To begin this kayaking clothing guide, I would first like to mention that it really matters whether the conditions are mild or cold. Keep in mind that you are not just dressing for the weather, but more so for the water.
A wetsuit or dry suit is necessary for all but the absolute mildest of conditions. Both the water and air temperature contribute to deciding which one is needed; when the water temp is 60 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler, or when the combined air and water temp is less than 120 degrees, a thick wetsuit is required.
Let’s get into what to wear while kayaking, including all of the layers.
Just like dressing for hiking, kayak attire also consists of multiple layers. Let’s work our way outward through the layers, starting with underwear.
If it’s warm, you can either wear a bikini or swimsuit instead of underwear, or comfortable bottoms with a sports bra that aren’t made of cotton.
The next layer should be a rash guard. These are ideal because they are made of polyester or nylon blended with Lycra spandex. They dry quickly, stretch well, and protect you from UV rays. It’s very comfortable to wear one of these under other clothing or a wetsuit, because of their flat-seam construction and formfitting design.
On top of the rash guard, I recommend wearing a water shirt on top if you don’t plan on swimming at any point, as they provide even more UPF protection but with a looser fit.
Any quick drying and comfortable pants are suitable clothes for kayaking.
For the mid-layer, if not wearing a wetsuit, take a fleece jacket or any other warm, synthetic jacket that is easy to remove and put on.
In the case that it might rain, or wind picks up, you should bring along a waterproof, breathable paddling jacket and rain pants.
On your feet you should wear paddling boots, since they are water resistant and lightweight. Any other footwear that also fits these criteria and protects your feet are fine too, as long as there’s a backstrap. Flip flops, for example, are a no-go.
Other kayak clothing includes a decent hat, with a wide brim or even a cape. The hat needs to be secure in some way, with the use of a chin strap for example.
Paddling gloves are also important to protect your hands against blisters.
For those who wear glasses and/or sunglasses, it would be wise to use a glasses retainer so as not to lose them in the water.
A wetsuit is absolutely necessary for cold weather kayaking gear, ideally one made of thick neoprene as it insulates you by holding a thin layer of water that is heated by your own body. For even colder conditions a dry suit is recommended that is waterproof but also has watertight gaskets. You can adjust the warmth by wearing another insulating layer underneath.
When the air is hot but the water is cold, a sleeveless wetsuit or one that consists of shorts and a top are better.
Rather than wearing a cap, consider a beanie to keep your head and ears warm enough, and instead of using paddling gloves wear Pogies – you can fasten them to the paddle and slip your hand inside for a protected grip. This way, you don’t have anything between your hand and the paddle that could possibly get in the way, ensuring a good grip while also protecting your hand from the elements.
Layers with a Wetsuit
When wearing a long-sleeved wetsuit, you need a wicking base layer since wetsuits hold a thin layer of water underneath. If you plan on swimming, wearing swimwear underneath is a great way to go.
A mid layer isn’t really necessary, since the thickness of the suit and warm water inside insulates you, although the colder the conditions, the thicker the wetsuit should be.
An outer layer also isn’t needed because wetsuits are both windproof and watertight.
If you choose to wear a short-sleeved wetsuit or one with shorts due to warm air temperature, then things differ. Underneath, you should wear a wicking and quick-drying top to cover and protect the exposed parts of your arms. Something long-sleeved, such as a rash guard is good as it will keep you warm and also protect you from the sun.
An outer layer is required in this case, depending on the conditions, a rain jacket, paddling jacket, or a light fleece jacket are all good options. Even if the weather doesn’t seem bad at the moment, prepare just in case it gets colder and wetter.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I wear when I go kayaking?
Swimwear or comfortable and wicking underwear for the first layer, a rash guard, a water shirt as well if you do not plan on swimming, quick-drying and comfortable pants, paddling shoes, a cap, and paddling gloves.
What should a beginner wear kayaking?
A wicking base that is not made of cotton, or swimwear if you plan on swimming, as long as it’s comfortable, a rash guard, wetsuit, any quick-drying and comfortably pants, and paddling shoes.
It depends on the conditions whether more or less layers are needed.
What shoes do you wear kayaking?
Water shoes are great for kayaking because they are designed to resist water with the material it’s made out of and built-in systems to drain water from inside.
Kayaking boots are better for colder conditions, as they are quite heavy duty. They are especially ideal for those who get on and off their kayak frequently throughout the day. The boots provide rugged soles and added protection around the toes while also being lightweight.
For warm conditions though, sandals are fine. They don’t hold water weight and are extremely quick drying. There are specific adventure sandals that have a rugged sole and more protection, and these are the kind of shoes that are ideal on warm days, especially if you want a shoe that is easy to remove before you take a swim.
Should you wear a bathing suit kayaking?
If you plan on swimming, yes, you should wear a bathing suit underneath as your first layer.
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