A beautiful canva design with the text 'WHAT TO WEAR KAYAKING (ALL SEASONS)

What to Wear Kayaking: The Ultimate Guide for All Seasons

A beautiful canva design with the text 'WHAT TO WEAR KAYAKING (ALL SEASONS)

To embark on a kayaking adventure in every season requires proper attire to ensure comfort, safety, and enjoyment on the water. Whether you’re kayaking in warm or cold water, calm or rough seas, or sunny or rainy weather, this guide will help you choose the right clothing and gear for your kayaking adventure. Let’s get started on what to wear kayaking.

1. Safety First: Always Wear a PFD

Not wearing a life jacket or a PFD is one of the most common mistakes in kayaking that can lead to loss of life.

According to the American Canoe Organisation, nearly 70 per cent of all drownings involving
canoes, kayaks, or rafts might have been avoided if the victim had been wearing a

A PFD will keep you afloat and prevent drowning in case of an accident or capsize. It will also help you stay warm by preserving your core body temperature.

You should always wear a PFD and never take it off while on the water. If you need to adjust your layers, find a place to land or raft up with another kayaker.

2. Dressing for Comfort and Mobility: Choose Quick-Drying and Flexible Clothing

When choosing what to wear kayaking, you want clothing that is comfortable, flexible, and durable.

You need to be able to move freely and easily while paddling and maneuvering your kayak.

You also want clothing that can protect you from wetness, coldness, abrasion, and sun exposure.

Here are some general tips for dressing for comfort and mobility:

  • Avoid cotton as it absorbs water and takes a long time to dry. Wet cotton can make you feel cold and clammy and increase the risk of hypothermia. Instead, go for synthetic fabrics like nylon or polyester that are quick-drying and moisture-wicking.
  • Wear clothes that fit well and don’t restrict your movement. Avoid clothes that are too loose or too tight, as they can cause chafing or discomfort. Look for clothes that have flat seams, stretchy materials, and abrasion-resistant fabrics.
  • Wear clothes that are suitable for sitting for long periods of time. Avoid clothes that have buttons, zippers, or seams that can dig into your skin or cause pressure points. Choose clothes that have a smooth and soft texture and don’t bunch up or wrinkle easily.

3. Considering Weather and Water Conditions: Dress for the Water Temperature

The weather and water conditions are the main factors that determine what to wear kayaking.

You need to dress according to the temperature, wind, rain, sun, waves, and currents that you’ll encounter on your trip.

You also need to consider the type of kayaking you’ll be doing, such as recreational, touring, whitewater, or sea kayaking. Here are some general guidelines for considering weather and water conditions:

  • Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. The water temperature is usually colder than the air temperature, especially in spring and fall. If you fall into cold water, you can lose body heat very quickly and suffer from hypothermia. Therefore, you need to wear clothing that can keep you warm even when wet, such as a wetsuit or a dry suit.
  • Dress in layers, especially on top. Layering allows you to adjust your clothing according to the changing weather conditions and your activity level. You can add or remove layers as needed to regulate your body temperature and stay comfortable. The basic layering system consists of three layers: a base layer that wicks moisture away from your skin, a mid layer that provides insulation and warmth, and an outer layer that protects you from wind and rain.
  • Dress for sun protection. Even on cloudy days, you can get sunburned from the UV rays that reflect off the water surface. Sunburn can cause skin damage, dehydration, and heat exhaustion. Therefore, you need to wear clothing that has a high UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating, such as rash guards or water shirts. You also need to wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect your face and eyes from the sun.

4. Layering for Temperature Control: Start with a Base Layer

Layering is the key to dressing for kayaking in different conditions. By wearing multiple layers of clothing, you can adapt to changing weather conditions and maintain a comfortable body temperature.

Here are some tips on how to layer for kayaking:

  • Start with a base layer that wicks moisture away from your skin. This layer should be snug-fitting but not too tight. It should also be quick-drying and breathable. Rash guards are ideal base layers for kayaking because they have all these qualities plus high UPF ratings and flat seams.
  • Add a mid layer that provides insulation and warmth. This layer should be loose-fitting but not too bulky. It should also be quick-drying and breathable. Synthetic or wool fabrics are good choices for mid layers because they retain warmth even when wet.
  • Finish with an outer layer that protects you from wind and rain. This layer should be waterproof but not too stiff or heavy. It should also be flexible and mobile enough to allow paddling movement. Look for jackets that have gaskets and cuffs to prevent water from entering. You can also wear a spray skirt to keep water out of your cockpit.

5. Essential Clothing for Kayaking: What to Wear on Top and Bottom

a sky blue dry suit for kayaking

Now that you know the basics of layering, let’s look at some specific clothing items that you should wear for kayaking. Here are some essential clothing for kayaking:


  • Rash guards or synthetic/wool layers are suitable for mild conditions. They offer mobility, quick-drying properties, and insulation. Layer with a fleece or short-sleeved wetsuit if needed in cooler weather.
  • Wetsuits or dry suits are essential for cold conditions. A wetsuit keeps you warm even when wet, while a dry suit keeps you dry and provides insulation against cold water. Choose a wetsuit or dry suit that fits well and has a zipper or velcro closure for easy access.
  • Waterproof jackets are essential for layering and protection against wind and rain. Look for jackets that are 100% waterproof, flexible, and mobile. Pay attention to gaskets and cuffs to ensure water protection.


