Winter Clothing Choices
What to wear when it's cold?
The winter season can offer some fantastic fishing when the weather allows you to get on the water. Whilst we all hope for calm, settled and sunny days in the winter it rarely occurs. Even a still day in the winter can be bitterly cold and if the wind is blowing then things can get cold fast....but you can minimise the chilling effects of the winter weather if you are well equipped with the right clothing!
With the water temperature dropping it is very much a case of making sure you are dressed for the worst case scenario in the winter months.....that's falling in, or worse still falling in and becoming separated from your kayak. A water temperature between below 10 degrees celsius can be bitter against the skin and can zap the energy out of you really quickly. This can make things difficult when it comes to self rescue and you may only get a few chances before hypothermia sets in and makes your body incredibly weak. Minimising the chances of the water coming into contact with your skin is paramount. This is where a drysuit comes into play.
Whilst many of us use a two piece set up (dry trousers/bib and cag combo) in the Spring to Autumn months, or even a wetsuit, we can get away with it if we were to find ourselves taking a swim as the water is generally a bit warmer and the weather much milder. If you are planning on fishing into and through the colder Autumn-Spring months then a surface immersion drysuit coupled with thermals should be at the top of your shopping list.
Surface Immersion Drysuits
A surface immersion drysuit does what it says on the tin...it keeps you dry if you are immersed in water at the surface. Your hands and face which are exposed to the water will get wet but that is not a major concern. Hands can always be covered with gloves. Some drysuits may not have built-in socks so in some cases your feet may get wet too. The important factor is that your core body is prevented from coming into contact with the potentially icy cold water.
A surface immersion drysuit differs to that from a standard diving drysuit. A diving drysuit is designed to keep you dry when at depth at increased pressure conditions and will have different features to that of a surface drysuit. Primarily, they are not constructed of breathable material and are much heavier and cumbersome than a surface drysuit. These are not suitable for kayak fishing.... a breathable surface immersion drysuit is.
Whilst a surface drysuit will keep you dry should you take a swim, it won't necessarily keep you warm. It will in the sense that the water won't be coming into contact with your body beneath the suit and neither will the chilling effects of the wind reach your body, but in terms of actual thermal properties, a dry suit offers very little. This is why it is important to wear decent thermal base layers under your drysuit. This will be covered in a little more detail further on in this blog.
This year i will be using the Palm Bora Drysuit - a top quality breathable touring drysuit designed for paddling with all the features you would expect to find on a top spec drysuit. It has been designed by paddlers, for paddlers. This is important as many drysuits are not designed for the paddle sport world, but rather the sailing or boating world instead. That is not to say that a sailing or boating drysuit is not suitable for paddling in, they may just have some unnecessary features and may not be cut to fit comfortably when in the seated paddling position.
Lets take a closer look....
Palm Bora Drysuit - Initial Overview
The Palm Bora is full of features which make this a great drysuit for kayak fishing as well as touring and sea kayaking.
Fresh out of the box....
The Bora visually looks to be a cag/trouser two piece combo but alas it is not! High-vis yellow on top (good for visibility on the water during the often grey winter weather) and jet grey for the bottom half (good for not showing up fish blood and guts!). The suit is constructed from Palm's breathable and super durable XP-4 layer fabric. If you want to get all techy then here is a little explanation on how the XP-4 layer fabric works to keep the suit breathable....
That's the techy bit over.... so what does that all mean? It means that you can paddle and build up a sweat with the suit allowing the moisture (water vapour) given off by your body to pass through the suit to the surrounding air, but at the same time not allowing water back in. You stay dry and you don't become a sweaty mess inside your drysuit!
Beware of non-breathable drysuits.....whilst they are cheap and will certainly be better than no dry suit in the colder months, it really is worth getting a decent quality breathable drysuit to start with.....buy cheap, buy twice.
So the Bora is made of some clever breathable and durable material. 4-layer 320D reinforced panels can also be found at the usual high wear areas such as the knees, elbows, seat and socks. A quality build that looks to be up to the task of taking on several years of kayak fishing abuse!
Lets start with the top half...
The neck opening on the storm collar features an offset Aquaseal zip so that you don't have to deal with a zip scratching your lip or chin when the zipper is done up. Laser cut breather holes are located at the front of the storm collar.
Opening the zipper reveals the fleece-lining of the storm collar along with the Glideskin neck seal - it's super stretchy and soft which will help with comfort when wearing for long periods of time on the water.
In warm weather the storm collar opening can be left open for ventilation and a small button features to pin the open collar back if required.
At the rear of the storm collar there is a velcro-close flap which houses the rollaway storm hood. It is pretty easy to open whilst wearing the suit and will come in handy for when the conditions really turn, or when the rain comes.
The hood features a stiff peak which helps the hood to stay open and acts as a small sun visor. The hood front can be reduced in size by pulling the front elastic toggles and pressing small push buttons located just inside the hood. This helps the hood to grip your forehead to prevent it blowing down in a strong wind. The hood is helmet compatible for sea kayakers who may need to wear one.
