What to Wear Kayaking | Complete Guide + Learn to Layer
For people looking to get into kayaking, there are many different options for what to wear. The water temperature, weather and conditions all play a role in the decision making process of what to wear. That said, there are some general rules you should follow when making your decision.
You generally want to choose clothing that is durable and flexible that will offer you protection against wet and cold conditions. This guide is aimed towards recreational and beginner kayakers who are unsure of what to wear when kayaking.
There are various types of kayaking and, with climate and temperatures, it is important to acknowledge what you will be using your kayak for, before you decide what to wear. Kayak surfing and whitewater kayaking are a lot more adventurous and you’ll end up getting blasted with a lot more water. For these options you will need to consider whether a wetsuit or wearing a good dry or semi dry suit is appropriate.
And a kayak life vest for safety is a must.
Whitewaters are unstable and usually a lot colder than lakes or the sea. The likelihood of falling into the water, or capsizing, are a lot higher and for this reason we would recommend wearing a good kayak dry suit and kayak life vest.
You can get away with a wetsuit if the weather is warm. Starting out in mild or moderate conditions will always involve dunking in the water, especially when trying to get the hang of the kayak roll. For touring through moderate rapids, a dry suit might be the better option.
When considering a dry suit you will need to ensure that it is thick enough to ensure thermal protection. Whitewater kayaking is a lot more physical and breathable layers will allow your body to maintain a more stable heat. GoreTex layers, for example, are light but offer thermal protection.
Check out the Level Six Emperor dry suit as an option for sports kayaking. It’s reinforced and robust enough for more frantic movements. It’s recommended for whitewater activities.
A semi dry suit, one that has neoprene gaskets at the neck and wrists won’t fully prevent water from getting into your suit, but they are by far more comfortable than latex seals. If a kayak roll–known as an “eskimo roll” in politically incorrect circles–is not to be done, a semi dry suit will probably be a good idea.
Kayak surfing is a lot of fun, however, the chances of capsizing are very high. It is very physical and when choosing a wetsuit you will need to consider breathability of the materials as well as suppleness. We would also advise a kayak life vest to ensure you are safe, and for that extra layer of warmth.
Similar to that of whitewater kayaking, a dry suit or semi dry suit is also an option worth considering depending on the temperature and how long the session is going to be.
Unlike whitewater and surfing kayaking, fishing is a lot more quiet and the waters are likely to be stable, not to mention there will be less movement. We would advise preparing lots of layers to ensure you don’t get cold, as well as a good hat and sunscreen if it’s sunny.
You will be a lot more exposed to the air temperatures when fishing and kayaking and for this reason you should use layers to ensure you are prepared for all weather conditions. GoreTex kayaking dry suits are a good option here.
This guide is focused on recreational kayaking, and most tips in this article will be aimed towards recreational kayakers. When kayaking recreationally we would recommend considering comfortable and supple clothes which are good for movement. The air temperatures will also influence your choice of clothing more. Make sure you check out the water temperature and are prepared to fall in. A life vest is definitely recommended, especially if you are a beginner. But don’t even think about an inflatable PFD that gets triggered when submerged–for obvious reasons.
Tips for what to wear kayaking
When deciding what clothes to wear, a good rule of thumb is to wear lots of layers. This way if you get too hot you can always remove and store a layer for when the temperature drops. Additionally, a key for comfortable kayaking is to dress for the water temperature rather than the air temperature.
Sun protection is important even if there is lots of cloud cover. If possible try to wear UPF rated clothing and plenty of sunscreen in order to protect yourself from UV radiation.
You also want to consider clothing material that is non permeable and doesn’t absorb water. For kayaking, quick drying fabrics such as polyester and nylon as well as waterproof clothing is the best option to ensure you don’t get wet and cold.
Another thing you want to think about is wearing flexible clothing that ensures mobility when kayaking and provides you with a high level of comfort when kayaking for longer sessions. Durable, rugged fabrics that will protect you from the elements while maintaining their integrity are perfect for kayaking. Try to avoid clothing with zippers or metal parts to them as they will rust when exposed to salt water.
It’s essential to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times when kayaking. This means that whatever clothing you decide to wear will have to work around the PFD. It’s recommended that you wear the PFD before entering the kayak and only remove it when you’re back on land.
There are a variety of different options for kayaking tops. Rashguards are a great base layer because they dry quickly and stretch to offer maximum mobility when kayaking. They work best under other clothing and wetsuits. You can also get a UPF rated rash guard to protect you from UV radiation. If you decide on more traditional clothing, make sure to go for quick drying synthetic clothing that won’t hold water. Try to avoid fabrics like cotton, wool, or linen that will absorb water, making you damp and cold.
With kayaking, the idea is to wear something that is quick drying and comfortable as you will be sitting for extended periods of time. You also want the material to be durable and protect you from the elements. While kayaking in the summer, swim trunks are a great option as they dry quickly and are generally comfortable. Alternatively, in winter a pair of waterproof pants will keep you dry and warm.
Waterproof pants are great options for kayaking in colder climates, where the water temperature is very cold. The great benefit of waterproof pants is that they keep you dry and offer paddling protection, making them comfortable to sit in while kayaking.
For warm, summer weather there is no better choice than swim trunks as they provide a high level of comfort and keep you cool while drying quickly.
Waterproof jackets are perfect for kayaking as they are perfect for layering with jumpers or fleeces. The best waterproof jackets for kayaking are 100% waterproof, flexible, and offer full mobility so as not to constrict arm movement when on the water.
