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Best Kayak Shorts For Paddling

By: Kayak Guru
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Summer is finally here, which means it’s time to break out the kayaks and hit the water! But before you do, make sure you have the right gear. 

Kayaking can be fun but if you’re not prepared, it can also be pretty uncomfortable. So we’re going to take a look at some of the best kayak shorts for paddling.

Quick answer: the best ones are the Vuori Cruise board shorts as they’re great all-rounders

At a Glance: Top Kayaking Shorts

Top 19 Best Kayak & Canoe Shorts For Paddling

1: Vuori Cruise Board Shorts (best overall)

  • Materials: 50% recycled polyester, 38% upcycled coconut, 12% Spandex

These Vuori Cruise Board Shorts are designed for versatility and comfort. They’re also made from sustainable fabrics, including recycled plastic bottles, so you’re helping to do your bit for the environment when you wear them.

As well as having a lower carbon footprint, these stylish, comfortable shorts are moisture-wicking and they have anti-odor properties because they help to prevent the build-up of bacteria. They don’t have an inner liner though, which may put some people off if they want to also swim.

They come in a great range of colors and prints to suit your mood. They also have 4-way stretch fabric for added comfort while paddling. Plus they’re quick drying.

As for storage, these kayaking shorts have side mesh pockets and a zippered back pocket for your credit card or keys.

Pros

  • Great for paddling and casual wear
  • Recycled materials
  • Zippered pocket

Cons

  • No inner liner for swimming

2: Hurley Phantom 20in Walkshort (runner-up)

Hurley Phantom 20in Walkshort Pin
  • Materials: 44% recycled polyester, 44% polyester, 12% Spandex

These Hurley Phantom shorts are a hybrid design with a 20-inch outseam and a 9-inch inseam. This can be an ideal length for various activities, including paddling and walking around town.

They have a classic khaki look so they can look a little smarter than swim shorts, which makes them our number two choice for the best paddling shorts.

The partially recycled fabric is designed to be quick-drying and moisture-wicking for comfort during paddle sports. They also feature added stretch and they’re made with lightweight materials to help keep you cool on hot days. But they’re not designed for swimming.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Quick drying
  • Versatile style

Cons

  • Not for swimming

3: Patagonia Stretch Planing Board Shorts (best for swimming)

  • Materials: 91% recycled polyester, 9% Spandex

These Patagonia Stretch Planing Board Shorts can be a fantastic choice if you want to stop for a swim during your kayaking trip. These are made to be comfortable to wear in and out of the water, with a 4-way stretch fabric that allows for a greater range of movement.

These Patagonia Stretch Planing Board Shorts can be a fantastic choice if you want to stop for a swim during your kayaking trip. These are made to be comfortable to wear in and out of the water, with a 4-way stretch fabric that allows for a greater range of movement.

One cool feature is the self draining pocket, which can be handy if you’re swimming. The pocket also has a corrosion-resistant plastic zipper and internal key loop.

One downside is that they may not be great for larger guys because of the slim fit in the legs.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable wet and dry
  • UV protection

Cons

  • Not the best shorts for big guys

4: O’Neill Loaded Heather Hybrid Shorts (best for canoeing)

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  • Materials: 92% polyester, 8% elastane

These O’Neill Hybrid Shorts can be a great choice for canoeing. They are designed to have the look of a classic chino short but with the benefits of a swim short.

These ones have a 21-inch outseam so they can be an ideal length for providing added protection from the sun. However, they don’t have UV protection in the fabric.

They feature a lightweight Hyperfreak stretch fabric with Hyperdry technology providing water resistance.

A good feature of these shorts is that they have a button closure with a zipper fly, so they can feel just like your favorite chino shorts. They also have an internal drawcord for a secure fit if you decide to take a swim. You’ll find two front zippered pockets and two back welt pockets for storing essentials.

Pros

  • Longer length
  • Water resistant
  • Button closure

Cons

  • No UV protection

5: Columbia Palmerston Peak 11in Short (best for hot days)

Columbia Palmerston Peak 11in ShortPin
  • Materials: nylon

These Columbia Palmerston Peak shorts feature lightweight fabric that can help to keep you cool and comfortable on a hot day.

They can be ideal for a range of outdoor activities, including watersports and hiking. These are affordable shorts that come in a variety of neutral colors. They have a built-in mesh brief that may not be to everyone’s taste.

A good feature is the Omni-Shade UPF50 fabric. The 11-inch inseam is also a decent length to help protect the tops of your legs without being too long to be uncomfortable while seated.

They have a security pocket on the leg which can be beneficial for keeping your phone or other essentials. The position of the pocket is also more comfortable while you’re sitting in your kayak, especially if you have keys in your pocket.

Pros

  • Lightweight fabric
  • Side pocket
  • Omni-Shade UV protection

Cons

  • Interior mesh brief

6: Level Six Pro Guide 2.0 Lined Shorts (best for cooler weather)

  • Materials: nylon outer with 0.5 mm neoprene liner

For paddling in colder conditions these Level Six Pro Guide shorts can be ideal. They feature a durable nylon outer layer with added stretch for comfort. Plus they have the added benefit of a neoprene inner layer to provide warmth while paddling in colder weather.

