What to Wear While Kayaking: Matching Your Clothes to Your Trip

A kayaker wearing proper clothing for cold weather conditions while paddling a kayak

So you’ve got your vessel, your paddle and your life jacket. You are all set to spend a day out on the water enjoying your kayak, but just what to wear?

There are a number of considerations that will come in to play here. While planning your kayaking outing you will want to consider where you live and what the current weather conditions are.

Also you will want to take a moment to think about what the water is like where you are going and how easily you can get to a change of clothing.

The biggest thing to keep in your mind when you are going out for a trip is what happens when you get wet.

Considerations for planning your kayaking wear^

The first thing that we’ll want to think about is what is the weather outside.
Graphic of a thermometer
If it is sunny and warm life is fairly easy. You will always want to think about the sun and sunscreen in those conditions, but if it is a nice day out you can have a lot more options of what to wear.

On the other end of the spectrum if it is a cool to colder day you will need to put on a bit more to keep yourself warm.

Of course your location goes hand in hand with the weather, but it does provide a bit more insight into how matters will change.

I’ve gone on some trips out in desert areas with next to no humidity. Given a warm day this can be great as you dry off quickly and that can help cool off.

On the same hand that low humidity will still dry you off quickly and cool you in the cooler weather as well, which could drop your body temperature if you aren’t careful.

Calm lakes vs. Rapids^

Next you will want to think about what kind of water you are going out on.

A calm lake doesn’t call for the absolute need to have maximum maneuverability, but if you are taking on a river with some rapids or going out on the sea being about to move easily could be more important to you.

Also the type of water that you are on can have a big impact on how wet you could get.

By all means you could roll and fall out in a lake that is flat as glass, but there is more likelihood of getting wet on a river or somewhere that some waves are involved.

Lastly think about where you will be and how easily you can find a change of clothing.

I’ve gone out on a lake that is less than 5 minutes from my house wearing jeans and a cotton shirt.

I know that if I fall in and end up soaked I can have a new dry set of clothing on before very long.

On the other hand if you have driven 3 hours to get dropped off at a river and you will get picked up 3 days later, you might want to pick different clothing choices.

Considerations for the clothing you select^

There are a number of options of clothing out there these days for someone heading off to enjoy a day on the water and some might come to mind a touch quicker than others.

Quick Drying Clothes^

To start off with let’s consider moisture wicking properties.

Now a days there are a ton of choices of fast drying clothing that will pull moisture away and dry before you know it.

These can be a great selection, since after all you are planning to be in close proximity to the water and it does tend to be a bit wet.
Image of a wet kayaker.

Sun Blocking^

You will want to consider how well your clothing blocks the sun.

A lot of companies that make rash guards and quick drying shirts are realizing how important having sun blocking built right into your clothing can be and have started noting SPF levels on their tags.

You will also want to remember that since you are on the water you aren’t concerned only with the sun beating down from the sky, but also the reflection from the water.

It is easy to find summer weight clothing that will help block the sun, but you need to remember that sun burns can happen just as easily in winter, sometimes more so since people aren’t thinking about them as much.


As I mentioned before you want to think about being able to move. This can come up in any season, as sometimes tight fitting clothing can stop you from being able to move freely, but also you can end up putting on so many layers to stay warm that you lose the ability to even paddle.
Image of a PFD
Also remember that you will have what you are wearing plus your pfd (personal flotation device).


As our last consideration, how comfortable are your clothing choices. You don’t want to get part way out and find that your clothing selection is uncomfortable or itches or rubs you the wrong way.

Also you may want to select some clothing to wear to add to your comfort.

I know it is tempting to go out in the summer in just a swim suit, but you might find that an extra shirt could provide comfort in stopping your life jacket from causing irritation.

Clothing Choices^

Now that you have considered your plan and thought about what to look for in some kayaking clothing, let’s go over a few more concrete ideas and some suggestions on what to wear.

You should feel free to amend them to ensure that you feel comfortable and safe when you head out on a your day on the water.

Short Trip for a Summer Day^

You have that nice summer day, the weather and the water are warm and it is time to take out your kayak.

This is the perfect time to go simple. Pull out whatever swim suit you find comfortable and grab your life jacket.

I tend to take a rash guard as well these days, it adds a layer of sun protection and gives a barrier between me and my life jacket.

I’d also recommend a hat to keep the sun off of you.
Image of a kayaker enjoying the warm weather.

Long Trip during the Summer^

Again, it is still nice and warm, at least while the sun is up. This gets a bit trickier depending on where you live.

If you are starting early in the morning or going into the evening things might cool down a bit more.

I would recommend looking at a pair of hiking pants or running leggings. Both would help to keep your legs warmer if it cools off, but shouldn’t be so warm that you’ll overheat in the day time.

A rash guard/quick dry top would be a wise choice. And of course I’ll again recommend some type of hat.

Cold Weather trips^

Cool and cold weather trips can be some of the hardest to select the right clothing for.

You obviously want to dress to stay warm, but the problem can crop up that if you overdo it you will start sweating more if you are paddling hard.

Then when you stop that sweat continues to do its job of cooling you off, which in the colder weather it might do very well.
Image of two kayakers in cold weather.
Regardless of the length of your trip for the cool to colder weather I would start off by looking at skiers.

They hit most all of what we are looking for, since they too spend a day on the water, just their tends to be a touch more solid than ours.

You will want to look for the ability to layer. A base layer will be the first thing that you will want to put on, its job is to keep your body warm.

Depending on how cold it is and how long you’ll be out you may want to add a mid-layer too. This will add more insulation to keep you warm.

You can do any number of mid-layers, but it becomes a balancing act. On one side you want to stay warm, but on the other side you don’t want to overheat and you want to be able to move freely.

The final layer should be your shell. You want to look for waterproof materials. The goal is to keep yourself dry, as the dryer you are the warmer you’ll be.

Wrapping it all up^

Remember as you start off on your kayaking adventures dressing properly will add to your enjoyment of your endeavors.

As you plan your outings make some considerations for both the type of trip that you will be going on as well as what you expect from the clothing you will be taking out with you.

This is only the tip of iceberg, if you want to go further you can look into the world of wetsuits and dry suits as well.

The most important thing anytime you are out on the water is to stay safe, and while it may not seem that important, picking the proper clothing for your trip is vital to stay safe in your kayak.

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