Kayaking clothes: What to wear and what to avoid
Kayaking, whether in a lazy lake or speeding down a river, has become a staple in so many people’s lives. This growing sport has become one of the most popular activities and more and people are taking it further than ever before. Expanding to the high ocean’s surf to finding quiet streams to paddle down this sport has become quite versatile. With more and more people diving into this sport every year, kayaking beginners are forever asking the question of what to wear when kayaking.
Spending your day out on the water leaves you vulnerable and exposed to the elements. Any water sport enthusiast knows that the conditions out on the water can change incredibly quickly so being prepared is essential. In short, what you wear on the water really does matter.
Whether you are going in colder waters or warm, on a sunny day or a moody one, the clothes you wear requires some thought and consideration.
Not all kayaking conditions are made equally so there is a lot to consider before you go. Those kayaking in the Bahamas will obviously dress differently from those kayaking in Seattle. This largely depends on the water temperatures as well as the outside temperature.
Factors to determining your clothing:
- Outside air temperature (and forecast)
- Water temperature
- Experience level
- Type of water (still vs flat)
- Type of kayak
Knowing your skill set is important. It is wise to round down when thinking of your skill set. You’ve been kayaking a few times before but not in some time, it is best to consider yourself a beginner and understand that you are more likely to get wet while paddling on the water. Kayaking is a fun and adventurous sport that is growing in popularity. With the right tools and proper preparation it can make any day a great day to kayak.
Cold conditions doesn’t just refer to the air temperature. It is important to consider both the water you are paddling in as well as the predicted weather for the day. Just because a day starts sunny, doesn’t mean it will end that way. If the water is cold, the warm outdoor temperatures won’t be enough to warm you and the cold waters can easily become a shock to your system. That is, unless you are dressed appropriately.
So, let’s get right into it. What is the right clothing to wear for cooler paddles?
Paddling in colder waters may require a wetsuit, or even a drysuit. Jackets, clothes with wicking technology and spray skirts should all be part of your pack. There are many accessories to consider, here are the must haves.
Waterproof, Windproof Jacket
This is an important shell that should always be worn in cold, wet conditions. This will protect your clothing from any splashing, and wind that you may encounter. Being dry is your number one line of defence against the elements. Having a shell will ensure that you stay this way.
It is no secret that a lot of the body’s heat is lost through your head. That is why wearing a thick wool toque will keep you much warmer than you realize. Even a smaller thin toque or hat is worth wearing to keep your heat loss to a minimum.
When looking for gloves, it is worth noting that your hands will likely get wet during your paddle. Try opting for a pair of Polypropylene gloves instead of your standard cotton. These are made to get wet and dry incredibly quickly.
Whether you opt for water socks or water shoes we recommend you have a pair of thick neoprene booties on hand for if you do need to go in the water. If your feet have any chance of getting wet, a simple thick wool sock and hiking boot won’t cut it.
Think layers! This is especially important when you mix a warmer day with cold waters. The exercise from paddling can leave you in a sweat which is why it is so important to make sure you can remove layers. Put simply, sweating is not your friend! If the weather takes a turn you can leave yourself being wet and cold, a dangerous combination. Getting clothes with proper wicking technology, underarm ventilations and is made of insulating technologies such as wool. Ensure these clothes fit tightly as well. Loose fitting clothing will only further make you cold.
A dry bag is a great way to bring along an extra pair of dry clothes, storing your phone and any other essentials. Having a thick pair of socks, and a change of clothing with you could mean the difference between life and death when traveling in cold waters. If you do get wet, getting out of the wet clothes is always a good idea.
In extremely cold waters, paddling in cold weather and cold water, or you are likely to get wet, wearing a wetsuit, or even a drysuit is recommended.
Wetsuits come in a number of different shapes and sizes. Some come in with short sleeves and cut off just above the knee while others are full length. They also vary in thickness from a thin 0.5mm layer to a thicker 5, 6, even 8mm suit.
Wetsuits work by allowing a thin layer of water to come into contact with your skin and sit between you and your suit. This water acts as an insulator and keeps you warm. These are designed to keep you warm while also protecting your body from any abrasions. A concern for this, however, is that it may restrict your movement. As a bonus, these suits do add buoyancy which helps you to float in the event that you do end up in the water.
