Wondering about What to Wear Kayaking? Here’s the ins and outs of it

what to wear kayaking
Written by Joe

Does it matter what to wear kayaking? It certainly does! The right clothes can make a big difference. Find out what you need to know for an enjoyable trip

If you think about the use of spray skirts and wetsuits? Do they make that much of a difference? These are questions that often bug kayakers, especially beginners.

Kayaking is such a fun and adventurous activity but what you wear can make the difference between a great trip and a frustrating one. The choice of the right kayak clothing to wear is not just a case of manning up and embracing the uncomfortable. Cold water and winter kayaking are a lot more dangerous than paddlers realize. I often hear stories of paddlers not respecting the risks that go along with cold water

You have to choose something that doesn’t get you wet because otherwise, you would be risking hypothermia. It also has to be comfortable because the last thing you want is to cut the trip short because you cannot get comfortable in what you are wearing. It is not just the cold water and weather that you have to be aware of either.

Many things affect the choice of what one should wear on a kayaking trip. The main ones are the likelihood of taking an unexpected swim and be prepared for the likelihood that the weather might change for the worst in a blink of an eye.

Dress for the conditions

wear the right gear when kayaking

The question of what to wear kayaking is a simple one that completely stumps many newbies. One of the first lessons I learned as a paddler is that the most important thing you should consider is dressing for the area you will be paddling in and be sure to have the best paddles your budget can afford. Don’t just consider the temperature of the air – that of the water also matters. The surrounding air can be warm when paddling in oceans or lakes, but that of the water can remain so cold you’d almost think you are kayaking on an ice block.

It is important that you take into account your expertise level as well. Knowing your skill set, is there any likelihood of going for an unexpected swim?

What about the type of kayak you will be using? While sit-in kayaks help, protect you from getting wet and the harsh cold, re-entering them after a capsize is hard. On the other hand, sit-on-top kayaks expose your legs to the cold and but re-entering them after capsizing is so much easier.

Marmot Minimalist Men's Lightweight Waterproof Rain Jacket, GORE-TEX with PACLITE Technology, Large, Blue Sapphire
when light travel and harsh weather are your top concerns
Marmot Minimalist Men's Lightweight Waterproof Rain Jacket, GORE-TEX with PACLITE Technology, Large, Blue Sapphire
    Special Features
  • Paclite Technology 100% Polyester 3.6 Oz
  • PACLITE technology provides optimal waterproofing
  • PitZips let you regulate the garment's internal temperature
Check on Amazon
Helly Hansen Women's Bellevue Rain Coat, Medium, Shell Pink Heritage Grid
100% Polyamide
Helly Hansen Women's Bellevue Rain Coat, Medium, Shell Pink Heritage Grid
    Special Features
  • Waterproof, breathable, windproof construction
  • Fully seam sealed, 2 ply fabric construction
  • Packable hood zip in collar
Check on Amazon
Terramar Women's Thermasilk Pointelle Scoop (Black, X-Large)
my top choice
Terramar Women's Thermasilk Pointelle Scoop (Black, X-Large)
    Special Features
  • 100% Silk
  • Pointelle-knit silk top with long sleeves
  • Anti-microbial comfort technology controls odor
Check on Amazon
    Special Features
  • Suitable for quick submersion, protects valuables from dirt, dust, sand and water
  • Extra Long Removable and Adjustable Shoulder Sling 
  • Touch friendly phone bag fits all smartphones up to 6 inches 
Check on Amazon
    Special Features
  • UPF50+ for protection against the sun
  • Material helps you maintain contact with your paddle
  • 2mm neoprene cuff helps maintain flexibility in the wrist
Check on Amazon
Outdoor Research Sombriolet Sun Hat, Sand, X-Large
Outdoor Research Sombriolet Sun Hat, Sand, X-Large
    Special Features
  • Lightweight, protective hat for use in intense sun, heat, and humidity
  • SolarShield construction offers UPF 50+ sun protection
  • Vents and mesh lining in crown for cooling and moisture management
Check on Amazon
    Special Features
  • Broad Spectrum SPF 60 protection
  • Water Resistant (80 minutes)
  • For outdoor activities
Check on Amazon
Seavenger Odyssey 3mm Neoprene Wetsuit with Stretch Panels for Snorkeling, Scuba Diving, Surfing in Mens and Womens Sizes
Seavenger Odyssey 3mm Neoprene Wetsuit with Stretch Panels for Snorkeling, Scuba Diving, Surfing in Mens and Womens Sizes
    Special Features
  • 3mm neoprene material is ideal for 65° F & up.
  • Anti-abrasion shoulder and knee pads provide extra strength.
  • Super-stretch panels in the knee & armpit make it great for triathlon use.
Check on Amazon
    Special Features
  • Type III life vest belt pack
  • Manual inflatable.
  • With zippered storage pouch
Check on Amazon
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, Orange, Medium/Large
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, Orange, Medium/Large
    Special Features
  • Bubble foam on inner back for added comfort
  • Expandable zippered pockets with mesh drainage
  • Drying loop on back; attached whistle for safety
Check on Amazon

So before heading off, consider asking yourself the following basic questions:

  •  Am I using a sit-on-top or sit-in kayak?
  • What are the water conditions? Is there any chance of waves or high winds? Is the water smooth or choppy?
  • What type of paddling am I doing?

The answers to these simple questions will help uncover paddling conditions, thus helping you know what to prepare for regarding clothing, food, and even safety gear to ensure a memorable trip.

Kayak dressing in cold weather

For hardened paddlers like myself, freezing weather is not enough to deter them. While an additional layer can certainly provide the motivation to kayak on cold winter days, it is important to note that choosing the appropriate kayak clothing for cold weather can save your life, and the right outdoor jacket is essential.