The whole hood is volume adjustable by pulling the elastic toggle at the rear of the hood, which is housed under a small flap. This allows you to get a good fit and prevent the feeling of lots of airy space inside the hood. Laser cut breather holes can also be found underneath another flap on the hood.
The top features front fleece-lined pockets with Aquaseal zippers.
The sleeves are cut to provide the best fit when the arms are bent in the paddling position. The sleeves also feature reflective piping and details and velcro adjustable cuffs.
Latex seals features at the wrist to provide a waterproof seal. These are stitched and glued into the suit. The cuff section that would be exposed against your hand whilst paddling is lined in a silky feel material which will help cut down on chaffing.
A neoprene waist band can be found on the cag section, this is great for getting a nice snug fit against the body. For the sea kayakers the cag section has a large overlap to where it meets the trouser section underneath - this allows a spraydeck to sit underneath the cag section.
Again quality finishing on the dry suit construction. Fabric seams are stitched, glued and taped for a strong and waterproof construction.
Hang on.... how do you get into this thing? The Bora is a rear entry drysuit with a Flexible TiZip MasterSeal Zipper at the shoulder. This is a low maintenance zip constructed from a flexible plastic. This has a completely different feel to the rigid brass BDM shoulder zips found on several other drysuits. In fact, you hardly notice its there.
The suit is supplied with some TiZip Lube to keep the zip in good condition. A drop after every trip or two will keep it running smoothly. It is fairly easy to zip up and unzip whilst wearing the suit once you have the knack of it. The zip runs much more effortlessly than a brass zip, which are a nightmare to undo yourself!
Inside the suit we find an inner neoprene waist band. This waist band helps to keep the trouser section up and prevents sagging of the whole suit when standing up. It works really well and does away with the need for any braces.
This takes us onto the main trouser section. We find a relief zip with Flexible TiZip MasterSeal - handy for when natures calls! This is also a handy feature for venting the suit - by this i mean expelling of excess air within the suit before you go paddling. You get rid of the 'Michelin Man' feel by simply opening the relief zip a couple of inches, crouching down and squeezing the suit in against your body and then closing the zipper back up before standing up. You are now vacuum packed into a better fitting suit!
Down to the feet.... we have an adjustable ankle cuff made from reinforced material - this is a high wear area that will be brushing against your footwear and potentially the ground and your kayak on a regular basis. The extra reinforcement here is a nice touch.
The Bora has built-in fabric socks XP 4-layer material with Nylon 320D soles. Built-in socks are great. They keep your feet dry and this allows you to wear a pair (or several pairs) of thermal socks beneath these to keep your feet warm. Cold feet are a real session spoiler so keeping them warm is a priority.
As with all fabric socks, they are not designed to be worn without protective footwear. If not protected they will soon get holed or wear through. I'll be wearing my Palm Descender Boots over mine.
Lets try it on...
I'm 6ft 2in and built like a stick but fit comfortably in the Medium size. I'd maybe be a large for best fit height-wise but i really do need the medium to prevent too much excess fabric around the body.
My Palm Kaikoura PFD sits well over the top and you can even still access the front pockets on the Bora.
Well thats the dry part sorted. The Bora looks to be up to the task of taking on some seriously adverse conditions and plenty of kayak fishing abuse. A quality suit fit for kayak fishing that will hopefully last many seasons. There is very little bad to say about it at this stage, perhaps it would have been nice to see Glideskin neoprene wrist seals to go along with the neck seal, but thats not a big issue.
Time will tell how this suits performs but initial impressions are great!
Thermal Base Layers
As previously mentioned, a dry suit will do the job of keeping you dry but not necessarily warm. Without any insulating thermal base layers to trap warm air around you body, any heat will quickly dissipate leaving you feeling cold.
The best way to stay warm is to use layers of thermals. This allows for flexibility - put more layers on when its colder, and less layers on when its warmer. When choosing a set of paddling thermals there are a number of characteristics you want to look for. You want them to be lightweight and warm but at the same time you want them to be breathable and fast-wicking to move water vapour (sweaty air!) away from your body quickly.
Many people make the mistake of using standard cotton-based thermals - great for under a pair of jeans or trousers but in the often humid environment of a drysuit these will hold water against the skin. This water will cool down leaving you feel very cold. Good thermals aren't cheap but they may well save you having to cut a session short because you are shivering....can we put a price on that?
I'll be using a Palm Tsangpo Zipped Top, Seti Pants and Tsangpo Socks as my main thermals layers. A good quality Thinsulate hat will also be worn when it is particularly cold to prevent heat loss from the top of my head.
Lets take a closer look at the Tsangpo Top...
The Tsangpo is made from a super soft and stretchy Pontetorto Italian fleece. The inner fluffy fleece has a micro waffle texture - this provides lots of air channels to allow for plenty of ventilation. The material is also treated with Polygiene odour control. This is a permanent fabric treatment which prevents growth of the bacteria responsible for the unpleasant damp gear smell.
