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July 25, 2022 9 min read

What to Wear Kayaking

Man wearing a sleeves on a red kayak

As kayaking is a year-round sport, the change in seasons usually brings a change in your kayak clothing. Unless you live in a tropical country, of course. Lucky you.

Whether you’re new to the kayaking world, or if you just need a kayak clothing refresh, then we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’re going to go over all the clothing you may need while kayaking in both summer and winter weather conditions. Let’s get into it!

What to Wear Kayaking in the Summer

Woman wearing a red shirt and a cap on a yellow kayak

Paddling in the summer comes with immense clothing freedom. You can paddle in a few light layers with added sun protection, or just in your swimsuit. The choice is really up to you. If you do choose the latter, however, make sure to top up your sunscreen at regular intervals.

Underwear or a Swimsuit

When paddling in warm weather, many people choose to wear a swimsuit over regular underwear. Of course, if you’d prefer underwear, then go for it! Just make sure it's not of a cotton variety, as these absorb water fairly quickly. 

Swimsuits are favored as their sole purpose is to be used in the water. If you get too hot during your paddle, you can simply jump out of your kayak and cool off without a care in the world.

Tops

If you want more layers when paddling, then you can wear a T-shirt or a rashguard over your underwear or swimsuit. 

Most rashguards are made of a nylon lycra blend or polyester, which are suited to watersports, including kayaking. These materials are quick-drying and protect your skin from damaging UV rays. As well as being highly protective against the sun, they’re also form-fitting, so they won’t disrupt your paddle strokes and will sit comfortably on your body. 

As we mentioned with the underwear, cotton absorbs and holds onto water, so your favorite cotton T-shirt probably isn’t the best layer for your kayaking adventure. Instead, opt for a water shirt. Water shirts offer UV protection similar to rashguards. However, they come in a much looser fit. 

For a detailed list of rashguards for men, women, and kids, head over to our article The 23 Best Rashguards in 2022.

Bottoms

Next up are bottoms, and depending on the air temperature, you may want to go down the board short or quick-dry pants route. 

Board shorts are a great option for particularly hot days out on the water. When purchasing a pair of board shorts, you want them to be slightly baggy, so they don’t cut into your skin while paddling. 

The other option of quick-dry pants do exactly what they say on the tin. They dry quickly. Quick-drying clothing is essential when it comes to kayaking, as touching or being splashed by the water is inevitable.

Fleece or Jacket

If you’re paddling in the evening or in the early morning, then you may need a fleece or a jacket until the temperature warms up. This also goes for those summer days where wind or rain is predicted. 

Even if you don’t initially wear your jacket, packing a slightly warmer high-quality waterproof and breathable jacket can make all the difference if the weather decides to change. 

A paddling jacket is an excellent choice as they typically have fastenings around the neck and wrists to prevent any water from entering. This comes in especially handy to prevent any drips from running down the paddle shaft and into your jacket sleeve.

Sunhat

One of the most important components to your summer kayaking clothing is a sunhat. Not only will a sunhat prevent the top of your head from getting burnt, but it will also keep the sun out of your eyes. A snapback, a bucket hat, or even a cowboy hat will do the job.

Paddling Boots

Paddling boots are completely optional, and many kayakers actually prefer going shoeless. There is nothing quite so refreshing as cool water running over your feet, after all. 

If you don’t want to go shoeless, then neoprene paddling boots are an alternative as they’re designed to be submerged in water and are extremely lightweight when worn. 

Shoes without backs, like flip flops for example, should be avoided at all costs as they will slip off your feet, rendering themselves useless.

Sunglasses

The final piece of clothing on your warm-weather kayaking list should be a high-quality pair of sunglasses

Sun exposure in the summer months is incredibly high, especially when you’re on the water because UV rays aren’t only directly coming down from the sun, but they also reflect off the water’s surface and straight into your eyes. 

