Coming Up: Cold-Weather Canoeing

October 29, 2017

Joe Writes . . . 

(Post-publication note: lots of great ideas being received from knowledgeable friends, will update this post with those suggestions soon. Many thanks and keep ’em coming.)

We are considering a cold-weather outing in November, perhaps from Grand Ledge downstream towards Portland over Thanksgiving weekend. I’ve been doing some brainstorming on what we need to do or bring in order to be safe and have come up with the following, some of which is original and some borrowed from various articles found while searching the www.


The Grand last year in December; we don’t expect ice at Thanksgiving.

I am no expert in cold-weather canoeing; truth be told, if we undertake this Thanksgiving journey it will be my first cold-weather outing.  What would you add to this list? Some of this advice applies regardless of temperatures, but becomes more important in winter because the river just might kill you if you’re not prepared.

Bring . . .

An extra paddle. If you lose a paddle you don’t want to go wading after it in cold water.

A lifejacket. Wear it. Warm water sometimes – but not always – leaves room to make up for accidents and vanity; cold water does not.

A fully-charged battery for your phone.

A new, secure plastic bag – double Zip-Loc, whatever – for your phone. A good argument can be made that your phone is the most important life-saving item you will carry on your trip, but your phone is no more significant than a fart in a windstorm if it doesn’t work.

(True story: my brother accidentally dropped a plastic bag containing his phone into the millpond at the headwaters of the Grand River. He poked around in the muck and the milfoil to no avail; it was gone. We left to retrieve a vehicle and came back after 30 minutes. The water had cleared a bit so he asked me to call his phone, which I did. Damned if we didn’t see a light begin to flash under water! He got down on the concrete and reached an arm into the water to retrieve his phone, which was dry as a bone inside the plastic bag.)

gr tom searching 4 wallet july 24

. . . and the phone still worked!

A cushion to sit on. Get your buns off the cold seat. Don’t use a towel, use something that won’t absorb water and make matters worse. A towel inside of a garbage bag might work.

A basic first aid kit. The river can be a lonely place during the bright days of midsummer; it’s likely to be desolate in cold weather. You should plan on treating all injuries until you get back to civilization.

Extra clothes and a towel in a water-proof bag. Socks, underwear, pants and a top. If necessary use a second water-proof bag for back-up outer wear, shoes and an emergency blanket.

A plastic bailer of some sort. I used to tell my kids that nothing good happened after midnight, and I’m telling you now that nothing good comes of water in the bottom of a canoe during winter.

Plastic bags for your feet. Maybe you’ve got high-tech, water-proof footwear and, if so, that’s great. If not, something as simple as plastic bread bags – two for each foot, worn over your shoes and secured loosely around your calf with a Velcro strap – can keep your feet dry. Try to keep your feet dry from the get-go but bring extra socks, shoes and plastic bags in case of the unexpected.

Two types of hats, one with ear flaps and one without. Both should be water-resistant. My brother would recommend that you wear a hat which protects your neck.

Lightweight rain gear. The only thing worse than being cold is being wet and cold.

Water for drinking. It may be cold outside but you will likely get just as hot and thirsty as you would on the 4th of July. Drink water on a regular basis throughout your trip, and have extra water available just in case.

This entry was posted in Environment, Michigan, rivers, Uncategorized, Winter and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Coming Up: Cold-Weather Canoeing

  1. Spray skirt for the kayak or canoe. It cuts the wind and water entering. The downside is the hassle to secure it or getting to gear in the hull while paddling.

  2. Amy Wiz says:

    And remember, cotton kills! Do not wear cotton clothing. If you do & you get wet, you will freeze.

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