What to Wear When Kayaking

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Post Updated On: February 11, 2020
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Did you ever try to change clothes while drifting in a kayak? What if your boat capsized? It’s what you wear before you board the boat that counts. In addition, the approach is the same whether you are on your maiden or your millionth voyage: Dress for submersion, not triumph. 

How to Use This Guide 

Before you start reading this article, acquaint yourself with a list of terms we’ll be using throughout the guide to describe each piece of clothing.

  • BEST MATERIALS: This term will describe what materials you should look for when shopping.
  • PRICE RANGE: From the low to high end, you will know what product you will be expecting.
  • CONDITIONS BEST FOR: There are certain conditions that your clothing will be most suitable to wear in.
  • TYPE OF KAYAKING: There are a few types of kayak and kayaking. This will help you select the dress for the occasion.
  • IDEAL PROPERTIES: Here we will explain the qualities in practical clothing terms.

You may be at a loss when deciding what to wear kayaking, start with these tips. Therefore, you need to pursue this tip: dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. 

Dress in layers, especially on top

Dress for sun protection

You may choose to wear cotton due to lightweight. But, cotton retains water. Therefore, you need to seek quick-drying fabrics instead. Wear clothes that will make you feel comfortable even if you wear them for long periods of sitting.

Always remember to:

  1. Wear clothes that let you move at ease 
  2. Prepare for the Water Temperature
  3. Prepare for submersion in cold water, even when air temperatures are mild.

Risks vary from instant lung and heart shocks to drowning, as well as ultimate hypothermia. In addition, don’t plan on wearing a wetsuit after you tip over because it’s too late and pretty much impossible to do.

What to wear when paddling?

A wetsuit or dry suit is necessary for all but the mildest conditions— put one on when water temperatures reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler. If the water temperature is above 60, you need to take into the air temperature account as well. 

You should still put on your wetsuit or drysuit if the shared air and water temperature is less than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.*

A wetsuit is the least protection required for those conditions.

Usually made of a substantial neoprene, it protects you by providing a thin layer of water (heated by your body) next to your skin.

A dry suit is perfect for colder water (and air). The waterproof material is suitable for varied conditions. It also comes with watertight gaskets at the openings to keep the wearer completely dry. You regulate warmth in sensitive parts by wearing long underwear or another warm layer under it.

For hot air, but cold water, consider a sleeveless wetsuit—Farmer John or Jane styles—or you can go through wetsuits with shorts and short-sleeve tops.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) factors in water temperature map Coastal water temperatures. For local waters or areas, NOAA does not cover, search online, ask your guide or contact a local paddling club or shop. Shop staff can also counsel you about wetsuits and drysuits.

*According to the Cold Water Survival Guide published by the ACA (American Canoe Association), which certifies canoe, kayak, SUP and raft instructors nationwide.

Clothing Strategies 

  • Quick-drying
  • Shorts

Clothing for kayaking has matching requirements to other out-of-doors activities like hiking: You are looking for flexibility, strength, console while you are in motion and defense from cold and wet conditions (very wet conditions).

  • Quick-drying fabrics: For any clothing cover that is in contact with your skin, look for wicking, quick-drying nylon or polyester (or another synthetic fabric). Wool tends to dry less fast but insulates when damp so is also an excellent option. Keep away from cotton in all layers, because it takes up water and stays wet.
  • Fabrics that resist abrasion: You will favor more coarse fabrics that can meet head-on with the wearing away of your gritty, watery world.
  • Sun protection: Irrespective of cloud cover, a day on the water requires a day of sun exposure. So, putting on clothing with UPF rated fabrics is a sensible choice (plus sunscreen for reflected UV radiation).

Layering with a Wetsuit or Dry Suit a kayaker in a dry suit, bringing the kayak out of the water

The outdoor approach of layering also seems sensible for paddling.

Covering in layers allows you to contain or throw out clothing items as temperatures regulate. Take the heat of your wetsuit or drysuit, as well as your PFD into account, as you choose your layers.

Note that the suggestion below is for your in-boat wear. If you are also camping, then you’ll want to add a dry set of support layers and mid-layers for camp, as well as rainwear and things like camp shoes.