Many waterproof jackets have gaskets at key areas such as the neck and wrists to ensure water is kept out. Pay particular attention to whether or not they are neoprene and if they have cuffs to protect against wear and tear.
Kayak shoes provide protection and stability when kayaking and help you avoid bruising and scratching your feet. They make shore entries less painful, and they provide warmth in colder weather allowing kayakers to kayak for longer periods of time in colder temperatures
It’s always a good idea to have a hat with you on kayak excursions. In most cases kayaking means spending a lot of time in the sun so you should bring a hat to protect your face and head from the sun. Wide brim hats are perfect for warm weather although you will want to consider buying a hat with a chin strap to stop you from easily losing your hat in the water. In winter you’ll need a beanie for maintaining warmth and you can opt for the hood of a waterproof jacket to keep you dry.
Kayak gloves are essential for kayakers who want to protect their hands from the rigors of the sport. The extra layer will extend the pleasure of kayaking adventures while preventing calluses and blisters. Kayak gloves also provide a better grip for holding on to the paddle when it is wet.
Kayak Life Vests
Kayak life vests are important because they increase your buoyancy and decrease your chances of drowning in case of an accident. Another function of kayak life vests is to keep you warm by maintaining your core body temperature. In many places, it is required by law to wear personal flotation devices so make sure you always have your kayak life vests on before getting into your kayak.
You might also want to also bring a dry bag with you to store all your valuables and keep them dry and protected.
Wetsuits are ideal for keeping in heat while kayaking. By protecting you from being constantly exposed to cold water, wetsuits not only support heat retention but also protect you from UV rays. Depending on the conditions you might want to choose a drysuit as this option keeps you completely dry and is more suitable for long kayaking expeditions.
Dry suits keep kayakers warm and dry and allow them to withstand colder temperatures. These suits are loose-fitting and comfortable, and you can layer clothes underneath them in order to increase warmth.
Dry suits are designed to be waterproof and water-resistant and should be breathable. Having a reliable and comfortable dry suit when kayaking will give you the ability to kayak in colder conditions and will keep you warm for longer durations.
Some people prefer semi dry suits for prolonged wear without the latex compression around the neck and wrists. These suits are great for more leisurely paddling trips, keeping you dry without leading to overheating or discomfort after long periods of time.
Dry Suit Layering
Dry suits are amazing when kayaking and act as a waterproof layer. Their watertight seams and water resistant fabric make them an excellent component to keep you dry whilst kayaking, however, for added comfort we recommend a few extra layers.
Some drysuits come with a fleece lining, however, if this isn’t the case a soft base layer will help for both comfort and warmth. You can buy some base layers specifically made for drysuits such as the SEAC Unifleece otherwise we would recommend thin, non-cotton long underwear.
If you are venturing out in particularly cold conditions a good fleece over your base layer will help keep you warmer for longer. It’s important that the middle layer is easy to remove, so that if the sun comes out you can easily remove it.
The outer layer will be your drysuit. Your drysuit should be waterproof, windproof as well as breathable so no outer layer should be necessary. We would recommend wearing a kayak life vest for safety.
Need more Kayaking tips?
Read our Guides
How to Choose a Kayak?
How to Choose a Kayak Paddle?
Kayak Camping: How to make the most of it
Kayak Gear for Beginners
The 7 Golden Rules of Kayak Safety
Kayak Transport: Trailers and Racks
FAQ – Frequently asked questions about What to wear when Kayaking
In the cold months of winter kayaking can be difficult and sometimes even dangerous. When kayaking in winter, you’ll need lots of water resistant layers and maybe even a dry suit to ensure that you stay dry and warm when kayaking. During winter jumpers and fleeces can be layered under a waterproof jacket. Also gloves are essential to keep your hands warm and protected. Additionally, a pair of good kayak shoes will ensure that your feet stay warm and dry. Finally you’ll need a kayak life vest.
Spring can be a difficult season to dress for, the change in temperature can make the air temperature warm and you might want to dress down. That said, it is always good to dress for the water temperature and with river water often being the cold ice melting on the mountains the water in Spring is always a lot colder.
Taking this into consideration we would advise a good thick wetsuit as well as a few additional layers, including a fleece and most importantly a kayak life vest. With the sun starting to shine and the weather brightening it is also advisable to wear sun protection including sunscreen and a hat.
With the rapid change in temperatures in Fall it can be another difficult season to dress for. With the summer temperatures slowly fading it is most important to remember that air temperature generally drops faster than the water temperature. Always dress for the water temperature and not the air temperature.
With the air cooling we would recommend layering and packing or wearing a fleece just in case it gets colder than expected. Never forget comfort whilst kayaking and wear a thin, non-cotton underwear layer under your top layer. Kayak shoes will also help keep your body temperature warm. Most importantly remember to be safe and wear a kayak life vest, this extra layer will also provide an extra bit of warmth.
In the hot and warm months of the summer, kayaking is one of the most fun recreational activities. When kayaking in the summer, swim trunks, a rashguard and some kayak shoes will keep you cool and are suitable given the weather conditions. You should also wear sunscreen and a hat to protect you from the sun. Don’t forget to wear a kayak life vest as it is an essential part of kayak safety and required by law in many places.
These recommendations are very general so it is important to remember that you should always check the air and water temperatures and always dress for the water temperature!