Ready for Whitewater. Photo credit: Dave Costello
Paddling Gloves, Mitts, and Pogies
By Dave Costello
It's spring. The ice is off the lakes and the rivers are gushing with snowmelt– it's the best time of year to be on the water…if you can keep your hands warm enough to hold onto a paddle that is. And you're going to need gloves, mitts or pogies to do it.
Each style of hand warmer has its own distinct perks and problems, in different conditions and situations; so don't let anyone tell you which one's "better." They're all good–just for different things. It largely depends on your own personal preference and what sort of paddling you do, where, and when.
Here's the rundown on each:
The upside: Best suited for chilly to moderately cold-weather canoeing or kayaking, gloves aren't necessarily the warmest option (on account of radiant heat loss through the increased surface area that's created between the fingers), but offer your hands some insulation as well as the greatest amount of dexterity when NOT holding onto the paddle. A huge plus if you happen to lose your paddle or have to swim and haul yourself up onto a rock, or execute a rescue with a throw bag (which both mitts and pogies aren't especially well suited for–pogies: because they only keep your hands warm when they're on the paddle. Mitts: because you have almost no dexterity to begin with).
The downside: Gloves aren't typically as warm as either pogies or mitts, and–this is where personal preference comes into play–many feel that putting any material between their skin and paddle decreases their dexterity and paddle control.
The upside: Beyond a doubt the warmest option available, paddling mitts will keep your paws toasty on the water straight into January. Best suited for the coldest paddling conditions imaginable, mitts will keep your hands comfortable for the longest period of time, whether you're holding onto the paddle or not. Perfect for flatwater canoeing or kayaking, where the need for long-lasting warmth generally trumps hand dexterity.
The downside: You can open and shut your hand; that's it. Mitts are not highly recommended for whitewater on account of this, in case an emergency situation where you need to use your hands for anything but paddling arises. And again, there are always those that feel putting any material between their hands and the paddle is dubious at best. You decide for yourself.
The upside: Best suited for chilly to moderately cold whitewater and flatwater kayaking (they don't work so well on canoe paddles, sorry), pogies allow you to keep your hands in direct contact with the paddle, giving you maximum dexterity, while still keeping them warm. If maintaining control of your paddle is your top priority, pogies are the way to go.
The downside: As soon as you take your hands out of the pogies, which are attached to the paddle, your hands aren't protected or being kept warm any more. A potentially serious problem if the weather conditions are cold enough and you loose your paddle, have to portage, or do anything besides paddle your boat.
Three solid glove, mitt, and pogie picks:
NRS Natural Gloves. Photo credit: Dave Costello
NRS Natural Gloves
If dexterity and warmth are paddling gloves typical weak points, NRS Natural Gloves do a great job of breaking the trend. 3mm neoprene molded into an ergonomic curve keeps your fingers warm in decidedly brisk conditions, and at ease, so you don't have to strain (as much) against the material to grip the paddle shaft. A coating on the back of the fingers helps reduce evaporative cooling, and a snug (but not too tight) neoprene wrist gasket keeps water and debris out, while holding heat in. The glove's discrete fleece patch on the thumb offered a convenient place for our testers to wipe their snot-filled nosees after an icy roll too.
Kokatat Inferno Paddling Mitts. Photo credit: Dave Costello
Kokatat Inferno Paddling Mitt
Keeping your fingers together is the most effective way to keep them warm, so if sub-freezing paddling conditions are in the forecast (or if you even just want to make absolutely sure your hands stay toasty on the water, all day, no matter what) the Inferno Paddling Mitt will be a good fit. The simple, but effective, design incorporates insulation-lined 3 mm neoprene, precurved for an easier paddle grip, and a reinforced palm area that adds enough texture to the otherwise smooth surface to keep your hands feeling more secure on the paddle. As the name might suggest though, these mitts can often actually be too warm, if the water and air isn't cold enough. One of our testers hands actually broke into a sweat wearing them paddling on Puget Sound in January, in 38 degree water.
Bomber Gear Pogie Paddling Mitt. Photo credit: Dave Costello
Bomber Gear Pogie Paddling Mitt
If you want to keep your hands on your paddle, and the water and wind off your hands, Bomber Gear's Pogies are a solid choice. A proprietary infused neoprene absorbs and retains heat from your body, while effectively cutting the wind and repelling water. A relatively wide opening allows you to slip your hands in and out easily on the water–which is perfect for whitewater paddlers, who might need to quickly grab or push off a rock, and burly Velcro closures lock the pogies onto your paddle, so they never float off without you. Hint: Our testers with larger hands felt they wanted a little extra room inside these pogies– just secure the Velcro closures with only ½ to ¼ of their total surface area, and it'll give you the extra breathing room your big banana hands need.