They have an 8.5-inch inseam, allowing for a good range of motion while kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding.

You can store your phone, keys or chapstick in one of the two zippered side pockets.

To help secure the fit, there’s an integrated webbing belt. And the high-rise neoprene waist backing helps to provide comfort and warmth above the waistband. However, these may not be the best choice for larger men, as the largest size is to fit a 36-42-inch waist.  

Pros

  • Neoprene liner
  • Warm fabric
  • Side pockets

Cons

  • Not for large men

7: Hurley Boys’ H2O Dri Walk Shorts (best for kids)

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  • Materials: 68% nylon, 29% polyester, 3% elastane

These Hurley Dri Walk Shorts can be the perfect shorts for kids. They’re also great for other outdoor activities. However, they’re not as lightweight as swim shorts but they have quick drying stretch twill fabric.

These stylish shorts feature UPF 50 fabric, so they have a high level of sun protection. They also have dry-fit technology to keep your kids comfortable and dry. There’s a button closure and zipper fly with an adjustable waistband for a better fit.

While they’re technically made for boys, they have a classic chino style that may suit some girls. However, girls who prefer a shorter length may prefer these Roxy shorts (also with UPF 50 fabric).

Pros

  • UPF 50 fabric
  • Chino style
  • Quick drying

Cons

  • Not great for swimming

8: The North Face Class V Short (best for women)

The North Face Class V ShortPin
  • Materials: 69% recycled nylon, 26% nylon, 6% elastane, FlashDry treatment, non-PFC DWR finish

The North Face Class V shorts are designed specifically for paddling. They’re also made out of recycled nylon, so they’re more environmentally friendly than some other options. The material is quick-drying and cooling, with a water repellent coating and a UPF 50 rating for sun protection.

These are designed to be comfortable while you’re kayaking or canoeing, with added stretch for greater range of motion. They have a comfortable 4-inch inseam so they’re not too long or too short. They also have an elastic waist with a drawcord for a better fit.

The zippered back pockets mean you have a place to store smaller items when you’re out and about.

Pros

  • Recycled fabric
  • UV protection
  • Water-repellent material

Cons

  • Limited range of colors

9: Chubbies Hybrid Swim Gym Shorts (best for men)

  • Materials: 85% polyester, 15% Spandex

These Chubbies Hybrid Swim Gym Shorts are great for paddling and your daily workout, with moisture-wicking, quick-drying material. They’re made with a 4-way stretch fabric to allow for increased range of movement while kayaking or jogging.

The lightweight material is designed to offer comfort while moving both wet and dry, so they can be a versatile pair of shorts.

The 7-inch inseam can be a comfortable length for paddling, as they sit higher above the knee, making it easier to sit with your knees bent while either kayaking or canoeing. The elastic waistband also adds comfort and stretch and the drawcord can give you a secure fit.

However, the shorter length may also mean you need to reapply sunscreen more often while seated. There are two front pockets and a zippered pocket at the back.

Pros

  • 4-way stretch material
  • Quick-drying fabric
  • Comfortable length

Cons

  • Length may be a little short for some

10: Columbia Sandy River 5in Short (best value)

Columbia Sandy River 5in ShortPin
  • Materials: nylon Perfecta Plus II

These Columbia Sandy River shorts offer excellent value at a decent price. They’re made for women and come in a variety of bright colors.

They feature Perfecta Plus II nylon fabric which is designed to be lightweight and comfortable. It’s also very fast drying. The material has a UPF 30 rating so it can help provide added sun protection while you’re enjoying the water.

The 5-inch inseam can be an ideal length for paddling – short enough for range of movement but long enough to offer good skin coverage. However, the material is not as stretchy as some others.

They have an inner drawcord for a secure fit and there are two zippered pockets for cards or keys.

Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Comfortable length
  • UV-protective fabric

Cons

  • Not a lot of stretch

11: Columbia Men’s Backcast III Water Shorts (best budget)

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  • Materials: nylon

If you’re after an affordable pair of paddling shorts on a tight budget, these Columbia Backcast III shorts could be the ideal choice. They feature lightweight, quick-drying material that also has the added benefit of built-in sun protection (UPF50 rating).

The textured poplin nylon fabric has Omni-Shade technology with a tight weave construction to block UV rays. They feature a mesh brief inside and are swim-ready. They’re also ideal for kayak fishing, with two hand pockets, a zippered back pocket and a utility pocket, so you can keep essentials within easy reach.

These are designed to be comfortable and easy to wear, with a drawcord adjustable waist for a secure fit and belt loops. They also come in a range of colors and have extended sizing.

However, they’re pretty baggy and not the most stylish option.

Pros

  • Budget-friendly shorts
  • Ideal for kayak fishing
  • UV protective fabric

Cons

  • Not the coolest looking shorts

12: Nani Swimwear Hybrid Explorer Shorts

  • Materials: Polyester

The Nani Hybrid Explorer Shorts for women are made from quick-drying polyester so they can be a fantastic choice for kayaking or canoeing. Their hybrid design means they’re also ideal for a hiking trip.

