Cold Water Safety

Safety Guides & Info

We are committed to year around paddling and want to ensure all of our friends have a safe and enjoyable experience through all seasons.

Download or print this handy Cold Water Survival guide from ACA - click here

Spring, Fall, and even some Winters in Idaho, are great times to paddle! But cold water temperatures can make paddling significantly more dangerous. Paddlers who are immersed in cold water lose body heat four to five times faster than when in air of the same temperature. Such rapid heat loss can lead to hypothermia, cold shock, and death.

The primary mechanism of heat loss in cold water is convection, where water constantly flowing over your skin carries heat away. Therefore, reducing the flow of cold water across the skin, by wearing appropriate clothing, reduces your risk.

For more information on preparing for cold-water paddling (including life-saving tips and recommended skills practice), come by the store and speak to one of our dedicated paddlers.

How Cold is Cold?

When do you need to wear your cold-water gear? We recommend the American Canoe Association's guidelines for cold-water paddling — always wear protective clothing when:

• Both the water temperature and the air temperature are below 60°F
• You will be more than 1/4 mile from shore and the water temperature is below 60°F
• You expect be repeatedly exposed to cool (65-70°F or less) water in cool or mild weather

However, the colder the water, the more dangerous immersion becomes, so be aware of this increased risk and dress accordingly. The following chart shows our minimum recommendations for paddling clothing. Choose more-protective clothing than what's indicated when the conditions are more challenging, you tend to get cold easily, or you expect to be immersed.

Layering for Paddlers

Generally, dressing for paddling is similar to any other outdoor activity: you want to wear layers that can be added and removed throughout the day to adjust your clothing to the changing outdoor temperature. Most importantly, all clothing you choose should retain very little water if it gets wet; otherwise you lose a tremendous amount of body heat warming the water in your clothes. For this reason, cotton clothes should be avoided at all costs.

The inner layer, or base layer, should consist of wicking synthetic fabrics like polypropylene. This layer should draw sweat and moisture away from your skin and allow it to evaporate quickly. A thin base layer is best, because a thick base layer will prevent you from adjusting to warmer temperatures. Even your underwear should be made of wicking fabric — it's much more comfortable!

An excellent example of a wicking base layer is Hydrosilk paddlewear by NRS. HydroSilk is a nylon/spandex blend that keeps you dry and cool when it's warm, and warm when it's cool. Another is Capilene from Patagonia. We have a wide variety of layers to choose from in-stock.

The second layer is for insulation, so it can consist of fleece, wool, or other insulating, non-absorbing materials. Again, one or two thin layers is ideal (unless it is very cold), because then you can more easily adjust to a variety of conditions.

The outer layer is for protection from the elements. Here you will choose a paddling jacket, drysuit, or whatever you need to avoid the rain, sun, wind, spray, surf, and anything else that comes your way.

Wetsuits & Neoprene Paddle & Surf Wear

A wetsuit is a neoprene garment that traps a thin layer of water between itself and your skin and reduces the circulation of this water. Because this water layer must necessarily be thin, a wetsuit must fit snugly to properly protect you during immersion, and the paddler should not wear any clothes underneath the suit.