Water Sports

What to Wear Kayaking: Complete Guide to the Basics

We share some important tips for when you’re picking your kayaking attire & some great items that you might want to invest in for your next kayak trip.

Kayaking is a wonderful activity. It’s a great way to get some exercise and enjoy the beauty of nature. If you’re a novice kayaker, it’s important that you make sure you’re properly prepared, and that means dressing appropriately; something that a lot of beginners may not think about. Like any other sport, the clothing you wear will have a big impact on your success – and your enjoyment.

So, what should you wear kayaking? Your attire should be durable, versatile, protective, and comfortable. When trying to figure out what you should wear kayaking, it’s important to adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Consider the water temperature. Most people would assume that they should select clothing that coordinates with the air temperature, but when you’re kayaking, it’s more important to consider the temperature of the water. If it’s blazing hot out and you’re paddling on frigid water, you’re going to regret only having a shorts and a tank-top as soon as you get splashed.
  • Layers are important. Dressing in layers is highly recommended; particularly on your top half. If you get hot, you could always take off a layer.
  • Keep the sun in mind. Even if it’s cloudy, you need to take sun protection in mind, as it’s definitely possible to get sunburned. Wearing clothing that’s made with fabrics that are UPF-rated is definitely a good idea. Make sure you apply sunscreen to any exposed skin, too.
  • Stay away from cotton. Cotton might be lightweight and breathable, but when it comes to water sports, it isn’t the best material to wear. That’s because it absorbs water and it takes a long time to dry out. Instead, you should opt for fabrics that dry quickly; moisture-wicking polyester or nylon, for example.
  • Comfort is important. You’re going to be sitting for a prolonged period of time. You’ll also be moving your upper body a lot. Comfortable, non-restrictive clothing is the best choice.
  • A floatation device is an absolute must. Even if you’re a strong swimmer, a personal flotation device is essential, and make sure you keep it on the entire time you’re on the water. If you hit choppy water and capsize when you’re far away from land, you’ll be properly protected. Remember, safety is always the first priority.

With those guidelines in mind, let’s take a closer look at the clothing you should wear according to the conditions you may be kayaking in.

Kayak Beginner Guide
Read: Kayaking for Beginners: Complete Guide on How to Kayak

How to Dress for Warm Weather

If you’re going to be kayaking when it’s warm out, consider the following suggestions.

First layer

For underwear, a lot of people opt to wear a swimsuit. If you’re thinking about doing the same, just make sure that your bathing suit will be comfortable to wear for the duration of your outing. Alternatively, comfortable underwear that you’d wear for any other outdoor activity is recommended, and for ladies, a supportive, comfortable sports bra.

Top half

Wearing a rash guard (the kind surfers wear) is a good idea to wear as a shirt for kayaking in warm weather. These shirts are made of lightweight nylon or polyester and spandex, so they’re easy to move in, comfortable, and dry really fast.

Additionally, the materials are UPF-rated, so they’ll keep your top half protected from the sun’s harsh UV rays. Rash guards are available in both long and short sleeves. If you opt for short sleeves, make sure you slather up your arms with sunscreen.

Best Selling Rashguards

Bestseller No. 1
Quiksilver Men's All TIME LS Long Sleeve Rashguard SURF Shirt, Majolica Blue Heather, M
  • 50+ UPF sun protection
  • Constructed using reprieve recycled materials
  • Moisture wicking
  • Snug fit
  • Chlorine resistant
SaleBestseller No. 2
O'Neill Men's Basic Skins UPF 50+ Long Sleeve Rash Guard, Black, XL
  • Skin Cancer Foundation Recommended Product; UPF 50+ Ultraviolet Protection
  • Perfect For Surfing, Swimming, Paddle Sports, Boating, And Beach Days
  • Comfortable Yet Durable 6oz Polyester/Spandex Construction
  • Minimal Seam Placement For Maximum Rash Protection
  • Performance Fit: Form-Fitting Tight Layer Fits Like A Second Skin
SaleBestseller No. 3
O'Neill UV 50+ Sun Protection Mens Basic Skins Short Sleeve Tee Sun Shirt Rash Guard, White, Medium
  • Slim Fit: Fits Close to Body, But Is Not Tight
  • Skin Cancer Foundation Recommended Product; UPF 50+ Ultraviolet Protection
  • Perfect For Surfing, Swimming, Paddle Sports, Boating, And Beach Days
  • Comfortable Yet Durable 6oz Polyester/Spandex Construction
  • Minimal Seam Placement For Maximum Rash Protection

Bottom half

On your bottom half, wear whatever you think is comfortable, whether it’s shorts or a pair of pants. Just make sure that whatever you choose, it’s comfortable and the material is quick drying. Swimming trunks are a good choice, just make sure to choose something that’s made of UPF-rated material. For pants, choose something that’s relatively loose fitting over something tight, as tight-fitted pants can lead to chafing as you’re paddling, which can be pretty uncomfortable.

