What to Wear Kayaking: Essential Tips and Tricks

You need to dress appropriately whether you are into kayaking as a sport, a pastime activity, an adventure, or kayak fishing. But many new and seasoned kayakers do not know what to wear kayaking until they find themselves in a bad situation.

Ideally, you need the correct attire for kayaking like you would have to dress appropriately when fishing or for any other outdoor activity. And some of the things you are going to look out for include versatility, safety, and durability. Besides, comfort and flexibility are equally very essential aspects since kayaking is an activity that requires maximum flexibility.

Even with the above knowledge, you will still find layering pretty restricting. Like every other water activity, weather inevitably affects kayaking. We will take you through the right clothing for a kayaking expedition.

However, let us consider the basics first.

Tips to Consider When Choosing What to Wear When Kayaking

There are basics you need to keep in mind when choosing your kayaking apparel. They include;

a.       Always Wear a Personal Floating Device

While this sound very complementary, it is one of the things you should consider. A personal floating device or PFD is a must-have. Of course, this is irrespective of your skill level, the grade of waterway, or the type of weather. Your safety comes first. Since weather can be unpredictable and anything can happen, there no exceptions about this one.

b.      Avoid Cotton Fabrics

Whether you are going to surf in a freezing weather condition or under the scorching sun, one thing you must avoid is cotton clothing. Cotton is great, particularly if you want to keep warm. However, cotton fabrics suck up water and take too long to dry up. Kayaking in waterlogged pants or tops can be stressful and uncomfortable. You do not want to spend an entire day shivering in the middle of nowhere.

c.       Move Freely

Restrictive clothing does not allow you to move freely, and this will undoubtedly restrict your kayaking style. So, choose clothing that allow you to move with sufficient freedom if you want to maximize on convenience. But also ensure that they are not overly loose and wobbly. Coordinating your paddles in a loose clothing is quite challenging. Again, loose clothing provide a lot of air resistance.

d.      Choose Durable Materials

Kayaking is not for weaklings. You will be fighting against waves and rapids to stay over water. You can expect a lot of dirt, sand and water on you. Thus, you need materials that are abrasion resistant lest you want to be in the market for new cloths in a couple of months.

e.      Consider the Weather

Notably, weather is one of the biggest influencers of your kayaking attire. However, your dressing code should go beyond the weather. The trick about what to wear for kayaking is that you remember to dress for the water temperature, and not for the climate.

f.         Sun Protection

Getting out there the entire day will expose your eyes to too much sun light. Your skin, too, will have to bear with the effects of sun rays. It even gets worse if you are kayaking in a hot, sunny day. Find yourself a suitable sunscreen to protect your skin from sun rays. A UV-rated sunglass will also help protect your eyes from direct sunrays as well as refractions.

g.        Dress in Layers

One of the most common rules you should keep in mind as an outdoor is to wear layers. And that applies to kayaking, too. Layering gives you the flexibility to change with varying weather conditions. Layers also provide remarkable insulation and will reliably keep you worm. At the same time, ensure that your layers are relatively loose to allow movement during paddling.

h.      Avoid Rustable Hardware

Moisture and salt will definitely cause corrosion to any metallic parts of your apparels. Salty water is even worse and will make nearly all your metallic zippers, fasteners, and other hardware rustable. Rugged plastics will serve you better and are great alternatives.

i.         Waterproof Any Valuables

Kayaking is not a calm adventure. And even when you expect you’re the day and waters to remain calm, you cannot rule out the unexpected. Even more, splashes of water will certainly get into your vessel and may tamper with your valuables such as phones. Put all your valuables in waterproof casings.

  1. Glasses Retainers

You will easily drop your glasses in the water and they will sink dep down. Well, that could be the premature end of your kayaking mission. You certainly do not want to go through that. Therefore, arm yourself with glass retainers. They help secure your sunglasses on your head.

Still, accidents happen and you may still drop your glass on water even with the retainers. This often happens when taking off your glasses or when donning them. The surest way to avoid losing your glasses is to attach a float on them.


