Cold weather gear for Laser sailing in 2024

There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad kit.

Al Sargent
10 min readJan 21, 2023

My ILCA squad and I in nearly-always-chilly San Francisco is in the middle of winter 2023–204, trying to get time in the boat prior to big regattas: Masters Worlds in Australia, Olympic Trials in Florida, Midwinters West, and more. Here’s what we’re using to beat the cold.

For context, the water temperature in San Francisco Bay ranges from a low of 49 degrees in January to a high of 70 degrees in August. Our air temperatures on the Bay range from a low of about 45 degrees on some days, to a high of maybe 75 degrees. At Alameda Community Sailing Center, we launch from a ramp that involves us getting waist-deep, so we need gear that keeps us from getting chilled even though we haven’t fully warmed up.

Hiking pants

Rooster Pro Hikers 4/3mm Full-Length pants (alt link) are my go-to for sailing in anything cooler than tropical conditions.

Rooster Pro Hikers

These aren’t cheap, and I chewed them up a couple of years ago on a Laser with a sloppy repair job on the rail (the legendary Bucket Seats). So, I protect them with Rooster wear protection shorts. These are heavier-duty than typical spandex pants. I’m now on my second pair of these shorts; I get about 150 days out of each pair. At about $50 per pair, it definitely is less expensive than replacing your $200 hiking pants.

Rooster Wear Protection Shorts

I recently got Rooster Hot Legs to go under my wetsuit on cold days in the low 50s or lower. They help take the edge off the cold.

Rooster Hot Legs


I originally got the Rooster Low Cut Boots for warm weather sailing, but it turns out they’re just fine for cold weather, for my feet anyways. I was surprised they kept my feet warm, even when submerging my feet while launching in 50 degree water. They also provide enough grip when hiking.

Rooster Low Cut Boots

Here are the advantages of the low cut boot over traditional ankle boots:

  • Less “dead weight” in the middle of the boat that doesn’t help stability.
  • Fewer nooks and crannies for the mainsheet to get hung up on.
  • Less expensive.
  • Longer lasting, since the boot material isn’t being pulled by shoe laces.
  • Quicker to put on and off.
  • Quicker to dry.
  • Bottom of hiking pants don’t get worn out as quickly.

Now, some people get cold feet in the winter. I don’t. But if you do, check out Roosters Hot Stuff socks. It’s made of titanium neoprene, which I’ve used on my torso and leg layers and basically traps in a layer of thermally insulated air against your skin, not unlike aluminum survival ponchos. If I were doing a regatta in an exceptionally cold venue, these would be on my list to try.

Rooster Hot Socks


I wear a Rooster SuperTherm Top. It’s 4mm thick. Newer models are fuzzy inside, to hold even more heat. For me, this is enough for about 60 degrees air temperature and windy, or 55 degrees and light air.

Rooster SuperTherm Top

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Maybe controversial. Some folks like to layer on a Rooster Pro Aquafleece Top. I’ve got one of these, and I love it for keelboat racing, especially during windy San Franciso summers. But for Lasers, I’m not a fan of how much windage it carries. That said, if it’s raining AND in the low 50s or colder, I’ll put one of these on. This is because the evaporation of rain on clothing is a cooling process, and in this situation, neoprene isn’t enough. I’ve learned this the hard way.

But if it’s not low 50s and raining, I go with additional neoprene layers. They keep my core warm, arms free, and windage low. If it’s windy and 50 degrees air temp (but not raining), or rainy and 55 degrees air, I’ll layer on one or even two 2mm wetsuit vests. I have an O’Neill 2mm Men’s Vest. You’ll be rocking 8mm, enough to keep the cold away. But because it’s just on your core, your arms will be free to move.

If you go with one of these vests, know that they’re sized super small. I normally wear a size large shirt, sometimes a medium. With these, I need an extra large. Remember, you’re wearing this outside a 4mm top. Go a size higher.

O’Neill 2mm Vest

I also recently picked up a Rooster Hot Top. It’s only 0.5mm, but has that same ridiculously warm titanium neoprene. With a SuperTherm Top, my arm mobility is a bit less, but if it’s super cold, it’s better to be a bit stiff than shivering. One idea I haven’t implemented is to cut the arms off a Rooster Hot Top, so it has very short sleeves and thus gives more arm mobility.

Rooster Hot Top

For those of you who see me on the course, I also have a Ronstan 1.5mm neoprene top that I got several years ago, which I wear in the 65–70 degree range here on San Francisco Bay. It also works well in the Columbia River Gorge, where we have


Down to about low 50s and windy, or high 40s and light, I’ll go with a bump cap — essentially a baseball cap with a plastic insert to protect your head. A bump cap is a nice middle ground between a jogging cap and a large, heavy, unwieldy helmet that might make it hard to get under the boom with a lot of vang on. It’s good for protecting your head against the numerous little bumps such as shooting head-to-wind before the start to check the wind direction or line bias. Get the model with the long brim, which is the same size brim as a typical baseball cap.

Bump Cap

A less-obvious advantage of a bump cap is sun protection: no light is getting through the top of the bump cap, making it far superior to any cloth baseball cap in this regard.

