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Comfortable Boating

By Chris Evans

I'm going to talk (more like rant) about the dark art of dressing to be comfortable on the water. By that, I mean choosing the right layering system to avoid overheating, freezing or feeling too bulky.
I have two reasons for this the first is this winter, while coaching, I've had people border line hypothermic because they've misjudged how many layers are needed and because my brother was once told the more layers the warmer you will be. Six cotton T-shirts on a frosty December day on the Thames wasn't really what they were getting at. First he froze second he nearly drowned because of the sheer weight of the shirts when wet and last my mother nearly skinned him alive when she found out he'd got a weeks worth of clothing soaking wet.

Dress to the conditions

Comfortable Boating

If it.s the middle of summer and baking hot thermals and a dry cag are probably over kill, however this is very common. Equally in winter board shorts and one thermal can lead to hypothermia. So for summer time, a t shirt, hat and shorts will probably be enough depending on what your doing, for winter a good set of base layers and waterproofs should keep you warm and keep out the elements.

Base Layers

Comfortable Boating

The base layer is the layer closest to the skin, its designed to keep you warm and wick moisture away from the skin. In winter Ill wear an all in one fleece suit with a thermal top of the same material and in summer ill probably wear a pair of neoprene (wet suit) shorts and a thermal top or long sleeved rash vest.

Outer Layers

Choose your outer layers to the paddle sport discipline your doing. If your likely to get very wet with your paddling then Id recommend a dry top and dry trousers meaning that you stay dry (ish). If your canoeing on a pancake flat calm lake where the chance of getting wet is minimal then all you would kneed is enough to keep off the elements (waterproofs or a windproof or just a long sleeve t shirt and hat) somewhere in between then a sea kayaking cag is ideal, this is a cag with a twin waist for a spray deck, latex wrist seals and a hood. In summer time a short sleeved cag can replace the long sleeved version if its warm enough.

Wet suit vs Dry suit

Comfortable Boating

The age old argument. Wet suits trap a layer of water between you and the suit and you warm it up but can feel restrictive, a dry suit is designed to keep you dry NOT warm. So if you use a dry suit put on a few more thermals than you think you might need, the other thing with a dry suit is if you put a hole in it you have to replace the entire thing, if it.s a wet suit you can repair it or if it.s dry trousers and dry top combo then you only have to replace what you have holed. Both have their uses, if your going to be immersed in water a lot (e.g. speck white water canoeing or white water safety and rescue courses) then a dry suit would be ideal. Wet suits get used by surf kayakers and squirt kayakers because the extra volume of a cag can be a hindrance in those boats.

Alpine layers

Comfortable Boating

The alps is home to the best river paddling that Europe has, because its glacier fed the water is usually freezing cold and to get the glaciers to melt the air temperature is normally quite hot. To get the balance right I wear winter kit but instead of getting fully kited up by the car, ill wait to just before I get on the water before my cag, buoyancy aid and spray deck go on.

Competition Layers

Comfortable Boating

More and more people are getting into competing in a discipline in paddlesports. I have lots of memories of being roasting while my competition runs were under way and freezing in-between. To combat this I use a pair of ski trousers and a pertex jacket over the top of my paddling kit. This way I wont freeze and because its pertex it doesn.t matter too much if it gets wet.

Extras to carry

Ill cary a few extras with me to stay comfortable, so for winter paddling ill carry spare gloves and a hat and in summer ill carry a light weight windproof top, suncream and a sun hat.

Getting off the water

Comfortable Boating

Off the water can be just as uncomfortable. To avoid a freezing cold journey home add a few things into your kit bag for when you have stopped, things like thick socks and a warm jacket can make all the difference.

Paddling for a few days

There.s nothing worse than putting on wet kit so if your out for a few days have a spare set of thermals to climb into to avoid starting cold. If your minimalist camping then you can have a set of thermals to paddle in and a set of thermals to sleep in. if you make a fire then that might be just enough to warm them at least.


Paddling kit if stored in the wrong place can be very fragile so firstly make sure its dry and secondly keep it indoors (like your shed or garage) if your kit is in the sun too long it can fade and if its kept in drying rooms then latex seals can perish.

With all this information you will hopefully not only stay happy on the water but your kit should last a bit longer too.

Storing your kit

Paddling kit if stored in the wrong place can be very fragile so firstly make sure its dry and secondly keep it indoors (like your shed or garage) if your kit is in the sun too long it can fade and if its kept in drying rooms then latex seals can perish.

With all this information you will hopefully not only stay happy on the water but your kit should last a bit longer too.


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