What to Wear Kayaking – In Various Conditions

Similar to other outdoor activities that you may or may not participate in; when figuring out what to wear kayaking you need it to have a couple of essential features:

  • Versatile – Having gear that holds up no matter the conditions you may be faced with is a key part of kayaking.
  • Durable – Gear can be expensive, so it seriously matters whether or not it can keep up with the number of times you may be using it.
  • Comfy – Being comfortable while on the move is always a priority no matter the activity.

These are the 3 key elements, although if you’re one who cares about fashion and design, this can also be a key feature that you must hit too.

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On top of that, you’re also looking for protection against the most unfortunate conditions; cold.

Whether it starts raining or you, unfortunately, fall overboard, it is essential you are prepared when it comes to staying warm and comfortable while you carry out the rest of the journey.

Whether you’re using a sit in kayak or a sit on top kayak, here is a general kayak equipment list; since generally, no matter your specific boat, you’ll want to bring along similar kayak gear. We’ll also get into specific conditions a little later on in this article

My general guidelines:

  • Absolutely always bring a PFD (personal floating device) – If I could only bring one item with me, it would be a PFD – it’s something that could save your life and something that you should have on at all times whilst you’re on the water. You’ll want to make sure this fits comfortably with the rest of your clothing before you get in your boat as it is essential it is fitted properly. Offering you enough room so that you can properly carry out your paddling manoeuvres and be comfortable whilst doing it.
  • Dress in Layers – Dressing in layers allows you to be more flexible. To warm? Take off a layer.
  • Forget the air temperature, dress for water temperature The temperature of the air won’t matter if you manage to submerge yourself in the water. Because of this, I always dress depending on how warm the water may be.
  • Wear comfortable clothing – As we’ve discussed, you’re going to want to dress in clothes that allow you to move comfortably and effectively. If you’ve read my guide on how to paddle a kayak, you’ll know its absolutely necessarily you can rotate your body properly to perform even the most basic rowing manoeuvres.
  • Avoid cotton Cotton clothing, cotton anything, just absorbs up any water it touches and generally stays wet – even with surrounding body heat getting to it. Polyester is what I personally favour, however, wicking and quick-drying nylon are also great options. Wool is something I’m looking to convert to in some of my clothing since it dries quickly and even when wet it works great as insulation.

what to wear kayaking

Now we’ve covered the basics of what to wear kayaking, I’m going to get into types of conditions you may run into whilst on your kayaking adventure and how you should prepare for them; clothing-wise.

Warm Weather Kayaking – What to wear kayaking

I’m going to go over each layer as well as any additional accessories that you may want to add such as hats and gloves.


When paddling in warm conditions, I typically like to wear some form of swimsuit underneath – typically a kayak drysuit or kayak wetsuit.

If this isn’t your thing, after discussing with other kayaks, they seem to go with sports bras and underwear which is suitable for outdoor paddling or any other sort of water activity.

First Layer

Firstly, your first layer – this is after putting on whatever sort of underwear you feel most comfortable with.


Typically I go with something made of nylon or polyester which have been blended with spandex. This makes them well suited to paddling activities since they are quick-drying and stretch well over the body, making for a comfy fit. Along with having high UPF ratings which makes them great when attempting to protect you against UV rays that could damage your skin due to being out in the sun all day.

Obviously, I’m talking about long sleeve tops here, if you’re not going to wear one of these and rather are going to use one that has short sleeves, please don’t forget (like I have sometimes) to put sunscreen on so that you don’t burn to a crisp.

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Wear whatever is comfortable and of course, has quick-dry features as this is probably the place where you’re going to get wet the most (2nd to your feet)

Shorts or full-length bottoms work perfectly here. But avoid anything that has been made with super thin fabrics since you will most probably find that it will be hard to move comfortable whilst wearing and they’re bound to just tear due to moving around in your seat.

Next, we’re going to talk about your middle layer, if you’re wondering what footwear you should be wearing, since you may have expected it to be listed here, read a little further down where I write my recommendations.