It's important to choose the right kayaking gear
It’s important to choose the right kayaking gear

Middle layer

If the water temperature is really cold, wearing a wet or dry suit is strongly recommended. If you capsize and you get stranded in the water for a long period of time, you’ll be glad you’re wearing one. If the water temperature is pleasant, back something warm that’s made out of synthetic material in a dry storage bag and put it on if you get chilly.

Exterior layer

If the forecast calls for high winds or rain, you’ll want to wear a jacket and pants that are made of waterproof, yet breathable material. Specially made paddling jackets are a great choice, as they feature gaskets around the neck and wrists that will keep the water at bay.

Shoes

On the feet, opt for lightweight waterproof shoes. Paddling booties are a great choice, as they’re made of neoprene, they’re lightweight, and they dry quickly. Alternatively, a pair of water shoes (the type you’d wear while swimming) will work well, too. They’ll keep your feet protected from water and abrasive surfaces, such as sand or rocks. Steer clear of slip-on shoes, such as sandals or flip flops. They offer little to no protection and can easily slip off of your feet while you’re paddling.

If the water temperature is cold, you might want to consider wearing a pair of waterproof socks, too. Or at least a pair of thick socks that are made out of quick-drying synthetic materials. Either option will keep your feet protected from any cold water that may splash into your kayak.

Best Selling Kayak Shoes

Bestseller No. 1
Mishansha Mens Womens Water Shoes Quick Dry Barefoot for Swim Diving Surf Aqua Sports Pool Beach Walking Yoga Black 11
  • PERFECT MATERIAL:Upper with salt resistance wear resistance stretch breathable ultra light weight Lycra material for fast draining and cross ventilation, give excellent flexible and comfortable.
  • QUICK DRY WITH DRAINAGE HOLES:Unique and top-quality anti slip camo rubber sole, with several holes on each bottom to ensure proper water flow out of them which creates a cooler and healthier shoe environment
  • Easy On and Off:The pull tap at the heel allows for quick and easy entry, protecting your feet from dripping off.
  • ELASTIC STRAPS:According to the width of the foot quickly adjust the shoes elastic and avoid the annoyance of tying your shoes.
  • IDEAL FOR ANY ACTIVITY:Women and men perfect for beach, swimming, surf, pool, sailing, boating, kayaking, windsurfing, beach volleyball, long airline flight, yoga, performing pilates exercises aerobics etc. The shoe is necessary equipment for vacations.
SaleBestseller No. 2
SIMARI Water Shoes Womens Mens Sports Quick Dry Barefoot for Swim Diving Surf Aqua Pool Beach Walking Yoga 303 Blue 11W/10M
  • BREATHABLE FABRIC: The upper is made of mesh material with stretch, like socks that snug your skin softly and guarantee the breathable and quick-dry experience.
  • UNIQUE DESIGN: The design for our product is based on ergonomic principal which has good performance in cushion. Each sole has 8 holes to ensure well in drainage that keep feet-feeling more cooler.
  • CONVENIENT WEARING: The elastic-shoelace with locking mechanisms can quickly adjust the loose, and elastic shoes neckline allows you easily put on and take off.
  • SAFETY: The soles is made of rubber materials and the unique bump texture design that easily keep balance in slip-place and protect your feet from hot beach or sharp rock.
  • Occasions: SIMARI water shoes perfectly suit for beach or water games like swimming, kite surfing, pool, sailing, kayaking, beach volleyball etc. Especially for family outings!
SaleBestseller No. 3
VIFUUR Water Sports Unisex Shoes Blue - 7.5-8.5 W US / 6-7 M US (38-39)
  • Recommended 1: CONVENIENCE - Smooth neck design prevents chafing when wearing our water shoes. It is convenient to wear and take off.
  • Recommended 2: COMFORTABLE FIT -- Breathable and smooth fabrics with fine stretch on uppers. Like socks, flexible and comfortable.
  • Recommended 3: RUBBER OUTSOLE & FOOT SAFETY -- Wearable and top-quality rubber sole, which protects your feet from being hurt by sharp objects.
  • Recommended 4: OCCASION - Yoga Training, beach, swimming, pool, weight training, wake-boarding, sailing, boating, kayaking, windsurfing, cycling, jogging, walking, fishing, beach volleyball, gardening, lawn, car-washing and driving. Family outings!
  • Tips:VARIOUS SIZE AVAILABLE -- fit different feet,little kids, big kids,men,women are available.

