Dressing for the Weather pt 2 - Paddle Sports

I love New Mexico, especially New Mexico weather. As a Midwest transplant I am 100% behind the short winters and 300+ days of sunshine per year. Just because we are in the desert, doesn't mean there aren't weather considerations when preparing for outdoor adventure. Depending on the season you may have to prepare to dress against hypothermia, hyperthermia (heat exhaustion/stroke) or both! Dressing for activity on the water can be easy, or it can require dedicated safety equipment. You should always dress for the swim as even experienced, Class V kayakers still sometimes have to pull the skirt.

Summer Paddling, had me a bla-a-ast! Summer Paddling, happens so fa-a-ast!

Summer Paddling, had me a bla-a-ast! Summer Paddling, happens so fa-a-ast!


Paddling during the summer is the easiest to dress for as there's really only one rule: No cotton

Why no cotton? At least in the Midwest we had a saying, "Cotton kills." Cotton fibers trap water, dry slowly, and offer zero insulation when wet. Not only that, but wet cotton chafes. ouch. 

Believe it or not, but it is possible to become hypothermic during the summer. Wet clothes plus a cool/cloudy day and a breeze can sap the warmth right out of you. 

What we recommend:

  • Wicking base layer (I like to wear ExOfficio underwear and either a synthetic or light merino wool T-shirt)
  • Lightweight Long-sleeve shirt. Double points if it is designated to block UV rays. Any non-cotton shirt will do. For casual paddling I like to wear a fishing shirt from Columbia, for more aggressive days I'll wear a long-sleeve running shirt.
  • Hat (or helmet with a visor) and sunglasses
  • water resistant sun screen (cancer sucks, folks)
  • Footwear appropriate for the sport. For Kayaking I wear either neoprene booties from NRS or my Astral Designs Hiyak water shoe. For SUPing I'll either wear the above or my Chaco sandles with plenty of sunscreen when on the lake.
Throwin' Brown at Souse!

Throwin' Brown at Souse!

Spring / Fall

Paddling during the spring runoff is no doubt 100% exhilarating. This year the BLM is predicting massive runnoff in NM (300% more water than last year!). However spring and fall paddling weather can be deceiving. The sun is out and air temps are rising, however the cold water (remember, you were skiing on it just a month or so ago!) can cause issues, especially during a swim. 

If the combined air and water temperature is less than 120 degrees, hypothermia is still a risk!

Lets say it's 75° and sunny, but the raging racecourse is at a chilly 42°. That's only 117° total and hypothermia is still a risk! 

What we recommend:

  • Wicking base layer (no cotton!)
  • Insulating layer: A wetsuit or neoprene tops and bottoms, while still allowing you to get wet, do a fantastic job of trapping body heat.
  • Insulated footwear: either neoprene booties or at least wool socks under your shoes.
  • Splash jacket or dry top: this will keep the water off of your body completely and trap more heat. If you flip or take a swim even just wearing a splash jacket can make a difference between immediately feeling the ice-cream-headache inducing cold water and giving you a few valuable seconds to adjust. 
  • Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. That's right, protection from hypothermia and sunburn at the same time!
When the weather and/or water is cold, nothing beats a solid dry suit.

When the weather and/or water is cold, nothing beats a solid dry suit.


New Mexico offers paddling year-round for those who are equipped to handle to colder winter temperatures. Water is lower, whitewater runs become a little on the manky side, and the risk of hypothermia and frostbite is real. 

For winter paddling we recommend a full dry suit with an insulating fleece layer underneath. While some folks may be comfortable in just a dry top with a wet suit if they know they have a bomb-proof roll, we always recommend to dress for a swim. On the flip-side, you may not swim, but if a worst-case scenario occurs and you must assist in a rescue, being prepared to spend prolonged time in cold water makes you an asset versus another potential victim.

Stay safe and happy paddling!