Friday, July 19, 2013

Layered Clothing Is Best For Canoeing

Back in the 1950s -- when I first began canoeing -- blue jeans, a tee shirt, and tennis shoes were my standard attire for all outdoor activities.  Since then I've learned -- the hard way -- there are better clothing options for outdoor activities.  I'm about to take my grandsons on their first canoe adventure, and I want them to be safe and protected from all things that can hurt them, so here's my clothing advice for them.

Sun, wind, rainy weather, and cold water can make you uncomfortable and may even be dangerous when things go wrong.

Most of my canoe trips are during the summer when the days are warm -- usually with temperatures that range from a low of 35˚ (early mornings) to a high of 85˚ degrees -- and I rarely canoe in water colder than 50˚ degrees.  

If you plan to canoe in colder weather and cold water (below 50˚) you should consider wet or dry suit options for better thermal protection.

Over the years I've discovered you are more comfortable canoeing when you dress in layers that can be added or removed as weather conditions change during the day.

Moisture Management Layer 

My first layer of clothing -- closest to my skin -- consists of a pair of nylon briefs, a long sleeve polypropylene tee shirt, and lightweight merino wool socks.  These are wicking fabrics designed to draw moisture away from my skin.  Cotton is a poor choice because it is very absorbent and too slow to dry, and can lead to hypothermia in cold conditions.

Insulation Layer

My next layer of clothing consists of wool whipcord pants, a nylon or wool shirt, a web belt, and pack boots or quick drying water shoes.  Wool is a great natural insulator, even when wet.  However, it's slow to dry and can be heavy when wet.  I've found that thinner whipcord pants are ideal even on fairly warm days, but if I think it's going to be warmer than mid 70s I often wear nylon pants.  Nylon is quick drying and offers some protection in windy conditions. 

My final insulation layer is a synthetic fleece jacket.  It stays warm even when wet and is lighter weight than a wool jacket.  Finally, always wear a PFD (personal flotation device).

Rain and Wind Protection Layer

On all paddling trips I carry a light gore-tex®‎ paddle jacket and a pair of gore-tex rain pants in my essentials bag (photo above).  They repel wind and light rain while providing excellent breathability.  When on longer wilderness trips I also carry a gore-tex®‎ mountain parka with a polar fleece lining.


Head Protection -- a good wide brim cowboy hat provides fair protection from both sun and rain.  It also helps keep my head warm on colder mornings.  In a pinch -- I've even baled a swamped canoe with mine.

Hand Protection -- I usually don't like to wear gloves for paddling and rely on a little sunscreen during the day and hand lotion at night.  However, I do carry a pair of polypropylene gloves for those frosty early mornings.  If you are prone to blisters you may want to buy a pair of NRS paddler's gloves.

Footwear -- Keeping your feet warm and dry is next to impossible on paddling trips (you will get wet during canoe entries and exits).  I like water shoes when I'm only going to be out for a few hours and don't have to do a lot of walking.  Hiking or portaging in wet, soggy shoes can lead to blisters, twisted ankles and falls, so I always pack an extra pair of comfortable lightweight boots (and socks) for onshore activities. 

Sunglasses -- I wear floating, polarized sunglasses on lanyard.

For more canoe adventure stories and other helpful suggestions see:

When you're 50 miles from the nearest outpost and it's raining you'll be glad you have the correct layered clothing.

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