Many people get it wrong with layering. That is why before we delve into what to wear when kayaking, it is important to go through the aspect of layering. Choose your layers depending on the warmth of your suit and your Personal Floating Device. We will look into layering with wetsuits and layering with dry suits.

A.      Layering with Long-Sleeved Wetsuits

Base Layer Interestingly, wetsuits have warm water in them. The warm water negates any need for investing in a wicking base layer. Still, you will find it essential to have a swimwear underneath. This helps you to undress later without looking for a private changing room.

Mid layer- You have sufficient garment thickness and insulation from the warm water in your wetsuit. Consider models that are thicker if you intend to kayak in colder conditions.

Outer layer- Excitingly, wetsuits are both windproof and watertight. So, an outer layer is essential, particularly if you are putting on a long-sleeve wetsuit.

B.      Layering with Short-Sleeve Wetsuits or Sleeveless Wetsuits

In cases of sleeveless or short-sleeve wetsuits, the following tips are important;

Put on a quick-dry top beneath your wetsuit. The top should be long-sleeved to help cover exposed sections of your arms. You can also use a rash guard instead of a long-sled base layer. Either way, the underneath clothing keeps you warm and protects you from the sun. consider a heavier base layer in relatively cold weather.

A rain jacket or a light fleece jacket will come in handy in case weather conditions change. You can use the jacket to protect your arms from cold weather. A paddling jacket is also a great option to carry along.

  1. Layering with Dry Suits

Base Layer- Since dry suits are basically rainwear with seals that are watertight, find a long non-cotton underwear. Ideally, you can also find suit liners in the market, or your dry suit probably came with a fleece lining.

Mid Layer- You do not need a mid-layer when using a dry suit in dry conditions. However, find yourself a thick fleece layer to put on under your underwear when kayaking in colder conditions.

Outer Layer- Again, you do not need any outer layer. A dry suit is breathable, waterproof, and windproof.

Dressing for Warm Water and Warm Weather

Undoubtedly, warm water and warm weather conditions are the simplest to dress for. All you need to do is to protect yourself from the sun and ensure that you stay cool. Besides, hydration is another thing you would want to consider.

The following tips are essential;

  • Use a hat and sunscreen to ensure ultimate protection from the sun.
  • Carry plenty of clean drinking water to ensure that you stay hydrated. Don’t expect to rely on the river water.
  • Put on glasses to protect your eyes from direct UV rays and the refractive rays from the water surface.
  • Cover yourself with a long-sleeved shirt to protect your arms from direct UV rays.

Warm Weather, Cold Water Kayaking

Warm weather, cold water kayaking is more challenging to dress for if you are planning a kayaking trip in such conditions. You should not let the warm weather deceive you and forget the need to dress for the water temperature and not the weather condition. Getting drenched in cold water will undoubtedly take away all the heat from your body. The end result is that you will be shivering despite the warm weather. That can be disastrous.

While a sit in kayak will offer some protection from wind and water splashes, you do not get that when using a sit on top model. Prepare yourself accordingly and dress appropriately depending on the type of kayak you plan to use.

How to Dress When Kayaking in Mild Conditions

  • Underwear- A swimsuit will work perfectly as your underwear, particularly if you are going for a short outing in warm conditions. But if you find this less comfortable, sports bras or any other active outdoor wear should do the trick.
  • Tops- Polyester rash guards or rash vests are a preference for most seasoned kayakers. They are lightweight and dry quickly. Besides, you will find them perfectly elastic and possess remarkable UPF ratings that will protect your skin against the harsh UV rays. While water shirts are also fine, they are often looser and may not be windproof.
  • Bottoms- While you will find various options for kayaking bottoms for mild conditions, ensure that you maintain comfort. Also, choose apparels made from materials with fast-drying capabilities. Ensure that whatever you choose is neither too binding nor chafing. Even though lightweight garments are ideal, do not consider super thin materials as they are not ideal for fast, unrestricted movements.
  • Mid Layer- Often, mild conditions do not require wet or dry suits. In such cases, it makes sense to bring a fleece jacket. You can also consider any other warm synthetic fabric.
  • Outer Layer- Your choice for an outer layer will depend on the expected weather forecast of the day. If you expect rain or wind, consider carrying rain pants and a waterproof jacket. Paddling jackets come with gaskets at the wrists and neck to keep of water. Gaskets will reliably keep off any drips running along your paddle shaft. However, if you expect to stay out just for a few hours and you do not see the possibility of any rains, a simple water resistant jacket can do. But you need to ensure that the jacket is breathable.
  • Footwear- Look, you need to protect your toes and the bottom/ plantar section of your feet. Thus, there is need for a suitable footwear. Ideally, the kind of footwear that you choose should be lightweight and water-ready. Neoprene paddling booties perfectly meet this description.

