Head-to-toes winter checklist – I’ve tried wearing a couple of different bits of kit and some of it works really well and some of it doesn’t (I just have to wait for it to break so I can justify getting something better); I’ll recommend the equipment I like and I’ll be blunt about things like my Peak UK semi-dry trousers which I loathe with a passion. Enjoy…

Let’s start with my helmets. I currently use a Sweet Protection Rocker for river-running (or when it gets really cold) and a Strutter for freestyle. This is a fairly standard set-up, lots of people use these two helmets and there’s a reason for that – they’re good quality. I find the Rocker much more comfortable than some other helmets I’ve tried on but I use it primarily because it’s also one of the few helmets into which I can fit my hair (it appears to be wider and certainly more adjustable than other equivalent helmets). I have worn a Wanderer briefly and I’m not actually sure if there’s anything other than a cosmetic difference between the two except the ear pads that come with the Rocker improve the fit a lot as well as keeping your ears toasty and if you want a proper helmet you may as well get the higher end version considering you can get older editions for roughly the same price online. I’ve used a Shred Ready Super Scrappy for freestyle until fairly recently and I was skeptical about how the Strutter might fit me, it occurred to me that the bill might catch water during moves and yank it out of place and second, it’s much more expensive than the S. Scrappy. Having been gifted with it for Christmas I admit that I was wrong – the helmet fits really well and sits on my head much lower down than the S. Scrappy, combined with a more secure method of adjustment (so the bill doesn’t actually hinder the fit) this helmet won’t budge no matter how much you shake your head… you also have to admit it makes you look like a pro.

I suppose that next I should mention the thermals I wear under the rest of my kit. I use the Palm Tsangpo suit combined with a long-sleeve Tsangpo top over that for when it gets really cold. I’ve owned both of these for more than a year and they have performed excellently staying in good condition without any rips or noticeable wear. They are very comfortable and surprisingly thin and lightweight for the amount of warmth they provide, this means that you can have full range of motion which is especially important for freestyle. I am aware of some warmer thermals out there or even that you could wear a proper fleece underneath a dry suit, but while you might be warm, you’d also be restricted and the Tsangpo thermals don’t suffer from this issue. Given that I don’t own a dry suit, I have to assume my thermals may get wet no matter what I do. The Palm thermals dry in about a day if you have access to indoors, if you’re on a longer trip then maybe you should get a dry suit because otherwise you’ll be warm and dry getting into cold wet thermals every morning. I have solved this problem by getting two Tsangpo suits which I rotate so I always have a dry one however I appreciate not everyone has this option, the silver lining is that the thermals are great even when they get wet (they act a bit like a wetsuit) so that if you can bear to fight your way into wet thermals eventually you will warm up again.

Moving on – I use Yak cags, specifically the Riwaka and Tomahawk. They look identical except the Tomahawk is red and the Riwaka is lemon yellow. Apparently the quality of the fabric differs between them but I haven’t noticed any difference whatsoever so I’d advise choosing whichever colour you prefer. They both have some very strong positives and few negatives: They are tough, I’ve owned my Riwaka for 14 months or so and it’s only just beginning to let unreasonable amounts of water in. The pockets (of which there are 2) are trustworthy and the zip is sturdy unlike on some other cags. They keep you more than dry enough (even during a 2 hour freestyle session) when paired with the right kit and a boat that doesn’t leak. They are very cheap compared to the competition (for full latex seals at neck and wrists) and so you can forgive them their weaknesses which include: perhaps not as dry as more expensive cags from other companies and now they are actually quite difficult to find because the Riwaka and Tomahawk are least seasons cags and have been replaced. I think getting two Riwaka’s over something like a Palm equivalent is probably a better investment because no matter how dry your cag is, water will come in at the cockpit rim or waist if you spend enough time on the water so having another dry cag to get into makes your weekend a lot more fun. I would not view Yak as an option to ignore or one only for beginners because a lot of their older gear is trustworthy and very high quality.

Onto my dry trousers, or I should probably say not-so-dry trousers. My Peak UK semi-dry trousers are perfectly decent if you like being soaked. They are surprisingly expensive, more expensive than the Yak option (which I’m wishing I bought) and yet they don’t have the same latex ankle seals, they have neoprene. It’s not even tight neoprene, I can feel the water soaking up my leg if my ankle even briefly submerges itself. Peak also seem to have strategically made their logo want to peel off. This may be because they want you to advertise them while you think they’re still good (ie. before you’ve used them) and as soon you’ve used them once or twice it peels straight off so no one knows that Peak makes them. Quite clever really. If the logo is the thing that peels off you know a product can’t be great, after all, the companies main goal is to promote themselves. If they can’t do that then their product can’t be great either. On the plus side they haven’t ripped yet and if you don’t get any water in your boat you might just manage to remain dry. Still, avoid these.

To prove that I don’t just love trashing Leak UK I’d like to point out that I love their Racer Pro buoyancy aid. I’m on my second and when this one gets worn out I’ll probably get the same version again. It’s intended for slalom use which means it’s very lightweight, compact and comfortable making it literally perfect for freestyle. Your movement isn’t restricted at all and you barely feel like you’re wearing a buoyancy aid. The downside of this is that if you actually need to float it’s not the best option, having swum down some rapids on the Ottawa river during summer I can tell you that you’d rather be floating a bit higher. If you’re going on the assumption that you won’t swim and are doing grade 3ish and below it’s great (I would recommend getting one too), but as soon as you progress onto river running harder rapids or doing freestyle on bigger rapids (Ottawa during spring) then a higher volume buoyancy aid is probably a good idea. If I had to criticise the Racer Pro, I would say the side straps have an annoying habit of either loosening or tangling but this is a relatively minor fault. All round good piece of kit.

Finally, my spraydeck. I use a Palm Orbit deck which is their top-of-the-range and I can honestly say that this deck would be perfect for anyone. It is expensive (~£120) but it’ll last you a while and Palm’s customer service is really good if you have any issues. The deck is quite heavy which isn’t amazing for freestyle (I’m considering getting a lighter deck just for competition) but it’s worth it. It’s heavier in part because it’s a rand deck and also because all the materials used (ie. the neoprene) are thicker and tougher than other models. I like rand decks partly because I think they are drier than most elastic decks, I know some people would jump in to disagree with me there, but one thing I can say for certain is that they stay on much better with less chance of imploding (although ironically Bren’s imploded in his last video). This does make them really annoying to put on for the first month but one technique to stretch them out a bit is to leave them around your cockpit rim for a few days and that tends to loosen then enough that you don’t need assistance at the put-in. Any criticisms? The tape on the stitching does peel away eventually but I’ve noticed a lot of decks and cags used at Lee Valley (including Immersion Research decks) suffer from this issue because of the chlorine in the water, so long as you wash your deck and other kit at the end of a session I doubt you’ll experience that problem for a while; my deck lasted about a year before that started to happen and I never washed my kit – you should.

(If you want a footwear summary then I refer you to one of my earlier posts).

To conclude, this is what I wear during the winter. If I change any kit I’ll probably review it and then you can see what I think about it. I wear slightly different kit during the summer but I’ve posted about those things (Dewerstone shorts, NRS shorty cag etc) before so I didn’t feel the need to mention them in this post. If you need some advice on kit or want to ask a question feel free to email or DM me. See you on the water and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you’d like to be notified about any new posts…