When you’re thinking of “what to wear kayaking”, think about clothes that have three distinct features: comfort, durability, and versatility.
You’ll want to choose kayak clothing that does a good job providing all three of these features without sacrificing mobility. Additionally, choose kayak clothing that can protect you from cold and wet water conditions, particularly when you plan to head out in early Spring or late Fall.
In this article, we will aim to help you understand what clothing is best for kayaking and help you follow certain guidelines to that can help keep you safe.
Rules you should follow when kayaking
- Wear a life jacket: Perhaps this should be more “common sense” than a rule, however, you should always wear a life jacket or a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times. You should not take it off in any case, irrespective of how badly you need to adjust your clothing. Choosing a PFD that provides full range of motion to paddle is a good investment.
- Learn the difference between air and water temperature: The water will almost always be colder than the air and that is why dressing for water temperature is important.
- Layer your clothing: The more layers you have the more protection you will have against the elements.
- Non-absorbent clothing: Avoid cotton and other fabrics that soak up water, you do not want to stay wet. Polyester works well as it absorbs and dries quickly.
- Robust and comfortable clothing: Look for clothes that are durable and are comfortable.
The clothing you can wear while kayaking differs greatly based on temperature. This is because as the temperature of the water decreases so does your chances of survival when exposed to it.
There are two categories of clothing: Warm weather and Cold weather kayaking gear.
Regardless of the temperature of the water, there is one rule that should be followed at all costs; always dress for the worst-case, not the best case.
You never know when you might capsize and be prepared for it is far better than trying to put on clothing after you have capsized.
The risks that come from plunging into cold water can range from hypothermia to immediate shock than can lead to drowning.
Here is a table to illustrate what you should wear as per the temperature of the water (reference only):
It is advisable to wear a wetsuit at all times. You can ditch the wetsuit only if the temperature of the water is above 60 degrees and you are in closed waters.
You should also consider the air temperature when you want to wear lighter fabrics. If the air and water temperature does not exceed 120 degrees, combined, then you should wear a dry or wetsuit.
You might be wondering what are the differences between a dry and a wetsuit?
A wetsuit is designed to keep you warm by using a layer of water next to your skin. The suit insulates you by heating the water using your body temperature. A dry suit on the other hand is a waterproof suit that keeps you completely dry. You can adjust the warmth by combining layers under it.
Cold Weather Kayaking Gear
As we have learned the kind of gear you use while kayaking differs as per the temperature of water and air. In this section, we shall discuss the basics of cold weather kayaking gear.
- Drysuits: Completely waterproof wear with gaskets to keep water away, drysuits are the ultimate form of protection. As it is an outer layer, it is important to use inner layers that will keep you warm. Although there is also the risk of over-layering which can cause you to overheat.
- Dry wear: Drysuits can be expensive and experienced kayakers find it practical to get dry tops as the kayak can keep their lower part of the body dry. Dry tops are ideal for kayakers who are experienced at rolling their kayaks. Some individuals also use dry pants in case of an unexpected swim.
- Base layers: These are clothing that is designed to be worn under dry suits and dry wear. They are essential for cold weather kayaking. These are meant to be kept dry and their performance suffers due to moisture.
- Rash-guards: During cold weather, chafing is a common occurrence. Quick drying long-sleeved shirts can be a good option for providing extra warmth and go well under a wetsuit.
- Headgear: Woolen caps, face masks, and balaclavas are important accessories that one can wear in the cold weather. Experienced kayakers will almost always wear full gear that covers the entire head and face.
- Gloves: Using a water-resistant pair of gloves that can keep your hands warm are a must. You will use your hands to paddle around and they should be as warm as possible.
- Footwear: A neoprene shoes with thick rubber soles is considered the standard footwear when kayaking. You do not want to get into the kayak with wet feet or worse wear the wrong footwear and get your feet wet while kayaking.
- Paddling jackets: These can be considered an alternative to dry wear. They come with adjustable necks and sleeves, which help in ventilation and keeping the splashes out.
Warm Weather Kayaking Gear
As the temperatures soar, you will want to stay as cool as possible and you can do that by wearing light clothing. You do not want to get overheated during kayaking and you must wear clothes that go according to the weather.
- Innerwear: It is advisable to use swimwear as underwear when kayaking in warm weather. Women should also choose to wear synthetic sports bras instead of cotton-based.
- Uppers: It is advisable to wear polyester or nylon-based uppers as they dry quickly, stretchy, and can protect well against the sun.
- Bottoms: Here you should wear whatever feels the most comfortable. Board shorts and quick-dry pants are good options. Avoid fabrics that can chafe.
- Middle layer: If the weather is not cold or warm, bring a fleece jacket to keep yourself warm.
- Outer layer: This should be worn in case you expect rain or wind. A good windproof jacket works well. However, the best option would be a paddling jacket. These can be tightened using velcro and can help increase ventilation as well as keep you dry against rain.
- Footwear: neoprene boots with rubber soles are considered the ideal footwear for kayaking. You should avoid footwear that comes off easily.
- Hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen: These items are essential when kayaking in sunny weather. You want to protect your eyes, face, and body against the power of the sun.
Near-shore vs Off-shore Kayaking Considerations
One of the more dangerous experiences of kayaking is going off-shore. By off-shore, we mean kayaking in jetties and gulf platforms. The idea is to venture out into the sea to indulge in a mix of kayaking and fishing.
When you do decide to go off-shore it is important to note that the levels of danger increase considerably. Wearing a wet or dry suit combined with a paddling jacket is important.
The weather can drastically change in the ocean or on big lakes, and the water temperature can be very different as you venture out more. You have to leave no stone unturned when preparing for off-shore kayaking.
What not to wear while kayaking?
While the aforementioned clothing items are designed for kayaking, some should be avoided at all costs.
- Heavy fabrics: While the jeans and hoodie combination might be great for a beach in the winters, it is a terrible idea to wear the same outfit for kayaking. The reason is that these clothes can absorb a lot of water and become heavy. Moreover, they do not dry quickly and can make you colder, which can be dangerous.
- Cotton: Another type of clothing you should avoid is cotton as it can produce the same effect. It doesn’t dry quickly and it can keep you cold.
Should you wear a bathing suit kayaking?
The simple answer is yes. You should only wear a bathing suit when the weather is warm and so is the temperature of the water.
However, it is advisable to wear layers or paddling jackets. You can account for water and air temperature, but accounting for wind is tricky, hence layering is important.
So even if you wear a bathing suit, ensure that you use it as a layer and at least have a jacket on top.
Kayak Safety Equipment
Perhaps the most important thing you should have at all times is safety equipment. Before you go into the kayak, ensure that you are wearing your floatation device and you have your helmet on.
These are crucial as you do not know when you can roll over or how much trouble you can get into. You can also equip your kayak with floatation bags to minimize the chances of capsizing a kayak or worse a sink.
You should also carry a first-aid kit in your kayak, in case of emergency.
We hope this guide has covered the important aspects of what to wear kayaking and helped you understand the importance of some items of clothing.
The emphasis on safety and health while kayaking cannot be understated and you must follow the rule “dress for the water, not the weather” thoroughly.
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