What to Consider When Winter Paddle Boarding | Maddle

Canadians never let winter stop us from having fun! From snowboarding to cross-country skiing to tobogganing, we embrace winter with adventurous arms—and paddle boarding is an activity that is no exception.  Paddle boarding doesn't need to end when summer is over. It’s entirely possible to paddle board during the winter months (and it has its perks).

That’s why we’ve put together this complete guide on how to paddle board in the winter including how to prepare, how to stay safe, where to paddle, and more.

Here we go snow!

Can you go paddle boarding in the winter? 

Yes! You can absolutely go paddle boarding in the winter; you just have to take the right precautions to stay safe. For example, you can ocean paddle wearing a wetsuit or drysuit or paddle on a calm lake or river wearing warm clothes and packing the right emergency supplies with you (like a life jacket, dry bag with a change of clothes, whistle, etc.).

Pros of winter paddling

  • Fewer people and boats on the water

  • Stunning scenery and beautiful landscapes

  • The fresh air is invigorating

  • You can be active year-round

Winter paddle boarding offers a unique paddling experience because you and your friend (or group) are often the only people on the water. It can be an incredibly peaceful and calming experience with unique landscapes that you’d never be able to witness during the warmer months. Paddling in the crisp cool air can invigorate your senses, make you feel more alert during the day, and can even lead to a deep sleep that night.

Cons of winter paddling

Cold weather paddle boarding means that you need to wear more layers and bring more supplies. The time available to you during the day is limited due to fewer hours of daylight. And, like all cold water, there’s a risk of cold water shock, hypothermia, and even death. When the human body has a sudden and unexpected immersion in water that’s 15 degrees celsius or less it can cause muscle spasms, hyperventilation, increased pulse, increased blood pressure, and cardiac arrest. People will often gasp involuntarily due to the shock of the water which can lead them to swallow water and drown in worse-case scenarios.

How do you paddle board in cold water?

To paddle board in cold water, you need to be prepared, be more risk-averse, and plan accordingly. This means checking the forecast, dressing accordingly, packing the right supplies, and paddling in the daylight (to name a few key steps). We’ve included a full guide below on how to paddle board in cold water.

1. Check the forecast

Before you grab your toque and paddle board, be sure to check the weather forecast! The forecast might say -5 degrees celsius but what’s the temperature with the wind chill? Be sure to take that into account when planning your winter paddles. Wind chill on the water can be even colder than forecast, as the wind picks up the cold air sitting on top and can blow stronger than onshore. 

The wind report should also play a role in choosing your paddle location. Whether you plan to paddle on a lake, river, or ocean, the best place for winter paddling is on a body of water that is flat and calm.

2. Leave a trip plan

This should be done for any outdoor adventure but it’s especially important when cold weather paddle boarding. To leave a trip plan, let someone know where you’re going, who you’re going with, and what time you’ll be done. This person needs to be someone who isn’t on the outing with you and be sure to notify them when you said you’d be done, otherwise, they might send out a search party for you. Leaving a trip plan is one of the best things you can do to increase your chances of survival should something go wrong on the water.

3. Dress accordingly

When deciding what to wear for your winter paddle, you really have two options:

  1. Warm clothing

  2. Wetsuit or drysuit

Warm clothing

You should wear warm clothes if you’re unlikely to fall into the water (e.g. if you’re paddling on calm, flat water). This is what we’d wear in this situation:

  • Toque, earmuffs, headband, or baseball cap

  • Sunglasses (if sunny)

  • Buff or scarf

  • Moisture-wicking base layer

  • Fleece sweater

  • Waterproof or windproof jacket

  • Waterproof gloves (but bring winter gloves for extra insulation if needed)

  • Waterproof pants

  • Wetsuit boots

  • Waterproof socks (depending on the temperature)

Wetsuit or drysuit

You should wear a wetsuit or a drysuit if you’re more likely to fall into the water (e.g. if you’re ocean paddling). This is what we’d wear in this situation:

  • Wetsuit cap/hood

  • Thermal base layers

  • Fleece sweater

  • 5/4 neoprene wetsuit or drysuit (depending on how cold it is)

  • Neoprene boots

  • Wetsuit gloves

4. Pack emergency supplies

For cold-weather paddling, emergency supplies are a must. We recommend bringing the following safety equipment with you:

  • Extra clothing (toque, base layer, sweater, jacket, pants, gloves, etc.)

