The winter solstice dawns, Botany BayYesterday marked the astrological turning point for Sydney's year, from now on the days get longer & winter should theoretically have thrown it's worst at us. The reality is that July around these parts is the coldest month, and the water temps hit rock bottom (13-14C) about now & carry through being cold until late September, sometimes longer (readers from less temperate zones please fell free to throw stuff at the computer at this point)….
I get lots of questions from paddlers about how best to beat the cold, and the answer isn't a simple one. Unfortunatley, how you dress for winter paddling comes down to a few factors, essentially revolving around the sort of paddling you do.
On my ski I am out for an hour tops, usually early morning, going hard and operating at a high metabolic rate. I need cold weather gear that limits my exposure to immersion, but doesn't allow me to overheat. I've devised a pretty good set of kit to facilitate these fairly specific requirements. On top I wear an NRS Hydroskin Paddle Jacket, with a skin tight merino T underneath.
NRS Hydroskin Paddle JacketThis is a flush garment, it moves with me creating no rub or chafe spots, & while it's not a wind barrier as such the combination of double laminate Hydroskin & the merino under layer means I seem to warm up to exercise level in cold temps, and don't overheat.
NRS Boundary Waterproof SocksDown below I wear a pair of NRS Kicker Remix Drypants, combined with NRS Boundary Waterproof Socks.
NRS Kicker Remix DrypantsThese two garments in concert are dry, which is almost an obscene luxury on a ski where I tend to get very cold feet and legs with water constantly splashing into the footwell and the wind doing it's nasty work.
Early morning ski training paddle, Dolls Pt, Sydney.
On my sea kayak, I paddle in groups, tend to paddle 'wet' in rough water with plenty of immersion & do a lot of stopping, waiting, and in winter that means prolonged exposure to wet combined with chilling winds. What I wear on my legs is far less important as I have the protection of a decked cockpit, so I gravitate between Reed Long Sleeve pants for their complete barrier protection, and NRS Hydrosilk Long Pants for their compression. Up top I wear the same tight merino t-shirt, and a Reed cag, although if I had an unlimited budget I'd also like to have an NRS Stampede Cag as it's lighter & probably more suited to the less harsh months of the Sydney winter.
It's worth considering what you wear in the colder months, and how it relates to what you do. My rule of thumb about dressing right is simple. If you get cold on the water you've under dressed. If you get cold within minutes of getting off the water you've also probably under dressed, shivering while you're strapping the boat on the roof is not a good sign.
Dressing for the swim is a perfect ideal, but there are ways to mitigate the water temps without blowing a gasket once you start exerting yourself.
It goes without saying, when you're paddling solo or in water rough enough to make assistance from group members either dangerous or unlikely, you should err on the side of safety & dress strictly for the swim.