Headwear

Wearing a hat is highly recommended. Choose something that features a wide brim to keep the sun off of your face. You might also want to consider a hat that features a cape to protect your neck from the sun. Secure your hat using a chin strap to prevent it from flying off when you’re paddling.

Hand protection

Even on short trips, wearing a pair of paddling gloves is a wise idea. They’ll protect your hands from blisters. Pogies are another option; especially on days where the temperature cold drop. They attach right onto the paddle and then you place your hands inside to grip onto the shaft.

Personal flotation device

Of course, you’re going to want to wear a personal flotation device, too. Never get in a kayak without one; even if you’re only planning on paddling close to the shore.

Best Selling Life Vests for Kayaking

SaleBestseller No. 1
ONYX MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, X-Large/XX-Large, Aqua
  • Mesh in lower back fits high back seats
  • Shoulder adjustments with neoprene comfort pads
  • SOLAS grade reflective material for visibility
  • Expandable zippered pockets with mesh drainage
  • Heavy duty nylon fabric; soft, lightweight flotation foam
SaleBestseller No. 2
Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket, Universal, Tan
  • Six adjustment straps to cinch vest up for a snug fit
  • High foam back accommodates high back seats
  • Pockets designed for your essential gear
  • Breathable mesh lower back
  • Comfortable neoprene shoulder pads
SaleBestseller No. 3
Onyx 121900-100-004-17 Universal Paddle Vest - Red
  • Low profile, lightweight, compact design
  • High foam back accommodates high back seats; Breathable mesh lower back
  • Six adjustment straps to cinch vest up to fit snug; Comfortable neoprene shoulder pads
  • Large front pocket
  • U. S. Coast Guard Approved Type III Life Jacket / Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

How to Dress for Cold Weather

If you’re going to be kayaking in cold conditions, the following guidelines will help you dress appropriately.

First layer

Like kayaking in warm weather, you can wear a swimsuit as your underwear in cold weather, or opt for a pair of comfortable, yet supportive underpants, and for women, a sports bra. If it’s really cold, you might also want to consider wearing thermal underwear. If you do, make sure it’s made of synthetic material, not cotton.

Top half

If you aren’t wearing a thermal underwear shirt, opt for a long-sleeved T-shirt that’s lightweight and made of synthetic material. As always, make sure you avoid cotton, as it easily absorbs water and takes what seems like an eternity to dry.

Bottom half

For pants, choose something that’s relatively loose-fitting and is made of moisture-wicking fabric that will keep you well-insulated.

A wet or dry suit

You’re definitely going to want to wear a wet or dry suit when you’re kayaking in cold conditions. It’s recommended that you wear one whenever the water temperature is 60 degrees or lower, even if it’s warm out.

Wetsuits are usually made of neoprene, a material that has insulating qualities and keeps a thin layer of water that your body will naturally heat on top of your skin. Dry suits are ideal for really cold water. They’re made of waterproof fabric and feature gaskets that prevent water from getting inside. Your warmth can be adjusted by wearing an insulating layer underneath the dry suit; a pair of long underwear, for example.