For neck and face protection, I really like Huk. They’re a fishing apparel company and have neck gaiters that fit much better than Buffs.

Huk Neck Gaiter

If the temperature drops further, you can go with a Rooster Pro Aquafleece Beanie. This is great for summertime sailing in San Francisco when it’s foggy and 20+ knots.

Rooster Pro Aquafleece Beanie

But if it’s really cold, say low 50s and rain, go with the nuclear option: an NRS Storm Hood. If you’re not familiar with them, NRS is a great brand focused on kayaking gear. I wear a size large.

NRS Storm Hood

It’s amazing at keeping the warmth in when it’s cold because it covers your neck as well as your head. It’s even more potent when you tuck it under your wetsuit top to keep cold air from escaping. Unlike warm neck gaiters, it doesn’t let any cold air or water get to your neck. (Fun fact: the Cleveland Clinic says that you lose about 10% of your heat through your head.)

This is a great way to be mentally ready for gnarly days when a lot of sailors want to stay on land. I didn’t go, but I’ve been told the 2018 Laser Masters Worlds in Ireland had days like this.

I haven’t had a chance to try it, but a Rooster Aquafleece Balaclava could be an interesting choice for when you need more than an Aquafleece Beanie, but not quite as warm as an NRS Storm Hood. One thing I’d worry about is if breathing is impaired by having your mouth covered. Something to keep an eye on.


I don’t know why, but my hands don’t get cold when sailing. So I go with gardening gloves down even to high 40s air temperatures.

There are many brands, but Atlas Showa Nitrile Tough gloves work well

Even when wearing gloves, for long regattas I love using Goat Tape, a brand of weightlifter tape. Without Goat Tape, I get blisters after a couple of days of trimming hard; with Goat Tape, I can trim aggressively throughout a regatta.

Goat Tape

When I was setting up my kid to race Optis on a lake in Holland a while back, and they had to be ready to sail in snow, we went with Atlas TEMRES Insulated Gloves. I don’t ever use these, but if you suffer cold hands, maybe these are an option.

Atlas Temres Gloves

Another option might be to get larger gardening gloves and wear Rooster Hot Hands underneath.

Rooster Hot Hands


A lifejacket (aka PFD) won’t keep you warm, but you should definitely go with one. If you’re wearing all these layers, you’ll want something that’s low profile so you can get under the boom, especially when sailing a Laser Radial (ILCA 6) in heavy air with a lot of vang.

I’ve got an old Zhik P3 Buoyancy Aid from around 2015 that’s held up. One thing I like is the front pocket, which is big enough to carry up to three protein bars to keep me going on a long day, as well as some spare rope, a multi-tool for repairs, a grease pencil to track wind direction, a whistle for safety, and my cockpit plug for ILCA class rules compliance.

Zhik Buoyancy Aid

I haven’t done a comparison, but Rooster and Spinlock have buoyancy aids that seem interesting; I’ll consider them when my Zhik finally wears out.

If you’re doing regattas run by US Sailing, like Youth Champs, you need to go with a slightly bulkier Zhik USCG Approved PFD or Rooster USCG Approved PFD. The downside of these is that their increased bulk means that they’re more likely to get you stuck under the boom, leading to a capsize; if that’s in cold water, that could lead to hypothermia. So, US Coast Guard approval doesn’t necessarily mean safer. Meanwhile, the Zhik P3 Buoyancy Aids are approved by the Coast Guard equivalents of many other countries.

To keep you from getting caught under the boom and capsizing in cold weather, put something on over your lifejacket. I have a Rooster Race Bib. It works okay, but the bottom elastic is wearing out quicker than it should; I’m using some race bibs (also called pinnies) that I got at regattas which are working well.

Rooster Race Bib


You’ll probably notice that I’ve emphasized a lot of Rooster Sailing gear. I don’t get paid by them. I simply like a few things about them:

  • Their founder is a sailor, who actively races Lasers. This drives an imperative for all the gear to be well-designed and durable.
  • I’ve found their gear to be reasonably priced, in addition to being functional.
  • They’re based in England, so they know a thing or two about bad weather.

A lot of my links point to West Coast Sailing. I don’t get paid by them either, but they support our sport with a ton of regatta sponsorships and they have great service to boot.

Removed from the 2023 list

Gear is continually evolving, so here’s what I recommended in 2023, but no longer do so.


I used to wear Zhik 360 boots. Since they’re not that durable (typical for the Zhik line), I have about three pairs collecting dust. The problem is that they’re heavier than low cut boots, provide more nooks and crannies for your mainsheet to get caught, are more expensive, and don’t provide any additional grip. It’s all downside with no upside.

I was looking into the the Rooster Pro Laced Ankle Strap Boot, but again, they have all the same downsides as the Zhik 360s.


I previously recommended a jogging cap, like this one on Amazon, but it doesn’t have the extra protection — both from the boom and the sun — of a bump cap.


Previously I mentioned the Rooster ThermaFlex Wet Socks as an option if you have cold feet. But the Rooster titanium neoprene is so hot — annoyingly hot if it’s not super cold — that I’m sticking to that as my sole recommendation (bad pun, I know…).



Al Sargent

Occasional thoughts on tech, sailing, and San Francisco