  • Towel

  • Dry bag

  • Leash

  • Life jacket or PFD belt

  • Whistle

  • Headlamp

  • Heat-reflective emergency blanket (you can get these for around $10 on Amazon)

  • Waterproof phone pouch

  • Patch kit

Store the extra clothes, towel, headlamp, and heat-reflecting blanket in your dry bag. If you fall in, you’ll need to get into dry clothing immediately. Staying dry is one of the best ways to avoid hypothermia. 

In addition to packing the leash, you’ll want to be sure to wear it while you’re winter paddle boarding. This ensures that you have an exit out of the water right away should you fall in. The same goes for your life jacket. If you fall into the cold water unexpectedly, it’ll be a shock to your system and swimming will become difficult (if not impossible). A lifejacket could save your life in this situation and increase your chances of survival.

A headlamp is a smart thing to bring on the off chance that you end up on the water after dark. Given that the daylight is much shorter during the winter months, you want to cover all your bases and be prepared for anything.

5. Leave early

This goes for both the beginning and end of your adventure. There are fewer daylight hours in the winter months so you’ll want to leave for your paddle earlier in the day and plan to be off the water well before dark. If you decide to go for a winter paddle at two in the afternoon, you’re probably not giving yourself enough time to enjoy the experience and be safe. Give yourself plenty of time and don’t rush this type of outing. 

6. Paddle with a buddy

Never go winter paddle boarding alone. You should always paddle board with a buddy (or in a group) in the winter season. This is incredibly important for everyone’s safety and each paddler should be equipped with the same safety supplies to ensure that the time on the water is safe, successful, and fun.

7. Leave your car keys in a safe place

Losing your keys to a cold body of water on a cold day is no fun, but it also puts you at a huge risk. Without the keys to get back into your vehicle, you may end up stranded in the cold much longer than you anticipated. This is even more important if you happen to fall into the cold water and need to get to a warm place as quickly as possible. We recommend putting your keys inside your dry bag (in a secure place so they don’t fall out when you take other items out of the bag) or in a safe location on dry land near your vehicle. 

8. Stay away from ice

No ice ice baby for you winter paddlers! This applies while you’re approaching water, while you’re on the water, and while you’re getting off the water. Never walk on ice to get to the water or to get to land from the water. Regardless of how thick it may seem, you run the risk of falling into frigid waters if the ice breaks underneath you. Ice can also damage your board if you scrape it while carrying it or run into it while paddling.

9. Don’t paddle far from shore

The farther you paddle from shore, the colder you could expose yourself to if you fall in, if your gear fails, or if the weather changes quickly. Wind direction can change in a heartbeat which can make getting back to land incredibly difficult. Stay on the safe side and stay close enough to land that you could get to it quickly in an emergency situation.

10. Stock your vehicle with the essentials

Your vehicle should be a safe haven stocked with warm goodies. One of our favorite things to do when we get back to the car after a winter paddle is crank the heat, throw on some thick wool socks, and enjoy a warm beverage that’s waiting for us in the cup holder! Pack a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate in an insulated mug and sip on that as a quick way to warm up after you’ve come in from your paddle. You should also stock your vehicle with additional emergency gear like extra warm clothes, towels, thermal blankets, etc.

How cold is too cold for paddle boarding?

Determining how cold is too cold for paddle boarding depends on two things: air temperature and water temperature. If you’re wearing the proper gear, you can paddle board with the air temperature anywhere from around 10 degrees to -10 degrees celsius. As for the water temperature, remember that water 21 degrees celsius or lower can cause hypothermia, make it difficult to breathe, and runs the risk of immediate shock.

Note: If you inflate your paddle board to its ideal PSI indoors and bring it out into cold temperatures after, the air pressure inside the board will change, causing the PSI to decrease and the board to deflate slightly. Be prepared to manually add more air to your SUP using your hand pump just before you enter the water. As an added precaution, take the board out for a two-minute warm-up paddle. If the board feels deflated, return to shore and add more air until it’s back to its recommended PSI.

Try winter paddle boarding with Maddle

We love paddling all year round! The stability of Maddle’s inflatable paddle boards is perfect for winter paddle boarding when falling into the water is not welcome. Whether you’re winter paddling in Vancouver, Quebec, or anywhere in between, Maddle’s inflatable paddle boards are the perfect option for your winter wonderlandwater adventure!

Camille Brodeur

Driven by the intersection of lifestyle and fitness, Camille's mission is to inspire others to integrate elements of beauty and aesthetic into their outdoor activities. Her depth of experience in the paddle boarding world allows her to inform and motivate others to get out on the water in the safest and most fun ways possible. Whether it be through her work at Maddle or elsewhere, Camille continuously strives to expand the public consciousness surrounding SUPs.


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