Trip Planning - 19 min read

What To Wear Kayaking (To Stay Warm & Dry!)

Lauren Abbott

Lauren Abbott, Updated October 10, 2022

A kayak is a specific type of watercraft characterized by its thin and narrow composition. The operator of a kayak sits upright in the cockpit, using a double-sided paddle to move through the water. 

Kayaking is a popular outdoor activity during camping and fishing trips, along with other outdoor adventures. While it can take some practice to learn the skill, kayaking is generally beginner-friendly and offers plenty of opportunities to learn the ins and outs of the sport. 

The ideal outfit for a kayaking trip will begin with a swimsuit or waterproof underwear as a base layer. Depending on air and water temperature, you may need a wet or dry suit on top. If it’s cold outside, add warm jackets and waterproof coverings as layers on top of your clothing to protect yourself against the elements.

Deciding what to wear on a kayaking trip doesn’t have to be as complicated as it seems. While it is true that there are lots of data points to look into in order to make the right decision, the learning curve is rather easy once you understand the basic concepts. 

If you have a kayaking adventure planned in the near future but don’t know where to start when it comes to your packing list, this article will tell you everything you need to know. Keep reading for a detailed breakdown of what to wear on your upcoming kayaking trip based on every possible scenario you may face. 

What To Wear Kayaking For Safety 

When deciding what to wear on your upcoming kayaking trip, safety is the first and most important factor to consider. The most essential components you must include in your outfit are a PFD (personal flotation device) and SPF sunscreen. 

Personal Flotation Device

Personal flotation devices are meant to keep you afloat in the event you fall into the water. It should be strapped onto your person at all times in the event of an emergency on the water. Do not depart on your kayaking adventure without a working PFD.

Sunscreen

Similar to a PFD, sunscreen should be applied everywhere prior to getting dressed and putting on the necessary gear. This is an important step that should not be overlooked, as damage from the sun can cause serious issues. Bring the bottle of sunscreen with you for easy re-application throughout the day.

Related Read: What To Wear White Water Rafting

What To Wear Kayaking In Mild Weather 

When going on a kayaking adventure in warm or mild weather, you will require less layers than you would in more severe climate conditions. The first layer should be either a swimsuit or a pair of waterproof underwear. 

Swimsuit / Waterproof Underwear

The decision between these two choices of a base layer will depend on the planned length of your outing. For example, a quick trip there and back would warrant wearing a swimsuit underneath your other layers.

On the other hand, a quality pair of waterproof underwear may hold up better on a long-term trip. Something else to keep in mind is that swimsuits as a base layer make it easier to change clothes in a public space if need be. 

Rashguard / Water Shirt

The next layer on top of your base layer should be either a rashguard or a water shirt. The purpose of a rashguard is to protect the skin from the sun against damage from UV rays.

It is usually made of a stretchy spandex or a similar material that fits directly into the skin. A water shirt is looser fitting and made of a similar material. 

Board Shorts

On the bottom, board shorts or pants made of a similar material will be sufficient for your kayaking trip. Any quick drying material that is not cotton will get the job done. They should be worn on top of your base layer, a swimsuit or pair of waterproof underwear.

Paddling Booties

On your feet, it will be ideal to have a pair of waterproof paddling booties. Any other type of shoe will not be ideal for paddling and potentially getting wet while kayaking.

Sun Hat

Lastly, you will want to wear a hat with a wide brim to provide further protection of your face from the sun. It is ideal to choose a hat with a string attached to prevent loss.

Related Read: What To Wear On A Sailboat

What To Wear Kayaking In Rain/Wind 

Rainy or windy weather on a kayaking trip will slightly alter what you will need to wear to stay warm and comfortable. These climate conditions will require the same base layers of a swimsuit or underwear and rashguard or water shirt. 

Fleece Layer

To stay warm, you can add an additional middle layer for insulation. A soft material similar to fleece is recommended for this purpose. Layer it on top of what you have on already. This layer can consist of a jacket and pants.

Windbreaker

An additional outer layer on top of everything else will be needed to block rain and splashing from getting on your clothing. A windbreaker jacket or rain coats and pants will be sufficient for wet weather conditions. The two outer layers will keep you warm and dry underneath.

Waterproof Socks

If you are wearing paddling booties, consider adding waterproof socks or switching to a fully waterproof bootie instead. This will keep you warm and dry in the cold, wet outdoor conditions during your trip.