When purchasing a new pair of sunglasses for your next kayaking trip, pay close attention to the lenses. When using sunglasses for water sports and activities surrounding the water, you should only be wearing polarized glasses. The polarized lenses in these glasses will reduce the glare from horizontal surfaces such as water. 

You can even get sunglasses that float on the water to give you an extra layer of security and reassurance. 

What to Wear Kayaking in the Winter

A woman wearing a red wetsuit on a yellow kayak

Cold weather and cold water conditions call for some extra planning and a few extra layers. The amount of layers you bundle up in will come down to how cold the temperatures really are, but in our opinion, you’re better to wear too many layers than not enough. 

Swimsuit or Underwear

Similar to hot weather paddles, your first cold water paddle layer should be a swimsuit or a pair of underwear. As the chances of you jumping into cold water are fairly low, a swimsuit isn’t a must, and underwear would work just fine. 

Layers

Next up are your layers, and this is where you can add as many or as little as you like. Your layers, however, will also depend on whether you’re wearing a wet suit or a dry suit. Here is a brief explanation of the two before we go more into detail about them later. 

A wetsuit will usually be made from thick neoprene. It works to keep your body warm by trapping a thin layer of water next to your skin. Your core body warmth then heats this water, keeping you warm for your entire paddling journey. 

A dry suit, on the other hand, is designed for much colder air and water. These suits are made from waterproof materials and have gaskets around their necks, wrists, and ankles to prevent any water from seeping into the suit. The layers that you wear under your dry suit are ultimately what will keep you warm.

So, with that being said, if you’re going down the wetsuit route, then only your swimwear underneath is needed as your body heat will keep you warm. But, if you’re opting for a dry suit, then your layers should be as follows: 

  • Base layer: Non Cotton long sleeve and legged underwear is an ideal base layer under a dry suit. This type of underwear traps in heat but also remains breathable and lightweight on your body. 
  • Mid-layer: While paddling in colder conditions, you may want to add a thick fleece or jacket over the top of your long underwear. If the weather is extremely cold, you can double up on your mid-layer before adding your outer layer dry suit. 

Dry Suit

As mentioned before, dry suits are essentially a full-body waterproof coat that prevents any and all water from getting to your body. These suits are the best option when it comes to kayaking in cold conditions as you have the ability to layer up excessively underneath. 

One of the downfalls of dry suits is that they are on the higher end of the price scale, but you get what you pay for, and in this case, its warmth. 

Wet Suit

Wetsuits are what you’ll see most surfers wearing while surfing in colder water. They’re extremely tight-fitted, and the warm water that gets trapped inside insulates you while you’re out paddling. Wetsuits come in a range of different thicknesses, and as a general rule, the thicker the suit, the warmer it will be.

Windproof Layer

If you opted for a wetsuit, then you could add an additional windproof layer. Unlike its dry suit cousin, the wetsuit is subject to cooling, so adding a windproof jacket and trousers over the top will prevent the suit from getting cold in particularly windy conditions.

Hat

We lose a lot of heat from our heads, so wearing a hat while kayaking in cold temperatures is essential. Not only will the hat trap in your precious body heat, but it will also stop your ears from getting cold. Many kayakers enjoy wearing beanies during their paddles as they’re tight-fitting, warm, and stylish. 

Boots

As well as losing heat from our heads, we also lose it from our feet, so a good pair of paddling boots is needed for your winter kayaking adventure. The boots you wear in summer can also be worn in winter; you just may need to add waterproof socks or thick non-cotton socks underneath. 

Gloves

We highly recommend wearing paddling gloves throughout every single cold water paddle. They will protect your hands from the harsh elements and also prevent any blisters when paddling over long distances.

What to Wear for Kayaking Top Tips

Man wearing a red life jacket fishing on a kayak

Now that we’ve covered the specific items of clothing you should be wearing in different seasons and weather conditions, let's get into our “what to wear” for kayaking top tips. 

