Preventing the Umbles… 10 Tips for the kayaker to prevent hypothermia.

Hypothermia, been there done that… maybe not to the level of Paradoxial disrobing or coma but enough to know I don’t want to experience it again.  For those who are newer to the sport of paddling here is a quick Wiki link on the definition of Hypothermia.  Keep in mind that the onset of Hypotherma for folks who have kayak kayaker upsidedown holebeen immersed in water can happen much quicker due to convective cooling.  Water conducts heat away from you 25 times faster then air because of its density.  For those who have had the unpleasant experience of Hypothermia or have watched a fellow paddler experience it you know it is worth preventing.

So to avoid the “Umbles” … Say What?  Yes you know what I mean the stumble, bumble, fumble, mumble, & grumbles those visible signs that help us recognize ourselves or buddies getting into the too  cold to function category… the beginning of Hypothermia.  Below is a mental check list you can do to be as best prepared to avoid Hypothermia.  I use this list not just to make sure I am ready but also to keep a running tab on how my other paddling friends might be doing.

10 Tips in Hypothermia Prevention & Preparedness for the Paddler

  • Eat & Hydrate well prior to paddling … Seems obvious but coffee and a doughnut just don’t cut it for fuel prior to paddling try something you know sticks with you longer.  If you drink coffee also have some extra water on your way to put-in.
  • Dress for the Swim  … Even if you don’t swim, you may need to help out a buddy who has had a out of boat experience.  Remember:

IF Outside Air Temp + Water Temp  < 100° F 

Then, HYPOTHERMIA can occur!


  • Bring high fuel snackage on the water … Something with some quick sugar energy but also has  some fat and protein to sustain you a bit longer.
  • Bring water …IF your body has lots of water you have better thermal mass.
  • Pee often …Don’t hold it in, your body wastes energy heating your bladder.
  • Paddle Hard … well maybe not Hard but keep active on the water, sitting in a eddy waiting for your buds can make you cold, practice a few extra turns or ferries.  And if you do stop or swim a few jumping jacks will really improve your body temp.
  • Stay out of the water … What, I’m Kayaking? well keep yourself mostly out of the water.  Wear drygear, Have a bombproof roll, consider staying in your boat to eat lunch, & if you or a buddy does take a swim get out of the water air is a better insulator then water!
  • Bring a extra layer for you that can be  shared … most of us bring something that we can add on to add to our own comfort, take it a step further and bring something to share.  (a extra skull cap or polypro in a size that fits a large range of folks is a welcome sight to a frozen paddler)
  • Skip the toddy to keep you warm   … Yep alcohol increases the blood flow to your extremities by increasing capilary size,  this increases your heat loss as your body warms less vital areas. Water is still your best bet!
  • Consider the possibility of a Epic…  Yep think about the slim but possible chance you might have the OVER-NIGHTER EPIC… is the place remote or long, is it cold, how hard is the run, what is the skill set of you & the group,  are you short on daylight hours, ….  Any of these factors and the occasional SNAFU  can make you wish you had a larger kit.

Hope these tips help keep you & your friends warm on the water, below is my BASIC EPIC OVER-NIGHTER Kit & a link to a easy to make home kit for fire starting.   Happy Paddling – gigi


There are many other creature comforts but here are the essentials.

  • Space Blanket
  • Water holding container (you need to stay hydrated)
  • Energy Bar A (bigger the better)
  • Fire Starter & Tinder in water tight container.  Build a kit yourself
  • Extra Layer (my favorite is a light to mid thickness poly pro top that is too big for me, works as a hat, top, extra leg cover if I sit cross legged, can be loaned out.


To help you understand How quick Hypothermia can become a issue check out this chart showing:

Body Temp Drop and Survival time.

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-source for this chart & info from the great world wide web pulled from several locations, my wilderness survival class U of O & multiple 1st Aid classes with the Red Cross.