What should I wear while kayaking?

When going kayaking, your choice of clothing must be based on two important factors. First off, the weather condition for safety and next, your comfort. It’s a good thing both factors go hand-in-hand, and that’s why when you wear a loose, long-sleeved shirt on a hot day, you solve both problems. The clothing protects you from sunburn and keeps you cool. A wetsuit keeps you warm in chilly weather and protects you from hypothermia. However, there are some other factors to consider. Your kind of kayak(sit-on-top/sit-in) is one. Let’s take our time through every detail on the appropriate dressing when kayaking.

Weather conditions

There’s summer, winter, autumn, and spring and you might be wondering if you have to dress for each season. Well, yes. It’s simpler than what you think. The most important thing to consider about the weather is the forecast for the particular day you want to go kayaking. You want to know what the weather and water temperatures for that day look like. If you’re kayaking a river, check the forecasts upstream and downstream. This way, you’re better equipped for rainfall a few miles upstream from your position. 

So, it’s a sunny day, and the weather is warm. What do you wear?

Kayak clothing for warm weather

Under direct sunlight, you’d be glad you have a wide-brimmed hat to cover your scalp and face. The same goes for a pair of sunglasses. Sunlight reflecting off water can be distracting for the eyes when kayaking and your sunglasses will prevent this. Your glasses retainers should be attached to the sunglasses. Make sure they float. The middle of the sea isn’t the best place to lose a pair of valuable sunglasses. Never forget to wear sunscreen on a sunny day.

A good buff or sun mask will come in handy too. Go for the ones that are breathable and UV-resistant. A loose, long-sleeved shirt is also important. Combine this with trousers for the best protection against sunburn. If you’re the board-shorts kind of person, that’s cool too. It’s easy to forget that a pair of gloves are needed too. After all, it’s hot, and you’re not bothered about keeping your hands warm. However, a pair of light Spandex or Lycra gloves will offer protection against the sun and abrasion from the paddle. You can also consider pogies. They hold fast to the paddle, and all you need do is slip your hands into them to grip the shaft.

For footwear, anything that is lightweight protecting your toes and the bottoms of your feet work fine. Neoprene paddling boots are ideal. Water sandals can work too but be careful not to collect sand or gravel when taking them off or putting them on. Do you know what else works? A pair of crocs! They satisfy the requirements here plus they get dry so fast.

At this juncture, we shall discuss an important aspect of dressing for kayaking. Clothing should be in layers for either warm or cold weather conditions. Why? You will need a warm top layer when warm conditions suddenly turn cooler. The exertion while kayaking can make you feel very hot on a sunny day. On a cold day, what’s warm on land may not work far out on the water. So, how do you layer your clothing for warm weather?

  • First layer: A swimsuit is appropriate as underwear in warm conditions. Comfort is important too, remember? For tops, rashguards or water shirts dry fast, stretch well and protect against UV rays. Water shirts are not appropriate if you plan to take a dip in the water.
  • Mid-layer: Bring along a fleece jacket. Any synthetic layer that will keep you warm just in case is enough.
  •  Outer-layer: A breathable, water-resistant jacket is okay.

Most likely, all you’ll need on a hot day out is your swimsuit as underwear and a long-sleeved shirt with shorts. Whatever you do, avoid cotton. In hot weather, cotton can become clammy and distressing. This is because it holds moisture when we sweat. You need enough water on hot day kayaking too. Staying hydrated is paramount.

A Personal Floatation Device(PFD) will help in one of those occasions where capsizing happens. A PFD keeps you warm and afloat in water, and this is crucial to survival in these situations. Falling into the water on a hot or cold day can be shocking, and the PFD helps to deal with the panic that ensues.

Kayak clothing for cold weather

Dressing for kayaking in cold weather and water needs to be a lot more intentional than in warm weather, hypothermia is a real threat, and can set in fast. Layering is very important as water can be mildly cold or very cold. In mildly cold situations, a combination of waterproof outer layers over thermal clothing can work. 

