A Guide to Paddleboarding in the Winter: Cold Weather Tips & Tricks While on the Water

It’s the crack of dawn.

The clouds are hanging low in the sky, casting a layer of fog cradling and dimming any nearby artificial light attempting to leak through your windows.  A thick mound of blankets is pulled up to your nose, conserving any heat you can before starting the day. You can feel the cold before even stepping outside. You quickly dress to avoid any unwanted chill. First warm base layers, then waterproof pants, a jacket, gloves, and boots. The temperature hovers below 32°F when you finally pack up and head out.

Outside, breath materializes in front of you. The sun quickly illuminates what will be an overcast day, likely keeping the temperatures at bay. The warmth of the sun is fleeting. Instead, it casts measured light through the clouds, slowly creeping its way above as you drive.  You’ve stocked your car with all the necessities. Flashlight, rope, lifejacket, hat, scarf, hand warmers; the works. You stop to pick up a friend who has all that, plus coffee for two.

A few winding dirt roads and about 10 minutes of walking opens to a clearing exposing why you braved the cold. The lake is glass this morning. A translucent blanket of fog, slowly dissipating, is suspended above the water like a thousand ghosts. You’ve come prepared with your board already inflated. Just a few more preparations before you cut through the water.

Paddleboarding in colder weather requires a certain level of planning. Winter paddling has garnered some additional attention outside its cult following, as of late. Paddling on a smooth lake, surrounded by a serene, snowy wonderland is undeniably appealing. Its tranquility met with the solitude and silence of winter echoes volumes to our desire to disconnect from the intensity of the world. There’s no need to sugar coat the sport, though. Paddleboarding in the winter is not for the faint-hearted. Even with proper gear, the cold can cut through layers and exhaust paddlers. Preparation is important, but setting expectations is key.

About an hour and 30-minute drive outside of Calgary, Alberta is Canada’s oldest national park. Banff is a daydream actualized for outdoor lovers and a favorite spot of Canadian photographer Kevin Biskaborn and his wife. The couple is well versed in winter paddleboarding. They hail from Ontario, Canada, and are unquestionably familiar with the demands of winter. 

“You need to ensure you have the appropriate safety equipment and clothing that corresponds with the weather, water temperature, length of the trip, and other considerations specific to the location,” Kevin notes. The Biskaborns include whistles, towing lines, even flashlights. Wearing a lifejacket in these conditions should be second nature. “In colder water, wearing the lifejacket is the best approach. It helps keep you warm by acting as an additional layer and gives you peace of mind in case you fall in - even strong swimmers are affected by cold water.”

The snow begins to fall softly as you paddle. There’s nearly no wind, making it easier for you to maneuver the board to the furthest point. You cling to the edges of the lake - that’s where some of the best views are. Most avid winter paddlers encourage staying as close to shore as possible in the event you fall into the water. 

“Being able to paddle along the shore’s edge is one of the best parts of [owning] a SUP - you can typically get very close without worry of running aground,” Kevin says. 

It’s true. Paddleboards barely scrape the surface of the water. Compared to kayaks or canoes, paddleboards allow you to easily glide over and through rocky areas and navigate shallows. Staying toward the edges gives a full view of the lake on top of closeup scenery from the water’s edge. Plus, keeping a close proximity can make all the difference if you need to quickly go ashore.

Dressing for the weather is one thing, dressing for the weather while on the water is another. Lots of winter paddlers choose to go in neoprene boots and a wetsuit for an added layer of warmth and protection if you fall in. Keeping in mind that wetsuits are designed to get wet, many paddlers feel they don’t provide enough protection from winds that can be accompanied with winter paddles and prefer drysuits instead. It’s a matter of preference, however, comfort and practicality go hand in hand.  Keep things flexible, easy to move in, and always dress in layers so you can add on or take off depending on the weather.

The wind begins to pick up as you maneuver your way around the lake. It’s starting to get harder to paddle forward, but you push through knowing that you’re in for a smooth ride back if the wind stays in its current direction. “It's always easiest to start off with the difficult leg into the wind first rather than going too far downwind and having to paddle back against strong wind and waves,” Kevin recommends. “It's also important to recognize conditions that are above your comfort level and paddling abilities.” 

Kevin’s last point is extremely important. Cold can have unexpected effects on your body. A shift of the wind, a drop in temperature, or falling in could completely shift a beautiful, serene experience into a frightening one. Be prepared and always paddle with a friend in any sort of water-related activity. Heading out with a friend is not only safe but provides an extra set of eyes to keep track of the tides and time spent on the water. 

The sound of water subtly beating against the edges of your board, your own breath, and the rustling of the trees wrap together into one all-encompassing chorus. The sounds are organic, peaceful, and primal. It’s easy to avoid getting outside, to make excuses for how time-consuming it can be. This though, this makes it all worth it.


Special thanks to Kevin Biskaborn for providing us the knowledge and tips on winter paddleboarding. Plus the photos! Check out his beautiful work on his website and both of his Instagrams, @lifebywater, and @kevinbiskaborn.


Our anytime, any place iSUP. Its 10’ length and rounded hull make paddle boarding easy on calm water as well as in surf for people of all skill levels.