Keeping Warm, Pt. 7: Hats

So many hats… so much hat-head. Here’s a run-down on the hats that are out there and why you might choose one over the other. Plus, a short note on hair management.

The Classic Baseball Hat

It’s a winner. These hats are easily available and fairly cute. They seem to breed in the back of my car, but on the rare occasion that I can’t find one, they’re $3 at Walmart. Good for keeping the sun off your skin and out of your eyes, and okay for light rain protection.

The Foreign Legion Hat

sun_hatLike a baseball hat, but with light fabric hanging down to protect the neck and hair. I have two of these and I love them. They’re great for those hot, sunny days that reflect a lot of rays on the water. They’re not good for cooler rainy days, because they just get wet and stick to your neck in a clammy embrace. Brrr!

The Cowboy Hat

I love cowboy hats, and every time I’m in some rural convenience store and see a rack of cheap ones, I walk out the door with one on my head (yes, after paying for it). It soon ends up crushed under the mass of gear in the back of my kayak wagon because, even though they’re adorable and provide excellent sun protection, they’re not comfortable on the water. A little breeze grabs the brim and tugs it out of kilter or into the water. How did those cowboys do it? They must have glued them onto their heads.

Various Kayaker Hats

I lose hats, so I don’t buy the expensive kayak-specific types.

or_hatHowever, a lot of people like this Oregon Research style, and some of them even look good in it:

And, of course, there is the ever-popular Tilley hat. They float, they’re crushable, they have a lifetime guarantee, they’re suitable for exploring the Amazon, and they come with a 4-page instruction manual. I dotilley want to explore the Amazon, but I never want to own a hat that needs an instruction manual. Life is complicated enough. But here’s a picture of one, in case you do want a hat that requires an instruction manual.

Protecting your hair from the sun and general hat-head drama

Every woman knows to keep the sun off her face, but women with longer hair also need to protect their hair. Ponytails break the strands, so tying it into a pony and sticking on top of your head under your hat isn’t great for it, either. My hair management practice is to stick it onto the back of my head in a French twist and secure it with some big U-shaped pins. I use bent DPNs—double-pointed knitting needles. They’re less than $3 for a pack of 5, they come in colors, and I don’t care if I lose them. Then I jam a hat over the whole shebang.

For post-paddling, who knows what the hair situation will be? It might look okay or it might look like hell. So I carry a few Buff headbands in my car. A headband will hide a lot of hair horror.

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm, Pt. 6: Gloves

I’ve tried them all! So have many of you, based on the number of stray single gloves I see in the backs of your kayak wagons. However, I have found the answer, and today I’m going to share it with you.

I don’t like gloves; I find them uncomfortable. But I wear them all year round; in the winter, obviously, for warmth, and in the summer for sun and skin protection. However, I’ve found two products that work great for me, and I’m going to tell you why. I’m not particularly endorsing my choices (well, I am, but not for money—I haven’t gotten any free products to review,sadly), but maybe my explanation for why these things work will help you with your next purchase.

First, here’s what didn’t work for me.

Anything labeled KAYAKER GLOVES. Despite their gasp-inducing price tags, none of them kept me warm or allowed truly free use of my hands. I want to be able to feel the paddle, especially in surf when there’s a good chance I’ll be upside down and a little disoriented at some point. Why add any factor that can foster anxiety? The worst are those thick ones with the built-in curve to the fingers. You might as well be wearing a cast.

But for the usual paddle, it’s only warmth that matters, and none of the kayaker gloves kept my hands warm. In addition, they were generally uncomfortable. Lastly, they usually have neoprene in them, and those of you have been reading up till now know that I’m not a fan of neoprene. Particularly in gloves, because neoprene smells and I don’t want that on my hands. It’s just gross.

I do have one pair of kayaker-specific gloves that I wholly recommend. It is these:


I wear them all year, except when the water is really cold. I like them for sun protection and blister protection in the summer, and for a little warmth in mildly cold water. I have medium-sized hands and short fingers, and these fit me well. I suspect that a person with a differently-shaped hand might have problems with the edge of the half-fingers chafing or causing blisters, so a different brand or style might be better for someone else. However, the half-finger concept is great. I like that they give some protection without interfering with my ability to use my fingers.

In very cold weather, I’ve tried wearing dishwashing gloves over thin cloth gloves with my dry suit. What a terrible idea. The dish gloves did keep my hands dry, but they were extremely uncomfortable and, of course, they did nothing to help with warmth. Plus, ugly.

