What to Wear When Kayaking

It's important to have the right attire when going kayaking, but the ideal gear can vary depending on a number of factors. Things like air temperature, water temperature, and whether you're close to shore or offshore, can have a significant impact on how you'll want to dress for the best experience. Here, we'll discuss some of the different conditions and circumstances that would affect clothing choice, and what type of gear is best for each situation.

Warm Weather & Warm Water

Kayaking in warm temperatures, in parts of the world where the water is also warm, is pretty simple. In fact, your biggest concern will be less about what to wear and more about staying hydrated and protecting yourself from sun exposure. A light, long-sleeved shirt with surf shorts should do the trick for clothing, and either boat shoes or sandals are a great idea as well. As for sun protection, be sure to wear sunscreen, and consider wearing a hat. Sunglasses can also be helpful since the glare from the water can at times be blinding.

Warm Weather & Cold Water

Although the cold water can make a difference if you fall in or plan to go swimming, there are a few things that will remain consistent as long as the weather is warm. While a long-sleeved shirt might sound like a downer in the heat, you'll want to make sure you're well-protected from the sun. A shirt that is lightweight with long-sleeves should do the trick. If you choose a breathable fabric, you might even forget you're not wearing short sleeves. And again, you won't want to forget sunscreen, sunglasses, and a sun hat.

Cold Weather & Cold Water

This is where things start to get a bit trickier. When both the air and the water are cold, you'll need to begin thinking about things like hypothermia. Kayaking in these conditions is not for the faint of heart, but if you intend to set out on the water, you will need clothing that can keep you warm even if you get wet.

One important thing to consider if the fabric of your clothing. You'll want to wear clothing made from synthetic materials such as neoprene, polypropylene, or fleece, and you'll want to put these on in thin layers rather than in one thick layer. Wool is also a good choice, even though it becomes heavy when wet and takes a bit longer to dry. One fabric you definitely don't want to wear is cotton - not only is cotton a poor choice for cold weather, but it will actually draw the heat from your body when it gets wet, which is the last thing you want.

You'll want an outer layer of clothing that keeps the wind off your body. Consider a waterproof nylon jacket and pants to serve as this protective, outer shell. If you visit your local outdoor shop, however, you'll find paddling tops and bottoms that are specifically designed for this purpose. Those are also a great investment. For your feet, consider neoprene booties and socks to keep your toes warm.

If you want to go straight for the ultimate protection from cold, you're looking at a dry suit. Dry suits keep all the water out using latex gaskets at the neck, ankles, and wrists. This level of protection doesn't come cheap, but if you spend a lot of time paddling in low temperatures, a dry suit may be well worth the investment.

Finally, a spray skirt is another great option particularly if you're using a sit-inside kayak. This will function to keep the cold water out, and the warm air in. Just be sure to leave the rip cord out when putting on the spray skirt, because this is what you're going to pull to pop the skirt if your boat flips.

No matter what temperatures you're kayaking in, a personal floatation device is always a good idea. Also known as a life jacket, it will provide buoyancy in the event that your kayak capsizes. If you're paddling in cold temperatures, just make sure your floatation device can fit over your drysuit or your layers.

There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding what to wear to go kayaking, but fortunately there is a method to the madness. Your priorities will vary from sun protection in warm temperatures, to maintaining body heat in colder climates, but luckily there is gear designed to protect you in any situation you might encounter.

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