It’s a wonderful summer day and you’re headed out to kayak for the first time. What should you wear? You want to stay comfortable and be not too hot, not too cold, and not feeling like a soggy sponge all day. You don’t want to get sunburn so sun protection is important too. In the spring, fall, and winter cold water and air means hypothermia is a threat too. Your clothing choice can make or break your kayaking adventure. You want to know what to wear kayaking in the summer.
- What to wear kayaking in any season.
- What to bring with you kayaking
- Go Have Fun Kayaking
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What to wear kayaking in any season.
If you are going out on kayak you should plan to get wet. Even on the nicest of summer weather days you will get wet while kayaking. Water will drop off the paddle on to you. You will inevitably splash yourself or get splashed by one of your friends. Water will find its way into your kayak and under your seat so you’ll probably have a wet butt too. In the winter the water and air are cold adding to the challenge. All your clothes should be items that are comfortable when wet and also quick drying.
Now we’ll get to the specifics of what items you should wear and bring with you when you head out kayaking the first time. See the below video for a quick guide on what to wear kayaking.
Bathing suits are great to wear for warm weather kayaking They are perfect for getting wet. If it’s a nice warm day and the water temperature isn’t too cold that’s all you really need. Maybe a quick drying shirt and shorts to go with it.
Technical Shirt, Quick Drying Shirt or Rashguard
Rashguards are made of lycra/spandex and are quick drying, comfortable when wet and most are also protect you from UV. They make great shirts to wear while kayaking. This thin layer will protect you from the bright summer sun and stay dry and comfortable. They help you feel cool on hot weather days with warm water. Any other synthetic quick drying shirt will work great too. Cotton isn’t great because once it gets wet it doesn’t dry that quick. It loses all insulating value once it’s wet also. Cotton is a great material to wear if you want to feel soggy cold and wet.
Board Shorts, Quick Drying shorts
Whatever you wear on your bottom is going to get wet. Something that is quick drying and not soggy is good. For guys bathing suits are excellent. For woman you may want to wear board shorts, running shorts or something else synthetic and quick drying on top of your bathing suit. Tights are popular these days as well.
Quick drying underwear
You need quick drying underwear that won’t chafe and smell to wear under our board shorts, swimming trunks, or paddling pants. No one wants to feel like a swamp down there after paddling all day.
TURQ Performance Underwear with Freestyle Fit
- Designed for water sports including paddling
- Chafe free
- Quick drying
- Antimicrobial siver microthread lining to prevent odor
- Seamless for comfort
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See our review of Turq underwear to learn more.
Water shoes or sandals
Kayaks will collect water in the bottom where your feet go. You will more than likely always be sitting in a puddle. You may have to step in and out of the kayak in the water. Any water shoe or sandal will work well for kayaking. Pick a shoe that works well for what you’ll be doing before and after kayaking too.
The foot braces in the kayak may have metal tracks or other fittings you can cut your feet on. You never know what you’ll be stepping on in the water if you have to get out of your kayak. You should never go barefoot kayaking unless you look down in the kayak and there really is nothing sharp and metal in there.
Waterproof socks or wool socks are good to wear in colder water to keep your feet warm.
See our guides to the best sandals for kayaking to learn more.
- Water-resistant upper: Washable polyester webbing featuring quick-dry lining for active use in and out of the water; Hydrophobic mesh lining helps shed water and prolong the life of the material for these water-resistant women’s sandal
- Traction & protection: Multi-directional lugs help provide superior grip on slippery wet terrain; Non-marking rubber outsole leaves no imprint when walking indoors; Iconic toe bumper offers additional safety to help prevent injury
- Support & Comfort: Adjustable hook and loop closure provides secure fit while offering a quick and easy way to get them on and off; Compression-molded EVA midsole for enhanced cushioning; PFC Free
Life jacket or PFD
The next most important thing is a comfortable PFD (Personal Flotation Device) or life jacket. When kayaking chances are good that sooner or later you’ll end up in the water. Even if you don’t flip the kayak, you may fall out or fall in the water loading or unloading.