  • Board shorts or pants are comfortable and quick-drying for extended sitting. Choose shorts or pants that have a drawstring or elastic waistband for a secure fit. Avoid shorts or pants that have pockets or loops that can snag on your kayak.
  • Long underwear or fleece pants are good for extra insulation in colder conditions. Choose non-cotton fabrics that are quick-drying and breathable. Avoid pants that have zippers or buttons that can cause discomfort.
  • Wetsuit or dry suit pants are essential for cold conditions. They provide warmth and protection against cold water. Choose pants that match your wetsuit or dry suit top and have a zipper or velcro closure for easy access.

6. Essential Accessories for Kayaking: What to Wear on Your Feet, Head, and Hands

In addition to clothing, you also need some accessories to complete your kayaking outfit. Here are some essential accessories for kayaking:

Kayak Shoes:

  • Opt for lightweight and water-resistant shoes with a back strap to provide stability and protection for your feet. They also make shore entries less painful and offer warmth in colder weather.
  • Avoid shoes that have laces or buckles that can get caught on your kayak or paddle. Also avoid shoes that are too bulky or heavy that can weigh you down in the water.
  • Some examples of kayak shoes are water sandals, water shoes, neoprene booties, or aqua socks.


  • Always wear a hat for sun protection as you’ll be spending a lot of time in the sun. Consider a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and head from harmful sun rays.
  • A hat with a chin strap can prevent it from getting lost in the water. You can also wear a buff or bandana under your hat for extra coverage.
  • In colder weather, wear a woolen hat or beanie to keep your head warm.

Kayak Gloves:

  • Essential for protecting your hands from calluses and blisters. They also provide a better grip on the paddle when wet.
  • Choose gloves that are quick-drying, breathable, and flexible. Avoid gloves that are too thick or bulky that can interfere with your paddling technique.
  • Some examples of kayak gloves are neoprene gloves, paddling gloves, or fingerless gloves.

7. Specific Tips for Different Conditions: What to Wear Kayaking in Winter and Spring

Depending on the season, you may need to adjust your clothing and gear accordingly. Here are some specific tips for what to wear kayaking in winter and spring:

Kayaking in Winter:

a man and a woman paddling a kayak during winter
  • Layer water-resistant clothing, including a dry suit, to stay dry and warm.
  • Add jumpers and fleeces under your waterproof jacket for extra insulation.
  • Wear gloves, good kayak shoes, and a kayak life vest for optimal protection.
  • Bring a change of clothes and a towel in case you get wet.

Essential Tips For Winter Kayaking and Canoeing

  • Choose dry pants or bibs with feet to keep your lower body dry while kayaking. Neoprene boots are waterproof up to the calf but not ideal for paddling.
  • Paddling jackets are essential for extreme kayaking. For recreational paddling, a waterproof jacket is sufficient, while extreme kayaking requires a jacket with latex Ritz gaskets.
  • Layer up with fleece vests or polyester-down puffies for warmth. Wear a beanie, neoprene gloves or pogies for insulation and protection, and a skirt for sit-inside kayaks.
  • Consider a neoprene wetsuit for insulation, but keep in mind it can be harder to regulate temperature. A dry setup with insulating and waterproof layers provides more comfort and easier temperature control.
  • Choose a properly fitting personal flotation device (PFD) or dry suit for water activities. Test your PFD to ensure it fits well and keeps you afloat. Dry suits are 100% waterproof and ideal for immersion in cold water.
  • Dry suits are better for extreme conditions while paddling suits are suitable for recreational use. Dry suits keep you completely dry and comfortable while paddling suits allow a little water in and are suitable for situations where swimming may occur.

Check out some Expert recommendations for the best dry suits for kayaking in our latest post.

  • Dress for immersion and paddle in a group for safety. Dress according to the water temperature, even if it’s above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Paddling in a group ensures there are people around in case of emergencies.

Kayaking in Spring:

  • Wear a thick wetsuit with additional layers, such as a fleece and kayak life vest.
  • Don’t forget sun protection like sunscreen and a hat.
  • Bring a waterproof jacket in case of rain showers.

Essential Tips For Spring Kayaking and Canoeing

  • Dress appropriately for cold water paddling, even on warm days.
  • Protect yourself from the sun with a hat and a light top that dries quickly and provides sun protection.
  • Wear water shoes that fit well in the kayak and provide foot protection.

Summarising What to Wear Kayaking

To sum it up, what to wear kayaking depends on the water temperature, air temperature as well as the type of kayaking you’ll be doing.

By following this guide, you’ll be able to dress appropriately for different conditions and enjoy your kayaking adventure!

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