How To Pack For Shoulder Season Paddling

For those of us whose lives are based on the seasons, as we move from location to location for work or just from activity to activity for play, we’ve learned to appreciate the shoulder season. Sure, there’s a little bit of compromise involved, but we find the best balance right there in the middle. Here in the San Juan Islands, the weather gets a little unpredictable, maybe inhospitable. The days get shorter, and the temperature begins to drop, but amongst those days of rain and fog are some of the best days of the season. In fact, if you’re ready for it, the fog and the rain can make for beautiful days on the water or hunkered down in camp. The masses have moved on to their fall activities and destinations.

But on these shoulder season days, you have to be ready for anything. It was in the 80s yesterday and today the clouds have settled right to the surface of the water in a fog reminiscent of being inside a ping pong ball. Having a system that keeps you warm and dry will not only keep you safe, but can turn this fickle time of year into the best time of year to be out. As a longtime kayaking guide here in the San Juan Islands, I’m always looking for ways to enjoy that space between the guiding season and those snowy trips in the mountains just around the corner.

Here is a breakdown of my kit for multi-day, shoulder season paddling in the San Juan Archipelago.

Paddling Apparel:

Paddling in cold water in any season requires preparation for bad weather and challenging conditions. I usually wear a long-sleeve shirt like the OR Wayward shirt and a pair of shorts along with Crocs or some other quick-drying footwear. The synthetic long-sleeve shirt dries quickly, blocks the wind a little, and provides sun protection. If the mercury starts to plummet or the weather kicks up, I layer up with a dry top and light fleece like the Radiant Hybrid. And as things get even colder, I add long johns and dry bibs. Neoprene gloves and a beanie round out layering for the worst conditions and weather.

Sequence tights
Wayward L/S shirt
Equinox shorts
Radiant Hybrid pullover
• Kokatat Whirlpool bibs
• Kokatat Rogue Drytop
• Crocs
• Socks for under bibs
• NRS neoprene socks for over bibs
• NRS neoprene gloves

Camp Apparel:

The beauty of paddling is none of this gets carried on your back. When I get to camp, I usually like to pull on a synthetic puffy jacket over my wet layers and use my body heat to dry them out while I’m setting up my tent and camp. When those pieces are mostly dry, I switch to camp clothes. In camp, I usually bring a pair of comfy pants, a pair of wool socks and a pair of camp footwear that’s dry. I like to have an extra fleece and base layer on hand incase I have to finish drying the ones I wore on the water in my sleeping bag at night. My luxury item is a cotton tee that just feels so comfy and dry for sleeping and under layers around camp. And I always pack a hardshell jacket to be comfy in the rain.

Radiant Hybrid pullover fleece
Ignitor T
• Dry socks to wear with crocs once dry
• Cotton t-shirt
Deadpoint pants or other synthetic pants for camp
• Hardshell rain jacket (any number will do, but a Helium II packs down really small and is perfect for this)
Chaos Synthetic Puffy

Camp gear:

• Sleeping bag
• Sleeping pad
• Tent
• Stove
• Pots
• Food
• Mug
• An Areopress

Packing Tips:

• Wear things until they are dry.
• Dry things fully in your sleeping bag.
• Bring a mesh duffel to carry your gear from boat to camp and back.
• Use your foam sleeping pad to insulate and pad under your feet in the kayak. This will also save room for packing.

The great think about kayaking is that you’ll have so much room to bring favorite items. You can make your food as fresh and elaborate as you like, and an extra couple layers or even an extra sleeping pad isn’t out of the question on shorter trips. Of course, if you pack the food like you’re backpacking, you could go for well over a week without support.

This time of year, change is in the air and as we float from one job, one town or one season to the next, remember this is the best time to be out—especially on the water in the San Juan Islands.