Kayaking is an incredibly fun sport and it’s surprisingly accessible too. However even casual or recreational kayakers need to know that what you wear while kayaking is very important to ensure your trip is not only comfortable and enjoyable but also safe.
Kayaking is replete with hidden dangers. Everything from freezing temperatures, strong currents, rocks and other unpredictable and often invisible concerns can ruin your trip and potentially your life.
Being aware of these dangers and taking them seriously is the best way to prevent any issues and have a fun, memorable experience. A big part of this is wearing the correct clothing for your excursion.
In this guide, we’re going to look at what you need to wear while kayaking to get the best out of your experience. This includes everything from general clothing recommendations for your comfort and safety, all the way through to essential safety gear.
But first, a word about safety.
First Things First – Your Safety
While everyone wants to look cool, when it comes to extreme sports like kayaking, safety is more important than your appearance and the latest fashion trends.
Neglecting your responsibilities and ignoring the potential dangers of kayaking can lead to serious injury and even death. It’s important to prioritize safety equipment and the right apparel for kayaking before worrying about what looks the best.
Besides, it’s unlikely people will be looking at you anyway. Most people kayak in order to see sights and explore places few others get to enjoy!
Some things to consider are:
- Water temperature
- Prevailing water and weather conditions
- Route plan and time frame
All of these play a key role in how fun and safe your trip is. Make sure to check each of these things in detail before you set off. Also be sure there have been no changes or mistakes. One small oversight could prove disastrous to overconfident kayakers.
What To Wear
The clothing you wear during a kayaking trip can be very important and affect your comfort immensely, as well as your safety.
Naturally, the prevailing weather conditions play a part in what you should wear. That’s why we’re going to look at hot and cold weather clothing recommendations separately to ensure you are well prepared for whatever the weather is.
Hot Weather Clothing
Underwear – Ideally you should wear comfortable non-cotton underwear, however you can wear a swimsuit in some conditions. Women can also consider wearing sports bras for added comfort, although this is really a matter of personal preference.
Tops – A form fitting top made of a quick drying material will be the best choice. Rash guards are one of the most popular options designed especially for kayaking. These tops work well and can make your trip much more comfortable. It’s best to avoid cotton t-shirts if possible as these are slow to dry and are heavy when wet.
Bottoms – Board shorts or quick drying pants are the best choice for bottoms. They are comfortable and can handle getting wet which is an occupational hazard for kayakers. Avoid anything that can chafe or tear such as yoga pants or leggings. These will often not be up to the stress kayaking puts on your clothing and don’t cope well when wet.
Outer Layers – While the above options are enough to get you out on the water, you should consider bringing a small breathable jacket or windbreaker along with you to provide you with some protection should conditions change.
Kayaking is a very physical activity so in warm weather you won’t need a jumper even if it rains. A long sleeve rash guard is lightweight but can provide protection from the sun on hot days.
Accessories – Accessories such as a hat for sun protection, and gloves to protect your hands from blisters are always a good idea and can make your trip much more comfortable. Sunglasses can be a good call too but beware they don’t fall into the water! Many pairs of sunnies have been lost to the careless kayaker!
For a more in-depth guide to warm weather paddling apparel, plus our recommendations on must-have pieces, see ‘The Ultimate Guide To Warm Weather Paddling Apparel‘
Cold Weather Clothing
Underwear – A wetsuit or drysuit is the best option for cold weather kayaking. Ideally it should have a good insulation factor and be designed for kayaking.
Swimming wetsuits aren’t suitable as they can cause chafing and will feel awkward for kayaking. Whether you wear underwear beneath your wetsuit is entirely up to you but most people avoid this as it can be uncomfortable.
Tops and Bottoms – For particularly cold weather, a fleece are useful. They’re relatively lightweight and easy to layer.
Many people avoid bottoms when wearing a wetsuit as they are awkward and don’t provide much additional benefit. Whatever you choose to wear, don’t choose something which affects your maneuverability or mobility.
Outer Layers – A waterproof layer such as a windbreaker or thin rain jacket works well as an outer layer of protection from rain and cold.
Accessories – A beanie or warm hat can work well to keep your ears warm as well as the rest of you, as most human body heat is lost through the top of the head. A good pair of gloves are also key to prevent blisters and keep your fingers warm. Some people may also like to wear a buff for their necks.
For a more in-depth guide to cold weather paddling apparel, plus our recommendations on must-have pieces, see ‘The Ultimate Guide To Cold Weather Paddling Apparel‘
Regardless of what you choose to wear, a flotation device is non-negotiable for almost all kayaking and should be worn at all times to prevent serious injury.
Even highly competent kayakers wear flotation devices. Helmets are also a good call for most kayaking and can prevent serious injury too.
Neoprene paddling boots work best, however in calmer conditions or a more laid back recreational environment sandals can work well for warmer weather. Avoid flip flops, however, as these are not practical and easy to lose.