Best Selling Wet Suits for Kayaking

Bestseller No. 1
Lemorecn Wetsuits Jumpsuit Neoprene 3/2mm Full Body Diving Suit(3031,M)
  • MULTI SPORT WETSUIT: Wetsuit designed for all water sports like diving, scuba, paddle boarding, surfing, or kayaking.
  • DURABILITY: Spot taped at stress points and flatlock seams provide a smooth interior and exterior surface to ensure maximum comfort and durability.
  • NEOPRENE: Constructed with premium neoprene for a comfortable and athletic fit.
  • 3/2mm neoprene for warmth without sacrificing flexibility.3mm chest panel for added warmth and 2mm sleeves for greater flexibility
  • FEATURES: Easy-reach, extra-long leash and easy on with heavy-duty YKK back zipper ; Order the product according to your body measurements.
Bestseller No. 2
Lemorecn Wetsuits Pants 3mm Neoprene Winter Swimming Canoeing Pants(1031XXL)
  • INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY: 3mm ultra soft and super stretch neoprene; comfortable flat stitch construction gives you a soft and comfortable fit
  • WARMTH: Designed to keep you warm in all water conditions for standup paddle boarding, kiteboarding, wakeboarding, surfing, and other water sports.
  • PERFORMANCE AND COMFORT: Combination of two super elastic fabric gives an unparalleled mix of performance and comfort
  • UNISEX FIT: A layer to support men and women during paddle boarding, surfing, and other water activities.
  • High-waist and tall back offers increased coverage
SaleBestseller No. 3
DiNeop Neoprene Wetsuit Gloves Diving Scuba Gloves for Women Men Kids, 3MM Sailing Thermal Gloves Comfortable Protection for Kayaking Paddling Snorkeling Swimming Surfing Spearfishing (Blue, M)
  • ★COMFORTABLE & FLEXIBLE FIT: DiNeop snorkeling gloves constructed with 3MM premium neoprene to give you a flexible, soft and comfortable fit, with form-fitting design helps you less restrictions and less hand fatigue during water sports, offer you a fantastic snorkeling and surfing experience
  • ★WARM & PERFECT PROTECTION: DiNeop thermal dive surf gloves will protect your hands from hurt by rocks, sea lice, jellies, coral...ect, and keep warm while underwater,you can enjoy water safely for longer time (However, kindly be noted Diving Glove is not a completely waterproof product, but a diving equipment to match wetsuits )
  • ★WIDE USE & GREAT GIFT: Anti-slip design helps provide secure handling of lights, slates and other small items, high grip textured palm gives you confidence you will never lose your grip while snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, surfing, sailing, canoeing, diving, spearfishing, paddling, rafting... aquatic sports, what a great gift set for mother, father, family, friends, lover...ect
  • ★HIGH STRETCH & DURABLE: 150% high stretch and excellent recovery, glued and blind stitched for superior strength and durability that will last, don’t worry about ripped, we are confidence that it will be a long term partner for you
  • ★SATISFACTION WARRANTY: DiNeop water wet gloves can be available for kids, men and women in all size S, M, L, XL, please choose the size according to your palm width and reference to our size chart, However, due to everyone’s hands shape is difference and measuring tolerance ±1cm allowed, if you're not fully satisfied with your purchase, please simply contact with us freely, we will offer you a replacement or a refund, Click the 'Add to Cart' now!

Exterior layer

If you’re wearing a long-sleeved wet or dry suit, you won’t need to wear an exterior layer, such as a jacket, because the suit itself will provide you with the protection you need from cold air and water temperatures.

Foot wear

When you’re kayaking in the cold weather, a pair of paddling booties or water shoes is highly recommended; the same as you would wear during warmer weather. Either option is waterproof and will keep your feet protected from any rough surfaces you may be walking on. You should also wear a pair of waterproof socks; or at the very least, a pair of thick socks that are made of synthetic fabric to keep your feet protected from cold conditions.

Head wear

A beanie is highly recommended, as it fits snuggly  on the head and will prevent you from losing body heat through your head. Choose something that’s made of quick-drying fabric so in case it gets wet, you won’t have to worry about it taking forever to dry. It’s also a good idea to wear a brimmed hat on top of a beanie, as it will keep the sun off of your face. You might want to consider a brimmed hat that features a cape, too, to protect your neck from the sun.

Gloves

You’re definitely going to want to wear gloves to protect your hands from both chaffing and from the cold conditions. Paddling gloves are a great option, as they’re made of waterproof materials and feature protective fabric that will protect your palms from the paddle. Pogies are another option; they attach onto the paddle and you slip your hands in. Like paddling gloves, they also protect your hands from the cold, as well as chafing.

