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Kayaking Clothing Guide

Kayaking Clothing Guide

Knowing what to wear on your next kayaking adventure can really make or break the quality of your entire experience. No one wants to feel chilling cold, wet or too warm when they are paddling.

The choice of the proper attire may appear a bit tricky as there are countless options of kayak wear available on the market and it’s hard to figure out which items exactly will keep your body nice and comfortable, regardless of the weather conditions.

Now you can sort this out, with this handy kayak clothing guide. I have gathered and tested the best tips on how to get yourself ready for adventure including your clothing essentials and extra advice on how to increase your comfort and safety during extreme weather conditions. 

How To Dress For Kayaking: Consider The Weather Conditions

It may appear self-explanatory, but the key to dressing appropriately for kayaking depends largely on the conditions you’ll actually do it in. It is, therefore, vital to do some research before you start your tour to gauge all climate and weather conditions at your target date. That way, you won’t end up with unexpected rainfalls as you are kayaking on the next lake.

Gauge The Weather Conditions For The Area You’ll Kayak In

what to wear kayakingFirst and foremost, when planning your next kayaking journey, consider the conditions of your target surroundings. Planning ahead is the key to both a pleasant experience and appropriate attire. 

The first thing to check is, of course, the weather forecast for that region. When you watch the weather forecast, don’t forget to look up the weather for the whole day as well as upstream and downstream levels when paddling on a river. If rain showers are expected to fall a few miles from your spot, your kayaking speed will shift and make it hard for you to settle your boat. If you ignore the risks, you won’t be able to follow measures to control them. If you are kayaking at the sea, check coastal water conditions.

Once you familiarize yourself with the weather and water climate conditions you’ll encounter, you’ll have to collect your attire to match the area conditions. For instance, if you will be traveling through freezing cold water streams, you’ll have to get a drysuit instead of a wetsuit. The reason why a drysuit is more appropriate than a wetsuit is because the wetsuit utilizes a level of warm water between the suit and your skin to offer protection and insulation – this stops functioning if the temperature drops below 45F. Maybe you have to visit a specialty store to get this type of clothing. But as a rule of thumb, the majority of kayak attire can be purchased offline in sports and outdoor wear stores or through the web. 

Different Types of Kayaking Require Different Types of Clothing

Your exact clothing and gear you’ll have to use largely depend on the paddling method you’ll follow. Lengthy journeys in group kayaking will need different attire than the typical paddling of a kayak in white waters. Prior to preparing your gear collection, spare a moment to check what kayak method you’ll follow. This is particularly valuable in river settings, where you may encounter different weather situations. 

You also better consider the level of physical energy you’ll need throughout your session. Kayaking is a physical sport but some variations take up more energy and are more challenging than other forms. Brief instances of heavy paddling followed by short breaks, can trigger high amounts of sweat in your clothing, especially if you wear a drysuit. 

If what you are wearing isn’t highly wicking, the wetness will be “drunk” by your clothing and so its ability to keep you warm will wane. In some cases, it’s a better idea to mix clothing items designed for warm weather conditions e.g high -wicking materials, with gear designed for cold weather e.g a drysuit, to get the most appropriate match for your target activity. 

Sit-in or Sit-on-top?

Another important thing to take into account when preparing what you are going to wear is the type of kayak you’ll use. For instance, sit-on-top kayaks have specific benefits in warmer weather where they provide higher air-circulation. But you’ll get wet with them for sure. Sit-in kayaks, on the contrary, are often prevalent in colder climates where they can be combined with a spray skirt for extra protection. 

Footwear Guide

Now when it comes to kayaking footwear, there are generally two types: neoprene material boots and fast-dry shoes constructed of heavy-duty materials such as nylon and polyurethane. In fairly cold (but not freezing cold) water, neoprene boots are the safest choice. 

However, in chilling cold waters, you’ll always have to wear a drysuit and these typically come with integrated boots to ensure that the whole suit remains waterproof.

If you’ll be kayaking in warmer water, fast-dry footwear is your best bet, as it lets your feet breathe and drains out any trapped moisture fast. When you check out kayaking shoe styles, look for styles that have a thick rubberized sole as these will guard your feet as you go in and out of your kayak and help prevent slipping on wet rock spots. 

Kayaking in Cold Waters

Coldwater kayaking is an opportunity to engage yourself with unique environments – from frozen rivers to winter coastlines. But very often, there are some challenges ahead. Based on the water temperature, even brief periods of ducking can significantly impact your system’s base temperature and may potentially trigger hypothermia quickly. 

In regions with slightly cool air, and when the water temperature is still pretty cold, the majority of kayakers wear a combo of waterproof outer materials e.g jacket and pants over insulated clothing. 

A great tip is to have a set of extra clothes with you when you paddle in such waters. As the fastest way to get out of an unexpected submersion in cool water is to change any wet clothing right away. If you kayak through even colder water temperatures, especially in winter coastlines, you’ll have to wear specialty attire to keep yourself warm. 

Fortunately, there are many clothes and gear options that you can choose from to maintain your safety, regardless of the water temperature. By wearing a few items from the following list in conjunction, you may keep your core and hands/feet warm. Even if you get wet accidentally. Some also avoid getting too hot while paddling.