A change of clothing is necessary too. The best way to recover from sudden immersion is to get warm again, and wet clothes defeat that purpose. In very cold water, dressing needs to be stricter. There’s always a way to beat cold water by dressing appropriately no matter how cold the water is.

A wetsuit is the least you can go for when kayaking in cold weather. Once the water temperature drops below 60°F, a wet suit becomes necessary. Combined water and air temperature less than 120°F  make wearing a wetsuit compulsory too. 

Wetsuits are made of neoprene; they trap a thin layer of water between your body and the suit. Your body warms this layer of water, thus preventing loss of heat while you are in the water. Wetsuits are not designed to keep you dry entirely. 

The thicker the suit’s neoprene, the better it is at insulating and keeping you warm. Wetsuit thickness is key to warmth. There’s a specific wetsuit thickness appropriate for the temperature of the water you’re going to kayak in. 

This information is contained in a guide on How to Choose a Wetsuit, Thickness, Temperature Ratings & More. It’s best to kayak with the right kind of wetsuit for the weather.

For cold water and hot air, a sleeveless wetsuit or one with shorts and short-sleeve tops is good. Now, how do you layer with a wetsuit?

  • First/Base layer: Your swimwear is appropriate for this situation. A wetsuit’s design precludes the need for a warming base layer, so swimwear works quite fine. A long-sleeved dry top is okay for sleeveless wetsuits. A rashguard top can do the job too.
  • Mid-layer The wetsuit is the mid-layer. The thicker it is, the better it is at performing its function.
  • Outer layer: With long-sleeved wetsuits, you won’t need an outer layer. All the same, a light fleece jacket should be taken along. A rain or paddling jacket works fine too, especially if the wetsuit is sleeveless.

In extremely cold water, wearing a dry suit is non-negotiable. Unlike a wetsuit, it’s waterproof. They are made of vulcanised rubber and laminated nylon and are sealed at the wrists, feet, and neck. You need one for kayaking in water temperatures less than 45°F where wetsuits may not be as effective. Now, how do you layer with a drysuit?

  • First/Baselayer: Long non-cotton underwear is preferred. Some drysuits come with a fleece lining. Thermal clothing can work too. They use materials such as polyurethane to maintain body warmth. Items made of high-wicking materials are best. They use capillary motion to spread out moisture over a large area, allowing fast evaporation of sweat.
  • Mid-layer: If you’re wearing only underwear, a thick fleece layer can serve as a mid-layer. Thermal clothing needs no mid-layer.
  •  Outer layer: The drysuit is the outer layer. That’s all that is needed.

Gloves made from neoprene are better for cold weather kayaking. They’re waterproof, well-padded, and insulated. Pogies are better suited for the cold weather. You may even combine them with gloves in extremely low water temperatures. Neoprene boots work best in milder water temperatures. In extremely cold water temperatures, dry suits usually come with in-built boots and that should do the job. 

A thermal hat, buff, or facemask protects the head and face from cold. In anything you do, remember to always dress for the water temperature. A knowledge of what to do in cases of hypothermia can also help groups of kayakers. Endeavour to have spare thermal clothing always. This helps in emergencies.

Type of kayak

In warmer weather conditions, sit-on-top kayaks offer great ventilation, but the chances of getting wet in them are high. Hence, a wetsuit with neoprene boots will work in mildly cold water. Sit-in kayaks are great in very cold conditions. They should be fitted with a spray skirt for more warmth.

Type of paddling

If you’re white-water kayaking, you’re surely going to sweat a whole lot. Kayaking in calm waters for an extended period will have the same effect on your sweat glands. Clothing needs to be high wicking so that sweat evaporates as fast as possible. Combining high wicking fabrics with a dry suit would work perfectly in extremely cold conditions where you have to exert yourself a lot.

Keep in mind that the most important things in selecting your dressing for kayaking are safety in the prevailing weather condition and comfort. Have fun, kayakers!

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We are passionate about the outdoors, kayaking in particular. We have built this website to share all of the tips and tricks that we have learned along the way, we hope you have as much fun as we do.

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