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12 Golden Rules of Winter Kayaking you shouldn’t miss out on

At first glance, kayaking in winter seems unusual. The cold air and the even colder water will certainly deter many paddlers. However, with the right preparation and the right equipment nothing stands in the way of a winter tour.

The brave are rewarded with unique insights into beautiful winter landscapes. Snow covers the shores, single ice floes rise into the water and a penetrating silence lies over the lake. In winter, canoeists do not have to share their experiences with other water sports enthusiasts, because apart from individual winter paddlers, there is often no one else on the lakes and canals.

The overcoming of the inner pig dog is one thing. Being on the move with the right equipment is the other thing. Wetsuit to and from the lake? It is (unfortunately) not that easy.

Wearing the right clothes is the basic requirement for a winter kayak trip. The kayak equipment must be adapted to the cold temperatures, otherwise it becomes unpleasant and dangerous.

With this extensive “Kayak in Winter” guide we answer all open questions concerning this topic, so that you also have a great and safe trip. We intensively discuss the necessary equipment and some safety aspects.

Rule #1: Protective Headgear is a must

For kayaking tours in cool temperatures it is mandatory to wear a headgear. The body gives off a lot of heat over the head, so a hat is recommended.

For beginners, advanced paddlers and whitewater paddlers, wearing a kayak helmet is a must. Without a helmet, a collision with a rock can quickly become a life-threatening situation. The helmet provides additional warmth and at the same time protects you from the cold splash water.

The best caps are those that fit under a helmet and cover the ears (another neuralgic point). In our experience, fleece and neoprene caps are the best choice.

Rule #2: The right footwear

Flip-flops, sandals or bath slippers are not suitable shoes for canoeing even in summer. In summer temperatures this is largely unproblematic, but in winter wrong footwear can quickly become uncomfortable or in the worst case lead to frostbite.

So do yourself a favour and get yourself neoprene shoes or water sports shoes or put on at least thick wool or neoprene socks. Choose winter kayaking shoes that fit your thick socks.

Rule #3: Protect your hands

Cold hands are probably the fastest way to turn a leisurely tour into a miserable experience. Clinging to the paddle with half-frozen hands is no fun.

Without a thick pair of gloves nothing works. Thick padded gloves protect your fingers from freezing to death. The best gloves for winter kayaking are light, thin and comfortable. It’s best to use nylon or neoprene models. Some models are also equipped with a warming fleece lining.

Rule #4: Wear a lifejacket

Safety is the top priority when canoeing in winter. With our guides we want you to have fun on your trips and always be safe. For this reason, we advise all beginners, advanced paddlers, whitewater paddlers and all those who hang around in cold waters to wear a life jacket.

In ice-cold water it is already difficult to climb back into the kayak after you have capsized. A lifejacket will help you because it takes the panic out of the moment. The vests will keep you afloat. In an absolute emergency, such as a collision with a rock with subsequent fainting, the lifejacket turns your face up and holds it on the surface.

A rock and a mishap are not necessary. The cold water in the winter months quickly becomes a danger itself. If you fall into cold water, your pulse and blood pressure will rise immediately. The body reacts with uncontrolled movements and hectic breathing. For anyone who stays longer in the water, the blood vessels in the extremities constrict.

This is an emergency reaction of the body to maintain body temperature, but it also causes control and strength in the arms and legs to decrease. Swimming is becoming more and more difficult. In cold water, even experienced swimmers find it difficult to stay afloat for more than 30 minutes.

In dangerous situations, a lifejacket is a real lifesaver. For us, a lifejacket is simply part of it, after all, we don’t want to take any risks when kayaking and strongly recommend that you don’t do it either.

If you don’t want to listen to our advice, you should buy at least one buoyancy aid life jacket. These vests will help you stay on the surface. If the kayak has capsized, this is especially helpful because you can use more force to turn the kayak around and concentrate less on swimming.

Rule #5: Dress according to the onion principle

The cold is no problem with the right kayak clothes. We recommend dressing according to the tried and tested onion principle. Depending on the temperature, the number and thickness of the layers is determined.

