Kayaking is one of the most fun and rewarding outdoor activities, taking kayakers to places few others get to experience. It’s an amazing experience gliding over the water of a river or the sea, and exploring cliffs or caves as well as tackling rapids and waves.
But while kayaking is certainly fun, it can be a fairly dangerous experience, particularly if you aren’t properly equipped and dressed for the experience.
The clothing worn for kayaking trips can vary a lot depending on the type of kayaking that’s being done as well as the conditions or time of year that the activity is taking place, but regardless of this, there are some key things to keep in mind and several important pieces of equipment and apparel that should be worn to kayak safely.
In this guide, we’re going to look at exactly what you should wear on your next kayaking trip, from basics to specialist gear as well as what is appropriate at certain times of the year.
Take Conditions Into Account
The most important thing to consider before any type of kayaking is to consider the prevailing conditions. The weather can have a huge impact not only on water and air temperature but also on winds and currents and this can play a huge role in how you prepare for a kayaking expedition, even a relatively short or pedestrian outing.
Never kayak without being aware of the place you intend to do it, ideally planning a route and understanding it well, and knowing how the weather and water are going to be behaving in this period of time.
Preparation is the key with any extreme sport, particularly one that takes place in the water. The water can be a cruel and unforgiving mistress, so making sure you’re properly prepared is essential for your safety and enjoyment.
If you’ve determined that you’re in a relatively warm and comfortable area with a relatively warm water temperature, a wetsuit isn’t necessarily always required. While it’s still highly recommended, especially for sea swimming, you can wear other clothing.
For mild conditions, you can wear;
Underwear or a pair of swimming shorts (as long as they are comfortable)
A rashguard top made of Lycra or polyester to reduce chafing and friction that can cause major discomfort due to the repetitive movements kayaking requires of the upper body and arms.
A water shirt, which is similar to a rashguard but less tight-fitting and offering a more relaxed option, particularly if you don’t want to swim.
Board shorts or quick dry pants for your bottom half, or swim shorts if they are comfortable.
A mid-layer such as a fleece can be a good choice just in case the wind picks up or temperatures drop.
A rain jacket if wind or rain comes in can be stowed relatively easily and pulled out in a pinch if conditions change.
For footwear paddling boots or sandals are ideal as they are light, fast-drying, and protective. Avoid flip flops as they aren’t secure enough and can be uncomfortable.
A hat is a good accessory to consider to protect from sunburn and heat stroke as well as offer better visibility, and gloves can be worn to protect from blisters. The best choice is paddling gloves or other lightweight fingerless gloves.
Wetsuits And Cold Weather Garb
In certain conditions, a wetsuit or drysuit is the only option that makes sense for kayaking and this is particularly the case in environments with cold water temperatures such as lakes, or during colder seasons.
They are also a better option if you plan to spend some time swimming!
Falling into the water in very cold conditions without a wetsuit can lead to drowning as the shock of the overwhelmingly cold water can lead you to panic which in turn massively increases the chance of drowning or serious injury.
Wetsuits are recommended for all but the mildest areas or protected waters and are really the simplest and best option for most kayaking excursions.
There are many different types of wetsuits, with various configurations in both thickness of the material and short or long-armed versions.
It’s best to stay away from swimming wetsuits and look for a standard kayaking wetsuit made from Neoprene.
These wetsuits work by keeping a thin layer of water next to your skin and allowing your body to heat this thin layer of water, helping to keep you much warmer should you be submerged.
A dry suit is an option for even colder or more extreme environments, and these are watertight suits that keep you totally dry. These suits are often overkill for most kayaking trips unless you are in a particularly inhospitable environment where temperatures are life-threateningly cold and submersion is a serious life-threatening occurrence.
If you’re in an area where the air temperature is mild but the water temperature is cold, a wetsuit is definitely the best option for safety and comfort. They may be a little hot while you’re paddling, but if and when you are submerged they will make things much safer and easier for you.
Wearing a quick-drying top under your wetsuit can be a great way to add a little comfort and insulation to your wetsuit, and this can help if you have a wetsuit with short sleeves. A rashguard can also be worn to help reduce discomfort.
Other Useful Equipment
A splash deck is one of the most useful pieces of kit for kayaking and will go a long way to keep you dry whether you use a wetsuit or not.
The splash deck is a neoprene cover that is used to seal the opening of the kayak that you sit in and keeps most of the water out of the kayak and is very useful in rough waters.
The danger is a splash deck can make getting out of the kayak difficult should you submerge, and practicing doing this is the safest way to ensure you can exit the kayak quickly in an emergency.