- Mesh in lower back fits high back seats
- Shoulder adjustments with neoprene comfort pads
- SOLAS grade reflective material for visibility
- Expandable zippered pockets with mesh drainage
- Heavy duty nylon fabric; soft, lightweight flotation foam
- Double crimp, funnel entry
- Expandable zippered pocket with mesh drainage
Inflatable life jackets should only be worn if your kayaking on a really calm hot summer day with smooth water and when there is really no chance you’ll need a PFD. In that instance Suspender or Belt inflatable PFD’s make sense since they are low profile and comfortable to wear. You’ll be covered for any having a PFD with you. You should never wear an auto-inflating PFD kayaking. There are too many easy ways to forget and inflate it making it useless for the rest of the day until you re-arm with a new CO2 cartridge.
See our review of the Onyx M16 Inflatable Belt Pack to learn more.
It’s nice to have a little protection from the sun out on a kayak. Any hat that will provide a bit of shade will be great.
The water is pretty good at stealing hats off of peoples heads. I’ve lost more then a few to the lake over the years. You should get a hat leash or strap to attach your hat to the rest of your clothes.
If it’s a cooler day with a bit of wind and waves you might want to consider wearing a spray top. They work well for whitewater kayaking or sea kayaking where you have a lot of waves and spray. Spray tops are non-insulated shell jackets with a tight seal around your neck, wrists and waist. They are sometimes referred to as a dry top. This outer layer is great for blocking the wind and spray. A generic rain jacket will work okay as long as it isn’t so sloppy fitting that water can easily go up your back. They pack up easily so you can take it on or off as the weather condition changes.
A spray top combined with a spray skirt will do a good job of keeping your whole body protected from wind and spray.
- WATERPROOF – Nothing is worse than being cold and wet, which is why this paddling jacket is 100% waterproof. Made from PVC coated nylon with fully taped seams, this pullover will keep you warm and dry all day on the water.
- ZIPPER POCKET – When we are out on the water there is always something that needs to be carried and stored. We put a convenient shoulder pocket on this jacket so that you can keep your car keys, multitool, credit card or any other small item you need.
- EASY ENTRY – With a 1/4 zip pullover style, you will be able to easily get in and out of the jacket. If you get hot, you can simply unzip a little ways and get some air flow.
If it’s a cooler day and shorts won’t be warm enough then spray pants are a good option. Waterproof pants that will block the wind and spray from your legs. Waterproof is essential. Breathable material is really good so that you don’t get spongy underneath from moisture build up.
Layering up with long underwear can help for colder days. Choose a quick drying material that won’t be cold when wet. Avoid cotton.
- Zipper closure
- Material: The hiking pants are made of 92% polyester and 8% spandex, which are waterproof, windproof, warm,abrasion resistant and no pilling.
- Included:The adjustable elastic waistband features buttons and belts allows pant to fit comfortably.
- Features:Lined with fleece to provide you with extra warmth, softness and comfort. Waterproof&windproof,to keep you warm and dry,enough for skiing.
- Detail:Practical womens hiking pants,multi zipper pockets – front and back security zipper pockets with elastic pull tab,wear-resistant knee cloth.
In cold conditions when the water temperature isn’t warm you may want to consider a wetsuit. A wetsuit is made of neoprene and insulate you while you are in the water. A thin wetsuit will help you retain body heat by blocking evaporative cooling. They can be a good idea to wear if you know you will be going in the water a lot in colder climates.
When is it too cold to kayak without a wet suit? A good rule of thumb is the 120 degree rule. If the water temperature plus the air temperature is below 120 degrees F you need to wear a wetsuit.
For example. If the air temperature is 75F degrees and the water temperature is 65 degrees, the combined temperature is 140F and you do not need to wear a wetsuit.
If the air temperature is 65F degrees and the water temperature is 50F degrees, the combined temperature is 115F degrees. 115F is less than 120F so you need to wear a wetsuit.
Neoprene booties and gloves are good to wear with a wetsuit to keep your feet and hands warm. You lose a lot of body heat through your feet and hands.