So what does work? I’m a huge fan of these gloves:

2014-12-29 12.35.35

Serius All-Weather Gloves, men’s. These are great. First of all, they’re warm. Second, they are surprisingly comfortable. Third, they have a little clip to keep them together, so it’s hard to lose them. I’m a chronic glove-loser, but I’ve had my Serius for about three years now. They’ve held up well; the Serius graphic is coming off and they’re getting a little worn around the seams, but they’re still perfectly functional. You may have noticed that I specified the men’s size; the men’s and women’s are the same glove, but I don’t know what women the women’s sizes are meant to fit. Pygmies, apparently. They are tiny. Tiny! I couldn’t even get the ladies’ small onto my hands. It was like the OJ trial all over again. The men’s medium is a good fit—not too tight, not too loose. I had a man-hands complex about that for a while, but I’m over it now.

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm, Pt. 5: Dry Gear

There are lots of blogs about dry suits, so I won’t go into the details of tunnel vs. no-tunnel or neoprene vs. latex seals. I’m just going to focus on women-specific aspects of choosing dry gear.


First, the relief zipper. Yes, it’s the first question we all ask: how will we pee? I’m going to write a whole post about that later, (but it’s a worthy topic!), but for now, just know that you will not enjoy having to unzip and rezip regardless of whether you choose the front or the rear zipper. This is a matter for outrage. More on that later.


When I bought my first dry suit, I really wanted it to look decent when I wore it. What a fool I was. Err on the side of caution and buy a bigger suit than you think you need. Not massively huge, but enough to allow for the occasional weight swing and to give you lots of room to layer on clothes underneath it.

If you’re top-heavy, take a look at the men’s sizes. Compare the measurement charts and you’ll see that women’s dry suits are vastly larger in the hips than the bust. That might not be the way you’re shaped, so keep an open mind and buy the size that is shaped most like you.


Do spring for a model with Goretex socks. If your body is dry but your feet are wet, you will be cold. I layer thick wool socks under the Goretex socks and my feet stay warm in the coldest water.

Dry Tops & Dry Pants

You might not want or need to lay out the considerable amount of lettuce required to buy a dry suit. Before I bought a dry suit, I picked up a dry top and a pair of dry pants. It was cheaper, and it seemed like a good alternative. It wasn’t.

You’re supposed to roll the pants and top together at the waist. I don’t know who that works for, but it didn’t work for me. They never stayed rolled together. When I swam, I got wet. So I was uncomfortable until I swam, and then I was cold and uncomfortable.

But dry tops are a handy piece of gear to have. I use mine in conjunction with neoprene leggings on days when the water is cold and I might go over, but I expect to be rescued quickly if I can’t reboat by myself. So that would be a day when I’m with a group of people I trust to be able to help me, and also if the shore is very close, and/or it’s cold but not that cold.

Used dry tops are available pretty frequently. Check the local white water boards; I got mine for almost nothing, and it’s top quality and was barely worn when I bought it. It’s great for the conditions I described above, and I also use it on rainy days that are a little too cool for my paddling jacket.

Dry pants, well, I have a pair and I’m not a fan. This is a piece of gear that is useless when you’re in your boat and doesn’t work that great when you’re in the water. Plus, they’re not comfortable. So that’s a big lose on all counts. If you’re still thinking that dry pants might work well for you, try to borrow a pair for a day on the water before you commit the cash. And if you’re still interested, try to find a pair with Goretex socks built in. Dry pants without dry socks are pretty useless because if your feet are cold, you’ll be cold all over. I’d recommend putting your money toward a dry suit or at least a dry top and a pair of very thick neoprene leggings from the start.dr

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm, Pt. 4: Outer Layers

No base layer will keep you warm on a windy day. Protection from the wind is the key to staying warm, winter or summer.

Lots of people wear neoprene Farmer Janes. I don’t find them warm at all, not on their own. To me, neoprene is the worst of both worlds; it doesn’t let your skin breathe, and it’s cold when the wind hits it. Since it’s worn close to the skin, you’re wet the entire time it’s on your body. Neoprene is good for divers because it traps a thin layer of water against the body; that layer of water warms up one time and then stays there. But paddlers aren’t underwater, or at least we’re not underwater very long. So I don’t see the point of wearing it in a kayak. Plus, it’s a pain to store and keep fresh. All that said, I do have neoprene leggings, and those are great because my legs are not exposed to the wind.

My favorite piece of outerwear is a paddler’s jacket from LL Bean. This jacket is basically plastic, so it keeps the wind off and sheds water. It has a zipper at the neck and Velcro tighteners at the wrist that re a big help in controlling body temperature. I keep it behind my seat in the boat so I can put it on quickly if I need it. It’s seen a lot of wear in the four years I’ve had it, and if it ever falls apart, I’ll buy another just like it.

