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What To Wear Kayaking – Our Complete Guide

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Like any other outdoor sport, it’s important to wear the right clothing when kayaking. Your clothing will determine whether you’ll have a nice time on the water…or a miserable one. But the burning question is “What to wear kayaking?” There are so many different types of kayak clothing and choosing the right ones can be overwhelming especially for a beginner.

In this article, I’ll help you choose what to wear kayaking from headgear to footwear, cold weather jackets, and warm-weather shirts. But before we go into different types of clothing, I’ll be taking you through an overview of safety and dressing principles you need to take in consideration before going kayaking.

Safety First: Get Yourself a PFD

Safety is paramount when kayaking. You should always take a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) with you and ensure you wear it before getting on the water. A PFD is arguably the most important piece of safety gear for a kayaker. Note that life jackets are a type of PFD.

If there is ever a need for you to adjust the top layers of your PFD, find a place paddle back to shore and adjust the PFD there. You shouldn’t attempt to adjust your PFD while on the water except there is someone else on the yak with you to hold the vessel firmly as you change.

Basic Dressing Principles For Kayaking

It’s common to see people trying to dress for both water and air (weather temperature). However, to make things simple, dress only for the water temperature. And what this means is that you’ll have to make a choice between a wetsuit or a drysuit.

Paddling on the waters essentially exposes you to the elements. This means that you’ll always be exposed to some amount of sunlight (and consequently UV radiation) regardless of cloud cover. As a result, it’s important you wear clothing that offers protection from the sun. UPF-rated fabrics are a popular choice among kayakers.

Dressing in layers : The key to dressing correctly for kayaking, particularly in cold weather, is to dress in layers. The base layer will allow your skin to breathe while the mid layer will keep you warm. The outer layer is your first line of protection against the elements and should be designed to repel rain, wind, or snow.

Dressing for sit-inside vs. for sit-on-top kayaks : Sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks don’t have an enclosed cockpit resulting in you being exposed to the elements. As a result, SOTs are usually used in summer time or hot climates. A swimsuit will be more ideal for a SOT kayak as you’ll be protected from water splashes and can get in the water if you so desire.

Sit-inside kayaks are commonly used in cold waters and as such will require you to dress for cold water conditions. A dry suit should be sufficient when paddling on a sit-inside kayak.

What To Wear Kayaking in Warm Weather

It’s common to see people opting to go with a swimsuit as a first layer when kayaking in warm weather especially on shorter trips. And this is totally fine. The only guideline for what to wear as a first layer is something that will keep you comfortable throughout your time on the water. Swimsuits work fine for shorter trips but you should also take a look at other underwear suitable for outdoor pursuits.


It’s possible you’ve seen kayakers, surfers, or swimmers wearing shirts instead of suit tops. That shirt is a rashguard and is made of nylon or polyester combined with Lycra® spandex. This results in a flexible and quick-drying material with high UPF ratings.

All these attributes make rashguards ideal for kayaking and other water sports. Rashguards also have formfitting design as well as flat-seam construction that keeps the wear comfy and cozy. Therefore, rashguards are excellent choice for a top when going kayaking. You can also use a synthetic or wool base layer as well.

Watershirts are another good choice for a top. They have good UPF ratings and have a looser fit when compared to rashguards. However, watershirts are not designed for swimming so they are a good option if you don’t intend to get into the water during your kayaking expedition,


The aim here is for you to wear something that dries quickly while also keeping you comfortable. And this makes quick-dry pants and board shots excellent choices for bottoms. Stay away from any material that chafes or binds. I’ve also seen people talking about using super-thin fabrics as bottoms. This isn’t going to work as super-thin fabrics, like synthetics yoga pants, aren’t built to withstand movements on a kayak as you paddle.


A fleece jacket or any other synthetic mid layer will work fine if the weather doesn’t require you to wear a dry suit or wet suit.

Outer layer

Your outer layer is your first line of defense against the elements. You’ll choose your outer layer based on the anticipated weather conditions, If you are anticipating exposure to significant wind or rain, it’ll make sense for you to wear a quality waterproof and breathable jackets as well as rain pants.

Paddling jackets also work fine as they keep you dry and nice. A water-resistant/breathable jacket is a good option especially when you don’t expect there to be a significant rain.


The ideal paddling footwear is one that’s lightweight, protects the toes/bottom of the feet and water-ready. For this reason, neoprene paddling boots are great for kayaking. Water sandals also work fine especially if the shore is free from gravel. Water shoes are another good option for kayaking footwear. Whatever type of footwear you decide to wear, make sure it has a backstrap.

Waterproof socks, thick non-cotton socks or waterproof paddling boots should be worn by paddlers in colder climates.


Hats: Wide-brimmed hats or hats with capes offer good protection from the sun. You should consider a cap leash in very windy areas to avoid losing your hat.

Gloves: Gone are the days when gloves are only worn during winter or cold conditions. There are now UV protected gloves that prevent your hands from getting weathered. A good pair of paddling gloves will help keep blisters away from your hands and also prevent them from being burnt.

Sunglasses: While the need to wear sunglasses is obvious on a sunny day, there is a secondary reason to wearing shades while kayaking. You see, sunlight often reflects off the surface of the water and this can turn out to be very irritating for your eyes. A pair of polarized sunglasses will protect your eyes when paddling

Final Thoughts

Wearing the right kind of clothes is essential for a safe and enjoyable kayaking expedition. After reading this article, you should have a good idea of what to wear kayaking in warm or cold weather, but more importantly on warm or cold water.

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