Kayak Attire for Cold Weather

Drysuit: A drysuit, contrary to a wetsuit, offers complete waterproof protection for your body. It is typically composed of vulcanized rubber or nylon and is enclosed at the neck, wrists, and feet region. Because the drysuit is completely waterproof and doesn’t need any extra water to keep you warm, it keeps on working in water temperatures falling below 45F. 

A drysuit alone does not offer any thermal insulation and should be used with thermal attire to keep the kayaker both warm and dry. So when you choose a drysuit, make sure to opt for one that is specifically designed for kayaking and not diving as diving suits come with air gaskets that are not comfortable when kayaking. 

Thermal base and middle layers: When you wear these beneath a drysuit, thermal and mid-layers utilize resistant materials e.g polyurethane, to keep you warm. When you are on the hunt for thermal clothing, look preferably for items made with high-wicking fabrics. High-wicking materials use capillary movement to distribute moisture over the biggest region possible, letting sweat to steam off and keeping you from getting too hot when paddling.

Pogies: Gloves are often utilized to keep hands warm or prevent abrasion of hands. Pogies, on the other hand, are particularly designed for shielding hands in cold temperatures. As they are merged to the paddle, these thermal hand-shields can be worn together with gloves for extra protection of your hands in especially cold temperatures. 

Thermal buff, hat, and facial mask: A great deal of your body’s heat will be lost from the head region. Your face is especially exposed to low temperatures. So protecting both your head and face is highly important. This is why using a hat together with a detachable face mask will keep you warmer. You can always take these off if no longer needed. 

Extra Tips and Considerations

 Don’t forget to dress based on the water temperature of your chosen area. Deepwater streams, e.g big lakes, can be cold even in the summer season. 

You may also bring a second change of thermal clothing with you. Keep it in a waterproof bag. This will allow you to instantly wear warm and dry clothing in case you encounter a spray-skirt or drysuit malfunction. Learn how to tackle cold weather situations e.g hypothermia and frostbite. If you and the rest of your group know how to combat these types of incidents, then everyone participating will be safer. 

Kayaking In Warmer Waters

While one may assume that no special attire is necessary for kayaking in warmer climates, there are some measures that you can take to increase your comfort and prevent common mishaps such as overheating, sunburn, or dehydration.

Kayak Clothing Indicated for Warm Weather 

Wide-brimmed hat: when you are exposed to direct UV rays, it’s always a smart idea to get a wide-brimmed hat to guard your head and face. Your scalp especially is probably the first area that kayakers may get a sunburn at, as it’s very hard to slap on some sunscreen there. Therefore, layering your scalp with a hat will prevent excessive exposure to the sun and will keep you nice and cool. 

Sun mask or buff: A solid sun mask should combine comfort with proper breathability and UV protection. These masks help shield the face from sun exposure, stop water glare and guard the face from salt irritations when kayaking in coastal regions.

Trousers & long sleeves: It may sound a tad illogical to wear clothes that offer more skin coverage in a hotter climate but this is actually the best measure you can take to prevent sunburn and surprisingly overheating. Clothing made in particular for sports and outdoor activities is UV-protective, high-wicking, fast-drying, and well-breathable. Choosing the most suitable attire will, therefore, keep you dry, cool, and shielded from the sun. 

Sunglasses: While getting your sunglasses on a bright day may sound like the typical thing to do, they also have another purpose when kayaking. The mirroring of sunlight over the water’s surface can sometimes trigger an eye irritation and lead to a condition that resembles snow blindness. Wearing polarized sunglasses will stop this from occurring. To keep them safely with you, make sure you attach a float to them in case they go overboard.

Extra Tips and Considerations

Remember to keep yourself hydrated! Kayaking is a physical activity and it’s vital to have enough liquids with you to prevent dehydration, especially in hot weather.

Also, avoid wearing cotton clothing. While this is often considered as a cool fabric, it actually traps moisture out when you sweat. It can also be quite uncomfortable in hotter climates or following some heavy paddling sessions. Go for high-wicking materials instead.

Wear a hat. Due to the increased exposure to the sun, while kayaking, sunstroke is a valid hazard. Even though this may look like an unusual thing to do, covering yourself from head to toe is the best way to prevent this. 

Lastly, wear sunscreen. Sunburn can really spoil your experience and an extreme case of sunburn may place you at a serious health risk. Make sure you always have a water resistant sunscreen packed with you.

How To Dress Appropriately

Kayaking is an exciting journey and the last thing you wish is to spoil it because you are too cold, hot, or sweaty. Choosing the most appropriate attire doesn’t have to be challenging as long as you recall the following: 

Planning in advance: Do your homework and plan your kayak adventure in advance. Check the weather forecast and water settings and you will figure out the type of kayaking attire you’ll need.

Stay updated: find a way to keep yourself updated on weather conditions and check downstream and upstream from the spot you’ll be as you will be highly affected by any shifts in climate. 

Get the right gear: Check out our checklist for all the necessary gear for both cold and hot settings and don’t forget that when you are not sure, you must bring it with you. It’s wiser to have extra equipment rather than needing a hat or sunscreen and not having it with you on extra hot days.

All you have to do is to follow the above measures and you’ll be more than ready for your next kayaking adventure.

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kayaking clothes

Robert Johnson

I'm Robert Johnson the guy behind I went to my first kayaking trips with my father as a little boy and immediately fell in love with it. It is still my favorite hobby today. I love to go on kayaking trips with friends and family and I wanted to share my passion and knowledge around this wonderful outdoor activity with this website.

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