Wondering what to wear kayaking? You aren’t alone!

Kayaking gear is just like hiking gear – versatile, durable, and comfy for your journey. Plus, you’re after gear that keeps you warm or cozy and dry in chilly, soaking conditions, very soaking conditions.

General Guidelines for Choosing Kayaking Outfit


When you’re choosing your kayaking outfit, just stick to these simple tips:

  • Never take off your personal flotation device (PFD) while you’re in the water. If your top layers need adjusting, find a spot to pull over. Or, your kayaking pal can steady your boat while you switch, but changing on land is always best.
  • Get dressed for the water’s temperature, not the air’s temperature; you might need to wear a wetsuit or dry suit.
  • Layer your clothes, particularly on top.
  • Dress to protect yourself from the sun. Even on cloudy days, a day on the water means a day of sun. So, choose clothing with UPF-rated fabrics (and sunscreen for bouncing UV rays).
  • Cotton is a no-go in every layer because it soaks up water and stays damp; opt for quick-drying fabrics instead. For anything touching your skin, go for wicking, quick-drying nylon or polyester (or another synthetic material). Wool dries slowly, but it insulates when it’s wet, so it’s a great option too.
  • Choose outfits that are comfy for moving around and sitting for a long time.
  • Look for resistant materials that are tough and can handle the friction of sand, water, and your kayak’s coarse materials.
  • Avoid zippers, fasteners, and hardware that can rust. Water, especially salty water, eats away at most metals, so sturdy plastics are a good substitute. You can usually trust that metal parts in specific paddling gears resist corrosion.

What to Wear Kayaking in Mild Conditions?


Undergarments: For short and warm paddling adventures, lots of folks prefer a swimsuit as the base layer. But remember, follow our comfy guidelines from earlier for the entirety of your trip. If not, go for noncotton sports bras and undies made for the great outdoors.

Shirts: Rashguards, made of polyester or nylon mixed with Lycra® spandex, are perfect for paddling and other water-based sports. They’re quick to dry, stretchy, and come with high UPF ratings for protection against UV rays. Their snug fit and seamless design makes them super comfortable, even under other clothes or a wetsuit. You can also rely on your favorite synthetic or wool base layer.

Water Shirts: Most of these shirts come with UPF protection, but unlike rashguards, they fit a bit looser. If you’re not planning to swim, they’re a solid choice.

Trousers: Choose what feels nice and dries fast for your lower half; board shorts or quick-dry pants are great picks. Dodge anything that could rub or chafe. Super light fabrics, like certain synthetic yoga pants, might not be best as they’re not designed for constant movement in your kayak.

Middle layer: If you don’t need a wetsuit or dry suit, it’s a smart idea to bring along a warm, synthetic mid-layer like a fleece jacket.

Outer layer: For possible encounters with heavy rain or wind, opt for a top-quality waterproof/breathable jacket and rain pants. Paddling jackets are brilliant with their wrist and neck gaskets ensuring water stays out; they’re especially handy for stopping the drips that run down your paddle shaft. If you’re only going out for a bit and don’t expect much rain, a breathable/water-resistant jacket should do the trick.

Footwear: Neoprene paddling booties are a dream, light as a feather, ready for the water and they protect your toes and feet. Anything similar is a go. However, water sandals are a bit less shielding than booties and can pick up pebbles, sand, and grime during entries and exits. Avoid backless footwear like flip-flops, they slip off too easily.

When it’s colder and rain or splashing waves are a possibility, you could also consider waterproof socks or waterproof paddling booties. Another alternative is thick noncotton socks inside your booties for that extra bit of warmth.

Hats: Aim for hats with broad brims or capes. Think about a cap leash, too, if there’s no chin strap or other surefire way to keep your hat secure. In the chill, you also need a beanie for warmth—it should fit snuggly either under or over your other hat.

Gloves: Paddling gloves are a treat as they guard against both blisters and windy weather. “Pogies” are another choice for cooler days: They attach to the paddle and you slip your hands inside to grip the shaft. Some folks prefer them because pogies let their hands directly hold the paddle while still being protected from the weather.