The water temperature is more important than the air temperature. According to the motto “Dress for water, not for air”, clothing must be adapted to the water temperature.

The first layer that lies on the body should be made of a light, breathable material that also dries quickly. One or more warming layers (thermal underwear, fleece pullover, etc.) will keep your body warm on the kayak tour.

The top layer is waterproof clothing. A dry suit or dry trousers in combination with a waterproof jacket are recommended. In both variants, it is essential to ensure tight cuffs on the arms, neck and feet.

An alternative to a dry suit is to wear a neoprene suit. When choosing a wetsuit, make sure that you have enough freedom of movement in the arm and shoulder area to avoid obstructing your paddle stroke. A neoprene suit is worn without the upper body and you should not wear long underpants as this would impair the warming effect of the neoprene suit.

Rule #6: Sunglasses are cool (not only in summer)

Sunglasses don’t just look cool. On sunny days, the reflections of the sun’s rays from the surface of the water, as well as those from the white snowy landscape on the shore, can be very dazzling. It’s best to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. We recommend models that can be attached with a cord. These models get lost less quickly.

Rule #7: Bring warm food & drinks

If you travel by kayak in winter, you should always carry hot drinks such as tea or hot water in a thermo-bottle. In contrast to summer, many restaurants along lakes and canals are closed during the winter months. During a short break it is often not possible to find drinks or food.

That’s why you have to take care of your own food. A big thermo bottle with a hot drink and a box with warm soup are our favourites for winter canoe tours.

Rule #8: Nothing works without thorough planning

Paddle tours should always be planned in advance. In winter, however, much more careful planning is necessary to reduce the risk of such trips. Weather conditions can change quickly. Long term planning is usually not possible and not the best option.

The best thing to do is to plan your tour, the length and the course according to the current daily conditions. Wind direction, wind force, air and water temperature should be included in your planning.

We also advise against sailing in certain waters for the first time during a winter tour. If the outside temperature is cold, you should only navigate through lakes and canals that you know from tours during the summer months.

When planning your route, you should also refer to water maps, the App canua or information from the German Canoeing Association.

In winter, there are hardly any other water sports enthusiasts on the move, and there is usually a lack of walkers. As a rule, you hardly have anyone you can ask for directions. So it’s best to take your smartphone with you (protected in the waterproof mobile phone case) and print out your route on paper for your own safety.

Rule #9: Don’t paddle alone

For safety reasons it is dangerous to paddle alone at low temperatures. Find some experienced kayakers with whom you can experience this adventure together. Don’t let some members in the group push you too hard when planning your trip. The best way to do this is to align the route or the duration of the trip with the member who is least fit.

Rule #10: Keep an eye on the weather

Weather conditions can change unexpectedly quickly. Numerous apps provide up-to-date information about the weather. Apps that show the course of rain and thunderstorms are particularly helpful. This allows you to take a detailed look at the regions where you are planning your tour.

Rule #11: Don’t forget time

The onset of darkness comes earlier in the winter. Until the winter solstice on 21 December, the sun sets earlier every day. Include the time of sunset in your planning. After all, the temperature can drop quickly at night. Some waters also freeze partially or completely at night. Progress is then no longer possible.

 Rule #12: Abort the tour in case of danger

In some situations it is necessary to finish the tour. Winter floods can wash obstacles such as bushes, trees and branches into the water. In addition, currents can occur which make it very dangerous to drive through bridges.

A spontaneous change in the weather, or if you see that you can’t make it back to your starting point before sunset, are other reasons for stopping a tour.

This should be considered when planning your trip. It is best to set a route point near a town or (open) restaurant so that you can stop the tour at this point if necessary.


Real water rats can’t stop cold water. These sportsmen are also attracted to the sea and canals in winter. What to consider when preparing such a kayak trip, we have explained in detail in this winter kayak guide. You can see it this way: The wrong weather does not exist, only the wrong equipment.

With the right clothing and accessories you will stay warm, safe and enjoy your trip to the full. This way you won’t freeze and you won’t return from the tour with a cold.





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