What to Wear Kayaking ?

Kayaking is a popular sport enjoyed for its physically challenging workouts and fun adventures. Like all sports, kayaking demands the right dress code for a fun and safe kayak expedition.

The good news is that there are plenty of stylish clothes available to help keep you dry and comfortable all day long.

Kayaking requires you to wear quality synthetic/wool, dress for submersion, layer clothes, and avoid denim or cotton. Besides, sun screen, sun glasses, and safety gear are important too. However, what to wear kayaking could depend on the weather, the temperatures of the water, and your comfort.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        In this article, you’ll learn what to wear during the cold weather and warm weather. Besides, I’ll discuss the common clothing tips when kayaking and the general guidelines that you should remember.

I’ll also answer some of the FAQs that relate to what you should wear while kayaking.

Kayaks Dress for The Water Temperature NOT The Weather

This is the basic thing to understand while preparing for a kayak expedition. Remember that conditions can change fast, regardless of how quiet the waters are or how nice the weather appears to be before launching.

Also, dressing for the water temperatures and not simply how it feels on shore is recommended because the temperatures out on the water can be cool.

Therefore, if you are prepared for the waters and the weather does change, you will be able to handle wind, pelting rain, choppy water, or even an unexpected swim.

Cold Weather and Cold Water

What you wear when kayaking in the cold can make or break a fun trip. It’s therefore important to wear the right clothes before going out for kayaking.

Here’s a list of the clothing you should wear kayaking in the cold weather:

  • Wetsuits – These are for cold water kayaking. A wetsuit is manufactured with thick neoprene (synthetic rubber). It preserves your body heat by keeping a thin layer of water that has been heated by your body close to your skin. This protects you from feeling cold.
  • A dry suit – It should be made of a waterproof material. At the openings, it has water tight gaskets to keep you completely dry hence you will not contact the cold water.
  • Gloves – Cold water can make your hands numb and to prevent this, wearing gloves is highly recommended. This also protects you from getting blisters. Some paddlers opt for porgies which fasten the paddle allowing you to directly grip it, in addition to the fact that they are still providing protection from other elements.
  • Water-proof socks – Non-cotton such as wool socks can help in keeping you warm. For instance, you can consider the Warm Thermal Wool Socks because they are soft, cozy, and have moisture control fibers or breathable design.
  • Thermal face mask – In case you didn’t know, your face happens to be the most susceptible to the cold external air. A thermal face mask such as Balaclava Ski Mask is very useful in cold weather as you kayak. It can help to prevent or minimize loss of heat from the head and face.

Hot Weather and Warm Water

Most people like kayaking in hot weather since it is much fun to kayak in the sun. Dressing thick layers of clothing or exposing your skin to the sun will make an otherwise fun kayaking trip less comfortable.

Here is a list of gear you should wear when kayaking in warm weather:

  • Long-sleeve shirt – It might seem odd but a free, long-sleeved t-shirt with nylon webbing manufactured with quick-drying fabrics can keep you cool.
  • Shorts – Other than denim, you can wear almost any type of shorts provided they are comfy and fast drying. Shun from wearing light materials because they are less likely to withstand the severe climate and regular friction. Yoga pants are an excellent alternative if you have no shorts.
  • Sandals – Sandals with cad straps are a good option in hot weather. Forget about flip flops although they may complement the beach ambiance. This is because they may slip easily while kayaking and provide little protection for your feet.
  • Sunscreen – This is a no-brainer. It helps protect you from the sun’s strong UV rays which cause sun burns.
  • Wide-brimmed hat – It’s supplementary protection against the sun’s UV rays which are dangerous to the skin.
  • Sunglasses – Continuous UV light exposure can damage your eyes and cause photokeratitis. The condition is comparable to ‘snow blindness’. The sunglasses you pick should have polarized lenses for extra eye shield in blinding light conditions. Also, consider retainer straps that go with your eyewear to avoid losing them.

General Clothing Tips When Kayaking

You would not go skiing in your office attire nor hiking in your work out clothes. The same case applies to kayaking. In case you’re in a dilemma about the do’s and don’ts while dressing for kayaking, then worry not.

Here are the must-have clothing when kayaking:

1. Safety Equipment is a Must

A Personal Floatation Device(PFD)

Getting into cold water can cause shock or hypothermia hence, a Personal Floatation Device (PFD), also known as a lifejacket, is among the critical safety gear you should consider buying before going kayaking.

You should wear the PFDs over your clothing to keep you floating in case you happen to capsize.

A Helmet

Helmets prove themselves useful in cases where one is kayaking on rough waters. The likelihood of banging your head during capsizing increases in these circumstances because you’re moving more quickly in sometimes shallow seas.

