Updated February 18th, 2023
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.
- Bathing suit
- Technical Shirt, Quick Drying Shirt or Rashguard
- Board Shorts, Quick Drying shorts
- Water shoes or sandals
- Life jacket or PFD
- Sun hat
- Spray top
- Spray pants
- Dry suit
- A small gear bag (drybag)
- Sunglasses (with a strap if you want to keep them)
- How much water do you need kayaking on a hot summer day.
- A pocket knife or multitool
- Changing Robe
- Change of clothes
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NRS Men’s Explorer Paddling Suit
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
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.
Redfin Polarized Hatteras Sunglasses
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.
Epic Water Filters Epic Nalgene OG Grande Bottle
Get 10% Off your order with coupon code GETEPICTEN at Epic Water Filters
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
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.
You might also like:
- The Best Inflatable SUP Kayak Hybrid Tests & Reviews
- Make Your SUP Into A Great Kayak With A SUP Kayak Seat
Staff Writer | Paddling
Stacey moved to Michigan from Seattle. She loves to paddleboard, kayak, snowboard and is also an avid runner. She goes paddle boarding almost every weekend during the summer on the lakes and rivers in Michigan. She been known to abuse an Epic and Ikon Pass doing trips out west with her college friends. She is also an electric vehicle enthusiast and loves riding around on e-bikes, scooters, and electric cars.