What To Wear Kayaking: Be Comfortable On The Water

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Kayaking is a fun and exciting outing. Whether you are going on an excursion for your holiday or you want to start kayaking as a sport, you need to know what to wear to ensure you are safe and following professionals’ recommendations. So, what should you wear kayaking?

What you need to wear to go kayaking will depend on the conditions you are going kayaking in. The general rule is to dress for the water temperature, not the weather. So, if the water is cold, one of your clothing layers needs to be a wetsuit, but in warmer conditions, you won’t need one.

What general guidelines should you follow when picking out your clothes for kayaking? What are some things that you should always wear when kayaking? Let’s find all this out and more!

What Should You Wear When Kayaking?

Kayaking is a great adventure activity that is fun and exciting and can be as challenging as you feel comfortable. Kayaking is an excellent way to get active and gain a fun new skill in the process.

However, when you have never been kayaking before or are still fairly new to the sport, you may be questioning how you can dress accordingly to help ensure you are safe and get the maximum enjoyment from the adventure possible.

What you wear when kayaking depends on the conditions you will be kayaking in, which is why it’s important to research the location beforehand.

There are a few general guidelines that many professional kayakers will recommend you follow when kayaking. Let’s go through these guidelines so that you can have the best time possible on your kayaking adventure!

Clothing That Lets You Move Freely

When you are going kayaking, you need to remember that you will be doing physical activity in the water, so you need to dress accordingly. When you go kayaking, do not wear tight-fitting and restrictive clothing that could make you feel uncomfortable when you wear them over long periods.

You don’t want to wear something that will irritate your skin and restrict your movement, as you will be seated in the kayak for a while and don’t want to be in pain and unable to paddle correctly due to your clothing.

Always Wear A PFD

When it comes to kayaking, safety always needs to come first. So, you need to ensure you always wear your PFD (personal floatation device) or lifejacket when you are kayaking. This is one of the key things you will wear for your Kayaking adventure.

A few people may find their PFD slightly restrictive when they are trying to paddle, which is why it would be worth the investment to rather go for a kayak-specific PFD. This will ensure you have the freedom you need to paddle comfortably.

We all need to remember that a PFD or lifejacket is a potentially life-saving piece of equipment, and you need to set aside your need to look “cool” and rather be safe. So, always wear your PFD.

General Rule: Dress For The Water Temperature, Not The Weather

When picking out what to wear for your kayaking trip, you need to research the average water temperature of the location you will be kayaking in, as you need to dress for the water’s temperature and not the weather.

When you are going kayaking, you need to always go with the assumption that someone is going to get wet, either by falling out or being splashed by rapids and that someone could be you. So, you need to make sure you are prepared for the possibly cold water temperatures.

The water temperature will dictate what you should wear when you go on your kayaking trip, as you don’t want to be uncomfortable or potentially get hypothermia if you get wet.

Layer Your Clothing

Something that you need to do when you go kayaking is to layer your clothing. This is a general rule for most outdoor activities, and kayaking is one of them. There are multiple reasons why this is a recommended practice by professionals.

When you layer your clothing, this offers better insulation that will help keep you warm if you get wet. The thin material of each clothing layer will help you adjust quickly to any changing weather conditions you may face while out on the water. The thin but layered clothing method helps you retain your movement and ensures that your body stays at a consistent temperature.

Do Not Wear Cotton

One of the biggest rules you need to follow when it comes to clothing items for kayaking is that you need to avoid wearing anything made from cotton. Even though cotton is great to keep you warm and cozy, cotton absorbs water quickly, and it does not dry fast either.

This can be a concern when you are out on the water, as it could start to reduce your body temperature and put you at risk for hypothermia. Plus, being constantly wet will make you feel uncomfortable for the duration of the kayaking trip, making it an unpleasant experience for you.

Wear Sun Protection And Sunglasses

When you go kayaking, it is always a good idea to wear things that will help protect you from the sun. You should try and include one long-sleeve T-shirt in your layers of clothing to help keep the sun off your arms and shoulders.

You also need to wear sunscreen to protect your face and neck from the sun. We all need to remember that even in cold weather, we can still get sunburnt if we don’t protect ourselves during outdoor activities like kayaking.

The very last thing you need is to get sunburn halfway through your kayaking trip and be in pain for the last hour or two before you can treat it properly. This will not make it a good experience for you.

You should wear sunglasses as the glare from the sun on the water can lower your visibility when you are kayaking. This can be dangerous and can even happen in cloudy conditions.

Double-Check Your Clothing’s Material

For kayaking, you need to ensure you wear hardy and light clothing. Kayaking will throw a lot at you and your clothing too. Your clothes need to be able to withstand water, sand, sun, heat, and the rough materials of the kayaks themselves.

