As the weather gets cooler across the country over the next month, your kayaking wardrobe is going to start to change. The natural instinct is to layer, which is correct, but the wrong layers can be dangerous.
Don't Choose the Wrong Fabric for Layers
In Fall the mornings and evenings are cool and the days warm up just after lunchtime. You will want to be comfortable throughout the entire day so layers that you shed and put back on are the best way. Nobody likes to be freezing or burning up.
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The mistake most new kayakers make is to choose the wrong fabrics for their layers.
The phrase you need to be familiar with when dealing with cold and water is “Cotton Kills!”
Cotton fabrics get wet and stay wet. They don’t insulate and if you do fall out of your kayak or even just your feet get wet, it can be dangerous.
Wool is a much better material to wear. Wool socks, wool gloves when needed, and even a wool cap can keep your extremities toasty even when wet. The RedHead brand wool socks have a lifetime warranty and are excellent for keeping you warm even in wet conditions. The RedHead socks are the ones I like. For the ladies, check out the socks from Natural Reflections here.
Extra Tip: Long wool socks that go up to the knee will serve as a better winter sock and keep your entire lower extremities warmer than a mid-calf or ankle sock.
The Mess Ups Happen With the Base Layers and Outer Layers
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A GORE-TEX set of bibs or jacket and pant set will keep water from penetrating outer layers. GORE-TEX helps block wind, cold, and is the most water repellent fabric available. It is more expensive but its durability will allow you to keep them for years to come. The Bass Pro Shops GORE-TEX 100MPH Jacket for men and the Ascend Storm Shield Jacket for ladies fits the bill for the upper, outer layer. I prefer a bib style pant that has suspenders which prevents gaps between the layers. The Bass Pro Shops 100MPH Bibs are also GORE-TEX. While they say they are for rain, the jacket and bibs will also keep paddle drips, wind, and waves off of you.
For base layers, many options are available like microfleece, which ranges in price. Some companies offer heat retaining technologies above and beyond just the normal properties of fleece. Columbia offers a line called Omni Heat which has coverage from extremities to base layers and everything in between.
You also need to consider buying bigger sizes for jackets if you will be doing multiple layers. A normal jacket size can get pretty tight when you add base layers. A tight jacket coupled with a lifejacket can make a miserable paddling experience.
Extra Tip: Don’t forget to readjust your lifejacket for winter layering. Some lifejackets might not fit properly after you put on a couple of layers and a winter jacket.