What To Wear Kayaking: List Of Basic Essentials For Beginner

Why Clothing Can Make or Break Your Next Kayaking Trip?

Spending time fishing or recreational kayaking is a great activity for family and friends. Careful planning should always be part of the process to make sure everyone is safe. For this reason, deciding what to wear kayaking is as important as selecting the boat you’ll be using. 

Consider the following things for your next kayaking trip:
  • Water and Air Temperature
  • Clothing
  • Layering
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    Non-Clothing Options

Water/Air Temperature

Unlike most other outdoor activities, when kayaking, you need to prepare yourself for the two environments of air and water. The temperatures of both need to be taken into consideration, but dress first for the water temperature. While a warm summer day may feel great, if you get wet, you can become chilled quickly. It is surprising how fast water shock and hypothermia can take over if your kayak flips and you fall into the water. In cold water, your body temperature can drop 25 percent faster than in cold air.

A guy kayaking

The 120-Degree Rule

When preparing for the two environments, kayakers should use the 120-degree rule, according to the American Canoe Association’s Cold Water Survival Guide. This states that if the combined air and water temperature is less than 120 degrees, a wetsuit or dry suit should be worn (more on these later). Take extra precautions if the water is 50 degrees or lower.

Calculating Water Temperature

Knowing the air temperature is easy, but how do you know the water temperature? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintains temperatures for coastal waters with its online water temperatu​​​​re map. You can ask a local paddling club or guide or search online for inland water temperatures.

Clothing Options

If you are kayaking in a tropical setting where the air and water temperatures are typically warm, your clothing options will be simple. A bathing suit with some sun protection layers may be all you need. Your biggest challenges in this environment will be staying hydrated and cool. However, for most, the type of clothing and the fabrics selected should be considered carefully based on the combined water and air temperatures.


Cotton should be avoided completely because it can make you colder since it absorbs water and stays wet. Better options are quick-drying fabrics such as nylon, polyester or other synthetic material. Wool also does a good job of keeping you warm even when wet, but once wet, it does take longer to dry and can become heavy.

Spending the day on the water exposes you to a lot of sun. Proper sun protection should be considered when choosing the material. Sun exposure can still happen even when your skin is covered with clothing. UPF-rated fabrics enhance your ability to defend yourself against overexposure to the sun — and don’t forget the sunscreen for uncovered skin.


You may be sitting for a long time in your kayak. Therefore, comfort is key to having an enjoyable time. Select clothing that is non-abrasive and allows you to have flexibility of movement. Remember, you may be sitting in positions you’re not quite used to and moving your body in unfamiliar motions. Fortunately, if you select an outfit specifically designed for water activities, it should be designed to be non-abrasive and to stand up to the harsh water environment.

Wetsuits and Dry Suits

wet suit

A wetsuit is usually made of neoprene. It allows a thin layer of water next to your skin. Once the body heats the water layer, it keeps you warm. A wetsuit is the minimum protection you should wear if you are under the 120-degree rule mentioned earlier.

A dry suit is designed for much colder conditions. While it can be expensive, wearing one could be the difference between life and death. Unlike a wetsuit that allows some water in, a dry suit keeps you completely dry with watertight gaskets at the openings. You adjust your warmth, depending on the conditions, with a base layer designed to keep you warm.


Layering should be practiced no matter what clothing options you select. Layering is a critical step that allows you to be flexible for any changing weather conditions. On warm days in warm water, sandals, a swimsuit and a light synthetic shirt may be enough, but extra layers should be brought with you, including an insulation layer and a shell. Insulation layers may include a fleece made of synthetic material or just a long-sleeved synthetic shirt if the conditions will be warmer.

A shell should be brought to protect against windy conditions found on many bodies of water and splashing from the waves and paddling. This could be as simple as a rain slicker or waterproof windbreaker.

With additional items of clothing, you can add or remove layers with the changing temperatures and weather conditions. An extra set of clothing is also a good idea if you do happen to get wet. Of course, that extra set of clothes will do you no good if it too gets wet. Using a dry bag to carry extra layers is a smart option.


