by Roger

October 29, 2021

What to Wear Kayaking

Wearing proper gear on a kayaking trip might spell the difference between living it up and having an awful time. Nobody enjoys being wet or cold or suffering from hypothermia!

Here is detailed information on what to wear kayaking and how to prepare before heading out kayaking or canoeing. Before you set off, you need to first check on several things, from the weather and tidal to the river conditions, but keep in mind that these conditions do change very fast. 

So, prior preparations will assist you in facing the changes and enjoying the adventure as you anticipate the kind of gear you will require. 

What to Wear Kayaking: the Basics

Some of the clothing guidelines for kayaking are the same, despite the weather conditions. 

What to Wear Kayaking the Basics

Safety first

You should prioritize your safety by always wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD) while in the water. Though people find life jackets restrictive while paddling, it’s advisable to invest in a certain life jacket for kayaking to get as much freedom as possible. 

They are life-saving pieces of equipment that are effective: you should set aside any concerns about looking ‘cool’ and wear one.

Move freely

During kayaking, don’t wear anything that restricts your movement. Make sure your clothes allow you to sit comfortably for long periods without being restricted in your movements.

Dress for the water, not the weather

It may be pleasant outdoors, though if you get yourself in the waters, the discomfort of cooler temperatures may ruin the entire enjoyment – in extreme circumstances, hypothermia may result. Consider wearing a dry suit or wetsuit, and check the temperature of the water before venturing out.

Put on layers

The general rule is to layer up when it comes to outdoor activities, and kayaking will be no exception. Thin layers adjust to changing weather patterns which are better for insulation to warm you up and are loose to allow for mobility and assist your body to regulate its temperature.

Sun protection

You must always wear sunscreen to safeguard yourself from the sunlight. Even on foggy days, being on water exposes you to the heat. Sunscreen is essential, but UPF-rated materials are also a good idea.

Avoid cotton

Cotton soaks up and takes a long time to dry, so it’s wise to prevent it in the layers. When kayaking, rapid drying materials will indeed be your best friend. Try wearing a drying fabric near to the skin, including nylon or polyester, that dries quickly.

How to Layer with a Wetsuit or Drysuit for Kayaking

Check the materials

From water and sand to the offensive materials on the kayak, kayaking tends to throw a lot at you. Look for textiles that are abrasion-resistant and therefore can withstand this kind of abuse.

In saline water, some fasteners and zippers may rust, so plastics are quite a viable option. Kayaking apparel, on the other hand, should be corrosion-resistant.

Waterproof the valuables

Even in the calmest of conditions, once you capsize, the valuables will be splashed, if not completely immersed. Investing in a few waterproof cases for your valuable stuff is worthwhile; for instance, a phone is a great idea.

How to Dress for Kayaking in Mild Conditions

Nothing compares to a sunny afternoon, mostly on the water when the sun is shining, the breeze is balmy, and the water temperature is inviting.

It shouldn’t be difficult to figure out how to wear it for kayaking. As long as it’s light and comfortable, the gear should keep you cool and ensure the sun is off you. With that, then you are good.

Sunglasses and hat

At times the water glare can blind you, therefore, pack your polarized sunglasses and a strap to avoid losing them in the murky waters as you kayaker. Top it up with a hat; it protects the face and scalp from the sunlight. 

UPF top

The top priority while kayaking during the summer season is to stay cool and away from the sun. You can achieve that by putting on a cooling shirt, if not a rash guard designed with quick-drying materials, UPF-rated sun protection, and cooling technology. 

It makes you feel comfortable and look good when wearing it, which you will be grateful for while taking the waterfall selfie.


After some hours of working up the sweat paddling, you will be dying to jump into the cold water. And suppose the water is good enough for you to swim, you could wear a pair of quick-drying shorts or swim trunks, or a bikini suit for ladies. 

The quick-to-dry pants are a great choice, particularly if you’re kayaking in a swampy area – since nobody is looking to be bug bait!

Summer kayak storage

Now that you’ve learned how to wear them for kayaking during mild conditions, make sure you properly store your kayak to keep it in good condition throughout the season. 

Keeping it ready and safe for the adventure will let you spend extra time kayaking and much less time carrying kayaks and transporting them. 

How to Dress for Kayaking in Mild Conditions

How to Dress for Kayaking in Cool or Cold Water

Once the weather gets brisk, determining what to dress for kayaking can become a challenge. And in the pleasant autumn months, the water could be extremely cold. And don’t even think about dipping your toe in the water during winter.

Here are several garments that you might need to prepare for the cold-weather kayaking excursion:

Splash skirt

It’s not about the women’s skirts here. Also referred to as a spray skirt, a splash skirt prevents the water from the kayak’s cockpit and keeps you dry. Though it’s something that the kayak technically wears, not you, it should be on the list for the winter weather paddling. 

Shoes and socks

The feet will be more likely to stay warm and dry if you wear a splash skirt. Besides that, you would like to put on smart footwear with hydrophobic (water-repelling) properties and moisture-wicking socks.


Paddling in subzero temperatures? Wear a kayaking drysuit to look the part. Unlike a wetsuit, this sort of outfit is designed to keep you dry and should be worn over several layers of fabric. It could arguably save one’s life if you happen to fall into glacier water by accident.


