The only way to stay warm, dry and most importantly safe is to get yourself into a drysuit for winter paddling.
I have tried paddling in cold weather wearing just about every combination of gear and for me nothing beats a good drysuit.
Here's my pro argument followed by some responses to common anti-drysuit arguments.
If you fall in the water, you can get back onto your board and still be dry underneath.
Reduce the cold water shock you feel when you hit the water. See link:
When you get onto your board to start your paddle you don't have to get your feet wet.
Mobility will never be as good as not wearing the suit but mobility in a drysuit is WAY better than a wetsuit
After your paddle you can take off your drysuit and get into your vehicle fully clothed. No more akward barefoot, towel, freezing in the parking lot situations.
If you paddle two days in a row your drysuit will be dry the next day....or even later that same day.
You will stay in better shape because you will get out on the water more often during the winter.
You will practice your skills during the winter because falling in the water practicing buoy turns isn't such a big deal.
Price: Yes drysuits are more expensive than wetsuits but once you get one you will never go back and your comfort and safety are well worth the extra dough. Talk to anyone who purchased a drysuit and I promise that none of them regret spending the money.
Overheating: Yes, when compared to non-immersion gear you will get warm with a drysuit on. Sometimes you might even get too hot while you paddle. Cooling off is never hard. Just a quick dip into the water and you can bring your temp down and keep on paddling. Overheating may also occur if you purchase a lower quality suit. Gore-tex suits provide the best breathability and will reduce heat and moisture build up.
I am a little bit partial when it comes to my brand of choice but I have a lot of experience with Kokatat drysuits and I believe they make the best suits on the market.
Kokatat suits are durable, breathable and full featured.
My suit of choice for day paddles or short fitness paddles is the Kokatat Lightweight Goretex Suit. This suit is the lightest weight and most breathable suit in the Kokatat line. It features Gore-tex socks which is a must have. They keep your feet warm and dry and allow you to wear whatever socks you want underneath. This suit also has a neoprene neck which isn't fully waterproof but is much more comfortable to paddle in and will still keep most water out as long as your not spending long periods of time with your head under.
My suit of choice for bad weather and expedition paddling is the Kokatat Expedition Suit. This suit has it all. Pockets, socks, durable exterior and a hood. Kokatat is also the first company to allow online personalization and customization of your suit. Check out the website and play around with the GIZMO customizer. This allows you to custom tailor the suit to your size, choose your fabric options, select your pockets and features and most importantly colour.
I ordered my suit earlier this year and its been great so far. I went for a conservative blue and black colour option but I am most pleased with the custom fit. After plugging in my measurements, my custom suit is a medium suit with a couple inches added to the arms and legs. This makes for a slimmer fitting suit that has enough length for me. In the past I have been using a Large suit which was quite baggy in the legs and torso.
Get onto the Kokatat website and play around with a custom suit for yourself!
Drysuits for winter paddling are a must have and something I would never be without!