When planning what to wear kayaking, don’t forget accessories such as hats, gloves and footwear. These items are often overlooked, but they are just as important to ensure your comfort and safety on the water.

Outdoor Research Sombriolet Sun Hat - Breathable Lightweight Wicking...
  • WATER RESISTANT SUN PROTECTION: A wide shade with a varied foam-stiffened brim width and UPF 50+ rating protects your...
  • COMFORTABLE AND BREATHABLE: The side vents and external breathable panels keep you cool and comfortable while exploring...
  • MULTIPLE USES: Whatever you are doing outside, this hat has you covered. This sun hat is perfect for beach days, hiking,...
NeoSport 3/4 Fingerless Neoprene Gloves, 1.5mm Unisex Design, Biking,...
  • Reliable Protection: Featuring padded synthetic leather palms, our sailing gloves helps protect your hands while...
  • Multi-Sport Versatility: Our quick-drying diving gloves are ideal for obstacle racing, snorkeling and wakeboarding!...
  • Designed for Comfort: Thanks to their anatomical fit, these 3/4 wakeboard gloves help keep hand fatigue to a minimum!...
Seavenger Atlantis Aqua Shoes | Slip On Dive Booties for Snorkeling,...
  • WEAR ALL DAY — Flexible 3mm neoprene and anti-chafing seams create a snug, comfortable fit.
  • WEAR UNDER FINS — Simple fin strap cleat and adjustable buckles keep snorkeling fins in place.
  • FOR ALL WATERSPORTS — Gear that's designed for scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, surfing and more.

Often, kayaking requires you to get out of your boat and walk on the river bed when getting in or out. For this reason, foot protection is often necessary to guard against cuts and scrapes to the bottom of your feet. Consider what type of river or lake bed you’ll be in so you can select footwear with proper soles. Many people use river sandals, which can be a good option. Just keep in mind that they often will gather rocks and gravel in them and not offer protection from objects poking you from the side or top.

A final consideration for footwear is comfort when seated in the kayak. How will your footwear brace against the foot pegs or bulkhead of the kayak? How comfortable will you be with the way the heel rests when in a seated position?

Non-clothing Considerations

You also may want to take these non-clothing items into consideration when planning your next kayaking trip. They are essential for a successful outing.

Snap Dragon Armortex Kevlar Kayak Spray Skirt-XLDeck-S/Tunnel
  • 4mm Amortex deck and 3mm neoprene tunnel
  • Heavy-duty shock cord rand
  • Rim guard reinforcement
CLEARANCE!!! Hilton Bay A77 Sunglasses Wrap Style UV400 Lens for...
  • Polycarbonate Shatterproof lens with Full UV400 protection
  • Flattering lines and design features
  • Rimless design for full lower field of vision
Ben's 30% Deet Insect Repellent Spray, 3.4 oz (Pack of 3)
  • 3 Pieces - 3.4 Ounce (100ml)
  • Tick & Insect Repellent,
  • Wilderness Formula,
Blue Lizard Face Mineral-Based(Combining mineral and chemical UV...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT WATER GEL FORMULA WON’T CLOG PORES – Non-comedogenic face sunscreen made for daily wear
  • ANTIOXIDANT-RICH WITH HYDRATING HYALURONIC ACID – Works double duty to protect skin from UV rays and nourish with...
  • ALWAYS MINERAL-BASED – Combining mineral and chemical UV protectors for performance you can trust
O'Neill Men's Superlite USCG Life Vest,Black/Black/Smoke/White,Large
  • USCG Approved Personal Flotation Device (Type III); Perfect For Wake Sports, Waterskiing, Tubing, And Swimming
  • Designed to fit snug for your safety. Minimal bulk design allows full mobility and easy on and off
  • Anatomically cut lightweight polyethylene foam flotation with durable coated polyester outer shell makes the vest strong...

Knowing what to wear kayaking is not difficult, but special steps need to be considered that make it quite different from planning for other outdoor activities on the land. It is important to realize that, while kayaking, you are interacting with the two unique environments of air and water. Precautions must be taken to ensure both your comfort and safety.

Last update on 2021-01-17 at 19:06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Kayak Fishing Team

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