Beanie

A warm beanie is the final piece needed for cold weather.If it is sunny outside and you are wearing an additional wide-brim hat, the beanie will be layered underneath. This way, you can avoid harmful rays from the sun without exposing your head and ears to the cold. 

Related Read: 25 Best Molokini Snorkel Tours

What To Wear Kayaking In Cold Weather/Cold Water 

When the weather is extremely cold, this usually translates to cold water at your kayaking destination as well. Depending on the air temperature, a wetsuit or drysuit is needed to regulate your body temperature. 

Wetsuit

A wetsuit is sufficient as a bare minimum requirement. When you are experiencing warm weather outside but the water is below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, a wet suit will help you to stay warm and avoid thermal shock. When wearing a wetsuit, you may want to pack an additional wind proof outer layer to prevent getting chilly outside of the water. 

Drysuit

On the other hand, a dry suit is perfect for cold weather and cold water. The purpose of a dry suit is to keep you completely warm and dry. To properly layer a dry suit, you will want to start with a pie of non-cotton, long underwear as a base layer. 

Fleece Mid-Layer

You can then layer a thick fleece layer on top of the dry suit for maximum comfort. Being that the dry suit will serve the purpose of keeping you completely dry, there is no additional outer layer needed on top of the fleece to keep you warm. 

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What To Wear Kayaking For A Short Trip

When going on a kayaking trip, the layers you choose to wear will still largely depend on the weather and water temperature. However, your choice of a base layer will be most relevant when planning for either a short or long kayaking journey. 

Swimsuit

A swimsuit as a base layer will be the best choice for a short kayaking trip. While this may not be the most comfortable or practical choice long-term, it provides a quick and easy underwear solution and will not become irritating as you will return shortly. 

What To Wear Kayaking For A Long Trip 

When planning for a longer kayaking trip, you will need to consider which layers in your outfit should be able to withstand extended wear. While a swimsuit may be comfortable for a quick trip, there is a better choice for long kayaking adventures.

Waterproof Underwear

Instead of choosing a swimsuit at the base layer, travelers should wear waterproof underwear on a longer kayaking trip. More specifically, the underwear chosen should be made of a waterproof material other than cotton. It should also be ideal for outdoor sports and long-term wear. 

What To Wear For Kayaking While Camping

In some cases, plans for a simple kayaking trip may instead turn into a more elaborate tour. This can involve camping and several days of kayaking, which will require more equipment and clothing for optimal comfort. 

Sports Underwear

If you are planning a kayaking and camping trip, there are specific layers and additional gear you should consider bringing. Beginning with your base layer, you will want to wear waterproof underwear instead of a swimsuit. 

While it is perfectly okay to bring a swimsuit along with you if you plan to go swimming at some time during your trip, sports underwear will hold up for a longer journey. The underwear you choose should be made of a waterproof material, with absolutely no cotton. 

Middle and Outer Layers

Being that you will be out on the water on your kayak for an extended number of days, you may run into unpredictable weather. While it is easy to determine what the climate conditions will be like for a single day trip, kayaking and camping together can involve more extensive planning.

In the event that you run into temperatures that are hotter, colder, or wetter than expected, you should have some additional layers to add or subtract accordingly. Your packing list should include a wardrobe of middle layer fleece clothing, along with outer layer waterproof rain gear to stay dry. 

Extra Layers

In addition to packing extra layers for warmth, it is a good idea to bring dry pairs of underwear, along with more rash guards or water shirts and a possible wet or dry suit. In other words, it is best to prepare for every possible type of weather condition on an extended kayaking trip away from home. 

Kayaking Additional Gear To Wear While Camping 

Going on an extended camping and kayaking trip can come with lots of additional gear and personal items needed. While you may be able to leave things like your phone and wallet at home for a few hours on a day trip, this will not be the case when you are away for several days. 

Waterproof Bag

In the event that you need to bring your personal belongings on your kayaking and camping trip, you will need to come prepared to keep your items safe. One of the best ways to achieve this is by using a waterproof zip up bag. You can place your important items inside and rest easy knowing they will not be damaged by water. 

Zippered Pockets

There is an additional option to secure this zipper bag to your clothing or kayak using something similar to a carabiner. Alternatively, you can wear something with zippered pockets to keep your most important items on your person at all times. For electronic devices, it may be worth it to invest in a waterproof case or box for increased safety. 

