What to Wear Kayaking: An All-Seasons Guide

The great thing about kayaking is that it’s a year round recreational activity— that is if you dress right, of course.

Many people hang their paddles up for the year when the first brisk cold front blows in, but that doesn’t have to be the case! With a little preparation, you can experience the seasons from a new perspective and enjoy your favorite outdoor activity no matter the temperature. 

Need a little help stocking your closet with the right paddling garb?

Here’s an all-seasons guide to what to wear kayaking:

What to Wear for Kayaking in the Summer

Kayaking in the summer is perhaps the easiest to dress for, but you should still put some thought into it. Brutal summer sun rays can damage skin and leave you wishing you put on an extra layer.  

Base layer: Swimsuit

Swimsuits make a great base layer, but they should be just that— a base layer. Soaking up some vitamin D for thirty minutes or an hour is great, but any longer than that, you risk getting a sunburn and damaging your skin. If you don’t want to wear a swimsuit, sweat or water-wicking underwear also work great as a base layer.

Top layer: Rashguard (or fishing shirt)

On top, a rashguard will protect against the sun, keep you cool, and wick moisture away. If you prefer something less form-fitting, fishing shirts and other types of synthetic athletic wear works, too.

Bottoms: Quick-drying shorts

For your bottoms, wear something quick drying, like boardshorts or windshorts. The important thing is to select a fabric that won’t stay wet, chafe, bind, or tear if there’s friction.  

Footwear: Water sandals or neoprene boots

When it comes to footwear, you’ll want to keep the flip-flops at home. They’re nice because they slip on and off easily, but that’s exactly what makes them a kayaker’s worst nightmare.

Flip-flops can easily break or come off in a muddy or rocky bottom. If you’re going with an open-toe option, strappy water sandals like Tevas or Chacos are ideal.

Still, you have to be careful of abrasive gravel and dirt that may get caught between the straps. Your best option is neoprene boots, which offer full-foot protection.

Don’t forget to accessorize your look with a cap or wide-brim hat that offers further protection from the sun.

What to Wear for Kayaking in the Fall

In fall, you can really start dressin’— and by dressin’, we mean loading up on layers. We’ve all experienced those fall days that start off cool but make you break a sweat by midday. Layers allow you to plan for all temperatures and adjust your fit as necessary.

You can start with the layers that you had for summer and put warmer layers on top. Again, look for quick-drying fabrics.

Mid-layer: Merino wool or fleece

Merino wool also works well, because even though it takes a while to dry, it still insulates when wet. A fleece jacket is also suitable for a midlayer. 

Outer layer: Waterproof or paddling jacket

Your outer layer should fit the type of weather you expect. If you’re going out in rainy or misty conditions, you need to make sure to bring a waterproof jacket to keep you dry. You can even find paddling jackets out there that are cuffed around the wrists to prevent cold droplets of water from trickling down your sleeve.

Footwear: Neoprene boots

Neoprene boots really come in handy during the cooler fall months. If they aren’t enough to keep your feet warm, invest in some wetsocks, which are made to get wet but keep your feet toasty.

You can also wear the same hat as you did in the summer. Add a beanie underneath if your head is cold.

The important thing to remember when it comes to cooler weather and paddling is cotton kills! When cotton gets wet, it stays wet. This can prove disaster for a paddler in chilly conditions.

What to Wear for Kayaking in the Winter

Wetsuits vs. Drysuits

If it’s cold outside, a wetsuit or drysuit is recommended. Even if you plan on being in calm waters, capsizing is always a possibility.

Cold waters pose many risks, including shock and hypothermia. One of the most important rules to know when kayaking is that you always dress for the water, not the land!

Wetsuits allow water to enter the suit and become trapped between the neoprene and the wearer’s skin. However, body heat is able to warm this thin layer and effectively insulate your body.

Drysuits, on the other hand, prevent water from entering altogether.

Drysuits are typically much more expensive and can be a little difficult to use, but they offer the maximum protection against extremely cold conditions. Wetsuits offer adequate protection in warm to moderate cold waters.

If using a wetsuit, you can wear swimwear underneath, but any additional layers should go on top. A full-length, long sleeve wetsuit usually doesn’t need outer-layers, but if you’re wearing a shorty wetsuit (shorts/short-sleeves), you may want to have some additional layers. 

Footwear and other winter accessories

Similar to fall, neoprene boots with socks designed for cold water sports will keep your feet warm.

A wool beanie will keep heat from escaping your head. For real extreme conditions, a neoprene hood may also be necessary.

You also don’t want to neglect your hands, as they can quickly become cold if exposed. Paddling gloves are necessary for cold water paddles.

What to Wear for Kayaking in the Spring

Spring often brings many of the same uncertain conditions of fall, meaning layers again will be your best friend.

Expect cool mornings, warm evenings, and occasional cold fronts that cause you to throw on an extra layer or two. Waters may be even colder than in the fall, especially if you’re just on the heels of a harsh winter.

Otherwise, treat spring much like you would fall. Use your best judgement and be prepared for a plunge in the water. If the water is cold, consider wearing a wetsuit, even if it’s just a shorty.

Every Season Kayaking Necessities

No matter what season you’re in, there are a few things to make sure you pack when kayaking. If you’re going out for a day paddle, don’t forget the following accessories:

  • A life jacket
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm (with SPF protection)
  • Sunglasses

Even the most experienced kayakers paddling with the best kayaks out there need to be adequately prepared. These items, along with the others on your kayaking checklist, will keep you safe and comfortable while you spend time out on the water.

Happy paddling!

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