Always Wear a PFD

No matter what the weather or season, you should always be wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). A PFD, you may also know as a life jacket, is a life-saving device that keeps the wearer buoyant in the water.

Life jackets have different buoyancy ratings, with most kayakers opting for a Type III PFD. In colder conditions, a life jacket is a win-win. Not only do you get the life-saving protection of remaining buoyant in the water, but you also get an additional layer to keep you warm.

We have reviewed an extensive list of kayak PFDs on the Best Kayak Life Jackets Reviewed.

Comfort Is Key

Whatever we do, we want to be comfortable, and that goes for kayaking also. If you choose to spend hours out on the water, you don’t want to be wearing clothes that make you feel uncomfortable or restricted. 

When purchasing your kayaking clothing, you want to find items that aren’t too tight or too loose. You also want to take into consideration the fabrics to ensure they aren’t itchy or irritating to your skin. 

Dress for Sun Protection All Year Round

It’s a common misconception that you don’t need to worry about sun protection in winter. After all, it’s not hot out, and the sun is hidden behind a cloud. 

Well, even in the winter, UV rays can damage our skin, so it's essential that we apply adequate sun protection before heading out paddling. You may feel silly lathering up in sunscreen or wearing a pair of sunglasses in the middle of winter, but trust us, your eyes and skin will thank you later. 

Dress for the Water Temperature

When it comes to kayak clothing, you should dress for the water temperature as opposed to the air temperature. Water temperatures are considerably lower than air temperatures, and even if you’ve never capsized before, the possibility is there. If you don’t dress appropriately, falling in the water could lead to hyperthermia or even a heart attack. 

Dress in Layers

Layers, layers, and more layers. That is the key to success when it comes to paddling in cold conditions. You’re better off taking too many layers and needing to remove a few mid paddle than not having enough layers and cutting your kayaking journey short because you’re cold and miserable.

Add a Spray Skirt to Your Kayak

Adding a spray skirt to your kayak is a great additional way to keep any water from entering the kayak’s cockpit. A spray skirt is a waterproof flexible cover that covers the kayak’s cockpit opening and has a hole big enough for a singular paddler to fit through.

Avoid Clothing Hardwear That Could Rust

As you’ll be exposed to water, including potentially saltwater, avoid all clothing with rustable hardware. It may not seem like a bad idea at the time, but having to replace your gear because the hardware is rusty will be irritating and costly in the long run. 

FAQ’S

🏆 What do you wear when you go kayaking?

What you wear to go kayaking will depend on the area and the water temperatures you’re paddling in.

For example, if you’re paddling in summer, then you may be able to get away with just wearing a swimsuit. Alternatively, you can add a top layer of a rashguard, paddling shirt, or board shorts.

In colder conditions, you’ll need to think about layers. These layers would include thermal underwear, a fleece or jacket, a wet suit or a dry suit, and potentially a windproof layer. Boots, a hat, and gloves are also recommended for winter paddles to trap in as much body heat as possible.

Along with that you should always wear a PFD and adequate sun protection, no matter what the weather or season.


👍 What should I wear first time kayaking?

For your first time kayaking, you should follow these clothing guidelines:

Summer

  • Swimsuit
  • PFD
  • Rashguard or paddling T-shirt (optional)
  • Boardshorts or quick-dry pants (optional)
  • Paddling boots (optional)
  • Sunhat
  • Sunglasses

Winter

  • Swimsuit
  • Thermal underwear
  • Wet suit or dry suit
  • Fleece or jacket
  • Windproof jacket
  • PFD
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Boots

🏝️ Do you wear a bathing suit to kayak?

A bathing suit is a great first layer when it comes to kayaking. In the summer, if the temperatures are warm enough, you’d even be able to wear your swimsuit as your only layer. But, in colder conditions, it makes an excellent base under your wetsuit or drysuit.

Megan Bryant
Megan Bryant

Based in Bali, her favorite SUP spot is the GILI Islands themselves. Travel is another passion of hers - she dreams to see the entire world one day.


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