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What to Wear Kayaking – Preparing for All Weather Conditions

Kyle W by Kyle W Updated on October 28, 2020. In Kayak

Does what you wear on a kayaking expedition matter? After all, you are going to be in your boat the entire time anyway, right? Well, if you have to ask, then you are no doubt a beginner kayaker – which is a great thing. Welcome to the club! And, yes, what you wear matters when you hit the open waters.

As is the case with any other outdoor activity, you need to have the right attire for it. Otherwise, it may turn into the most unpleasant experience of your life. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but still – you get the idea.

Something as simple as not wearing a spray skirt or wetsuit could be the difference between keeping your body nice and toasty, and freezing your butt off – quite literally. Frostbite is real people!

Here’s the ultimate all-weather guide on what to wear kayaking.

Research the Weather Conditions Beforehand

How can you dress for the occasion without knowing what the actual occasion is? The secret to dressing properly for your kayaking adventure lies in anticipating what the weather conditions will be beforehand.

There’s no sense in dressing for warm weather only to be met with overcast conditions once you get to the kayaking venue. A little due diligence goes a long way. There are several apps you can use to forecast the weather on the kayaking day.

Check what the conditions will be like on an hourly basis to avoid setting off on your journey with clear skies, only to get caught up in pouring rain half-way through.

The first thing you’ll need to check is what the ambient conditions for the area will be. If you intend to kayak on a river, you also have to check the conditions both upstream and downstream.

Rain falling several miles upstream can have a pretty significant impact on your kayaking performance both in terms of speed and difficulty. You should also be familiar with the risks involved when kayaking in such conditions.

Once you have a pretty clear idea of what the water temperature and that of the ambient surroundings will be on the kayaking day, the next step involves assembling the clothing you’ll need.

If you’re heading out into very cold waters, then you’re going to need a drysuit as opposed to a wetsuit. Wetsuits use a layer of warm water located between your skin and your suit to offer the insulation you need against the surrounding cold water. This insulation protection, however, doesn’t work at temperatures above 45°F, at which point you would need a drysuit instead.

Identify the Type of Paddling You’ll Be Doing

What you wear and the kind of gear you’ll need on your boating expedition also relies on the specific type of kayaking you’ll be doing. How you dress for a frantic battle with whitewater rapids is vastly different from what you would wear during a touring excursion.

In certain environments like rivers, for instance, you may experience very different conditions at various stages of your journey. So, you need to dress the part.

You also need to take into consideration the level of physical exertion you’ll subject your body to when kayaking. Although it is a sport, specific types like whitewater paddling are more physically demanding than other others like recreational kayaking.

Navigating whitewater requires short intervals of intense paddling, followed by periods of rest thereafter. This may lead to the buildup of perspiration in your kayak clothing, particularly if you’re in a drysuit.

If you wear clothing that’s not high-wicking, sweat gets absorbed by what you have on, therefore impeding its ability to keep you warm. It is often better to combine warm weather clothing (like those with high-wicking properties) with those that are specifically designed for cold-weather (like drysuits). That way, you always have the right gear on regardless of the activity you engage in.

What Type of Kayak Will You Be Using

The other factor you need to take into consideration when deciding what to wear on your kayaking excursion is the specific type of vessel you’ll be using. If you’re in a warmer region, you may prefer to use a sit-on-top kayak.

While they offer a great amount of ventilation since they’re essentially open, the downside is that you’re bound to get wet.

If, on the other hand, you live in colder climates, you’ll likely be using a sit-in kayak. Unlike the sit-on-top varieties with open cockpits, sit-ins have an enclosed cockpit. These can be fitted with a spray skirt to make them waterproof and add warmth.

Footwear

There are two specific types of footwear used for kayaking – quick-drying shoes made from rugged materials like nylon, or polyurethane, and neoprene boots.

The latter offers better protection against the cold. It is the reason why most drysuits usually come with built-in neoprene boots to ensure the entire suit remains waterproof in cold waters.

If you’re kayaking in warmer regions, you’ll need fast-drying footwear to ensure that any water that finds its way into your shoes drains quickly to allow your feet to breathe. Find paddling shoes that come with a chunky rubber sole to protect your feet when getting into and out of the kayak.  They also protect you from slipping and falling on areas with wet rock.

What to Wear Kayaking in Cold Weather

You might ask – why would anyone want to kayak in the cold? Well, for one, it gives you the chance to take in the scenic beauty of snow-covered coastlines and explore the breathtaking majesty of frozen lakes.

It does, however, come with certain risks. Immersion into icy water, even for short periods, can drastically lower your body’s core temperature. This could lead to the rapid onset of hypothermia, which can be fatal in severe cases.

Even in regions where the water temperatures are mildly cold, immersion can also be potentially problematic. So, kayakers need to wear clothing that is a combination of waterproof outer layers and thermal inner layers.

It is always a good idea to bring a change of clothes with you when venturing into cold waters, in case unprecedented immersion occurs, and you need to change out of wet clothing as soon as possible.