Many wetsuits come in split sizes represented by a “5/3 wetsuit”. This means that the center of your suit wear your vital organs are is the thicker 5mm width while the extremities are a 3mm. This helps in flexibility a lot and also makes the suit lighter to wear while still keeping your core warm.
These suits are more heavy duty than wetsuits and meant only for the coldest of conditions. Being quite thick and difficult to move in, drysuits aren’t ideal for kayaking but in extreme conditions, it may be required.
This type of suit differs from the wetsuit as it does not allow water to come into contact with your skin. Instead, it adds a layer of air between you and the suit to fully insulate. This is meant for extreme cold conditions.
Warm water/summer paddles
When passing through warm waters it is important to realize that the water magnifies the external conditions. If it is hot outside, sitting atop the water will be warmer and the glare will magnify the sun’s effects. For this reason, wearing a hat and sunscreen should be of top priority. As far as what you wear on your body, the choice is largely yours. Rather than the concern for hypothermia in the winter months, in the summer you risk heat stroke, an equally dangerous condition.
If you plan to go kayaking, always pack double the water you think you will need. If you are paddling in fresh water consider bringing a water filter and an empty water bottle. This is the safest method as if something were to occur you would have an unlimited supply of water.
For those who don’t typically wear sunscreen, we still advise bringing even a low SPF. Some of the worst burns you can get occur on water when you are dealt a double hand of the sun beating down and the reflection of the water. It is important to remember that when out on the water you will have no protection. You will not be able to escape to the shade under a tree unless you install a shade cover. Ensure that you are regularly applying sunscreen in order to stay protected throughout the day.
You may be wanting to paddle in your bathing suit alone which we can’t blame you for, it is hot. Our recommendation is to wear, or at least bring, a thin and breathable long sleeve shirt. This will not provide a ton of heat while it is sure to give your skin the protection it craves. If you don’t want to wear one going out, having one on hand that you can slip on mid-day will prove invaluable.
Wearing head protection isn’t just for warmer months, this small piece of fabric will protect your face, head, and neck from the harsh heat. A wide brimmed hat is preferred as it will effectively shield your head, face and shoulders, wearing a smaller visor or ball cap is better than nothing. Providing some shade for your face, and ears is important.
While this is more of a preferential item, the sun beating from the water will provide a lot of glare for your eyes. Wearing sunglasses works to protect your eyes so you don’t spend your day squinting. If you are using your kayak to fish with, consider opting for a polarized pair of glasses. This will give you an advantage helping you to see more clearly through the water.
Choppy vs Still water
Regardless of where you go kayaking, it is important to know how to get back on your kayak in case you end up in the water. No matter the type of waters you are in, there is always a chance, no matter your skill level, of you capsizing and entering the water. It is important to note that if the conditions get unfavorable, any body of water can become choppy. Preparing for this should depend on how likely that chance is.
A spray skirt is a piece of fabric attached to the underside of your kayak to catch the spray in choppy waters. Having a spray skirt will drastically reduce how wet you get when you are in choppy waters as it reduces the spray from the front of your boat.
Type of Kayak being used
The type of kayak you use should be of consideration when packing your gear. For example, sit on top kayaks hold you close to the water and therefore leave you more at risk for getting wet and exposed. On the flip side, they are much easier to re-enter in the event of a capsize than their sit-in counterparts. When paddling on a sit on top kayak in colder waters it is wise to greatly consider the use of a wetsuit as your legs will likely get and stay wet throughout your paddle.
Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs)
As kayaks are considered watercrafts in the USA and Canada they required you by law to wear a life jacket. Not all PFDs are created equally and therefore it is important to get properly fitted in yours to ensure optimal use. These, when fit correctly to the body, shouldn’t limit any range of motion needed for kayaking.
There are a number of benefits to wearing a life jacket other than the obvious life-saving qualities. They provide buoyancy in the event you do capsize which allows you to get back into your boat easier. They also provide an added layer of insulation, something that can prove invaluable when paddling cold waters.
It is important to ensure that no matter what you are wearing for your day on the water, your personal floatation device should be the top layer. Putting your rain jacket, wet suit and anything else you are planning to wear on first should be a priority. When all your layers are put on, you can then ensure that you PFD is on and fitting tight against your body.
Now that you know what to wear ensure you have the best day on the water by getting the best inflatable kayak. Or, try taking your paddling experience farther than ever before by trying a pedal kayak or kayak fishing.
What do you wear when you go out kayaking? We love hearing your thoughts in the comment section below.