Glasses retainers: Few things are more heartbreaking than a pricey pair of sunglasses sinking to the ocean floor. Your retainer must float (test it at home) and always be secured. (It’s smart to bring an extra retainer, too.)

PFDs: Kayak rental shops insist you wear a personal flotation device (PFD), even if you’re only planning to paddle close to the coast. Most drowning accidents happen near the shore, but seldom to a paddler wearing a PFD. Even mild water is a shock when you capsize—a PFD gives core body warmth and keeps you floating without solely depending on swimming skills. So, don’t step into the boat until you’ve properly put on a PFD.

What to Wear Kayaking in Cool or Cold Water?


Ever fancied trying on a wetsuit after you’ve capsized? The important stuff goes on before you hop into the boat. And your approach doesn’t change, whether it’s your first adventure or you’re a seasoned sailor: Dress for a dip, not just the win.

Capsizing in chilly waters can give you immediate lung and heart shocks, leading to a possible drowning, and even later, hypothermia. And don’t bank on slipping on a wetsuit after capsizing because it’s way too late and quite frankly, not feasible. How chilly is “chilly”? U.S. Coast Guard safety pointers suggest cold-water immersion effects can hit the water as “toasty” as 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

So, unless you’re paddling in shielded, nearshore waters, a wetsuit or dry suit is advised for all but the mildest conditions—you’d do well to wear one whenever water temps dip to 70 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

  • A wetsuit is the bare minimum safeguard needed for these conditions. Usually crafted from thick neoprene, it keeps you warm by holding a slim layer of water (heated by your body) against your skin.
  • A dry suit is suited for colder water (and air). Created from a waterproof material, it also has watertight seals at the openings to keep you thoroughly dry. You control warmth by donning long underwear or another insulating layer beneath it.
  • For hot air but chilly water, a wetsuit is still needed. You might feel a tad warm while you paddle, but you’ll also be adequately attired for a swim.

You can check coastal water temperatures in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) water temperature map. For inland waters or areas NOAA doesn’t cover, do a quick online search, ask your guide, or reach out to a local paddling club or shop. Shop personnel can also provide guidance on wetsuits and dry suits.

How to Layer With a Wetsuit or Dry Suit?


Keep the warmth or toastiness of your wetsuit or dry suit, and your PFD, in mind as you select your layers.

Layering With a Long-Sleeve Wetsuit:

Base layer: The cozy water inside your wetsuit eliminates the need for a moisture-wicking base layer. But having swimwear underneath is handy for when you want to peel off your wetsuit later without scouting for a secluded changing spot.

Mid layer: The warmth inside and the thickness of the suit itself provide insulation. For cooler weather, you can consider heftier wetsuits.

Outer layer: Your wetsuit is waterproof but can experience wind chill if you get wet. Depending on the thickness of your wetsuit and the air and water temps, you might also need a wind-blocking outer layer.

Layering With a Short-Sleeve/Shorts or Sleeveless Wetsuit:

Base layer: Think about a quick-dry top under your wetsuit to cover the bare areas of your arms. A long-sleeve base layer or rashguard top is ideal for warmth and shielding from the sun. Opt for a slightly thicker moisture-wicking top if the air is nippy. (Short-sleeve/sleeveless wetsuits are best for mild conditions, though.)

Mid and outer layers: Carry along a lightweight fleece jacket and a raincoat or paddling jacket (to wear over your fleece jacket) so you can cover your arms and fend off wind chill if things get colder and wetter.

Layering With a Dry Suit:

Base layer: A dry suit is an essentially waterproof attire with water-tight seals, so you’ll definitely need noncotton long underwear. You can also purchase dry suit liners, and some dry suits come with a fleece lining.

Mid-layer: In colder weather, you can layer a thick fleece over your long underwear.

Outer layer: Your dry suit is going to be windproof and waterproof/breathable, so no extra outer layer is required.

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