So, you’re going on your first kayaking trip, and you don’t know what to wear? Your wardrobe choice depends on whether you’re going somewhere in warm or cold conditions.
With warm water kayaking, you need to worry about the sun. When you’re in cold water, you need to worry about the sun, the water, and the air. So, the needs for the cold-water kayaker are usually more extensive than the summer kayaking enthusiast.
We decided to help you choose the right clothing for both tropical and Nordic environments. This guide gives you everything you need to know about choosing the best clothing options for warm and cold water kayaking.
- Rule #1 – Don’t Wear Cotton
- What to Wear for Summer Kayaking
- What To Wear for Cold Water Kayaking
- Wetsuits and Drysuits – When Do You Need Them?
- Kayaking Safety Gear
- What to Wear Kayaking – Key Takeaways
- In Closing – Wear Sunscreen, Stay Hydrated, and Remember the Snacks!
- What to Wear Kayaking FAQs
Rule #1 – Don’t Wear Cotton
The primary rule with dressing for kayaking is to avoid cotton. Cotton gets waterlogged and takes forever to dry.
However, it also clings to your skin and absorbs the cold air around you, making you feel cold. It’s the hardest material to swim with, and it also chafes the skin under your arms.
Wearing cotton underwear when kayaking is the worst idea ever, so make sure you stick to synthetic materials like Gore-Tex instead.
What to Wear for Summer Kayaking
When the air and the water are warm, you can get away without layering your clothing. However, the name of the game is sun protection. Your clothing should dry fast and be as breathable and moisture-wicking as possible.
Fast-Drying Cargo Shorts and Rash Vest
Your shorts should dry quickly. Using boardshorts for girls or guys is a great way to keep your skin breathing. A rash vest acts as a great sunscreen, and it dries out fast if you get it wet.
Water or Reef Shoes
Ware or reef shoes have open tops and rubber soles, securing to your feet with Velcro straps. They are lightweight and have very thin rubber soles.
These shoes provide excellent traction on slippery surfaces, and they are easy to dry out. Avoid wearing sandals or flip-flops as they can cause accidents like twisted ankles.
- STRETCH MATERIAL: Upper with stretch breathable ultra light weight fabric for fast draining and cross ventilation, give excellent flexible and comfortable.
- ELASTIC BAND: Elastic band with removable shoeslaces help adjust the shoes according to the width of the feet quickly, convenient and did not step on the troubles of shoelaces.
- FLEXIBLE&LIGHTWEIGHT: Take advantage of the textile, high-quality flexible and lightweight style fits your barefoot skin perfectly and make you feel like wearing socks.
- NON-SLIP&FOOT SAFETY: Thicken outsole with stronger traction, prevent you from slipping in slippery conditions. Durable rubber soles with comfortable thicken honeycomb structure insole, protect your feet from getting hurt by rock and stone.
- Occasion: Perfectly designed for swimming, surfing, water sports, beach sports, sailing, yoga, water aerobics sports etc. Nice Choice for Family Outdoor Activities.
If you’re wearing regular sunglasses out on the water, the lenses don’t offer you protection from the glare. The glint of the sun on the water makes it look like it’s flashing off a mirror.
Polarized lenses on your sunglasses cut this glare, allowing you to see the water without squinting your eyes. The glare reduction also stops your eyes from tiring out from adjusting to the variable lighting conditions on the water.
A wide-brim hat keeps the sun off your neck, ears, and face. We recommend getting one with a drawstring that secures the hat to your chin. That way, it doesn’t blow off when a gust hits you.
Reefs are in trouble across the planet. If you’re lucky enough to get the pleasure of kayaking to an ocean reef for a snorkeling session, use reef-friendly sunblock. The formulation of this sunscreen doesn’t upset and kill the delicate polyps forming the reef.
What To Wear for Cold Water Kayaking
Coldwater kayaking is a different animal to warm water boating. If you get too cold when you’re out on the water, you run the risk of developing a condition known as “hypothermia.”
With hypothermia, the body’s core temperature drops and doesn’t recover. As a result, your organs slowly shut down, and you end up passing out into a coma before dying.