There is a dropped rear hem to help keep your lower back covered when in the seated position.
The Tsangpo has a half length front zip and a front zipped pocket.
The sleeve cuffs also feature thumb loops. There are no under arm seams to help prevent chaffing. All other seams are flat lock stitched for a neat finish.
I really do love this thermal. It is the warmest and lightest thermal i have ever worn. The large size weighs in at just 300 grams! This really is a top bit of kit and would make a great thermal for other outdoor activities beside paddle sports. Palm also make a Tsangpo Full Suit which would make a super all-in-one thermal for underneath a drysuit....i may have to end up getting one myself!
It's a shame that Palm don't also produce Tsangpo Thermal Pants (perhaps they are in the pipeline?) but they do produce Seti Thermal Pants which are the next best thing! I have now been using these for nearly 9 months both on the water and as an everyday thermal off the water (even as i am typing this). They are great!
The Seti Pants are made from waffle fleece which provides excellent thermal properties whilst remaining breathable to wick moisture away from the body. The lined waist hem grips the body well and doesn't itch after long periods.
I have used these thermals beneath my Atom Bib from Spring up to now, on all sessions except in really hot weather (a rarity in the UK!) and they have performed well. In the bitter cold of mid-winter i would expect another thermal layer would be needed over the top of these to provide adequate warmth. As a cool weather thermal pant these get the big thumbs up from me.
Cold feet. They can ruin a session.
Once the cold has set in there is no shifting the often painful experience. Keeping my feet warm is a priority. The built-in fabric socks of my Atom Bib and Bora Drysuit mean that i can wear thick thermal socks beneath these to keep my feet warm. Over the top of thick socks i also wear a pair of Tsangpo Thermal Socks.
These are made from the same warm and stretchy Pontetorto fleece‚ with Polygiene odor control treatment that the Tsangpo top is made from. They have a 3D design to fit the shape of your foot comfortably. They do the job admirably.
These thermal layers in combination with the Bora drysuit will see me comfortably paddling throughout the winter months when the weather allows. Staying warm on the water will allow for both short and long sessions to be endured more comfortably. There is nothing worse than having to cut a session short because you are being let down by inadequate gear to keep you comfortable on the water in the conditions you are out in. I can be confident that i will be best equipped for what the UK winter will throw my way!
On the Water
I took the Bora drysuit and thermals out during a session recently (November 14th). Conditions were less than ideal with decent swell (5ft+), a brisk onshore wind increasing throughout the day, and a big flooding spring tide thanks to the 'super-moon'. There was plenty of spray and plenty of water coming over the bow as i paddled the RTM Rytmo through the choppy conditions.
The Bora performed well and i stayed completely dry - this was properly tested by jumping in! It was comfortable whilst paddling with no restrictive areas in the suit. The hood came in handy and was easy to unroll on the water. The little tie-back button on the storm collar opening is great for paddling with the collar down as it stops it flapping in your face. The whole suit just feels great and you can tell it has been built for paddling in. The thermals did their job too, even when i was flailing about in the water!
I got it slimed up with a few fish too!
I can now look forward to other winter sessions knowing that i will be well prepared for the cold and rough stuff with the Bora.
How much and where to buy?
Quality kit is not cheap but quality kit tends to have a much longer lifespan than cheaper alternatives. A good quality drysuit will cost you £400+, with the top spec premium drysuits often in excess of £550.
The Palm Bora Drysuit retails for £649.95. Offers can usually be found and Cornwall Canoes have them at a good price - click here for more info.
The Palm Tsangpo Zipped Top retails for £69.95, and the full suit retails for £99.95. The Palm Seti Pants retail for £39.95 and the Tsanpo Socks retail for £14.95. Again Cornwall Canoes stocks these thermals - see here.
Kit yourself out with decent winter wear and you will be happy paddling even when the weather is against you!
Very interesting and detailed review. This is a great blog Liam, please keep writing about this brilliant hobby :)
Cornish Kayak Angler
Your winter conditions (water <10'C) sounds like autumn and spring in Finland. I was kayak fishing 2 weeks ago when water temp was like 5'c but since then it has been quite cold and it's getting difficult to fishing places that aren't frozen yet.
Cornish Kayak Angler
Cornish Kayak Angler
Thank you for your reassuring feedback! Have you tested it regularly in with swimming too? No leaking? Zippers don´t crack or leak? :)
Just interested in your sock thermals. Are the tsangpo thermal socks intended to be worn over normal socks, or could you wear them with no other socks underneath?
Thanks Liam! Bit concerned about wearing too many socks as I have the socks on my feet, then dry suit socks and finally neoprene booties (I'm a kitesurfer!). Think I'll give the tsangpo ones a try. Thanks for replying!
Hi, great review, I am 6.1 and I am considering this drysuit. Did you find it restrictive when leaning forward? Did it pull the back panel tight? Many thanks
I find the Medium a good fit, despite being 6ft 2in and taller than the recommendation from Palm for this size. I don’t find it restrictive at all or tight when leaning. It is a really great suit and has served me well.
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