Winter is here, but that doesn’t mean your paddleboard needs to be stowed away during the cold weather months. Colorado has a fluctuating range of temps throughout the winter season, so as long as you’re prepared, you can still enjoy getting out on the water all year long! These guidelines are a great way to keep you feeling nice toasty and safe for cold weather paddling.
Before heading out to the lake, make a note of the following:
Water Temperature (lakemonster.com)
Air Temperature (noaa.gov)
Wind Speed (noaa.gov)
Your Sensitivity to Getting Cold
Activity Level / Rigor
For safe and enjoyable paddling the general rule of thumb to stick to is the 120 rule, meaning that the water and air temperature should both add up to equal 120.
For example: water temp (60) + air temp (60) = 120
In the winter, this rule is hard to come by since our lakes can drop down to the 34-42 degree mark and air temps at most climb into the mid 60’s.
These colder temps may seem daunting to most, but this is where proper gear comes in. Always remember, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.”
I’ve gone paddling in the single digits when living in Alaska, but never felt uncomfortably cold. This is simply because I was wearing the proper gear for the conditions I was in.
One important thing to keep in mind here (this applies all year round), is that you always want to emphasize dressing for the water temps, in case of immersion.
For instance, it could be a nice warm and sunny day, but if you're paddling on a lake that is only 42 degrees and you happen to fall in, this not only can be extremely uncomfortable, but also dangerous.
Cold water shock and hypothermia are very real threats, and something to be taken seriously. This is why wearing a PFD on your body is so incredibly important.
Cold water shock can be an instantaneous bodily reaction that can put you in a life threatening situation quickly. Cold water shock does not discriminate, even if you’re an expert swimmer.
Ultimately? Cold water shock can lead to hypothermia and/or drowning if rescue is not possible.
Learn more about cold water shock here: weather.gov
The reason I bring this up is not to dissuade anyone from winter paddling, but to highlight situations that can (and do) happen. Planning ahead and preparing for any outing is key to keeping yourself safe, all months of the year.
So, how can you avoid cold water shock altogether? Simple: Dress for success!
There are different combinations of clothing and gear that can be used depending on environmental factors, comfort level, as well as affordability.
Neoprene, Trilaminate and Fleece/Wool are the best options for paddling in cold water temps year-round, and each come with their own pros and cons.
For paddlers that plan on getting out once or twice during the winter season, it may not be worthwhile to invest in a wetsuit or drysuit, but rather to dress in layers and stick close to shore in case of immersion. If that’s you, fleece and wool layers, a waterproof outer shell, neoprene gloves and booties and a beanie and PFD is for you.
For avid paddlers, you may be better off investing in good gear which will help keep you comfortable for longer periods of time. You can always start small and rent gear or buy second hand gear. I’ve found full body wetsuits at thrift stores for $5-$10 and smoking hot deals on drysuits during Black Friday sales.
Here is a complete breakdown of each material:
Neoprene (Pro: insulating, Con: not waterproof) Affordability: $$
Neoprene is a great choice for extra insulation and can be used year round. There are different thickness levels of neoprene wetsuits which will be a huge factor in deciding which will be best for you and your comfort level. Neoprene booties and gloves are also essential in keeping your hands and feet warm on the water in the winter.
Water Temperature Range: 70°F (21°C) and above.
Use Case: Suitable for warm waters or during the summer months. Provides minimal insulation and is ideal for paddleboarding in relatively mild climates.
Water Temperature Range: 60-70°F (15-21°C).
Use Case: Great for cool to mild temperatures. Offers a balance of flexibility and insulation, making it suitable for spring and fall paddleboarding in Colorado.
Water Temperature Range: 50-60°F (10-15°C).
Use Case: Designed for cooler conditions, these wetsuits provide extra insulation in the core (4mm) and slightly thinner material in the arms and legs (3mm) for improved flexibility. Ideal for early spring or late fall paddleboarding.
Water Temperature Range: 40-50°F (4-10°C).
Use Case: Suitable for colder conditions, such as winter paddleboarding in Colorado. The thicker neoprene in the core (5mm) offers increased insulation, while the slightly thinner material in the extremities (4mm) maintains flexibility.
6/5mm and 7mm Wetsuits:
Water Temperature Range: Below 40°F (4°C).
Use Case: These thick wetsuits are designed for extremely cold conditions, including winter paddling in icy waters. The increased neoprene thickness provides maximum insulation to keep you warm in frigid temperatures.
It's essential to note that personal tolerance to cold may vary, so it's advisable to choose a wetsuit based on your comfort level and the specific conditions you expect to encounter. Additionally, consider factors like wind chill and the duration of your paddleboarding sessions when selecting the appropriate wetsuit thickness. Always prioritize safety and choose gear that aligns with the environmental conditions of your paddleboarding adventures in Colorado.
Trilaminate (Pro: waterproof, Con: not insulating) Affordability: $$$
Trilaminate is a fancy word to describe the materials used to make drysuits and semi-drysuits; which are both designed to provide protection against cold water. Both differ in their construction and the level of waterproofing they offer. Here are the main differences between drysuits and semi-drysuits:
Material: Drysuits are made from completely waterproof materials, typically breathable Gore-Tex or a similar fabric. This ensures that no water enters the suit, keeping the wearer completely dry.