What To Wear Kayaking For Swimming 

When embarking on a kayaking journey, there are several layers you must put together to create the ideal outfit. The purpose of these layers is generally to keep you warm and dry in the event of falling into the water. 

On certain occasions, you might choose to swim in the water intentionally for sport. This will require some specific choices when layering your clothing for optimal comfort. 

The obvious choice for a base layer on this kind of trip would be a swimsuit. On top of your swimwear, you will need a mid-layer to keep you warm in the water before plunging in. 

The best selection on top of your swimsuit will be a rashguard top, instead of a water shirt. The reason for this is that rashguards are more snug and tightly fitted to the skin. Water shirts, on the other hand, are more baggy and not ideal for swimming.

What To Wear Kayaking For Convenience 

In addition to the safety gear that is necessary on every kayaking trip, there are some more helpful tools to take advantage of for convenience. While these items are optional, they can help you have a more seamless experience on the water. 

Paddling Gloves

The first optional item to bring is a pair of paddling gloves. These will help you get an easy grip of the paddle without direct contact to your skin. They help to prevent blistering on your hands and provide additional comfort, which is especially handy for longer trips. 

Sunglasses Retainers

Glasses retainers are another convenient tool to have with you on a kayaking trip. Sunglasses are essential, as the sun often reflects on the water and can damage eyes.

The last thing you want to do is lose your sunglasses in the water. In the event you accidentally drop your shades, the retainer will act as a flotation device to help you recover them quickly. 

What To Wear Kayaking For The First Time 

Kayaking for the first time is an exciting experience that can also be daunting when it comes to outfit choices. When you’ve never been out kayaking before, choosing the right layers for your trip is not an easy task. 

Personal Flotation Device

When you are headed out to go kayaking and are unsure of what to wear or what to bring, there are a few general rules of thumb you can use as a guide. First and foremost, safety is the most important aspect of any kayaking outfit. When going out on the water for the first or the 100th time, you must have your personal flotation device on you. 

Drysuit

When it comes to which layers to wear, waterproof clothing will always keep you warm and dry. This is generally the safest approach to follow when in doubt of what will be ideal for your trip. 

More specifically, a dry suit is the most ideal attire for a newbie kayaker. Being that this waterproof suit will protect you from getting wet at all, an accidental fall into the water will not be an issue. This is a good outfit idea to keep wearing until you are experienced enough for weather and water temperature. 

Should I Wear Sneakers Or Sandals Kayaking? 

When going kayaking, designated paddling shoes are most highly recommended. At the very least, kayakers without access to shoes specifically for kayaking should opt for a waterproof pair instead. 

Closed-toed shoes without straps are the most ideal shoes for kayaking. They will allow you to easily paddle without getting water inside your shoes or slowing down your watercraft. Sandals and other open-towed shoes can fall of frequently as a result of the water pressure running through them. 

If you don’t have access to water shoes and absolutely must wear sneakers on your kayaking trip, it can be done. In this case, it is recommended that you choose sneakers that are old and can get wet or possibly ruined. It is also ideal to wear wool socks if you can for maximum warmth. 

Can I Wear Flip Flops To Kayak? 

While you technically can wear flip flops to kayak, it is not recommended, and will also not be very effective. In general, strappy and open-toed sandals do not stay on in water. They tend to be easily pushed off and can get lost. This also makes it difficult to find your grip inside the kayak.

In addition to the functionality of sandals, water is often cold while kayaking, and is not ideal for bare skin. Open-toed shoes pose a safety risk while kayaking in the cold.

Can You Kayak Without Shoes? 

While it is possible to kayak without shoes, it is not recommended to do so for safety reasons. Bare feet at the bottom of a kayak are open to getting cut by rocks or other sharp objects in the water below. When exiting onto land, bare feet can also sustain injuries. 

What To Wear Kayaking 60 Degrees? 

When kayaking, there is a general range of temperature that is considered to be safe for swimming. Due to the risk of hypothermic shock in the body, it is recommended to wear a wetsuit or a dry suit when swimming in water that has dropped to a specified temperature. 

On this spectrum, 60 degree water is considered to be in the range of a low hypothermic risk. In other words, standard layers will be sufficient for a kayaking trip with this water condition, with no wet or dry suit required. 

