Kayaking Clothes: What to Wear When Kayaking in All Conditions?

Clothes for Kayaking: The Basics

Kayaking, just like any other outdoor activity, requires clothes that provide temperature support, insulation, durability, versatility, and, most importantly, comfort while you’re on the move. However, kayaking clothes also need to protect you from the cold and wet conditions.

So, you may only put on your favorite sweats and a jacket when hiking on your nearest hill, but kayaking requires some planning ahead.

This is why we are going to start by listing the general guidelines for dressing when going on a kayaking adventure:

  • No matter what you wear, you always take the personal flotation device (PFD) and never take it off while in the water.
  • Plan to dress for the water temperature and not for the air temperature. The air outside is always warmer or colder than the water, so once you get into the water and get yourself wet, if it’s colder outside, you’ll start shaking and be freezing cold.
  • Plan on wearing a wetsuit or drysuit if needed.
  • Dress in layers, especially on your upper body.
  • Protect yourself from the sun with the clothes. Even if there’s no sun, the cloud cover still exposes you to the sun above, and the water reflects it, so you definitely will need clothing with UPF-rated fabrics plus sunscreen for the reflected UV radiation, at least on your face.
  • Stay away from cotton! Cotton gets wet and stays wet for hours. Go for quick-drying fabrics instead like quick-drying nylon or polyester, especially for the layers that will be directly in contact with your skin. Wool is an excellent idea too because even though it dries less quickly, it provides good insulation when wet.
  • Wear comfortable clothes that let you move comfortably and that you can sit in for hours.
  • Abrasion-resistant fabrics are exceptionally comfortable in these situations because they can take the wear and tear of the kayak, the sand, and the water.
  • Water corrodes metal, so your clothes need to be as free from “rustable” zippers, fasteners, and hardware as possible.

Other interesting articles

Kayaking clothes in mild weather

If you are wondering how to dress for kayaking in mild conditions, I have you covered. Here are all the things you will need when kayaking in spring/autumn.

Underwear

When going out to paddle for a shorter time (half a day or so) and it’s relatively warm outside, you can wear a swimsuit as your underwear. Make sure you are comfortable in it, though. If not, just pick something that’s non-cotton like sports underwear and go with that.

Tops

On top of your underwear, rashguards are fantastic because of their materials. Namely, they are made of polyester or nylon blended with Lycra® spandex. This makes them quick-drying, stretch well, and have good UPF ratings that will protect you from the sun. And because they stretch well, you won’t even feel them on your body.

Water Shirts

Water shirts are a substitute for the rashguards, but they have a looser fit. They also offer UPF protection, so if you don’t plan on swimming that day in it, then a water shirt is equally good.

Bottoms

Depending on the weather, you can wear either board shorts or long comfortable pants. The important thing here is that they are quick-to-dry and that they can stand the constant wear and tear of your seat as you paddle.

Kayaking-Helmets

Mid-layer Clothes

If the day is sunny and the water you are going in isn’t freezing cold, so you don’t have to wear a wetsuit or a dry suit, then I would suggest taking a fleece jacket or other warm, synthetic mid-layer to keep the warmth in.

Outer Layers

If it’s raining and you know the winds will be strong, then you need to invest in a good-quality waterproof but a breathable jacket and some rain pants. On the other hand, if you are going for a more extended trip and you expect some heavy raining and winds, then a paddling jacket is a must! They are comfortable, warm, but breathable and have gaskets at the wrists and neck to keep the water out.

Shoes

You need some lightweight, water-resistant, protective shoes that will keep you dry. For this, I would suggest getting one of those neoprene paddling booties to complete your kayaking clothes. If you go with water sandals, know that they will be less protective than booties and can collect gravel, sand, and muck underfoot during put-ins and takeouts.

Also, stay away from anything without a back strap like open sandals or flip-flops because they can come off quickly and don’t keep you warm and dry.

Don’t forget the waterproof socks and then the thick non-cotton socks inside your shoes to get some extra warmth.

Hats

Get a hat that has a cape or a wide brim in addition to your kayaking clothes. If the wind is more intense and the weather is colder, then get a beanie for warmth to protect your ears. Also, make sure your hat is protected with a leash or a tight chin strap so that you don’t lose it.

