Winter time paddling in frigid water temperatures can be fun but it can also be very dangerous if you’re not wearing the correct gear that’s suitable for the conditions. In this blog post, I am going to go over the gear I use to stay safe while I’m on the river in 30 degree water temperatures in Ohio.
The 120 Rule
Everybody has heard of the 120 rule, which says if the water temperature plus the air temperature is over 120, you do not need any cold water gear. As with all rules, there are exceptions. You might have a random warm day in the winter where the temperature hits 70 degrees and water temperature is still at 40 degrees. In my experience, I would still consider that to be drysuit weather.
Don't Forget the PFD
Now that we have the 120 rule out of the way, I would like to share the necessary gear to be safe while out on the water. You should always wear a personal floatation device, or PFD. If you’re wearing a self-inflate PFD, make sure you get one rated for the coldest your water gets. There are inflatables that are only rated for 45 degrees and above. Those PFDs would not be suitable in my waters here in Ohio in the winter. I use an NRS Chinook, especially in the winter, because they are bulky and help hold more heat into your body.
Wearing a Drysuit
A drysuit is a must when cold water paddling. I know many guys who just wear waders and a winter coat. To me, that’s just not enough. Waders can fill up with cold water, and being in cold water, you’re already against the odds. If you prefer to wear waders, then a dry top is a good way to go. If you’re wearing a dry top, you’re not letting in any water at all. I use an NRS Extreme drysuit with rubber gaskets around the wrists, neck, and rubber footies. These rubber gaskets allow me to be submerged in water and not get wet underneath the drysuit, which is crucial when paddling in frigid waters. Many people ask about wearing wet suits in the winter as well and my personal opinion is that I’d rather not get wet at all if I’m paddling in cold weather. If a wet suit is your choice, make sure to get the correct thickness rated for however cold your water in your area gets.
Next we are going to talk about base layers. Base layers are important, especially when wearing a drysuit, because drysuits are warm. I actually sweat in them when it’s cold, which is where base layers come into play. You want base layers that will wick away moisture such as sweat. If you don’t have the correct base layers, you will be damp and get cold quicker. I use Spyder Momentum base layer shirt and pants. The overtop of the base layers I usually layer on some sweat pants or joggers, a sweat shirt, and a couple pairs of wool socks which keeps me nice and warm. Hand warmers and feet warmers are a plus too, but make sure you’re not applying them directly on the skin. I tend to stick the feet warmers in between layers of my socks, and the hand warmers in between layers of gloves.
Consider your Footwear
You also want some type of boot that will be comfortable and waterproof. I use the NRS WTB wet shoe. It’s a neoprene boot that straps on by velcro on the front and zips up the sides. It’s the perfect pairing with a drysuit. Many other people also go for the NRS Boundary Boot, which is also an excellent choice. The last few items aren’t nearly as important for surviving a spill, but I always throw on a face mask and a toboggan hat to keep my head warm.
Now that you have a basic understanding of proper gear to wear while winter paddling, you can make your own decisions on which brands you choose to purchase and use while you’re out there on the water. Our number 1 objective is always make it back home. This sport is fun, but it can also be dangerous. I hope this article helps anyone who is looking to get out on the water and have fun, even in the colder months. Stay safe out there!
Brad started fishing at a young age with his dad at lakes and ponds all around Ohio. Shortly after Brad moved out on his own, he discovered his passion for river fishing. Since then, he’s dedicated a lot of his time fishing the rivers of Ohio.