Layering with a Wetsuit

  • Base layer: The water inside cancels out the requirement for a wicking base layer. Having swimwear beneath it, although, is good so that you can take away your wetsuit later without requiring to discover a confidential changing area.
  • Mid-layer: The temperate water inside and the thickness of the suit itself protects you. For colder conditions, you can look at thicker wetsuits.
  • Outer layer: Your wetsuit is both waterproof and windproof, so no external coating is typically required if you’re wearing a long-sleeved wetsuit.

Layering with a Sleeveless or Short-Sleeve/Shorts Wetsuit

Think of how a quick-dry top beneath your wetsuit to wrap uncovered areas of your arms. A long-sleeve bottom coating or rash guard top works for both heat and sun defense. Go with something heavier if the air is cold.

Take along a light swindle jacket and a rain jacket or a paddling jacket so you can wrap your arms if conditions develop into colder and wetter.

Layering with a Dry Suit

  • Base layer: A dry suit is basically rainwear with waterproof seals, so you’ll absolutely need wicking long underwear. You can also purchase drysuit liners, and a few drysuits come with a fleece lining.
  • Mid layer: For colder conditions, you can put in a thick fleece layer.
  • Outer layer: Your drysuit will be windproof and water-resistant/breathable, so no extra outer layer is needed.

Layering Without either a Wet or Dry Suit

If conditions don’t need either a wetsuit or a dry suit, then traveling along a fleece jacket and rainwear seems sensible. You can also put on whatever is relaxed and quick-to-dry on your bottom half. Keep away from things that attach or chafe. Super thin fabrics, like in yoga pants, are also not a great thought because they aren’t made to take on continually shifting in your seat as you paddle.

Clothing Accessories

A kayaker putting on gloves and neoprene booties for chilly weather paddling

Footwear: Neoprene paddling booties are perfect because they’re frivolous, water-ready and guard toes and the bottoms of feet.

Any footwear that achieves the same will work well. Water sandals, though, will be less defensive than booties and can gather gravel, sand, and muck underfoot during put-ins and take-outs. Keep away from anything without a backstrap, like flip-flops, because they come about your feet too with no trouble.

For colder conditions and in which rain or wave splash is possible, you can also get waterproof socks or waterproof paddling booties.

Another option is to wear substantial no cotton socks inside your booties for additional warmth.

Hats: Look for hats with broad brims or capes. Think about a cap restraint, too, if you do not have a chin strap or other consistent way to keep your hat safe. In cold conditions, you also need a beanie for warmth—it should fit tightly under or over your other hat.

Gloves: Paddling gloves are pleasant because they guard against both blisters and blustery days. “Pogies” are another cool-day option:

They tie up to the paddle and you slip your hands inside them to clutch the shaft. Some people favor them because pogies allow their hands to directly grip the paddle while also being protected from the elements.

Additional Clothing Tips

Never remove your PFD while on the water. If you need to regulate your top layers, find a spot to take out as an alternative. A far less popular alternative is to “raft up” with a kayaking friend holding your boat tightly while you change.

Keep away from “rustable” fasteners and hardware: Water, chiefly saltwater, rusts many metals, so rough plastics are a good substitute. However, solid and fast rules for metal decay are oversimplified: You can most likely trust that metal components in paddling-specific gear are corrosion resistant.

Don’t overlook the glasses retainers. Few sights are sadder than an expensive pair of shades going down to the base of the sea. Your retainer needs to float (test it at home) and always be attached (and always accompanied by an extra retainer.


We can’t emphasize enough as to how much sun protection is vital. A stylish wide-brimmed hat will provide you with many outdoor sports and adventures.

Prefer a hat that has flexible straps to grasp the hat on your head in strong winds.

  • Best Materials: Nylon, microfiber, polyester
  • Price Range: $20 – 50
  • Conditions Best For: Warm and cold days
  • Type of Kayaking: Touring, sit-on-top, whitewater
  • Ideal Properties: UPF+ rating, durable

UV Protective Gloves

Gloves aren’t useful just for cold winter nights. UV protective gloves have really become very popular in recent years. It opens to a lightweight, breathable way that keeps your hands from getting burnt or weathered. Coolibar makes a few choices.

  • Best Materials: Polyester, spandex
  • Price Range: $20 – 50
  • Conditions Best For: Warm days
  • Type of Kayaking: Touring, sit-on-top
  • Ideal Properties: UPF+ rating, Touchscreen compatibility

Bottom Line 

Kayaking is a fun activity. But, it requires complete preparation. You need to remain prepared for the harsh environment when kayaking. In this article, I discussed how a kayaker can be best prepared. 

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