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It’s Time for Cold Weather Layering

By Amanda Major

Hello Autumn! 

With temperatures cooling down, your kit starts to shift from those delightful thin layers for sun protection to more insulation and shells. The layers keep adding up until that day where you are putting your PFD and spray skirt on over your drysuit, and you finally feel like a proper sausage human New England paddler. Even though most of us prefer that summer sun paddling weather, most will do whatever keeps us outside on these beautiful rivers.

In order to stay cozy and continue paddling when those temps start to drop, we’ve expertly compiled a list of must haves for your Fall and Winter layering needs. Take what you need and leave the rest. 

Layering Basics

When creating the coziest option for cold water success, the optimal layering system will have three layers–a base layer, a thermal layer, and a shell. Basically, you want to dress like an onion.

Base Layer:

Base layers should be moisture wicking and quick drying. Synthetic materials are great. Merino wool is another excellent option. Here are a few of our recommendations for active tops and bottoms

Pro Tip: Stay away from cotton when you are trying to stay warm. For the outdoor gear and science nerds, here is more information about why cotton is rotten in a cold and wet environment.

Thermal Layer:

The thermal layer is key for maintaining your body heat by trapping warm air close to your body and providing insulation. Fleece is an excellent option for thermal protection. Fleece comes in different thicknesses or weights, and it will still keep you warm if you get wet. Another option for your thermal layer is neoprene, depending on what your shell layer looks like. More info on neoprene’s cold weather magic can be found here.  Check out these NRS Farmer John Wetsuits

  • Fun Fact: Fleece can be worn under wetsuits and will still keep you warm while wet. Neoprene has small bubbles of air trapped in the material that heat up and keep you warm!

Shell Layer:

Your shell layer holds all that wonderful warmth in and protects you from the wind and water. Shells should have some breathability (GORETEX fabrics) so that moisture can wick off your skin and evaporate out of your layering system. Paddling jackets and pants are great for cooler conditions, but when it starts getting cold you’ll want to stay dry with one of these:

Kokatat OM Gore-tex Pro Drytop

Level Six Freya Women’s Drysuit

Kokatat Icon Gore-tex Men’s Drysuit

Here are some examples of what to wear for cold weather paddling depending on your gear closet (drysuit vs wetsuit):


-Base Layer

-Thermal Fleece

-Insulating Wetsuit

-Drytop/Splash Top


-Base Layer

-Thermal Fleece

-Drytop/Splash Top

Important Cold Weather Extras:




  • skull cap, fleece hat, turtle fur
  • ear pads
  • ear plugs to prevent surfer’s ear
  • Sunscreen/ visor

*Safety Kit:

  • thermal emergency blanket
  • Warm drink in thermos
  • Snacks
  • Hand warmers

Bigger boat

  • To fit all your extra gear and snacks of course!


Happy paddling and stay safe and warm out there!


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