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What To Wear Kayaking

   November 9th, 2020   Posted In: Articles   Tags:

What To Wear Kayaking

Let’s address the most obvious point: kayaking is a water sport. As such, let’s all dress like we expect to get wet. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people hop into a kayak wearing heavy clothing like jean shorts or cotton jackets. In all my years of kayaking, I’ve never once docked my kayak without having gotten splashed or full-on dunked at some point during the day.

Like with all outdoor sports, it’s important to layer and factor in not only changes in the weather but changes in the plan, as well. The great news is that there are a lot of different options when deciding what to wear kayaking.

A Few Things to Consider

Whether you’re trying to figure out what to wear for a one-day kayak trip or are getting more involved in the sport and want to invest in some quality gear, here are a couple of things you should consider EVERY time you hit the water.

Sun Protection

Imagine you’re nearing the end of your planned route and you’re so wrapped up in the moment that you decide to stay out on the water just a little bit longer. Before you know it, your one-hour trip lasts four glorious hours and your skin is burnt to a crisp.

Don’t be fooled: the sun can still burn your skin in the winter as it does in the summer. To save yourself from the sun’s wrath, make sure you wear sunscreen.

Life Jacket

Every time you go kayaking you should wear a life jacket. You may never truly know how deep the water is, so wearing a life jacket allows you to forget about the depth and just have fun.

Whitewater Kayaking

If you plan to do any whitewater kayaking near rocky areas or rapids, please wear a helmet. Depending on the water’s speed, you don’t want to risk a head injury. I have yet to come across a watersports adventure company that offers whitewater excursions without requiring participants to wear helmets.

what to wear kayakingWarm Weather Clothing Options

Deciding what to wear kayaking in summer is a little bit easier than in winter, as you won’t need nearly as many layers. This is where it can really depend on personal preference for fabric, texture, fits, etc.


Try to dress against the dreaded friction of water against skin.

Summer Season on the Water

The summer months make up the easiest time of the year to dress for kayaking. Sunglasses, swimsuits, and some sort of shoe with a backstrap are necessities (i.e. no flip flops). You can even look into buying water-designed boots.

Another must-have item is a rash guard. If you don’t know, a rash guard is a top layer that protects your skin against chaffing. It also can help protect you against harsh sunlight and can be short-sleeve, long-sleeve, or sleeveless.

For the bottom layer, you want to pick something that is quick-drying and lightweight like neoprene shorts. Again, you want to plan to get wet, so wearing denim or any sort of cotton that will absorb water and weigh you down is not advised.

Spring and Rainy Season

It’s important to note that you need to dress to the temperature of the water—not the air temperature. So, just because it’s 75 degrees Fahrenheit in April doesn’t mean that the water will also be that warm.

Vests and Jackets

You might opt for a warm, long-sleeve base layer with a vest on top. You’re unlikely to overheat while wearing a vest in the spring, as you can still catch wind under your arms and around your neck. If you do get too hot, however, you can always take this layer off.

A lot of kayakers opt for a windbreaker or softshell jacket during the rainy season, as this is lightweight enough not to weigh you down if you hop into the water. Overall, just be careful in those spring months when the water temperature isn’t quite warm enough for full-on summer wear.

Cold Weather Clothing Options

Determining what to wear kayaking in cold weather is complex. Failure to dress properly can result in anything from sunburn to hypothermia all in the same day.

When dealing with water temperatures lower than roughly 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you should probably be wearing a wetsuit. In the event that your kayak tips over, any flimsy activewear or lack of insulation could cause physical impairment in just minutes, as icy water begins cutting off your blood circulation.

There are also a lot of great glove options on the market that will help your hands retain their dexterity if the air temperature is quite cold. Try to look for something that is quick-drying, not heavy like the type of gloves you’d wear in a snowstorm.

A dry suit is another option you should consider when deciding what to wear kayaking in winter. Drysuits differ from wetsuits in that they are looser-fitting. That’s because you would wear thicker, cold-weather clothing underneath the suit. I would consider this option during the winter due to the fact that dry suits are designed for extremely low water temperatures.

It’s always a good idea to wear a warm coat to go over your base layer.

Dress for the Journey Ahead

All in all, it’s really important to plan for what might happen. I’ll never forget when I wore my favorite baseball cap on a kayaking trip and we encountered 40 mph wind speeds on our way back. Paddling against the wind, I felt my hat lift right off the top of my head. We doubled back to catch it as it floated away, added 15 minutes to our paddle time, and accidentally left the hat in our hotel room when we flew home. I think about and miss that hat often. Save yourself the same pain and make sure you dress for the journey ahead.

Monica is a freelance writer who lives in Michigan and enjoys spending time in a kayak on one of the state’s many freshwater lakes. She loves writing about travel, minimalism, and outdoor adventure and you can connect with her at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/monicakinsey.

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