Q: Is hypothermia as much of a threat on a spring paddling trip as it is on a winter ski trip?
A: Yes, and perhaps more so. Water saps heat from the body 25 times more efficiently than air, which is why when the Titanic sank almost no one in the sea survived, though the water's temperature was nearly the same as the air's. Even 50-degree air temps can be deadly if you're wet.
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Whether paddling Lake Erie or the Colorado River, the key to staying safe is staying dry. When I kayaked Chile's Futaleufú River this winter, I wore neoprene booties, a SmartWool base layer, which insulates when wet, and a hooded dive skin. On your trip, if you go overboard and can't get back in, hang on and get into a tucked position if there's a chance of rescue. If not, swim to shore, put on dry clothes, and, if available, cuddle up with a trip-mate.
Ken Kamler, M.D., is the author of Surviving the Extremes (Penguin).
Pick up the March 2006 issue for more secrets of the Southwest, nine Caribbean adventures, the best gear for runners, and our World Class outfitter trips.