As with all activities, dressing properly usually helps determine the outcome of either fun or misery.
What to wear when kayaking is of particular interest since it is a sport that brings you outdoors and in the water. When and where you go, it also will determine what kayaking outfits look like.
There are also two other considerations for choosing what to wear kayaking. Comfort and ease of movement are one. Safety from cold is the other. (Read Types of Kayaking)
Personal Flotation Devices and Other Tips
Regardless of weather conditions, you should have a personal flotation device or PFD. Always have one while in the water and choose the proper size (the more snug is better). Besides keeping you afloat, a PFD can add to core body warmth.
Another common mistake is to wear cotton. This fabric acts like a sponge with water and is slow to dry. Opt for abrasion-resistant fabrics that can take more abuse associated with the wear and tear of kayak adventures.
One more tip worth mentioning is getting gear with rustproof zippers and hardware. Saltwater is extremely harsh to metals. Plastics are rustproof and resistant to saltwater.
Warm Weather Outfits
Warm weather kayaking will essentially be a matter of staying comfortably cool, hydrated, and protected from the sun’s UV rays. Sunscreen and a hat will go a long way, along with a good pair of sunglasses. A good synthetic long-sleeved upper shirt or rash guard will also help ward off the heat.
For bottoms, shorts and footwear like water shoes or appropriate sandals will also work, but never flip-flops. Neoprene paddling booties are lightweight and protect the toes and feet bottoms, making them an ideal choice. Any other footwear that offers similar protection will work fine.
For underwear, a wise choice is to wear a bathing suit as a first inner layer. In tropical weather, a bathing suit worn with airy summer clothes is more than sufficient. Just to be sure, in case of temperatures drop, bring a warm top layer. (Read Health Benefits of Kayaking)
Whenever I anticipate any rain or wind conditions, I opt to wear a waterproof, breathable jacket and rain pants. I have also liked paddling jackets since they have gaskets on the neck and wrists to keep water out. In slightly cooler temperatures with rain or wave splash, waterproof socks or paddling booties also help keep you dry and comfortable.
Synthetic fabrics are the best material for rain kayaking. They dry faster than natural fibers. Using a spray skirt can also do a lot to stop the rain from entering the cockpit. If you have a sit-on-top type, you should at least be able to prevent the rain from filling up on the deck by seeing to it that the scupper holes are not blocked.
Cold Weather Outfits
What I love about kayaking is it is a year-round sport. As long as you are dressed properly, the cold weather or water is not a hindrance. Just be mindful of the dangers of cold weather kayaking, such as swim failure, hypothermia, and cold shock, so appropriate clothing is not only essential but could be lifesaving.
Using a wetsuit or drysuit is your main defense to minimize risks and keep you safe even in the harshest temperatures. Always remember that the strategy of enjoying cold weather kayaking is to stay comfortably warm. This is achievable even if you find yourself immersed in frigid water.
The Wetsuit vs. Drysuit
A wetsuit has a layer of fabric known as neoprene. It is elastic, hardwearing, and semi-permeable. Due to its flexibility, wetsuits are popular for a wide range of activities, such as kayaking.
Wetsuits are the clothing choice in conditions that have these two combinations: If the water is potentially cold enough to drop core body temperature dangerously, but conversely, you have warm air temperature. A drysuit in this situation would be too hot.
There is a wide range of wetsuit styles that offer moderate to full body coverage to accommodate your needs.
Best for colder conditions where air and water temperature is low, the full-body wetsuit gives ample protection. It covers the torso, legs, and arms. Accessorize with gloves, a cap, and boots for the warmth of extremities.
In conditions where the air is warm but the water cold, the spring suit is perhaps your next best option. It covers the thighs and torso only. A long john wetsuit that covers the leg’s full length is also a popular choice for warmer climates.
Wetsuits can also come as separates. These cover either the legs or torso and arms. Kayakers who find bottoms uncomfortable often choose a vest wetsuit.
Drysuit for Kayaking
As its name implies, drysuits keep you dry. Its design uses seals at the wrists and neck. They also typically have boots integrated with it, so the entire suit is sealed. Drysuits are not insulated; hence, warm clothing underneath is needed to keep you comfortable.
Drysuits are the ideal choice once you encounter water temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. They provide optimal protection. These suits are pricey, but if you like cold weather kayaking, they are worth every dollar.
Buying a Drysuit
Drysuits have fewer combinations compared to wetsuits. There are kayaker specific suits that are a looser fit for ease of movement. Since these do not keep you warm, you will need base-layers. Also, look for a suit fitted with a relief zipper to go to the bathroom is not difficult. (Read Kayaking with Dogs)
The Importance of Proper Attire
I like to go kayaking regardless of the temperature and weather. The ability to kayak in cold weather and cold waters or in warmer climates is very liberating. Take advantage of the many kayak-clothing options to make sure you remain dry, comfortable, and safe.