What Should You Wear to Stay Dry While Kayaking?

When kayaking, there are many instances where you may get wet. Whether there is intense splashing or rainfall, there are plenty of ways to avoid getting soaked during your trip. 

One of these methods involves putting on an outer layer that is waterproof. This can be a windbreaker or rain jacket, or anything that is fast-drying and resistant to water. 

Another option is to wear a spray skirt, which serves a similar purpose. When wearing a spray skirt, you shield your clothing from unwanted wetness during your kayak journey. 

The third and final way to ensure you stay dry during your next kayak adventure is to wear a drysuit. This will typically be worn over your base layer and rash guard to help keep you dry beneath the surface, even if you are splashed or happen to fall into the water. 

What To Wear When You Don’t Have A Wetsuit? 

A wetsuit is an essential component of any kayaking outfit. They help to regulate body temperature and avoid hypothermic shock when making contact with cold water. They are typically required when water is under a certain temperature that can be potentially dangerous for swimming. 

While it is not always necessary to wear a wetsuit while kayaking, it is never a bad thing to be prepared with an extra layer of warmth and protection. If you are in need of a wetsuit but don’t have access to the right equipment, there are some DIY alternatives you can try instead. 

You will need a material that is similar to that of a wetsuit. It will need to be waterproof like polypropelene or another comparable material. 

As long as it is tightly fitted to the body, it can be worn as a base layer among your other kayaking clothing and gear. It is important to note that cotton will not be ideal for this purpose and should not be worn while kayaking. 

Can You Wear Leggings Instead Of A Wetsuit When Kayaking? 

Leggings that are made out of neoprene, or a similar wateproof material, can be worn in place of a wetsuit. The purpose of the wetsuit is to regulate body temperature in water and keep your clothing dry on the inside. 

While these leggings may not necessarily regulate body temperature, they can serve the purpose of keeping you slightly warmer and keeping your clothing or underwear somewhat dry underneath. 

When attempting to wear leggings as a wetsuit replacement, it is important to note that the material must be similar in texture to a real wetsuit. Cotton leggings will not be sufficiently for this purpose. This and many similar materials may cause chafing and rashes. 

Can You Wear Running Shoes Kayaking?

Waterproof shoes specifically for kayaking are recommended. However, if you do not have access to this gear, it’s possible to wear running shoes. Being that they will get wet, it is smart to choose a pair you are not attached to that can sustain some damage.

What Should I Wear To Kayak Early Spring?

Early spring tends to have warm weather in most places. In mild conditions, you can wear a bathing suit with a neoprene or athletic outfit over the top.

In locations where the water is chilly, you can layer a wet suit on top of your swimsuit. A dry suit is also an option for cold air or rainy days.

What To Wear Kayaking In 70 Degrees Water?

When the water temperature is 70° or higher, it will be comfortable to wear clothes that are suitable for the weather. This can consist of a bathing suit with a swim shirt and a pair of board shorts on top. A wetsuit is not required for water of this temperature.

Can You Wear Sandals With Straps Kayaking?

Sandals are not recommended for kayaking because of their tendency to fall off in the water, even with straps. They can also become slippery or cause you to lose your footing in the kayak.

Instead, you should wear a sturdy pair of waterproof shoes that are closed toed. This will prevent water from entering your shoes and potentially taking them off while you were trying to paddle.

Does a Wetsuit Keep You Warm While Kayaking?

Wetsuits are essential components in any kayaking wardrobe. When water temperatures are too cold for the human body to handle, they create a barrier to prevent hypothermia. 

A wetsuit keeps you warm by regulating your body temperature using a thin layer of collected water. The rate at which this occurs can be measured between 25-50 times faster than regular air molecules. 

Conclusion

As you can see, there are quite a few points to take into consideration when deciding what to wear when you go kayaking. However, with the understanding of a few basic concepts, you can apply them to each scenario to understand exactly which pieces will be the most comfortable for what you plan to do. 

To summarize, each kayaking outfit begins with a base layer of clothing on the surface with added layers on top. A wet suit or a dry suit may be needed in the event that the weather or the water is cold, below a specified temperature.

Considering the length of your trip and activities you have planned will help you make the best determination for the clothing and gear you need to be most comfortable. Use this guide to evaluate your upcoming plans and put together the perfect outfit for your next kayaking adventure. 

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