Waterproof Bags

It is wise to have a waterproof bag to store the essential items you need to carry with you on the kayak like your keys, additional clothing or your phone.

The bag will not only protect your items and devices from contacting water, but also ensure that they will not get lost.

2. Don’t Forget the Night Kayaking Gear

Although kayaking is considered a daytime activity, night kayaking certainly has its charms.

There is a beautiful reflection of the moon, the stars are shining high in the sky, and there are no crowds to spoil the beautiful moment. It is just you and the beauty of nature. Night kayaking is a whole new adventure which you should try if you haven’t yet.

But if you plan on doing so, take time to learn the rules and tips for safety while night kayaking. You should carry the following items as you go for night kayaking:

A Source of Light

Lights are a requirement for all vessels on water at night. Although the kayak has a white light to make it visible to other boats, it can be a great idea to have a second light, such as a headlamp so that you can see where you are going.

Apart from lighting your route ahead, the light you carry should be able to light up your deck in case you need to reach for anything in your bags or hatches.

One of the recommended sources of light is a LED emergency light like the 4 Pcs Navigation lights for boats kayak. These lights are waterproof, easy to install and very bright at night.

A Sound Producing Device

This is not only necessary at night, but also during the day for all kayaks. A whistle is a suitable sound producing device preferred for such occasions since it is not only cheap, but can also be heard from a long distance.

Visual Distress Signals

All vessels on coastal waters are required to carry Visual Distress Signals (VDS) between sunset and sunrise. Handheld flares or an electric distress light are preferred for kayaks.

For the flares, three are enough and for the electric distress light, one is enough.

Carry a Radio

A walkie-talkie or a two-way radio can be useful for communication at night. You can use this to contact someone in cases of emergency.

Some of these radios have built-in channels that give weather alerts enabling you to prepare accordingly.

Do Not Kayak Alone

Though it is common sense, it is not a good idea to go out alone at night kayaking. Consider having a few people with you in cases of emergency. If you or one of the friends you have brought with you for night kayaking gets in an accident, there will be someone to call for help.

3.   Avoid Cotton; Instead Wear Synthetic Clothes

You should avoid garments made of cotton since it gets wet easily and retains water for a longer time. This will rob your body off heat. Additionally, they don’t insulate, and if you do fall out of your kayak or your feet get wet, it can be dangerous.

Also, when wearing clothes made up of synthetic materials, you should wear several thin layers rather than a single thick one. The garments will dry faster, and you will be able to shed a layer or two if the temperatures rise.

4.   Remember Sun Protection Measures

As you kayak, your skin will be exposed directly to the sun. In addition to applying sunscreen, you should consider wearing clothes made of UPF-rated fabrics that are UV protective, preferably a long-sleeved one for better coverage.

5.   Comfortable Gear

You should opt for clothes that will not restrict your movements or clothes that will not be too tight. This will enable you to swing the paddle as freely as possible.

To achieve this you should:

  • Wear a tight but not too tight top – Your outfit should be comfortable and allow easy movement. Bulky tops restrict free movement of your arms when paddling. Moreover, it becomes even harder to paddle with a bulky cloth since you have to wear a life jacket on top. Too-tight garments can also irritate your skin, particularly in regions where the skin is more sensitive. Loose fitting attire helps ensure that you are relaxed and that you’re able to paddle efficiently.
  • Wear a wet suit or a dry suit – Both should keep you warm while kayaking and are mostly suitable when it is cold. You should put on a dry suit over long undergarments and fleece. The wetsuit ought to be put on directly over the skin. If you choose, you can add a warm jacket on top of it. Bring along with you extra tops for warmth in case one gets wet.

All these are to ensure that you are comfortable while kayaking in order to have the best experience.


As you ready your kayaking wear, keep these guidelines for what to wear when going kayaking irrespective of the weather.

  • Make sure you check the weather forecast – This will help you to prepare adequately on the clothing according to the weather conditions before going for a kayaking trip.
  • Pack a set of extra clothes to change into – You will probably get wet by the time you are done with your kayaking. Bring a towel for drying yourself, extra clothes, and pack your valuables in a waterproof bag. Changing into dry clothes will make the trip back home more comfortable.
  • Assume and prepare to capsize – They say it is better to be safe than sorry. If you aren’t ready, you will be risking getting hypothermia or getting a cold shock in case your kayak downturns.
  • Consider where and how you’ll kayak – A quick kayak on nearby waters will not call for some outfits like the ones for conquering rapids.
  • Corrosion-resistant clothing – Some zippers or fasteners may rust faster in saline conditions. Avoid such clothes since the exposure to salty water conditions accelerates the process.
  • Pack water and bring snacks – Bring carbohydrate-rich snacks and water in water bottles or whatever means you have available. This will keep your energy up throughout the activity.