Best Selling Kayak Gloves

Bestseller No. 1
KastKing Sol Armis Sun Gloves UPF50+ Fishing Gloves UV Protection Gloves Sun Protection Gloves Men Women for Outdoor, Kayaking, Rowing, Shoreline Prym1,Large - X-Large
  • KEY FEATURES – UPF 50 UV protection for your hands – Breathable poly-spandex material – Re-enforced wear points – Integrated pull tabs – Fashionable Prym1 colors
  • UPF 50 PROTECTION – The KastKing Sol Armis Sun Protection Gloves is designed by our team of elite anglers for a comfortable snug fit and rated UPF 50 to ensure you have sun protection for your hands from harmful UV rays.
  • BREATHABLE MATERIAL – We use breathable poly-spandex fabric to keep you cool and comfortable all day long without getting sun burned. Our 4-way stretch fabric offers a snug fit that won’t affect your dexterity to change hooks, baits or land fish.
  • MICROFIBER PALM& PULL TABS– Microfiber re-enforced primary wear points on the palms help to extend the life of your gloves and offers extra padding. Integrated pull tabs on the cuff and middle finger make it easy to pull on or take off your gloves.
  • PRYM1 CAMO & MACHINE WASHABLE– “BE THE PREDATOR” with American born Prym1 Camo, KastKing is proud to partner with Stacie Walker a wildlife artist and founder of Prym1 Camo. The Sol Armis gloves are also easy to clean, simply machine wash in warm water after a hard day of fishing. Stay protected from the sun in style with the KastKing Sol Armis Gloves.
Bestseller No. 2
FitsT4 Unisex 3/4 Finger Surfing Gloves for Water Ski, Canoeing, Windsurfing, Kiteboarding, Sailing, Jet Skiing and Stand-UP Paddle Boarding Adjustable Wrist Cinch, Comfortable Fit
  • Excellent Protection: The 3/4 finger gloves featuring vented and padded premium synthetic leather palms. Helps protect your hands from abrasion meanwhile ensuring a secure grip no matter wet or dry.
  • Designed for Comfort: Soft high stretch spandex back for snug fit, not too tight. Extremely comfortable fit that does not promote hand fatigue. You’ll enjoy superior comfort and enhanced performance.
  • Allows Full Dexterity: These canoeing gloves design with 3/4 fingers, leaves your fingers free for high-dexterity tasks. While the exposed fingers make it easy to move and pick up equipment.
  • Super Quality Wrist Support: Paired with adjustable hook and loop wrist fastener for a secure and dependable fit, easy to take on and off. Lightweight and quick drying, great for hot weather use.
  • Multisport Gloves: Design for all water sports, dries fast. Great for canoeing, windsurfing, water skiing, jet ski, paddling, kitesurfing, wakeboarding, SUP and other action sports. Unisex sizing for men, women or youth.
Bestseller No. 3
VORCOOL UV Protection Fishing Fingerless Gloves Anti-Slip Fishing Gloves for Cycling Climbing Fishing Riding Kayaking (Size L)
  • Made with high quality lightweight lycra and silica gel to allow for a comfortable workout. Half finger gloves design, will not influence sports. Featured in breathable, shock-absorbing, anti-skid.
  • Ideal for outdoor sports use, such as cycling, climbing, fishing, riding, fitness, etc.
  • Size M: 21.5cm(Palm Girth). Size L: 21.5cm(Palm Girth).
  • Featured in breathable, shock-absorbing, anti-skid.
  • Half finger gloves design, will not influence sports.

Extra Clothing

Whether you’re kayaking in cold or warm conditions, or on a short or long journey, you’ll definitely want to bring along some extra clothing. It’s a good idea to pack an extra piece of each of the items that you’re wearing (with the exception of a wet or dry suit, personal flotation device, paddling  water shoes). For example, if you’re wearing a swimsuit, a rash guard, board shorts, a fleece, and socks, you’ll want to bring an extra of each item in your kayak.

Make sure that you pack your extra garments in a dry storage bag to prevent them from getting wet. It’s also a good idea to put a towel in your dry storage bag. If you end up getting wet – either because you capsize or because the water gets choppy and splashed into your vessel – you’ll be able to pull to shore and change so you can remain comfortable and properly protected for the remainder of your journey.

Summing It Up

Kayaking promises to be an incredible experience; however, to ensure that you have the most enjoyment possible, you definitely want to wear the right attire. Use the recommendations provided above and you should be well prepared for your excursion.

Jake is an explorer, he loves all types of outdoor pursuits such as hunting, fishing & hiking. Jake has been a full-time writer & blogger for many years now and he's here to share his passions with the BeActiveOutdoors readers. Contact Jake@beactiveoutdoors.com

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