Review: Gear Up for Cold Weather

As the temperatures drop, the right clothes can extend your sailing season and keep you comfortable in a variety of conditions.
Gill’s Aqua Parka
When we tested Gill’s Aqua Parka, we found it perfect for cold nights in the cockpit—and for a quick change into dry clothes ashore. Courtesy Gill

With the cold season approaching in many parts of the country, it’s time to take a look at gear that will let you enjoy time on the water with toys such as kayaks, rowing and sailing dinghies, paddleboards, and the like. 

Samples of cooler-weather kit were ­provided by the manufacturers and by Team One Newport in Rhode Island, which sells brands such as Helly Hansen, Musto and Patagonia. The hands-on testing was rather informal. 

Living outside Boston, where big boats often get put away by mid-October, I was launching my inflatable for dinghy rides and my paddleboard late into the fall thanks to Mustang Survival’s Taku dry bib and Taku dry top. The chest-high overalls and socks are watertight and rugged, with room to wear heavy socks and a pair of jeans or long underwear underneath. Made from waterproof fabric, the bib’s seat, knees and socks are reinforced with Cordura to resist abrasion, and the overall-style outerwear comes in designs for men and women. The men’s version includes a waterproof Aquaseal relief ­zipper, and the men’s and women’s bibs have an adjustable neoprene waistband.

Taku dry top
Mustang Survival’s Taku dry top Courtesy Mustang Survival

Wearing the dry bibs and my trusty Crocs for footwear over the rocks, I was able to wade into some pretty chilly water and go as deep as I needed to mount a motor on the back of an inflatable or land a paddleboard without grounding out its fin. On windy days, spray was not an issue, nor was rain, especially with the dry top on.

The dry top, made from the same waterproof, breathable fabric, has an extended skirt for kayaking, and has trimmable latex neck and wrist seals to keep water out. The top’s neoprene waist has hook-and-loop flaps on either side, so it’s adjustable too.

For paddleboarding in the dead of winter in icy water, a drysuit would probably be more advisable, but in late fall and spring, I found that if I tightened the waist straps built into the bib and top, not a lot of water came in when I went for an unintended dip. As a bonus, air trapped in the clothing added buoyancy.

Prices for the top and bib varied online, but expect to pay $400 to $450 for each.

Gill offers its own cool-weather ­protection for active watersports such as paddling, windsurfing and kayaking with its ThermoShield top, available in sizes small to extra-large. On paddling and boat rides, I found it warm and comfortable for extended periods. The ThermoShield is made from a nonabsorbent laminated fabric, and a fleece lining keeps in the heat. I really liked the fleece-lined collar, which can be drawn tight or left loose. The top’s neoprene waistband seals tight with hook-and-loop flaps. 

Thermoshield top
Gill’s Thermoshield top Courtesy Gill

I paired the ThermoShield Top with Mustang’s Taku bib. The combo worked quite well and kept me mostly dry, even with an occasional dunking so long as I didn’t go under all the way. You can find the ThermoShield top for $165 online.

Gill has a few other neat things to consider when the mercury dips and the water beckons. The Fisher fleece is a heavy-pullover wind-resistant top that’s comfortable to wear around the yard or on the boat. Its large kangaroo-style pocket is a good place to warm up your hands on a cold day. It sells for about $130.

gray fleece coat
Gill’s Fisher fleece Courtesy Gill

And for cold, raw nights in the ­cockpit—or to change into dry clothes on the beach or in the parking lot—Gill’s Aqua parka has you covered. Literally. The parka is a big coat, with a waterproof shell, welded seams, a soft high-loft thermal lining, a big hood, and large zippered pockets. The one I tested fell well past my knees, had tons of room if I wanted to pull my arms inside to juggle shorts, and kept me warm as toast. Top it off with a Seafarer beanie, and you’re ready to chill. The coat is available in three color schemes and in sizes from extra-small to large. Expect to pay around $200 for the parka and less than $30 for the hat.

beanie for cold weather
Gill’s Seafarer beanie Courtesy Gill

For three-season inflatable rides and dinghy sailing, Musto’s ESS Softshell jacket is lightweight, comfortable and warm. The coat has a water-repellent coating and stretch cuffs for a close fit. The ESS is available in black, navy and platinum, and in sizes ranging from small to extra-extra-large. I tried on an extra-large, my normal size, and found it a bit tight. The coat is priced at just under $150.

I have a daughter who likes sailing and fishing, and on a blustery day this past fall, she found that Helly Hansen’s Pier 3.0 sailing jacket and bib would be fine for either activity. The bibs were easy to adjust and move around in, and she liked the elastic cinch around the waist, which she said made the pants snug and warm.

sailing jacket
Helly Hansen’s Pier 3.0 sailing jacket Courtesy Helly Hansen

The Pier 3.0 jacket is designed for coastal and inshore sailing. It’s fully waterproof, windproof, and breathable, with adjustable cuff seals, a high collar, and fleece-lined hand-warmer pockets. Expect to pay around $200 for each piece of kit.

Wearing the dry bibs and my trusty Crocs for ­footwear over the rocks, I was able to wade into some pretty chilly water and go as deep as I needed to.

For a midlayer, HH’s Verglas tops for men and women are comfortable and warm. The ones I tried out fit well and weren’t in the way when I moved about. They come in a variety of styles, including half-zipper and hoodie. Prices range from $30 to $60.

Another good layering top was Patagonia’s Capilene Cool Daily hoodie. The sample I tried was thin, but it was warm and fit well. The top is available in sizes extra-small to triple-extra-large and runs right around $60. 

The above is just a sampling of the smart clothes available these days to help you handle the elements. With winter coming and the holidays approaching, hit the fall boat shows and keep an eye out for deals on duds that can withstand whatever Mother Nature has in store.

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