- SUITABLE FOR ALL LEVELS – Ironman & USAT approved. Athlete endorsed. Comes in wide range of sizes to ensure a perfect fit.
- PROVEN TECHNOLOGY EQUALS SUPERIOR PERFORMANCE – Hydrodynamic neoprene made from Yamamoto #39 with SCS silicone coated SyPrene. 5mm thick core buoyancy panel / 3mm lower legs and back.
- EXCEPTIONAL FUNCTIONALITY – Full range of motion. Unsurpassed 680 percent flexibility. Highest grade anti corrode internal wetsuit zipper from YKK which greatly reduces drag as you move through the water. Super soft low neck with smoothskin on both sides and because it is so soft, it feels like you hardly have anything around your neck.
For winter kayaking there really is no substitute for a dry suit. They are a waterproof shell that seals around your neck, wrists and feet. You layer up like you were dressing for cold water with baselayers, mid layers, and maybe a sweater. I find dry suits much more comfortable to wear than a wetsuit for cold weather kayaking. They will work in water temperatures down to freezing. They are also much more expensive than a wetsuit. Expect to spend $500 to $1000. A dry suit will let you keep kayaking through the winter months.
- EclipseLT fabric for dependable dryness, breathability, and durability
- Back-entry YKK Aquaseal zipper eliminates pressure points, improves flexibility, reduces stress
- Punch-through neoprene GlideSkin neck seal is less restrictive than latex
- Latex gaskets at the wrists with polyurethane-coated spandex overcuffs
- Areas reinforced with an additional layer of EclipseLT fabric
- Single-seam legs eliminate wear points and improve mobility
What to bring with you kayaking
A small gear bag (drybag)
A small bag to put your other what to bring with you items. Space is at a premium on a kayak. Depending on how long you are going to be on the water you may leave this in your car or somewhere else on the shore. A waterproof dry bag is good for carrying anything that can’t get wet.
iROCKER Outdoor Backpack Drybag Cooler
- 30L capacity, fits up to 24 cans or 18 bottles
- Thick insulation to keep ice 12-72 hours
- 2 large mesh side pockets
- Also utilize as a dry bag or even store wet gear, clothes and towels
- Padded shoulder straps, padded back supports, chest strap and waist strap
See our review of the iRocker Backpack Drybag and Cooler to learn more.
Even if it’s cloudy you can still get sunburnt out on a kayak. The water reflects the sunlight back at you giving you another opportunity to get burnt. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following:
- Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays)
- SPF 30 or higher
- Water resistance
For more information on sunscreen click here.
Sunglasses (with a strap if you want to keep them)
A good set of polarized sunglasses will help protect your eyes from being damaged by the sun. If you really like your sunglasses a strap is a good idea to keep them attached to you. Like everything else that goes out on a kayak, they are easily knocked off your head into the water. The more expensive the sunglasses, the easier it seems to they to end up at the bottom of the lake.
Outdoor Master Sport Sunglasses
- POLARIZED – Polarized lens blocks the direct sunlight and reflection,protecting you from the glare and greatly improves your visual experience, especially for fishing and kayaking in the harsh sunlight.
- HD VISUAL EXPERIENCE – By studying the structure of the human visual system and calculating the optical refraction accurately, we developed the first HD lens that offers a clearer view and effectively reduces the visual fatigue caused by distortion.
- MEMORY FRAMES – Frames made with TR90 are extremely light and durable, making the frames resilient to damage.
Use the Coupon Code REVO11 to get the Hawk Sunglasses for $32.99 at OutdoorMaster.com
See our review of the Outdoor Master Hawk Sunglasses to learn more.
You’ll get thirsty paddling on a hot summer day. A water bottle with fresh water is a good idea. A water bottle filter is an even better idea. If your going out for several hours make sure you bring enough water.