Middle-layers is not a must, it depends if you think you’re going to need it; whether that’s because you know it’s going to get colder or you plan on staying throughout the day where the sun naturally gets cooler throughout. But bringing a fleece jacket or something just as light is what I’d recommend (and is what I usually bring myself).


Since the weather is mild, this is more so about things you should be carrying with you and should have at least on your boat or by your near parked car/van.

If you’re expecting rain, high-velocity wind or any other weather change throughout the day that could cause you to become cold and uncomfortable.

A paddling jacket is a great option due to the gaskets at the wrist and neck which prevent water from seeping into the jacket through these particular openings from rain and water from the shaft.

I’d also recommend bringing some form of waterproof jacket as a backup – this can also be used as an alternative to a paddling jacket if you don’t want to wear both.

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Additional Items of clothing

Here we’re going tot alk about your optional items of clothing that aren’t very necessary and you won’t see all kayakers equipt with them but they are more than capable of making your kayaking adventure a lot more enjoyable.

Kayaking Footwear?

If you’re wondering why I’m adding kayak footwear as an ‘additional item of clothing’, it’s because I do know a few kayakers than seem to do their paddling in barefoot – and I’m not quite sure why…but at the very least, you know this is an option – although not something I’ve tried myself.


I’d recommend some form of lightweight, water ready kayak shoes – since you’re inevitably going to get them soaked so you’ll want to make sure you’re protecting your toes and the pads of your feet.

Any type of sandal is also fine and even throw away shoes – but keep in mind things like sandals won’t protect you as well as kayak shoes would and any shoes you do wear that are throwaways are going to be very heavy when you get back to dry land due to how wet they will have become – kayak boots might be more up your street if you’re wanting a more rounded shoe than tight footwear.

I’d also avoid anything like sliders or flip flops as they can slide off your feet to easily and you’ll most probably just lose it deep in the water.

Kayaking Gear: Hats

Just like you’d wear if you were sat on the beach or walking around town in the sun, you’re going to want to wear a hat that has some form of beak – you could wear something like a beanie which does well to cover your entire head and the backs of your neck but obviously this would eventually be too much for you once you begin to get wet and sweaty.

Keep in mind you’re going to want a quite snug fit here since ideally you don’t want to have it fall off your head into the body of water you’re paddling on.

Kayaking helmets

Specifically for protection, a kayak helmet is not a bad idea. Especially if you plan on kayaking with your kids, kayaking helmets give you that extra peace of mind to ensure that for whatever reason if they do bang their head, they will be more than protected.

Kayaking Gloves

Optional but In my opinion an essential part of any kayakers kit. Kayaking gloves are key in protecting your hands from inevitable blister and windy days.

Cold Weather Kayaking – What to wear

“Dress as though you’re going to submerge, not as if you’re going to succeed”

Regardless of how many times I’ve been out on my kayak, I always dress as if it were my first time. Never forgetting my PFD or forgetting to put my wetsuit on – I ensure I’m packing all the essentials when I go on any body of water.

Risks of drowning should always play on your mind – not so much so it scares you but enough so that you always take the right safety precautions to ensure you or anybody else you kayak with is safe.

Capsizing in the cold water can shock you immediately.

Having the essential safety gear and clothing could literally save your life.

With that being said, it’s a good idea to always wear your wetsuit for kayaking or a kayaking dry suit regardless of the temperature (in my opinion) because you never know when it could make the difference in saving your life and ensuring you stay at an appropriate temperature…

So, no matter the temperature whether cold or warm, you’re going to take pretty much the same gear out with you.

Ultimately, the key difference is that wetsuits and drysuits are typically optional but should definitely be brought out with you on in cold conditions because it really is a lifesaver.

Finally, If you’re a little confused about the difference between a kayaking wetsuit and a kayaking drysuit – I’ve explained all you need to know in another article on my site which can be found here: Wetsuit vs Drysuit For Kayaking


Overall, there is a lot of gear you need, but not all of it is essential in keeping you safe and allowing you to enjoy your time on the water.

There are many options out there and hopefully at the very least with my recommendations you are a little more clear on what to wear kayaking and what sort of items avid kayakers like myself use.

That will be all for today,