In addition to the usual emergency clothing bag in my hatch, I also carry a dry bag with a large, warm Goretex coat, as well as a stocking hat, scarf, and knit gloves, and place it right on top of my other gear for easy access. If you’re like me and you get cold easily, pack something similar and put it on as soon you stop for any beach break. It’s easier to stay warm to re-warm yourself.

The jacket is a nice Columbia hand-me-down. The hat, scarf, and gloves are acrylic knit from Walmart—less than $2/item. I wanted acrylic because these things are not worn on the water, but they do spend months at a time in a dry bag soaking up hatch odors. Acrylic can go in the washer and dryer. Easy and cheap, and I don’t care if they get lost.

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm, Pt. 3: Mid-Layers

I just layer on base layers, so I really don’t use mid-layers too much. Using base layers is the easiest, cheapest, and most comfortable way for me to stay warm. It has to be really cold for me to put on a mid-layer, and that means that a dry suit will go over all of it.

My favorite mid-layers are wool sweaters. I get them from Goodwill or raid the closets of my relatives. I like them because they’re comfortable, cheap, and I don’t care if they get ruined. Are you seeing a trend here? Sadly, the only cashmere I own is a holey old sweater from my great-aunt’s closet.

For the lower body, I have a pair of neoprene leggings that do the job. Yes, I know that I’ve already complained about neoprene, but in this case, it works well because it’s on a part of the body that isn’t exposed to the wind. They’re not much good on beach breaks, but since they’re not usually entirely wet, they do okay. Mine are Level 6 women’s from a white water shop. I find that white water shops are the best for getting advice on cold water gear; they’ve tried it all and can make good recommendations.

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm, Pt. 2: Types of Wool for Base Layers

When I first started kayaking, I didn’t know if wool types made a difference in warmth. I’d be online-shopping and didn’t know if ‘merino’ was worth the price over unspecified ‘wool’.Now I’m a knitter, so I know all things wool, as do many of you, I’m sure. So for the non-knitters, non-sheep farmers out there, here’s the scoop: for our purposes as kayakers, the type of wool won’t make a difference in warmth. Merino, cashmere, blue-face leicester… it all keeps you warm. The price difference is based on the softness of the wool. Cashmere is softest, merino is pretty soft, and then there’s everything else. The tightness of the knit matters, but since we’re talking about commercial knits made on a machine, they’re all pretty much the same.

If you’re not wearing wool layers next to your skin, don’t worry about the type of wool. If you are, buy the softest you can afford; that will probably be merino for most of us, but if you find a good price on a product that simply labeled ‘wool’, it will do the job.

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm, Pt 1: Base Layers

Our goal is to provide information specific to women paddlers, so of course we’re starting with clothes. This series will cover choosing layers, gloves, hats, and helmets, alternative places to find less expensive or better-looking clothing, and the last post will be about the pressing matter of peeing on a journey. If you have ideas for topics, please email us.

As one of those people who’s always cold, I’ve tried all sorts of kayak clothing to keep warm. The tried-and-true advice and the product descriptions of base layers have not been helpful, and I have a stack of barely-used gear to prove it. This series of posts will run down what’s worked for me; you may have a different experience, and if so, please do post your thoughts in the Comments sections. We’d love to hear them.

Base layers              

Just like your mom has always said, layers are the key to being comfortable. I wear one or two base layers, a windproof top of some sort, a hat, and gloves. Base layers made of synthetic fabrics do not do the job. They’re supposed to dry quickly, but unless you’re wearing baggy clothing, they cling to the skin and stay wet all day. They get moist even under a dry suit. And if you’re wet, you’re cold.

In winter, wool layers are the most comfortable. They aren’t as clingy, even when they’re fairly form-fitting, and they do a better job of retaining warmth even when they’re wet. That’s not true of synthetics. The problem with wool base layers is that they’re pricey and they’re not as durable as synthetics. Mine get little holes all over them. I don’t really care about that; the boat and gear hide all that anyway. The best prices I’ve found of wool base layers is Campmor, although Sierra Trading Post sometimes has better bargains.

There is a place in a kayaker’s clothing closet for synthetic base layers, however. In the summer when wool is way too hot, synthetic is fine. I wear synthetic base layers as my main kayak clothing in the summer because they are comfortable, cheap, and I don’t care if they get ruined. Synthetic fabrics cool you when they’re wet but they dry a lot faster in the hot summer sun so you don’t stay wet (and, therefore, cold). I’m not talking about nice-looking clothing; I’m talking about what is basically plastic underwear. It’s ugly. But again, once your PFD and spray skirt are on and you’re in your boat, only your arms show, so who cares? Again, Campmor and Sierra Trading Post have the best bargains.


— Jay Gitomer

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