Alan Bergman – What better way to shake out those Winter cobwebs than to hop onto a paddleboard or launch a canoe or kayak? Spring paddling on Lake Winnipesaukee or Squam Lake is the perfect remedy for leaving those cold-weather blues behind us.
As wonderful as it is being out again on these pristine lakes, set against backdrops of rolling hills and mountains, caution must be taken to properly protect our hands and feet, the body parts most likely to get wet. The Spring water temperature in New Hampshire is typically in the 50’s, not terribly comfortable if our hands or feet are immersed.
Water shoes, sports sandals or even old sneakers work perfectly well for warm water paddling. In the Spring, however, wet feet translate into cold feet. This means that the increased protection provided by Neoprene boots and socks, and knee-high mukluks, become welcome parts of our paddling attire.
Neoprene boots were first used by scuba divers, and eventually found their way into other water activities. These are designed so that water will enter your Neoprene shoes while launching, landing and normal paddling activities. The water that seeps into your boots will rise to your body temperature and keep your feet reasonably warm. Only high-top, knee-high boots have a chance of preventing water from entering altogether.
Some paddlers choose to wear wicking socks inside their boots to enhance comfort. While you cannot expect to have dry feet, they will feel less wet and clammy.
The mukluk is another good cold-water boot, as these are usually lined to add warmth; and, are sometimes worn in combination with neoprene socks, too.
These boots will also help shield you from any unexpected surprises on the lake or river bottom, such as a sharp rock, submerged branch or even broken glass.
If immersed in cold water, hands become chilly which soon means that your entire body becomes chilly. To tackle this, there are essentially three waterproof solutions.
First, there are Neoprene, Nylon or Lycra gloves, which simultaneously protects against the cold, while providing a good grip on your paddle or oar. Some have long cuffs and mesh backs, and possibly cinches or straps for tightening the fit. Generally, the thicker they are, the more protection against the cold, but the stiffer they will be, as well. Stiff gloves may hinder properly manipulating the paddle or oar.
Next, and probably less popular than gloves, are Neoprene mittens. The main disadvantage to these is that you are losing the dexterity available when wearing gloves.
Last, but not least, are pogies, which actually attach to the paddle shaft, often with a loop and hook system. These are sometimes difficult to get your hands into and out of, and may limit dexterity and flexibility. The pogies, though, are typically warmer than gloves, and one size fits all.