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Beginners Clothing on the Cheap

by Steve Howie

If you have decided to take up canoeing you`ll probably want to get a flavour for the sport before you commit to the expense of specialist canoeing gear, or save your money for a canoe and paddles. You can paddle very comfortably and safely with clothing you probably already have in the cupboard - provided you choose carefully.

The most critical choice is that of fabric. Modern fabrics can be expensive, and are not always necessary. Also, as a beginner you are likely to swim a few times during your first year, so warmth when wet is more critical then sweat wicking properties found with the latest man made fibres.
Lambs Wool Warmer when wet than any other fabric, and comfortable to wear next to the skin.
Wool Good thermal properties and an excellent mid layer, though heavy when wet. It can hold up to 40% of its weight in water and still feel relatively dry.
fleece Fairly warm when wet, and a trendier alternative to that old woolly pully.
100% waterproof nylon Even with the best sealed dry cags water will still trickle down your arm, so why bother with breathable fabrics - especially if a swim is likely.
Rubber Gloves! Combined with a pair of woollen gloves washing up gloves can prove excellent in cold conditions.
Cotton NO! In wet outdoor condition cotton can be a killer. It stays cold when wet, takes ages to try, and is heavy when wet. T-Shirts and Denim trousers should be avoided.
Non-thermal man made fibres Best avoided as they won`t keep you warm.

Now you know which fabrics to choose, the next thing is to understand the principle of layering. When paddling you generally layer your garments, with each layer chosen for a particular reason. The base layer should be soft, comfortable against the skin, close fitting, and warm when wet. Sweat wicking properties are also good, though for beginners not important. The mid layer(s) should be warm and allow plenty of arm movement. The outer layer is a waterproof, and windproof shell to keep you as dry as possible.

One advantage of layers is that you can adjust your temperature by adding to or removing a layer, though even on a hot day a waterproof cag is probably a good idea.

What to wear where?
Inner Thermal Layer If you don`t want to buy a special thermal then lambs wool is your best choice. Raid your mothers cupboard for those old lambs wool jumpers, or even visit the local charity shop where you can pick up Nature`s best thermal fabric for 50p. I paddled many an ice covered welsh river wearing just a lambs wool jumper and an old cagoule.
Middle Layer That old woolly pulley is a good bet, or a good thermal fleece. It is better to wear two thin items than one thick one as they trap more air and are hence warmer, and can be separated if you get a little too warm.
Outer Layer Any old cagoule is great for paddling provided it is waterproof and has the following: an elasticated or Velcro sealed wrist, a zipped enclosure preferably with a storm flap, a high neck and plenty of room for shoulder and arm movement.
Hands A pair of rubber washing up gloves with thin woollen gloves inside are excellent in the winter. Bulky gloves can make the paddle harder to grip, so err on the thin side.
Legs This is the hardest part to clothe cheaply. We generally don`t posses warm leg wear, and woollen tights are out of fashion. Don`t wear jeans or cotton of any type, otherwise wear what you can find. It is probably worth investing in thermal leggings or some neoprene shorts which a very reasonable and can be used for a number of water sports.
Feet An old pear of trainers and a pair of woollen walking socks are your best bet. Shoes with a good grip for shore side manoeuvres are recommended. Sandals can be worn, but closed shoes will trap the warm water better. Neoprene socks are also very reasonably priced. Don`t wear large or heavy footwear such a walking boots or wellies as thy could get wedged in the boat preventing escape, and weigh you down when swimming.

So that`s it. By raiding your cupboard and visiting the charity shop you can kit yourself out relatively cheaply. Of course, when you`re ready for the proper kit Get Out! has a good range available on line.