • Fingers are pretty short with seam at the end
  • Color picks up dirt very quickly

 

Midweight and Heavyweight Gloves

A step up in insulation and durability are the NRS Paddler’s Glove a basic neoprene glove, that despite its name, are actually a considerably versatile glove for any wet weather activity: paddling, rowing, handling ropes in the marina, or working on the dock at the cabin as the ice starts to form.  A standard glove fit, made with 2mm of neoprene and added protection on the finger pads and palms for rugged work. A great glove to consider, especially if you want to use them for more than just kayaking. GripCote adds some stickiness and a nifty snaps on the inside of wrist cuffs allow you to connect the pair, so you don’t have to worry about one glove going missing.

Pros:

  • Very durable palms for a midweight glove
  • Good warmth to weight ratio  
  • Affordable price

Cons:

  • Palms are moderately grippy
  • Not as snug a fit as some of the pre-curved neoprene or very lightweight gloves

 

If you just want a basic, neoprene glove that is particularly well-suited for kayaking, fishing, and other cold-weather water sports, Glacier Glove’s Perfect Curve glove is, well, perfect for that.  No bells and whistles, just a sturdy 2mm fleece-lined neoprene.  An elastic, hook and loop closure wrist strap keeps these no-nonsense gloves in place.

Pros:

  • Very affordable price for a heavyweight glove
  • Precurved finger design allows for excellent grip
  • Wrist strap is very adjustable
  • Longer cuff keeps wrist dry and/or warm

Cons:

  • Fit is not the most precise (for precurved glove models)
  • Seams appear to be glued (not stitched) which leads to durability concerns

 

Looking for a basic, no-frills, hand protection for your cold weather paddling excursions? Sea to Summit has the Solution. Solid construction, precurved ergonomic design helps grip through the 3mm of neoprene. Reinforced cuff seam protects against wear.

Pros:

  • Reinforced cuff seam
  • Stitched seams adds durability
  • Grippy palm

Cons:

  • No adjustable wrist strap
  • No keeper clips or snaps

 

At the other end of the spectrum (and probably overkill for most recreational paddlers) are the NRS Reactor Rescue Gloves, which boast 3mm neoprene, sturdy keeper wrist straps, and palm grips with made with aramid (super strong heat resistant fiber used in fire safety and aerospace industry) increase durability and resistance against heat and friction (think rescue rope work or hauling traplines on the deck of a crab boat). They also come in a eye popping, high-vis green color, which can actually be pretty handy if communicating using hand signals becomes necessary in whitewater, heavy seas, or rescue paddling.  Underneath all of that, the VaporLoft lining feels warm and dry against your skin, regardless of what conditions you’re facing.

Pros:

  • Double stitched seam construction throughout
  • Super durable and grippy palms
  • Very secure adjustable wrist straps
  • High-Vis bright green color
  • Secure keeper loops
  • Very warm

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Features may be overkill for average use
  • Bulky fit

 

MITTENS:  

Just as snow mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves, by keeping your fingers snuggled together for warmth, kayaking mitts are going to keep your hands considerably warmer than gloves because your fingers keep eachother cozy.  The downside is that you lose some dexterity. However, if you’re braving snow or near freezing water temps, having warm hands quickly trump dexterity, since as your extremities get colder, the body naturally shunts blood to that area, and you’ll end up with useless digits anyway. And if you’ve ever fumbled with your car keys in a blizzard without mittens, you know that cold hands prevent their own dexterity challenge.  

 

A great option are NRS’ Toaster Mitts. Thick 3.5mm neoprene outer construction, with a thinner, grippy 2.5mm neoprene on the palms allow for good handling and less fumbling.  Finger pocket is precurved to further help you grasp your paddle in a natural position. Longer cuff with a tensioning strap help keep water out, and VaporLoft fleece lining on the inside helps wick and dry any moisture that makes its way inside.  The result? Cozy hands that would make even a seal jealous.

Pros:

  • Super warm
  • Durable construction
  • Very secure adjustable wrist straps
  • Soft and comfortable fleece lining

Cons:

  • Precurved design doesn’t allow for a nuanced fit
  • A bit stiff and take awhile to “break in”

 

Level Six doesn’t mess around with these basic, but bombproof neoprene mittens.  A simply constructed 2mm neoprene hand pocket keeps your digits warm, while providing easy on, easy off.  These mitts are like slippers for your hands, if your slippers were also wearing galoshes. The plush lining keeps them comfy inside and the unfaced outer surface that sheds water.  The one embellishment to these otherwise modest mitts? A soft nose-wiper along the forefinger, which is, ahem, nothing to sniff at.  

Pros:

  • Simple to fit & easy on/off
  • Fleece nose wipe panel
  • Very grippy palm/thumb neoprene
  • Warm

Cons:

  • No adjustable wrist strap
  • Not a very refined fit

 

Though they look like they might be designed for battling the flames of your backyard BBQ pit, the Kokatat Inferno Mitts boast 3mm neoprene throughout with a precurved design to help you keep a grip on your paddle (or your tongs). They have a reinforced palm to put up with the wear and tear of many river miles and an especially long cuff (which will integrate over your drytop/drysuit wrist gaskets) designed to protect from paddle drips.