Also, do not forget to check your hydration. Ensure you drink a lot of water before and after kayaking. This will be especially important in longer kayaking sessions

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some of the frequently asked questions about kayaking:

Do you wear a bathing suit to kayak ?

Do not wear a bathing suit to kayak. You might experience chaffing when water on the bare skin starts rubbing against your Personal Flotation Devices (PFD) during paddling. However, during warm weather kayaking and when you are planning to take a swim, you might consider a bathing suit.

A bathing suit was mostly designed for water-based activities such as surfing and swimming.

It might be all you need while kayaking during summer and the water is warm. You won’t need to worry about your clothing getting wet either.

What’s to wear kayaking – a dry suit or a wetsuit ?

The dry suit and the wet suit are both intended to keep you warm while kayaking. Dry suits are designed as a waterproof fabric that doesn’t let water in. Wetsuits, on the other hand, are tight fitting to trap water that acts as an insulation.

In the case of the dry suit, the flexibility of the neoprene (synthetic rubber) depends on the prevailing temperatures. If the water temperatures go down, so will the flexibility of the neoprene.

Also, kayaking dry suits require a lot more care and maintenance mostly when it comes to zippers and seals which are the most delicate parts of the suit.

Whereas in the case of wetsuits, all you have to do to care for the suit is soak it in water for 20 minutes, rinse, and leave it to dry. After it’s dry, store it in a hanger.

What are the best shoes to wear when kayaking ?

Most times, footwear is often the last thing people think about when planning for a kayaking trip but this is wrong.

The best shoes to wear when kayaking are water shoes or boots. They will protect your feet from common injuries or bruises resulting from kayaking and keep you comfortable. Water sandals are also a great option though you might get chilly feet later on if the weather is cold.

However, flip flops come off easily when in the water, and their soles are often slippery that is why they are less recommended

How do I keep my hands warm when kayaking ?

Every paddler has different opinions on the best way to keep their hands warm when paddling. A lot of the decisions are of course based on the conditions one is paddling in.

You can keep your hands warm when kayaking using wear gloves or porgies. Besides, the hand wear will also protect you from chafing blisters caused by friction between your hands and the paddle, and cuts from sharp objects.

Pogies are preferred because they maintain bare fisted control of the paddle shaft, which improves sensation and comprehension of the paddle’s locations.

How do you pack for kayaking ?

When kayaking you should pack water for hydration, open shoes with heel straps, a waterproof bag, LED light, safety gear, sunscreen, snacks, and comfortable clothing that’s quick drying. Additionally, what you carry will be dictated by the time of day you plan on kayaking, the weather, and for how long.

Though your PFD is the most critical item of clothing you will wear, it is important to ensure that your body is well protected from head to toe. To make sure you do not forget anything, prepare a list of all items you need, and we’ve covered that in this guide.

Do you need shoes to kayak ?

You do not need shoes for a kayak expedition although there are some significant risks involved. Some people opt to kayak bare foot for unique reasons. It may be because bare feet offer a feeling of relaxation, others to protect their inflatable kayaks from getting punctured by shoes or simply for comfort.

The primary problem you’re likely to face while kayaking barefoot is being in contact with perils on the ground that can harm your feet or make you sick.

The sand around beaches contains some disease-causing bacteria. You run the risk of contracting illnesses and pathogens like fungal infections and hookworm if you go barefoot.

What should I not wear while kayaking ?

You should avoid wearing jeans or denim, and cotton garments/t-shirts. Cotton is hydrophilic, thus it absorbs and retains water for longer. You are at risk of getting cold since the material doesn’t dry out quickly.

Instead, you should wear synthetic textiles like polyester, wool, or Gore-Tex. These fabrics dry faster when wet hence ensure your body warmth is preserved. Wool is considered a fantastic option because it insulates when wet.


During kayaking, what you do is you sit for long hours in the same position which at times can be uncomfortable. Things can get even more uncomfortable if you are wearing restrictive clothing. Therefore, you should always wear breathable clothes.

Avoid jeans, cotton and clothes that are made of zips that can rust.

Do not forget that synthetic clothes are a great option. Other than that, polypropylene paddling gloves, wetsuits/drysuits, moisture-wicking sleeves, and safety gear are a must have.

Always remember that you should dress for the water and not the prevailing weather conditions. Lastly, remember to have fun!

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