How to Dress for Kayaking [What To Wear]

Kayaking is a popular adventure that most people include in their bucket lists. It’s a way to get active, acquire a new skill, and explore what life is all about. Nevertheless, because it is an activity, it doesn’t mean you will dress how you like. For instance, you won’t see a soccer team wearing whatever they like without appearing in a uniform.

Kayaking isn’t exempted from a dressing code, dressing correct can help you enjoy your activities. You are spending all of your time on the water, and it is best to get prepared for any unforeseen circumstance. You need to know what to wear when kayaking, as it can affect everything. Your dressing influences what happens in and outside the water.

However, the general rule when kayaking is to dress for the water temperature instead of the air temperature. Let’s face reality; you can’t predict the weather 100 percent. Therefore, how do you prepare when you know the weather condition is changeable. It is a daunting task when you don’t even understand basic weather conditions.

Nevertheless, if you love kayaking and have issues with dressing, this article contains everything you need to dress for kayaking. Here is a summary of what you will learn in this article.

  • Guidelines for dressing for kayaking
  • How to dress for kayaking in mild weather
  • How to dress for kayaking in cold weather
  • How to layer with a dry or wetsuit
Woman wearing kayaking gear

Guidelines for Dressing for Kayaking

Although some kayaking guidelines remain the same irrespective of the weather conditions, you still need fundamental knowledge on kayaking dress code. To make it easier, we will break down the guidelines into subsections. This will make it flexible when looking for a particular guideline as you try to acclimatize yourself with how to dress for kayaking.


You need paddling boots, but it is recommended to have your complete personal flotation device or lifejacket when on the water. While some people find using lifejackets restrictive, especially when paddling, it is vital to invest in a good lifejacket to save you. They are the best life-saving equipment you need besides other things.

Moving Freely

Avoid using restrictive clothing during kayaking as they cramp your style. Therefore, most authorities will allow you to choose the clothes you want to stay comfortable while sitting. In addition, avoid using any cloth that restricts your movement as you paddle your way.

Don’t dress for the weather

It’s a normal buzz you will hear when kayaking. Although outside might feel warmer, you might experience something different when you get into the water. This can discomfort you and ruin your activity. In certain situations, you can get hypothermia; therefore, dress for the water instead of the weather. Later in this article, we will explore what to wear in cooler or hotter weather or environment.

Wearing Layers

It’s a common rule you hear when doing outdoor activities. You should consider wearing layers when kayaking, enabling you to flex, especially in changing weather conditions. The layers will act as an insulator for your body to keep you warm and maintain your body’s temperature.

Sun Protection

Depending on your location, you also have to dress against sunlight. Even on cloudy days, you need to wear clothes that protect you against sun exposure. You need sunscreen to protect you against severe sun exposure. Furthermore, you need to wear UPF-rated fabrics as they are the perfect kayaking option.

Avoid Cotton Fabrics

It’s elementary knowledge that cotton absorbs a lot of water, making it hard to dry quickly. Therefore, when purchasing your layers, avoid one that has cotton. The best option is to use a quick-drying polyester or nylon for your kayaking.


Kayaking throws several things at you – from water and sand to rough materials. When buying a kayaking item, you need to find abrasion-resistant fabric, which can withstand wearing and tearing. If your cloth comes with fasteners and zippers, the tendency of being eroded in saltwater gets high.

Protecting your valuables

When kayaking, you need to waterproof your valuables because water can splash on them. You should invest in a good waterproof product to keep your valuables safe, even if your boat submerge.

Kayaking in Coldwater and warm weather

Navigating in cold water and warm weather is a trickier condition. Besides this, hot weather is also deceptive, which is why you have to stick to the general rule – don’t dress for the weather but for the water. If you find yourself in cold water, even when it’s a hot day, the cold water can suck the heat from you.

Furthermore, you should be prepared because your lower body will get wet when using a sit-on-top kayak. However, for those using a sit-in kayak, it offers more protection from water and wind. The latter takes longer to return to and drive when you flip it. Therefore, put this into consideration and dress accordingly. It’s also advisable to use comfortable paddling boots when kayaking.

How to Dress for Kayaking in Mild Weather

Now you know the guidelines, the next step before getting for your kayaking adventure is to learn how to dress for mild weather conditions. Remember the general thumb rule – dress for the water instead of the weather. To prepare you for your paddling expedition, here is a checklist to use when dressing for kayaking in mild weather.