Pros:

  • Super warm
  • Extra long wrist cuff (could be a ‘con’ for some)
  • Glued ‘blind stitch’ is durable and watertight

Cons:

  • Bulky fit
  • Palm grip is not the stickiest we reviewed

 

Known for their hardworking surf gear, wetsuit manufacturer Xcel’s 7mm Mitts take wet insulation to another level. Though not designed with kayakers in mind specifically, what these babies lack in paddling ergonomics is more than made up for by their sheer warmth.  With an R-value this high, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could get an energy rebate from your local utility company…okay, maybe that’s going a bit too far, but you get the picture.

Pros:

  • Super duper warm
  • Comfortable fit
  • Extra durable stitched and taped seam construction

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Ergonomic curve is designed for surfing – not holding a paddle
  • May be too warm for most kayaking conditions

 

POGIES:

A funny name, but a genius solution for those that refuse to sacrifice that direct paddle feel, but still need to keep hands toasty. You may have seen winter cyclists using similar handlebar mitts; pogies work by attaching directly to your paddle shaft and allowing for direct hand-to-paddle contact through the open cuffs. Typically made from neoprene and fleece materials pogies create an insulated little pocket for your hands to grip the paddle unencumbered, while keeping wind and water off your hands.

 

The Stolquist Toaster Pogie, no relation to the above mentioned mitten, but made by an equally respected paddling accessory company, provide that bare-handed feel while preventing your fingers from turning to popsicles. Constructed from 2mm neoprene, the hand pocket sheds water while insulating everything on the inside: paddle shaft, water, air, and hands. A hook and loop closure keeps the pogies snugly fit around your paddle shaft and a waterproof cuff helps to keep spray and splashes out, with a loose enough fit to allowing water to fully drain out if hands are submerged.  Snap straps allow pogie cuffs to rolled up, as well as doubling as a backup system for securing pogies to your paddle.

Pros:

  • Wrist cuffs is lighter weight and provides good range of motion
  • Webbing strap allows wrist cuff to be adjusted
  • Affordable price

Cons:

  • Wrist cuff doesn’t add much warmth

 

Another option for those not needing the wet-insulating power of neoprene, but want some protection from the elements with a cozy space for hands, is the Kokatat Hydrus Mitts.  Their proprietary Hydrus 2.5 material, is lightweight and waterproof/breathable. Hook and loop keeps them securely attached to your paddle shaft and roomy, extended cuff integrates over your paddling jacket. Inside, the pile lining keeps your hands toasty. Designed more with touring in mind (rather than submersion that neoprene pogies are designed for), these pogies are designed keep wind and spray off your hands and keep them truly dry.  They have a snugger fit and feel more akin to a snow mitten.

Pros:

  • Very waterproof*
  • Super comfortable liner
  • Very warm*
  • Material allows for full range of motion

Cons:

  • Not meant to be submerged (Compromises the pros* above)
  • Hook & loop and gaskets do not provide the most secure fit around paddle shaft

 

Shred Ready Creek Pogies are designed, well, for creekers. Those push-the-limit, class 4-5+ kayakers who live life on the edge of extreme and as a result might need to jettison a paddle quickly, while commuting down a torrent of super steep whitewater that may send both kayak and pilot careening over cliffs. Now, if that’s not you, don’t worry. It’s not most of us, but you can still benefit from the design elements that were developed for this type of “fun.”  The simple hand-pocket design allows for easy hand entry/exit with no fuss. The neoprene is super-abrasion resistant, which is good when you’re scraping your knuckles down a damp, granite chute or are simply hard on gear and don’t want to buy items more than once. Simple hook-and-loop closure securely keeps the pogies on your paddle.

Pros:

  • Simple design allow easy, on easy off
  • Very durable abrasion-resistant neoprene

Cons:

  • Short wrist cuffs allow more water in hand pocket

 

Salamander makes a great, standard neoprene version of the pogie, adding in a couple of handy bells and whistles along the way. The snaps add an extra level of security to the hook-and-loop closures for keeping these puppies attached to your paddle. Internally, an O-ring helps keep water from dripping down from the paddles without hindering range of motion. And a couple of nifty clips help keep one from getting lost in the deep, dark, depths of your duffle bag (think “buddy system”).

Pros:

  • Very secure hook & loop with end snaps closure system
  • Great keeper clips
  • Internal O-rings keep more water

Cons:

  • Shorter wrist cuffs still allow water in from partial submersions
  • One of the more expensive neoprene pogies of this style

 

There are a lot of options to keep your hands warm, dry and comfy out there this winter.  These tops options are just the tip of the ah, iceberg, so to speak. Experiment with with different options works for you.  Your needs may change depending on your location, weather, and as you take on more challenging winter conditions. Remember, cold water and air temperatures greatly increase the consequences of the already existing hazards of kayaking. So, get the right training, the proper gear (including something to keep those hands cozy), start small, and go with an experienced cold weather paddling local or hire a guide if you are new to paddling in the wintertime.  The off-season, doesn’t need to be the “off”-season with the right gear and proper knowledge. Stay tuned to KayakBest.com for further cold-weather accessory reviews to come this season.

James Hancock
 

James is a an outdoor educator, leadership consultant, and writer from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has over 15 years of professional guiding experience in disciplines including alpine backpacking, backcountry snowboarding, and of course, expedition paddling. He writes for various national outdoor publications and creates content for commercial projects.

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