The material that your clothes are made from needs to be abrasion-resistant and tough enough to take a bit of abuse from kayaking without falling apart. You also want lightweight material and will keep you cool and dry fast, as you will be active and sweating when you kayak.

Waterproof Your Valuables

Something that not many new kayakers think about is their valuables when they go kayaking. It’s easy to overlook them when you are focused on what you need to wear for the adventure yourself, but this can be just as important.

When you go kayaking, even if the water is calm, you should expect your valuables, like your cell phone, to get splashed with water or fully submerged in the water if you capsize. So, you must invest in a waterproof case for your cell phone and other valuables that you will take with you.

You should do this and not leave your phone behind as this is a vital asset if anything goes wrong and you need medical assistance, so keep it with you, but ensure it’s safe.

What To Wear When Kayaking In Chilly Conditions

If you are kayaking in cold weather and the water in your kayaking location is also cold, you need to prepare for this and possible submersion in the cold water. For conditions like this, you need to wear clothes that will keep you warm, even if you are wet.

When you are kayaking in cold water and weather conditions, then there is a greater danger of experiencing heart or lung shock if you get submerged in the cold water. So, you need to ensure you are prepared for these conditions.

When you go kayaking in these conditions, it’s best to wear a wetsuit or a dry suit to help keep you warm no matter what happens. Then you need to add a few layers of other clothes on top of the suit you wear to ensure you are fully protected from all the elements you will face while kayaking.

For all other layers, like your outer layer and your footwear, you can follow the guide below in the warmer conditions section as they will be fine for these cold conditions too.

What To Wear When Kayaking In Hot Weather

If you are going kayaking in warm water and weather conditions, you need to ensure you are prepared for these conditions so you don’t overheat or face any other problems. Let’s go over what you should wear for every layer of clothing in these hotter conditions.


If you are going on a brief kayaking excursion in warm weather and water conditions, your first layer of clothing can be your swimsuit, as long as it is not made of cotton. If you don’t feel comfortable wearing your swimsuit as your first layer, then you can go for some comfortable activewear that is not restrictive. Make sure whatever you choose to wear is suitable for outdoor activities.


Choosing what to wear on your bottom half is just as important as your underwear. So, when you choose, you need to focus on comfort and material that will dry quickly. In these warm conditions, you can wear things like board shorts as they will keep you comfortable and they dry fast.

When looking at things to wear on your bottom half, you need to avoid very thin material that may rip easily, like yoga pants.


When looking for a top to wear for kayaking, you need to look at shirts made for water sports, like a rash vest. You want to choose something that is stretchy and comfortable and will allow all the movement needed to paddle your kayak.

Activewear and water sport-specific clothing will also offer higher protection against UV damage as they have a higher UPF rating and are made from fast-drying materials. 


When looking at footwear for your kayaking trip, you need to look for shoes that are water-resistant, lightweight, and offer your feet some protection from the elements and rough material of the kayaks.

You need shoes that will stay on your feet, so avoid anything that has a backstrap as they will come off your feet too easily. So not wear sandals or other similar footwear as they can collect gravel and sand, making your trip uncomfortable, and they can easily fall off. Rather go for a good pair of boots or sneakers.

Middle Layer Of Clothing

As you are kayaking in warmer conditions, you will not require a wetsuit or drysuit, but a middle layer of clothing will still prove useful in these conditions. You should go for an item of clothing that is a synthetic material to help keep you warm if you capsize.

Outer layer Of Clothing

An outer layer of clothing is not needed if the water and weather conditions are exceptionally warm, but if the conditions are slightly cooler, you should consider wearing a breathable and water-resistant jacket.

Your PFD will go over this layer, so ensure you pick something comfortable and something that you can wear for the whole trip, as you will not be able to take it off while you are on the water.

Paddling Gloves

If you are new to kayaking or it’s your first time kayaking, then it is recommended that you buy yourself a good pair of paddling gloves, as these will help protect your hands from blisters from the paddle and the cold if the conditions are slightly chilly.

Hats And Other Sun Protection

In warm conditions, you may want to wear a wide-brim hat that will offer you some protection from the sun during your kayaking session. Ensure your hat has a way to attach it to your head, either by a ribbon or string, so it does not get lost.

You should also ensure that you apply a good amount of sunscreen to your exposed skin, as the last thing you want is a sunburn after your kayaking adventure.


Kayaking is a fun and exciting outing for family and friends, but knowing what to wear for the adventure is just as important as where you go kayaking. You need to ensure you are as safe as possible and protected from the elements t minimize the dangers you could face while kayaking.

If you follow the guidelines set out above and you ensure you are comfortable, then you should have no trouble with your attire for your kayaking trip. Have fun!