- FILTERED WATER BOTTLE (LEAD WATER FILTER) – This Nalgene water bottle with filter uses depth & adsorption filtration to be the perfect water purifier. Adsorption removes particulates via the activated coconut carbon fiber mesh surface areas, which adsorbs contaminants such as cysts, heavy metals, chemicals & pharmaceuticals.
- NO MORE EXPENSIVE SINGLE USE PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES – This water bottle with filter for tap water saves the Earth over 550 plastic single use water bottles.
Get 10% Off your order with coupon code GETEPICTEN at Epic Water Filters
See our review of the Epic Nalgene OG Bottle filter to learn more.
How much water do you need kayaking on a hot summer day.
Some guidelines published by the University of Michigan state that you should drink the following amounts when exercising. You can see the report here.
- Before kayaking: 17-20 oz. of water at least 2 hours prior to exercise
- While kayaking: 7-10 oz. of water for every 10-20 minutes of exercise
- After kayaking: 16-24 oz. of water for each pound lost due to sweating.
If were going on a 2 hour paddle which is pretty common we need 7-10oz every 10-20 minutes. That is a range of 21 oz to 60 oz of water per hour. For a 2 hour paddle you could need anywhere from 42 oz to 120 oz of water during the paddle. If you go for a longer 4 hour paddle the amount increase to 84 oz to 240 oz.
A granola bar or trail mix or other small snack is good if you’re going to be out a while. Keep in mind how messy the food you are bringing is. No one wants to scrape food gunk out of the bottom of their kayak. The people you rent them from don’t want to either. Some food items are more or less prohibited from ever being out on any form of boat. Cheetos or yellow cheesy puffs are the biggest offense you can possibly bring on a boat. They melt and turn into a super slippery slimy mess and they also stain the plastic or fiberglass.
A pocket knife or multitool
It’s a good idea to have a knife or multitool attached to your PFD or life jacket. You just never really know when you’ll have to cut something loose or need to tighten a fitting on your kayak. Having the right tool can mean the difference between a day cut short and a full day on the water.
The Coast Guard requires every boat, including kayaks, operating in US waters to have a sound producing device on board. Yelling loudly isn’t considered an acceptable method. Having a whistle attached to your PFD is a good idea for being able to signal someone if you fall in the water. It can be difficult to hear on a windy day with the wind and water noise overpowering everything. A whistle might save your day sometime. For more information on Coast Guard required equipment click here.
There isn’t always a good place to change where you want to kayak. There is no privacy or it’s cold or what if it starts to rain. A changing robe can solve all your problems. They are big enough to easily swap clothes underneath without exposing yourself. They are big and warm so you won’t freeze after taking off a wetsuit. They are comfortable to wear while you are warming up after getting out of the water too. Voited makes one of the best changing robes available.
VOITED OUTDOOR CHANGE ROBE & DRYCOAT
- Maximize your outdoor adventures with the insulated and waterproof personal shelter. Get changed outside, inside – our VOITED DryCoat allows you to do more of what you love whilst staying dry and warm, wherever you go and whatever the weather.
Your probably going to get wet while your out kayaking so drying off can be nice when you get back to shore.
Change of clothes
When your day of kayaking is over, it’s nice to change into something dry. Bring an extra set of clothes so you can change and don’t need to drive home wet.
You just never know what will come up. Maybe you’ll paddle by some cute little ice waterside diner and you’ll want to stop for a quick bite. Having a little cash on hand is never a bad idea.
Go Have Fun Kayaking
I hope you have a great time on your kayaking trip. Picking the right clothes can make your time on the water much more comfortable and enjoyable.
You might also like:
- The Best Sandals For Kayaking Helpful Guide
- Wetsuit Vs Drysuit For Kayaking. Which One Is Better?
- The Best Inflatable Kayaks Under $500 Helpful Guide
- Inflatable Kayak Vs Hardshell Kayak. What Is Best? 7 Considerations
About the author
My name is Doug Ryan. I am an outdoors enthusiast always looking forward to my next adventure. I spend as much time skiing, biking, and paddleboarding as I can. I decided to start Endless Rush Outdoors as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for all things outdoor adventures and to help other people have as much fun as me.