With that being said, here’s a list of clothing items you would need to keep your core temperatures, as well as that of your extremities warm even if you’re accidentally immersed in water.

1. Drysuit

Drysuit

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Drysuits are normally made from laminated nylon or vulcanized rubber and are sealed at the neck, wrists, and feet. They offer a waterproof cover for your body and don’t rely on water to keep you warm.

They provide insulation even in water temperatures below 45°F. Keep in mind though that drysuits don’t provide any thermal protection against the ambient temperatures. So, you still need to combine them with thermal clothing to keep warm.

2. Thermal Mid-Layers and Base

Thermal Mid-Layers and Base

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These are usually made from polyurethane or any other thermally reflective material and are worn underneath the drysuit. You want to find clothing that’s made from high-wicking material.

This ensures that moisture from your body is spread out over a large area to prevent you from becoming overly sweaty while paddling.

3. Pogies

Pogies

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While gloves are often worn in kayaking to protect the hands from abrasion or to keep them warm in cold conditions, pogies are specifically designed to protect the hands against the cold. They are normally attached to the paddle and can be used in conjunction with gloves to protect your hands from extremely low temperatures.

4. Thermal Face Mask, Buff, or Hat

Thermal Face Mask

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You’ll be surprised by just how much heat you lose through your head. It’s a pretty significant amount – in case you were wondering. Your face happens to be the most vulnerable to the cold external air. Wearing a thermal face mask, buff, or hat will keep you protected as you kayak in the cold weather.

Pro Tips for Kayaking in the Cold

Now that you know what to wear kayaking in cold weather, here are some tips to keep in mind before you set off.

  • Dress based on the temperature of the water and not necessarily that of the ambient surroundings. Deep waters like those in larger lakes can remain severely cold even during the hottest months.
  • Always bring an additional set of thermal clothing and store it a waterproof dry-bag. That way, in case of drysuit or spray skirt malfunction, you’ll have something to change into.
  • Research how to treat cold-related ailments like hypothermia and frostbite. That way, you know what to do in such situations to keep yourself and the members of your group safe.

What to Wear Kayaking in Warm Weather

While you might think that no special clothing or gear is required to kayak in warm weather, this couldn’t be further from the truth. You still have to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself against common heat-related risks like sunburn, heatstroke, and dehydration.

You also need to ensure that your clothing is comfortable to get the maximum level of enjoyment from your kayaking experience. Below is a list of the clothing items you’ll require in warm weather.

5. Wide Brimmed Hat

Wide Brimmed Hat

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When kayaking in the sun, it is always a good idea to wear a hat to keep both your face and scalp safe from the harsh rays of the sun.

Most kayakers, who venture out into the open waters in direct sunlight, often get serious sunburn on their scalp, since it is quite difficult to apply sunscreen there. So, make sure you wear a hat to protect your head from overexposure to the sun.

6. Sunglasses

Sunglasses

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Wearing sunglasses on a sunny day may seem like a no-brainer. But, when it comes to kayaking, they serve a secondary purpose.

The sunlight reflecting off the clear surface of the water can irritate the eyes and lead to a condition similar to snow-blindness. Invest in a good pair of polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes. Also, remember to attach a float to them, just in case they fall into the water.

7. Sun Mask or Buff

Sun Mask or Buff

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Get a sun mask to protect your face from sun exposure, the glare of the water, and salt irritation – particularly in the coastal regions. Ensure that it is UV-resistant, comfortable, and above all, breathable.

8. Trousers and Long Sleeves

Trousers

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While wearing clothing that offers more coverage may seem counterintuitive in warm weather, it provides the best protection against sunburn and, believe it or not, overheating.

Clothing items that are specifically designed for outdoor sports are built to offer UV resistance, fast-drying, and high wicking properties, and are usually well-ventilated to allow your body to breathe.

So, choosing the right set of outdoor attire is essential to keep you dry, cool, and protected from the damaging effects of the sun.

Pro Tips for Kayaking in Warm Weather

In addition to wearing the right clothing, here are some bonus tips from the pros on kayaking in warm weather.

  • Stay hydrated – Kayaking is physically grueling. So, it is quite easy to become dehydrated, particularly in hot weather conditions. Make sure you know how much water to pack for the entire length of your trip.
  • Stay away from cotton clothing – Cotton tends to hold moisture when you perspire, which will likely leave you feeling uncomfortable and clammy. Opt for high-wicking sports fabrics instead.
  • Cover up – More coverage in hot weather is a good thing. You just need the right clothes for it.
  • Wear sunscreen – Because who likes sunburn?

You Can Never Be Too Prepared

There you have it – everything you need to know about what to wear kayaking. Remember, a huge part of your overall kayaking experience rests on what you wear for the event.

Wearing the wrong thing, particularly in cold weather, can have detrimental effects on your health and wellbeing. So, use the information provided in this guide to dress appropriately for your kayaking adventure. And, remember – there’s no such thing as being too prepared. Better safe than sorry.

If you need some help on how to kayak, check out our complete guide here.

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