This week in Sydney we copped a concerted southerly weather system, which seems to have ended the quite extraordinary run of unseasonably warm weather we have enjoyed throughout Autumn & early Winter.
On cue, we've had a lot of enquiries about suitable paddling gear for the colder months. We stock a range of paddle-specific clothing designed to keep out the cold in varying degrees and ways, and it can be a bit confusing getting the mix right for your own particular paddling.
I break my own paddling into two distinct sub groups when deciding what is the best gear for me.
The first is my fitness paddling, or my days on the open sea with a small group of mates, where each of us is out to make ground and work hard.
On these days, despite the cold air temps, my biggest problem with cold weather gear is actually overheating. I tend to layer up with a skin tight Merino layer under an NRS Hydroskin or Disco Shirt, with a throw over jacket like the NRS Endurance handy in case there is an extended stop or unexpected landing. The sub-group of this category is my ski paddling, where Reed or Hydroskin Long pants provide a thermal barrier to wind & the elements, and pairing them with the excellent SealSkinz Socks adds some dry, warm luxury to the experience! I actually find my legs cop the brunt of the cold when I'm paddling my ski, especially with the lower half often wet from waves washing over the gunwale.
SealSkinz Socks, NRS Hydroskin Pants, Reed Pre Bent Long Pants
The reason I go with the Hydroskin is that it provides a degree of wind protection as long as I'm working, without having a thermal effect. I reserve the barrier qualities of the Disco shirt for filthy days where I know I'm going to be very wet, or when I'm going for a surf. I'm yet to see a non-barrier garment that stops wind, but the Disco shirt is the closest I've come across, with the only points of ingress being the arm gussets, kept supple to prevent chafing.
This clothing is fantastic in a performance context, but especially in the case of the Hydroskin, not so great at stopping the wind dead.
So, for my second broad category of paddling, open peer groups, club paddles or instruction days, I tend to skew my clothing towards the wind barrier end of the spectrum. Our Reed gear from the UK is the best paddle kit I've ever come across for stopping the chilling effects of wind. Most days around Sydney, something as simple as a Reed Long Sleeved Shirt with a thermal or Merino layer underneath will do the trick. On the bad days, or occasions when you're going to do a lot of sitting still (rock gardening, group instruction days etc), the Reed Touring Cag is positively bombproof.
Crappy day….Reed Cag..!
Our NRS Stampede Cag is another excellent piece of kit, drier than the Reed and made from a lighter fabric, which give it a few more, warmer months of use in our climate.
I think it's important to have a think about how you go in the cold before you commit to expensive cold weather kit. Consider how you paddle (cruising, busting it, or like me a mix), how often you actually feel the chill when you're out on the water and where (hands, feet, torso etc), and then of course the consequences of a long swim anytime around now in what you'd normally be wearing. And that should be a very serious little moment of reflection….
My best indicator that I've got my dress wrong is when I'm shivering as I tie on my boat at the end of the paddle. I figure shivering is a pretty bad indicator of the lack of a safe margin against the dangers of cold water & wind.
The garments mentioned throughout this article are all available through our ONLINE STORE. We've flogged them, busted them used & abused them in all manner of awful ways, and we stand behind them in the toughest environment of all. Please contact us if you're after pointed advice.