Neck and Wrist Seals: Drysuits have tight-fitting seals at the neck and wrists, often made of latex or neoprene, to prevent water from entering the suit.
Ankle Seals: Drysuits may also have ankle seals to further enhance waterproofing.
Front or Rear Zipper: Drysuits typically have a waterproof zipper running across the front or back, allowing the user to enter and exit the suit easily.
Minimal to None: Drysuits usually lack built-in insulation. Instead, users wear insulating layers underneath the drysuit to stay warm.
Year-Round Use: Drysuits are suitable for year-round paddling, providing excellent protection against cold water and weather conditions.
Material: Semi-drysuits are made from materials that are partially waterproof, often featuring water-resistant neoprene or other fabrics that repel water to a certain extent.
Neck and Wrist Seals: Like drysuits, semi-drysuits have tight-fitting seals at the neck and wrists, usually made of neoprene or a similar material.
Ankle Seals: Some semi-drysuits may have ankle seals, but they might not be as tight as those on drysuits.
Front Zipper: Semi-drysuits typically have a front zipper for easy entry and exit, but this zipper may not be fully waterproof.
Partial Insulation: Semi-drysuits often come with a built-in insulating layer, providing some warmth without the need for additional layers underneath.
Ideal for Colder Conditions: While not as waterproof as drysuits, semi-drysuits offer good protection in colder conditions and can be a more comfortable option for extended periods in the water.
In summary, the primary distinction between drysuits and semi-drysuits lies in the level of waterproofing. Drysuits provide complete waterproofing, while semi-drysuits offer partial waterproofing with the addition of some insulation. The choice between the two depends on factors such as the specific water and weather conditions, personal preferences, and the duration of your paddleboarding sessions in Colorado.
Fleece or Wool (Pro: insulating, Con: not waterproof) Affordability: $
Wearing fleece or wool layers when paddleboarding in the winter offers several benefits, enhancing your comfort and safety in cold conditions. Here are the key advantages:
Retains Heat: Fleece and wool are excellent insulators, trapping and retaining body heat. This helps to keep you warm in cold water and chilly weather conditions during winter paddleboarding sessions in Colorado.
Wicking Properties: Both fleece and wool have natural wicking properties, meaning they draw moisture away from the body. This is crucial in preventing the accumulation of sweat, which can make you feel cold and uncomfortable.
Breathability: Fleece and wool are breathable materials that allow excess heat and moisture to escape, preventing overheating. This breathability is essential for regulating your body temperature during physical activities like paddleboarding.
Wool's Natural Properties: Wool has the ability to absorb a significant amount of moisture without feeling wet. Even when damp, wool retains its insulating properties, and it dries relatively quickly. This can be beneficial if you get splashed or fall into the water.
Comfort and Flexibility:
Soft and Flexible: Fleece and wool are soft and flexible materials, providing a comfortable layer against the skin. This is particularly important for activities like paddleboarding where freedom of movement is essential.
Versatility: Fleece and wool layers work well as part of a layering system. You can add or remove layers based on the external conditions, allowing you to adapt to changing temperatures throughout your paddleboarding session.
Natural Odor Resistance:
Wool's Antimicrobial Properties: Wool has natural antimicrobial properties that help resist odors, keeping your clothing fresher for longer. This can be advantageous during extended paddleboarding trips.
Wool's Buoyancy: Wool has a natural buoyancy, meaning it retains some insulating properties even when wet. While not a substitute for a life jacket, this quality can provide an additional layer of protection in the water.
When paddleboarding in the winter, it's essential to layer appropriately to stay warm and comfortable. Using fleece or wool layers as part of your clothing system can contribute significantly to maintaining your body heat, managing moisture, and ensuring an enjoyable winter paddleboarding experience in the colder climate of Colorado.
Last but not least; your paddleboarding gear.
When a paddleboard enters cold water, especially in winter conditions, several factors come into play that can impact both the board and the overall paddleboarding experience:
Cold water is denser than warm water, and this can affect the buoyancy of the paddleboard. In colder conditions, the board may sit slightly lower in the water, and this change in buoyancy can influence stability.
Paddleboards are typically made of materials like foam, fiberglass, or inflatable materials. In cold water, these materials can contract, affecting the overall flexibility and rigidity of the board.
The paddle used for stand-up paddleboarding can be affected by cold water. If the paddle is made of metal, it may feel colder to the touch, and the stiffness of the material can change in lower temperatures, influencing responsiveness.
Rigidity of Inflatable Paddleboards:
Inflatable paddleboards, commonly made from drop-stitch PVC material, may experience changes in rigidity in cold water. The air inside the board can contract, potentially leading to a slightly softer feel.
Impact on Gear:
Various components of the paddleboarding gear, including the leash, fin attachments, and deck pad adhesives, may be influenced by cold water. It's essential to ensure that all gear is designed to withstand cold conditions and remains in good condition.
Weather and water conditions can change rapidly in colder climates. Paddleboarders should be mindful of ice formation, strong winds, and other factors that can impact the overall paddling experience.
All in all the cold doesn’t have to stop you from getting out on the water in the winter, as long as you’re prepared with the right gear and mindset you can still go out and have an enjoyable time.