Gloves

Paddling gloves won’t only protect you from the cold air that chaps your skin, but they’ll also protect against blisters. Pogies are another option for gloves if you don’t want to wear gloves at all times. They fasten to the paddle, and whenever you paddle, you just slip your hands inside them.

Unsinkable glasses

There isn’t a sadder view than watching your pricey pair of shades sinking to the bottom of the water while you just sit there unable to save them. This is why these unsinkable glasses can save you from the headaches and complete your kayaking clothes.

kayaking-sunglasses
Kayaking clothes are a choice, some just wear a cotton shirt and shirts to get out on the water

Kayaking clothes in cold weather

Putting on more clothes after you get cold with shaking isn’t going to help you at all. In fact, when you don’t dress for the submersion, and you take light clothes even when it’s cold outside, you risk immediate lung and heart shocks, to eventual hypothermia. Yikes! That’s not what you want happening to you most certainly.

A wetsuit is a minimum requirement for protection for weather conditions. Wetsuits are made of neoprene, and it insulates your body from the cold water by holding a thin layer of water between the material and your body. That thin layer is the same and is once heater by your body, and it stays there regulating the same temperature at all times. You can see more about how wetsuits work here. (link to how wetsuits work article)

A drysuit is used when the water and air are even colder. Here you can read more about the difference between a dry suit and a wetsuit (link to differences between, article).

But basically, a drysuit is made to keep you completely dry with its watertight gaskets at the openings. With it, there isn’t a thin layer of water that regulates the temperature, but you yourself control it by wearing long or short underwear or another insulating layer under it.

If the air is hot and there’s sun outside, but the water is still pretty cold (usually in early springtime), you can wear a sleeveless wetsuit or one that has shorts and a short-sleeve top.

In order to dress right for the water temperature, always do a prior check online or ask someone who paddles or kayaks in the same location.

Man-Wetsuit-Snow-Cold
A wetsuit will keep you warm even in the coldest weather and can replace or add to your kayaking clothes

How to layer a wetsuit or a dry suit

Firstly take into account how warm your wetsuit or drysuit is plus how warming your PFD is. Then, with that plan the following layers of clothing:

Long-Sleeve Wetsuit Layering

THE BASE LAYER: The warm water in your wetsuit makes it unnecessary for you to have some significant base layer. Having a swimwear underneath it makes it very hygienic and easy when you wash the wetsuit (link to how to wash the wetsuit) afterward.

THE MID-LAYER: When wearing a wetsuit, you don’t really need a mid-layer because it covers that part too, but if it gets colder, then consider taking a thicker one.

Read more about the wetsuit temperature guide here (link to article).

THE OUTER LAYER: If the weather permits, there’s no reason to wear anything above your wetsuit since that is both watertight and windproof if you have a long-sleeve wetsuit.

kayak-wetsuit

Sleeveless or Short-Sleeve/Shorts Wetsuit Layering

In this case, consider having a quick-dry top underneath your wetsuit so that you can cover all your areas exposed to the sun or the cold air.

When having a sleeveless or short sleeve wetsuit, you can just take a light fleece jacket or a rain jacket or a paddling jacket so that you can cover your extremities if the weather becomes colder or wetter.

Dry Suit Layering

THE BASE LAYER: For dry suits, you definitely need non-cotton long underwear because the dry suit won’t keep you warm.

THE MID-LAYER: When the weather is colder, add a thick fleece layer over your long underwear for extra protection.

THE OUTER LAYER: Your drysuit is already windproof and waterproof/breathable, so unless it’s really windy and cold outside, you are protected against the weather conditions.

For additional information on wetsuits and drysuits, how to wash them, and other general info, be sure to search on this website because I have it all covered. What you don’t find, drop me a question below, and I’ll be happy to answer. In the meantime, don’t forget to connect with me on Facebook and Instagram for more cool tips and recommendations.

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Review written by: Tom

Hi! My name is Tom. During the year I try to be on a paddle board as much as possible. By reading this blog you'll stay updated on everything I test on the water :)