So, it’s crucial that you dress for warmth in cold water conditions. Here are our top tips for staying warm wherever you are in the world.
A fleece-lined zip-thru sweater is a great choice for your base layer. The thermal properties of the fleece trap body heat while wicking away sweat from the skin, keeping you dry. A 2mm full wetsuit topped with a thin, fleece-lined zip-thru is the best choice for cold conditions.
The fleece forms the “base” layer of your kayaking outfit. It’s what you wear when you strip down to the last layer. However, it won’t mean much in cold water and air temperatures. You’ll need an outer layer or “shell” to keep the water and cold out in these colder conditions.
Waterproof kayaking Jacket or Snowboarding Jacket
The outer shell of your kayaking outfit does the majority of the work with keeping out the water and cold.
Dry top jackets are a great example of waterproof jackets suitable for kayaking. However, they don’t offer you any thermal protection, so you’ll need to get that from the base layer mentioned earlier.
Choose a waterproof jacket specifically designed for kayaking and paddle sports. These jackets allow for an optimal range of motion in the arms and across the back of the jacket when paddling.
A snowboarding jacket is also a good option. Most of these models are waterproof, and they allow for a good range of motion in the arms.
- Six adjustment straps to cinch vest up for a snug fit
- High foam back accommodates high back seats
- Pockets designed for your essential gear
- Breathable mesh lower back
- Comfortable neoprene shoulder pads
If you’re kayaking in very cold conditions, we recommend looking into getting thermal underwear. As mentioned, avoid the cotton type.
The best choice is the synthetic thermal underwear snowboarders use. This underwear wicks away moisture, keeping you dry. The thermal action of the long underwear helps tremendously with retaining body heat in arctic conditions.
Fast-Drying Cargo Pants
Wearing long pants is essential for keeping your legs warm in cold conditions. However, your clothing will get wet.
Therefore, we recommend getting some waterproof pants or pants with fast-drying materials like Gore-Tex. Choose cargo pants with storage pockets on the sides for your gear and accessories.
Beanie or Cap
You don’t have to worry as much about the sun in the winter as you do in the summer. Its further positioning from the earth means the UV isn’t as strong. However, you’ll still need a cap to keep the sun off your face.
If it’s cold outside, wear a thin beanie. Avoid wearing thick beanies unless it’s really cold, or your scalp will sweat too much.
Your hands and fingers will feel the cold first. They are directly exposed to the elements, and if it’s cold and there’s a wind blowing, your fingers will turn to icicles real fast. Regular gloves won’t do much to cut out the cold.
If you wear thermal will gloves, you’ll find that your hands sweat in the gloves, making them wet and uncomfortable. We recommend using a pair of neoprene gloves to keep your hands warm. The sweat from your hands absorbs into the gloves, wicking it away from your skin. The neoprene also traps moisture between the skin and the material, keeping you warm.
Neoprene booties are a godsend in cold water conditions. You lose a lot of body heat through your extremities, including your feet. While wearing a wet suit is a great way to keep your body warm, what do you do for your feet?
Fortunately, neoprene booties are there to toast up your toes. Several dive brands offer these booties, and they have thin rubber soles that provide traction when getting in and out of the boat. Most of them work with dive fins as well.
Wetsuits and Drysuits – When Do You Need Them?
Wetsuits help you stay out in the water longer, without feeling cold. They come in various designs, with spring suits having short arms and legs, or short legs or arms, depending on what you want from the suit. Full suits cover you from the neck to the feet, and you have options for booties and hoodies to cover you as much as possible.
Typically, spring suits are better for warm coastal water. Full suits are for cold waters where you want to be out longer. Wet suits work by allowing a thin layer of water to penetrate the neoprene in the suit.
Your body heats up the water, keeping you warm. Essentially, you’re kind of like a self-sustaining hot water bottle. Typically, wetsuits come in thicknesses ranging from 2mm to 5mm.
Drysuits don’t allow any water in. They are suitable for very cold waters around the arctic and far north. The water in these regions is ice cold, and even the thickest wetsuits won’t work in these conditions.
Kayaking Safety Gear
Safety is paramount when you’re out on the water. Whether you’re paddling on a lake, down a rapid, or out on the ocean, there is some basic safety gear you need in any situation.
Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
Buy a USCG-approved Type III PFD. The PFD is your last line of defense from drowning. If you go overboard and hit your head, you could end up unconscious. Without the PFD, you sink to the bottom, and no one will find your body for days.
- U.S. Coast Guard Approved Inflatable Belt Pack - Manual Inflation
- 16 gram CO2 charge provides 17 lbs. of buoyancy
- The oral inflation tube can be used by wearer to provide additional buoyancy up to 26.5 lbs.
- Secure Pull – clips to life jacket; allows for quick release when pulled for inflation
- Low profile design does not inhibit movement
The PFD helps to keep you face-up at the surface. The bright floats also help rescuers identify you in the water.
If you’re navigating rapids, you need a helmet as must-have equipment. The helmet protects your head from sustaining and impact against submerged objects or the kayak.
In whitewater conditions, you have no control over your body or your movement; you’re at the mercy of the water. A helmet prevents you from sustaining a head injury that knocks you unconscious.
- WATER SPORT HELMET: Keep your noggin safe with this 1-size-fits-most helmet for whitewater kayaking, rafting, and other water sports
- 1 SIZE FITS MOST: Fits head circumferences between 20.8 and 24.4 inches
- ADJUSTABLE: Easy to adjust with a simple twist of the ratchet-adjust DialFit system
- COMFORTABLE: Stay comfortable and dry with plush FIT pads, adjustable chin strap, and 6 ventilation/drainage ports that let air in and water out
- SAFE: Impact projection from lightweight and durable ABS plastic shell and EVA foam liner; Meets CE 1385 standards for whitewater safety
Other Safety Gear
If you’re heading out by yourself, the best thing you can do is tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. If you don’t show up, they can start the process of finding you.
If you do end up stranded, having emergency smoke flares and a whistle helps you catch the attention of rescue parties. Keep these items, along with a compact medical kit, in a dry bag in your kayak.
What to Wear Kayaking – Key Takeaways
Now that you know what gear suits your kayaking climate, lets’ wrap up with some key takeaways of the critical parts of this post.
- Always wear your Personal Floatation Device (PFD).
- You can “raft-up” with a buddy to change if you’re removing layers. If not, you’ll have to paddle to the shore to ensure the safe removal of your layers.
- Dress for water temperature, not air temperature. Wear a wetsuit if necessary.
- Practice effective layering of your clothing.
- Dress to give your skin the best protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
- Avoid dressing in cotton clothing.
- Wear clothes made from wool or synthetics. We recommend abrasion-resistant fabrics that dry fast and allow airflow for your skin to breathe.
- Avoid clothing with hardware such as zippers that will rust.
In Closing – Wear Sunscreen, Stay Hydrated, and Remember the Snacks!
One thing people always forget is sunscreen. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to ask other people to use some sunscreen before you leave.
The protection starts to dissipate if you’re out on the water for more than a few hours. After four hours from applying your initial sunscreen, your skin will begin to burn. The intensity of the sun’s glare on the water gets under your hat, burning your face and lips.
Paddling burns serious amounts of calories. Therefore, you’ll need plenty of snacks on hand to fuel you. Bring protein and carb bars on the trips to sustain you when you’re feeling hungry. Don’t forget the water either. Staying hydrated is essential, so stock up before you leave.
What to Wear Kayaking FAQs
Q: Do you get wet on a kayaking trip?
A: Yes, you get wet when kayaking. From the spray to the paddle splashback, there’s water everywhere, all the time. So, it’s a good idea to dress for the occasion with fast-drying clothing and waterproof gear.
Q: What are the best footwear for kayaking?
A: We recommend using reef shoes. These shoes feature neoprene uppers and thin rubber soles with tread designed to optimize traction on wet, slippery surfaces.
Q: Can I wear my swimsuit when kayaking? Can I kayak barefoot?
A: Yes, you can wear your swimsuit and kayak barefoot. However, it’s not the best option for spending more than 30-minutes in the boat.
Q: Where is the best place to buy my kayaking gear?
A: We recommend picking up your kayaking gear on Amazon. Amazon has the best range and prices. You get fast delivery and a guarantee of receiving your order.