While many paddlers prefer paddles for more freedom, they are less protective. They will also collect sand and gravel which may make movements quite inconvenient. Besides, sandals will always muck your underfoot as you do your put-ins and take-outs.

Overall, avoid flip-flops and any other footwear without back straps as they can easily come off and interfere with your stability.

  • Hats- hats will help protect you from sun rays. However, only the right kind of hat can do that. Consider hats with capes or wide brims. And since you will be paddling against wind, ensure that you can easily secure your hat with a cap leash or a chin strap.
  • Gloves– Many people think that gloves are only ideal for cold weather, cold water paddling. That is not the truth. You can use gloves any day, any time to protect your palms from the hard and consistent grip of your paddle. Ensure that the pair of gloves you go for are comfortable and neither too loose nor too tight.

How to Wear When Kayaking in Cold Weather, Cold Water Conditions

Kayaking is an all-year round activity. And while you cannot rule out kayaking in winter, you need to take the right precautions, just like you would do with ice fishing. All the mild weather apparels we have discussed above will apply.

But in addition to them, make the following adjustments;

  • Mid-layer- Do not venture into cold weather conditions without a wet suit. It cushions you from both cold water and cold air hence makes the minimum protective clothing that you should have. You may choose to either wear a swimsuit beneath the wetsuit. That’s not mandatory, though.

But if you are using a dry suit instead of the recommended wetsuit, a long underwear and a fleece before the dry suit. Also, a sleeveless wetsuit will sufficiently help you stay comfortable in rare conditions where by the air is hot but the weather is cold. Alternatively, wetsuits with short sleeve tops and a pair of shorts always does the trick.

  • Outer Layer- Do you expect rain during your outing? If your answer is yes, you will need to prepare for it. Cold weather and cold rain are harsh. But if you add to it another bout of cold rain, you are always going to face a rough time. Interestingly, you can still protect yourself from all these conditions and have a successful outing out there.
  • Consider carrying a waterproof, weatherproof rain jacket. Paddling jackets are incredible options, particularly since they come with wrist and neck fastenings that ensure rain water does not get to your body. Also, do not forget to carry rain pants.
  • Footwear- As we already indicated, sandals or flip-flops are not welcome for paddling expeditions even in warmer conditions. Well, avoid them like a plague when kayaking in cold conditions. Paddling booties should be your obvious pick. And to cushion your legs and feet from the cold, you will need to add a pair of waterproof socks. Any socks should be non-cotton for extra warmth and fast drying.
  • Hats- Certainly, you do not want to go against the wind without a hat. Avoid hats as much as you can. A wide brimmed hat will do well in all weather conditions. Besides, ensure that you secure your hat appropriately lest it fly away as you paddle. Of course, a hat only protects you against wind, and that’s why you will need a beanie beneath the hat to protect you from the freezing weather.
  • Gloves- You cannot rule out the need for gloves, both in warm and cold weather conditions. They cushion your hands against the pressure from your paddle and protect you against burns and blisters. Again, they will sufficiently keep your hands warm and retain the heat. Ensure that you choose gloves made from fast-drying, non-slippery materials.
  • If you are not a big fan of gloves, pogies will do well for you. You can conveniently fasten them to you paddle. Such a feature provides you with the convenience to directly grip your paddle while still protecting you from the harsh elements of the cold weather.

Key Takeaway

We believe that the information provided in this article is sufficient to help you decide on what to wear kayaking. Choose your kayak appropriately and always ensure that you focus on the water temperatures, and not just the weather. Finally, protect yourself from natural weather conditions such as wind, rain, and sun.