This is especially important when exploring new areas, as you never know what the conditions will be. Ask camping enthusiasts whose expeditions went wrong, and they will explain just how important the right outdoor clothing is.

So what should you wear for kayaking in cold locations? The good news is that there are many options at your disposal including:

Waterproof waist pack: This one is perfect for storing your smartphone, identification cards, keys and other small items. However, a personal floatation device with pockets can serve the same purpose.

woman staring out on the ocean

Boots: You can opt for light-duty hiking sneakers or boots. However, consider investing in neoprene boots if there’s even a slight chance that your feet will get wet.

Waterproof socks: Let’s face it – no one likes cold and damp feet. They are not fun at all.

Thermal headgear: You got to keep your head warm.

Gloves: Consider a set of polypropylene gloves. They ideal for wet use and dry up quickly. Also, ensure that you have another thermal pair for use when not in the kayak.

Thermal clothing: You want to make sure that you choose high quality, insulating layers that hug the body nicely. Avoid cotton or anything that fits loosely and retains moisture.

Waterproof jackets: Again, high-quality synthetic fibers will keep you warm while ensuring that you stay dry. They are not bulky and neither do they restrict your paddling movements.

man staring out to a mountain

Drysuit/wetsuit: Choose according to the severity of the weather conditions.

While some of the items on this list are self-explanatory, it is important that you keep in mind the main golden rule of dressing for cold weather: NO COTTON or JEANS. This is because cotton soaks up water and holds it against your skin, making it a useless insulator.


wear a pfd kayaking

These are a step above wetsuits, and if you will be paddling in icy-cold waters, the last thing you want is your skin coming into contact with water. It is an uncomfortable and sometimes painful experience.

Drysuits are specially designed to keep the water out. They come with a waterproof membrane that prevents water from getting inside, making them excellent insulators in colder weather.

Hybrids are a special type of drysuits that come with both an inner protective synthetic rubber layer as well as an external waterproofing known as the shell. They are extremely useful for protecting one against cold weather, hence their popularity among deep sea divers.


These are designed to not only protect against abrasions but also keep you warm in cold weather. They also help with buoyancy in the event of a capsize. Wetsuits generally fall under one of two categories - winter or summer wetsuits.

While they both work by trapping a thin layer of water between the inner layer and skin, the main difference between the two is that winter wetsuits often come with a neoprene layer that is 3-6 mm thick while summer wetsuits have a thickness of 2-3 mm. While a thicker wetsuit gives you more warmth, it also restricts your movements. Make sure that you try on a wetsuit before purchasing it to avoid flexibility issues.

Is there any difference between drysuits and wetsuits?

Certainly. For starters, wetsuits work by trapping water while drysuits do not allow any water between the inner layer and the skin once sealed. While drysuits are designed for extreme cold weather conditions, wetsuits are ideal for everyday water sports including kayaking, paddle boarding, and surfing.

Also, wetsuits offer a better range of motion and are easier to don and doff. The complex layers and zips that come with drysuits make taking them on and off a hard task. Their advanced design makes them ideal for specific uses like deep diving in arctic conditions.

Personal floatation devices

what to wear kayaking

Otherwise known as life jackets, personal floatation devices (PFDs) are essential and choosing the correct type when canoeing and kayaking. In some countries like the United States, wearing a PFD when in water is a legal requirement.

This, however, doesn’t have to be a legal obligation because it provides buoyancy in case your kayak capsizes. If you are paddling in cold weather, ensure that your PFD can fit over your wetsuit/drysuit or whatever you are wearing.

Even with several layers of clothing, your PFD should have a snug fit and not too loose or tight.

All about personal floatation devices

  • Need to know what the best PFD's for kayaking is?
  • Once you've got your PFD sorted check out the Best Inflatable kayaks to enjoy your trip

Dressing for kayaking in warm weather

man kayaking on a lake

Now that we have covered dressing for the cold weather let’s flip the coin and take a look at what you should wear kayaking in warm weather. You can dress in whatever is comfortable. For instance, a pair of shorts and t-shirt is fine just remember your PFD (or life jacket).

Wear sunscreen: There are, however, a few precautions that you should remember if you intend to be in the sun for a prolonged period. This is because extreme exposure to the sun’s rays can lead to heatstroke and painful sunburn.

There is zero protection out on the water, and as the sunlight bounces off the surface of the water, there isn’t much you can do to escape it. Because of the increased radiation of the sun's rays on the water make sure you apply sunscreen more often than you'd normally do! My recommendations for dressing for kayaking in warm weather include:

Sunglasses: These will shield your eyes from the scorching sun. Consider a pair of polarized sunglasses as the help a great deal when it comes to seeing clearly through the water during kayak fishing.

Long sleeves: While a t-shirt may be cooler, a long sleeved shirt provides complete protection against the sunlight. With a light, breathable fabric, you will hardly remember you are wearing a long-sleeved shirt.

Sun hat: Wearing a wide-brimmed hat will shield your face, eyes, head and shoulders from the sun.

Other items that you should bring along include sunscreen and a bottle of water. While they are not exactly clothing, they provide additional protection.

In this article, we have covered two main basics – check the weather before you go and always dress for the condition.

Also, always ensure that you wear a personal floatation. Consider bringing a spare set of clothing if paddling in cold weather, or if you are new to kayaking and might get wet! The important thing to remember when it comes to warm weather paddling is that it is all about protecting yourself from the sun.

Paddling should be a fun experience, and with the above guidelines, you can achieve that and more.

Save this article for later by Pinning it on Pinterest. Just click the button below.

Leave a Comment