Kayaking clothing requirements are similar to those of other outdoor activities such as hiking: You want versatility, durability, and comfort while you’re on the go. You’re also looking for cold and wet weather protection (really wet conditions).
Follow these general guidelines when deciding what to wear kayaking: If you want to know more about kayaking gears, PFDs, paddling lie jackets, then follow My Kayak Guide blog.
- Wear a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times and never remove it while on the water. Find a place to take out instead if you need to adjust your top layers. You can also “raft up” with a kayak buddy and hold your boat firmly while changing, though changing on shore is preferable.
- Dress for the water temperature rather than the air temperature, which may necessitate the use of a wetsuit or dry suit.
- Layer your clothing, especially on top.
- Wear sun protection clothing. A day on the water, regardless of cloud cover, is a day of sun exposure. Wearing clothing made of UPF-rated fabrics is therefore a wise choice.
- Cotton absorbs water and remains wet in all layers; instead, look for quick-drying fabrics. Choose wicking, quick-drying nylon or polyester for any clothing layer that comes into contact with your skin (or another synthetic fabric). Wool dries slower but insulates when wet, making it an excellent choice.
- Wear clothes that allow you to move freely and are comfortable for long periods of sitting.
- Look for abrasion-resistant fabrics that can withstand the wear and tear of sand, water, and any rough materials in your kayak.
- Stay away from “rustable” zippers, fasteners, and hardware: Water, especially salt water, corrodes many metals, so tough plastics are an excellent alternative. Metal components in paddling-specific gear are most likely corrosion resistant.
How to Dress for Kayaking in Mild Conditions
Underwear: Many people choose to wear a swimsuit as a first layer when paddling in warm conditions for shorter outings. Simply follow the general guidelines outlined above to ensure your comfort throughout your trip. Otherwise, opt for noncotton sports bras and underwear designed for outdoor activities.
Tops: Rashguards made of polyester or nylon blended with Lycra® spandex are ideal for paddling and other water sports because they dry quickly, stretch well, and have high UPF ratings to protect against UV rays. When layered under other clothing or a wetsuit, their formfitting design and flat-seam construction make them comfortable. Your favourite synthetic or wool base layer will also suffice.
Water shirts: Most of these tops, like rashguards, offer UPF protection but have a looser fit. They’re a good option if you don’t intend to swim in them.
Bottoms: On your bottom half, wear whatever is comfortable and quick-drying; board shorts or comfortable quick-dry pants are good options. Things that bind or chafe should be avoided. Superthin fabrics, such as those found in some synthetic yoga pants, are not recommended because they are not designed to withstand the constant shifting in your seat as you paddle.
Mid-layer: If you don’t need a wetsuit or a dry suit, bringing a fleece jacket or another warm, synthetic mid layer is a good idea.
Outer layer: If you expect to be exposed to heavy rain or wind, invest in a high-quality waterproof/breathable jacket and rain pants. Paddling jackets are useful because they have gaskets at the wrists and neck to keep water out; they’re especially useful for keeping drips off your paddle shaft. If you’re going on a short hike and don’t expect much rain, a breathable/water-resistant jacket will suffice.
Hats: Look for capes or hats with wide brims. If you don’t have a chin strap or another reliable way to secure your hat, consider a cap leash. In cold weather, you should also wear a beanie to keep warm—it should fit snugly under or over your other hat.
Gloves: Paddling gloves are useful because they protect against blisters and blustery days. Another cool-day option is “pogies,” which attach to the paddle and allow you to slip your hands inside to grip the shaft. Some people prefer them because pogies allow their hands to grip the paddle directly while also shielding them from the elements.
PFDs: Even if you only plan to paddle close to shore, kayak rental shops require you to wear a personal flotation device (PFD). Close-in waters are where most drownings occur, but they rarely happen to paddlers wearing a PFD. When one capsizes, even cool water feels shocking—a PFD provides core body warmth and keeps you afloat without relying solely on swimming ability. So, don’t get in the boat until you’ve properly secured your PFD. Read How to Choose a PFD for sizing and fitting advice (snugger is better), as well as buying tips.