For icy-weather kayaking wanderings, layering is the right approach. Dress up in moisture-wicking base layers like the ones people recommended for hot weather kayaking.

Before getting into the precise details of kayak apparel, let’s talk about layering. Wearing various layers of clothes and removing or adding garments to regulate your body temperature is called layering. A base layer, shell, and insulation are the prevalent layers.

You should wear the base layers next to the skin to help in managing moisture, keeping you dry and comfortable. For warmth, you wear the insulation over the base layers while shells are over the insulation to provide rain and wind protection. In kayaking, layering is somewhat different from layering for running.

How to Layer with a Wetsuit or Drysuit for Kayaking

For the following paragraphs, let’s go over the apparel to wear below a drysuit or wetsuit in each season, and it’s a good idea to know the basics first.

Wearing a drysuit or wetsuit in cold weather may not feel quite as comfortable as T-shirts and shorts; however, it is a wise safety precaution. Not sure if it’s necessary? But it’s best to consider the 120-degree rule. To avert hypothermia, wear a dry or wetsuit if the combined water and air temperature is 120 degrees F or even less.

How to Dress for Kayaking in Cool or Cold Water

Kayaking requires the use of either a drysuit or wetsuit. Both are created to keep you warm while you’re swimming. Throw on the drysuit over some long underwear as a bottom layer plus fleece as a middle layer. You should wear the wetsuit directly against your skin and a warm jacket over it. Remember to carry additional warm tops if one of yours gets wet.

The purpose of a drysuit is to keep water from getting to the skin. Drysuits have the most protection against hypothermia by maintaining a dry layer of insulation between the cool water surrounding and your body.

One significant benefit of drysuits is you can easily change the insulation worn beneath to account for the differences in water and air temperatures.

You should put on a thin base layer below the drysuit if the air is warm and the water feels cold. When both the water and air are cold, you can add moisture control fleece insulation over the layer. Another feature that makes the drysuit so adaptable is its ability to adapt to the insulation.

Underneath the drysuits, a few kayakers tend to wear only one-piece insulating suits. The union suits preclude the risk of gapping between the bottom and top of the drysuit under it, which could be hard to fix after everything is buttoned up. Note that the union suits are not quite as adaptable as separate tees.

Wetsuits provide insulation on their own. Most of the thinnest and flexible choices are designed to be worn close to the skin with nothing underneath. Because some wetsuits expose the arms, several people recommend wearing an absorbent base layer top next-to-skin.

Kayakers tend to wear wetsuits with fleece layers for additional warmth in cooler temperatures. Layering a Farmer John wetsuit and a base layer top below and a fleece top on the wetsuit is now a common approach.

Also, wearing a jacket and paddling pants over all the layers could offer spray and wind protection. Keep in mind that wetsuits will not offer any protection from the elements. Keeping the fundamentals of layering in your mind will help move your attention to particular seasons and kayaking situations.

Additional Kayaking Tips and Consideration

You are about to hit the water! Before that, there are a few more clothing suggestions to help you make the next kayaking adventure enjoyable and safe:

  • Keep the valuables, phone, and a change of clean clothes in a dry bag.
  • Whatever costs, stay away from cotton. Cotton absorbs water leaving you wet and cold. 
  • Select garments that have corrosion-resistant fasteners and zippers. Paddling gloves are useful to have on hand in windy conditions.
  • Protect the lips from the breeze by applying lip balm.
  • Dress to impress. Kayaking is an amazingly exciting experience, and you don’t want something wrecking the adventure because you’re wet and cold or overheated and sweaty. 
  • Carry the most important kayaking rescue gear kit with you.
Additional Kayaking Tips and Consideration

Picking the correct clothing for the journey doesn’t have to appear difficult; keep in mind:

  • Make a plan: While you go kayaking, do some research on the area you intend to visit. Keep an eye on the weather, water conditions, and forecast, and you’ll be smart enough to figure out what type of garments you’ll need.
  • Keep monitoring: You should stay up to date with the weather and keep an eye on downstream and upstream from where you will be. Climate changes that occur miles away from wherever you’re paddling can have a significant impact on you.
  • Bring the necessary equipment: Check out the list of devices for both the cold and hot weather, and remember, if in doubt, carry everything with you, but know what to bring when kayaking. It is indeed better to bring extra and fail to need it rather than to be without a hat in the middle of summer.
  • Use the right accessories: Yes, choosing the best kayak accessories for your kayaking trip is as important, as selecting the right clothes.

All you should do is follow this guide, and you will be more and properly prepared for the kayaking journey. 

Final thoughts on What to Wear Kayaking

To sum it up, this is the basic guide that will assist you on how to prepare and what to wear for a kayak or canoe trip. It prepares you to check on all the requirements before heading out for the best experience ever! 

So, prepare yourself well, and even though the conditions change, you’ll be in a position to take on the challenge and genuinely love the competition. If kayaking on vacay, you could use a tour company or a kayak rental as a resource.

They tend to be the local temperature and weather experts, and if you’re not sure what to wear on any specific day, you should consult them. You might as well rent a drysuit or wetsuit from the company, which will save you space in the suitcase.

About the author 


Roger was born into a family of climbers. As the youngest of his siblings, he was also the most ardent climber of them. Small and agile, he practiced climbing all day. Today, Roger teaches children how to climb the large rock walls safely.

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