Crazy for kayaking? What you wear on the water can have a big impact on your outing. Dressing for submersion is key, regardless of skill level or the length of your trip.
This handy user guide will help you determine what to wear on your next adventure. To start, follow these simple tips:
- Dress for the water temperature instead of the air temperature
- Wear layers
- Protect yourself from the sun
- Opt for fast-drying clothing, and avoid cotton
- Only wear clothing you feel comfortable in
- Wear clothes that allow you to move freely
You can find coastal water temperatures on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website. For bodies of water not listed, check with a local club or paddling shop, or do an online search. Most importantly, refrain from guessing. Know the water temperature before venturing out.
Warm Weather Wear
It’s important to consider both water and air temperature when deciding on clothing. As a general rule of thumb, quick-drying clothing should be suitable for water temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit and above. If the combined temperature of the air and water are less than 120 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll need to wear a wetsuit or dry suit.
Cold Weather Wear
Donning a wetsuit or dry suit can keep you safe in the case of a capsize. Not wearing adequate clothing can lead to shocks to the heart and lungs, as well as drowning and hypothermia. Never take chances when it comes to your safety in the water.
Not sure whether to wear a wetsuit or dry suit? The following information should help:
Wetsuits are snug-fitting, neoprene bodysuits commonly used for warm weather water activities. Wetsuits offer minimal protection in cold water, because they are designed to hold a thin layer of water next to the skin and rely on your body heat for insulation.
Dry suits are generally used for colder water and air temperatures. They are made from waterproof materials and are water-tight to keep paddlers dry. In extremely cold conditions, paddlers may opt to wear long underwear or another layer of clothing under a dry suit.
Another option to consider when the air temperature is warm, but the water temps are cold, is a sleeveless wetsuit. There are many variations of wetsuits to fit your individual needs and preferences.
Shopping for clothing appropriate for the water can be daunting, especially because you have to consider water and air temperature, sun protection, comfort, and durability.
Knowing what you’re looking for in advance will help. When shopping, keep the following tips in mind:
Look for fast-drying clothing: Any clothing that touches the skin should be fast-drying. Synthetic fabrics, such as polyester or nylon, work well. Note that wool insulates when wet, but it takes a while to dry. Avoid cotton, if possible, as it absorbs water and takes forever to dry.
Choose abrasion-resistant clothing: Quality is key when it comes to water wear. Opt for rugged, resilient fabrics that are intended to last.
Consider the sun: In addition to sunscreen, you’ll want to wear sun-protective clothing. Look for UPF-rated clothing items.
One of the best tips I can offer is to layer your clothing before setting out on the water. The following are tips on layering with and without a wetsuit or dry suit. Note that you’ll need to make modifications and/or tote extra layers for overnight trips.
Layering without a wetsuit or dry suit:
- Pack a rain jacket or poncho and a warmer layer, such as a fleece jacket.
- Opt for clothing items with thicker fabrics that will last through movement and friction.
- Always opt for fast-drying materials on the top and bottom.
Layering with a wetsuit:
- Wear a swimsuit under your wetsuit to make changing easier.
- Look for a thicker wetsuit for chillier conditions.
- If you’re wearing a wetsuit with long sleeves, you shouldn’t need an additional layer on top.
- If you opt for a sleeveless or short sleeve wetsuit, consider wearing a fast-drying top underneath, and take a jacket along.
Layering with a dry suit:
- While some dry suits are equipped with a fleece layer, you’ll need to spring for a set of wicking long underwear as a base layer.
- Dry suit liners are sold separately and provide extra insulation and protection.
- An outer layer isn’t necessary, as dry suits are windproof and waterproof.
As far as footwear, I recommend neoprene paddling booties. They protect the feet and work well in water. If you opt for sandals, just keep in mind that they won’t be as protective, and are known to pick up gravel and other unwanted debris. I recommend skipping out on flip-flops altogether.
When waters are cold, consider adding waterproof socks or thick wool socks for added comfort and warmth.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat or visor, and pick up a cap leash if you’re concerned about losing your headwear. Tote along a beanie for colder conditions.
- Consider picking up a pair of paddling gloves to protect your hands and keep them warm. As an alternative, pick up a set of pogies, which attach to your paddle and keep your hands toasty.
- Spring for an eyewear retainer to ensure you don’t lose your spectacles or shades.
- Consider hardware when purchasing clothing items. Opt out of any pieces that include hardware that can rust.
- Don’t remove your PFD on the water. If you need to make a clothing change, take the time out to change on land. Your safety is important.
Enjoy the ride!