  • Tops – Invest in a good rash vest as they serve a better purpose for your water sports and paddling. It’s recommended to use a good rash vest because they dry quickly, have high UPF rankings to shield against UV damage, and are stretchy. Furthermore, the tight-fitting designs contribute to why they are used under a wetsuit or clothing. You can use wool or a synthetic rash vest.
  • Underwear – If you are not kayaking for a long time, especially in a warm condition, you can use a swimsuit for the first layer. However, if you want something that offers more comfort, you might want to try activewear or sports bras that are fit for outdoor activities.
  • Footwear – Here, you need lightweight paddling boots that won’t come off easily. Remember, a water-resistant paddling boot with a back strap is very important. Avoid water sandals and thongs as they are impractical because they can fall and gather gravel and sand.
  • Bottoms – Ensure you focus on a bottom material that is not only comfortable but dries up quickly. Quick-drying pants or board shorts are an excellent choice as you try to avoid thin materials, including yoga pants, due to the constant movement while paddling.
  • Outer layer – It will depend on how long you will kayak to determine the outfit. However, a water-resistant and breathable jacket can get the job done
  •  if it’s for a short outing.
  • Mid-layer – Synthetic or fleece mid-layer clothing can be helpful if the weather condition doesn’t need a dry or wetsuit. Nevertheless, if you are going kayaking in cold water, it is preferable to use a short-sleeved wetsuit to stay warmer peradventure you capsize.
  • Accessories – Never go for paddling without getting a hat as it secures your head. You should also consider buying a floating case for your glasses because they tend to sink.

How to Dress for Kayaking in cold water

Man dressed for cold weather kayaking

Have you seen someone who decides to put on a wetsuit after submerging? That will be significantly out of line because you are meant to wear it before getting into the boat. It’s the same strategy, whether it is your first time kayaking or your last. You dress for submersion instead of success.

The risks of capsizing in cold water are high, resulting in drowning, heart and lung shocks. In the worst scenario, you can also experience hypothermia. Therefore, take away the thought of putting on a wetsuit after submerging. It’s only medicine after death, and nobody will agree to that. Depending on your area, the weather can be extremely cold. So, here is our cold weather list you need to equip yourself if you don’t want to fall victim.

  • Outer layer – If you presume there will be significant rain or wind, you should get a quality breathable and waterproof jacket along with rain paints. Alternatively, you can get a paddling jacket since they have wrist and neck fastenings to help keep the water from you.
  • Mid layer – The minimum protection you need in a cold condition is a wetsuit. A dry suit comes in handy for colder air and water. However, a wetsuit doesn’t require any layers, even though you can wear a swimsuit beneath it.
  • Footwear – Whether it is a wet or cold weather condition, you need paddling boots or waterproof socks. In addition, you can use non-cotton socks since they provide extra heat to your shoe.
  • Gloves – Gloves help protect you against cold and blisters days. Most kayak paddlers prefer using pogies since it allows them to fasten to the paddle.
  • Hats – While this can be optional, they provide additional heat while protecting you from sunlight.

Layering using a dry or wetsuit

There are several factors that contribute to the warmth of your drysuit or wetsuit. Furthermore, these factors also influence your personal flotation device while choosing your layers. In this section, we will explore layering with a long-sleeve, sleeveless, and with a dry suit.

Layering using a long-sleeve wetsuit

When you layer with a long-sleeve wetsuit, here are the layers to consider for a wonderful kayaking experience.

  • Outer layer – You might need to get a windproof outer layer, especially if your wetsuit is watertight. A watertight wetsuit can be subject to a cooling wind chill when it gets wet. Nevertheless, it will depend on the air, water temperatures, and thickness of your wetsuit.
  • Mid layer – The suit thickness and warm water inside insulates you as you paddle. Therefore, if you are paddling in cold weather, you can opt for thicker wetsuits.
  • The base layer – The need to have a wicking base layer gets disrupted if you have warm water inside your wetsuit. In this case, you can have swimwear under it. This is great, especially if you don’t want to change in a private place, as you can remove your wetsuit anywhere.

Layering with Short-sleeve or sleeveless wetsuit

At times, you might want to opt for a sleeveless wetsuit or short-sleeve; here is what to consider.

  • Outer and Mid-layers – Take a rain jacket, a light fleece jacket, or a paddling jacket to cover your arms while protecting you against wind chill, especially if the weather gets wetter and colder.
  • The base layer – You should wear a top that dries quickly under your wetsuit to cover any exposed part of your arms. You should only wear sleeveless or short-sleeve wetsuits in mild conditions or weather.

Layering using a Drysuit

For the base layer, you need a dry suit, which is a rainwear with watertight seals. Therefore, non-cotton long underwear comes in handy here. In addition, you can purchase drysuit liners. On the other hand, you can use a thick fleece layer on your long underwear for colder weather. For the outer layers, your drysuit must be breathable and windproof. Besides this, you don’t need any drysuit layer.

Kayaking Boots

While people use different paddling boots, the best option is water booties or water shoes since they stick to the feet. Another importance of using paddling boots is their protection in keeping your feet warm. You can also wear river sandals with straps, neoprene wetsuit boots, and old sneakers with wool socks. However, avoid using flip-flops because the soles are slippery and can come off in the water.


Now you have a better idea of how to stay comfortable for your next kayaking adventure. Never forget the general rule of dressing for the water instead of the weather.

Overall, look for an excellent breathable fabric that allows you to paddle comfortably. You don’t need any special clothing besides the ones we have mentioned here. Take your kayaking to the next level as you invest in good clothing. in addition, don’t forget to acquire safety items for your adventure.

Vanessa Hopkins

Hi, I'm Vanessa. Long-time kayaker who's proud to be part of this community. I strive to provide our visitors with insightful guides with the aim to improve their kayaking experience. I've been working with SunshineKayaking for over 5 years, providing world-class services.

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