They have an adjustable waistband with a buckle. They’re also lightweight and have a loose fit for added comfort and ease of movement.

They come in a range of sizes. But they are quite short and because of their relaxed fit design, you may find you need to apply more sunscreen to your legs, especially when you’re seated.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Great for hiking and paddling
  • Adjustable waist

Cons

  • Very short

13: Mossy Oak Men’s XTR Fishing Shorts

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  • Materials: 92% nylon, 8% Spandex

These Mossy Oak fishing shorts can be a great pair of shorts for kayak fishing or casual paddling. They feature breathable, quick-drying material to keep you comfortable and a double lined seat for added durability when you’re sitting in your kayak.

These are made for fishing, so they have plenty of pockets and attachment points for your fishing tools and accessories, including a right leg cargo pocket with hook and loop closure. There are also dual right leg pockets with convenient drain holes.

The elastic waistband keeps them comfortable and the button closure and zipper fly makes them feel more like your favorite shorts. However, the 7-inch inseam may be too short for taller guys.

Pros

  • Double-lined seat
  • Great for kayak fishing
  • Multiple pockets

Cons

  • Might feel too short for tall guys

14: Roxy To Dye For 2 Board Shorts

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  • Materials: 90% recycled polyester, 10% elastane

If you’d prefer a pair of kayaking shorts with a cuter style, these Roxy To Dye For 2-inch board shorts could be just right. They have a stylish 2-inch inseam which can feel more comfortable than some of the longer ones if you’re used to short shorts.

They feature environmentally-friendly recycled polyester made from plastic bottles. There’s also 4-way stretch for comfort and movement. The lace-up closure means you can secure them easily over your swimsuit.

They come in a range of colorful fabrics. But they don’t provide UV protection.

Pros

  • Stylish fit for women
  • 4-way stretch
  • Recycled material

Cons

  • No sun protection

15: The North Face Class V Pull-On Shorts

  • Materials: 68% recycled nylon, 26% nylon, 6% elastane

These Class V shorts from The North Face are made for paddling. The pull-on design means they’re easy to get on and off, with an encased elastic waistband and a drawcord for adjustability.

The stretch nylon (partially recycled) fabric features FlashDry technology which means moisture evaporates quickly to keep you dry and comfortable.

Another great feature of these paddling shorts is the PFC-free durable water repellent (DWR) finish that also helps to prevent stains.

The 7-inch inseam can make for a comfortable length for kayaking, canoeing and fishing. The shorts don’t have an inner lining, like a swim short, which can be beneficial to some and a downside to others.

They come in a range of bright colors, which may not be to everyone’s taste.

Pros

  • DWR finish
  • Adjustable drawcord waist
  • Fast drying

Cons

  • Colors/prints are pretty bold

16: Columbia Men’s Terminal Tackle Shorts

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  • Materials: 88% polyester, 12% elastane

These Columbia Terminal Tackle Shorts are designed specifically for anglers. This can make them the ideal choice for kayak fishing and recreational paddling.

They have excellent features to make your fishing trip easier, including a bottle opener and zip-up security pocket for your essentials.

They have a 10-inch inseam which can be a comfortable length for most paddlers. This can provide decent coverage when you’re sitting in your kayak, without being overly long.

They have Omni-Shade UPF50 protection to help protect you from the sun’s harmful rays. They feature Omni-Shield water repellency which helps to wick moisture away and keep you dry.

On a negative note, the sizing can be inconsistent, with some running small and some running large.

Pros

  • Great fishing features
  • UV protective fabric
  • Moisture-wicking

Cons

  • Sizing can be hit or miss

17: REI Co-op Sahara Amphib Shorts

  • Materials: 89% nylon, 11% polyester

These amphibious shorts from REI Co-op can be the perfect paddling shorts for summer weather. The UPF 50 fabric helps to keep your skin protected from the sun. And the ripstop nylon and polyester material is designed to dry fast and resist tears and snags – ideal for outdoor pursuits.

There are deep hand pockets and a secure back pocket. All pockets are mesh lined for drainage. You’ll also find a carabiner loop at the waistband so you can attach your keys or other items.

There’s a removable belt with buckle closure for a secure fit. And the fabric has a DWR coating to repel water and sweat. However, the belt may not give you as tight a fit as you want, as it can be a little loose.

Pros

  • Accessory attachment point
  • UPF 50 fabric
  • Tear-resistant

Cons

  • Belt isn’t the best

18: Palmyth Men’s Fishing Shorts

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  • Materials: nylon

If you’re looking to do a lot of kayak fishing, the Palmyth Fishing Shorts can be the shorts for the job. These ones have a ton of fishing features to suit even the most avid angler.

There are a total of seven pockets, with two dedicated lined pockets for tools such as pliers, knives and scissors (tools not included). This means you can keep your accessories within easy reach and keep your deck clear.

These durable shorts feature a crotch gusset for added comfort and increased range of motion. They also benefit from having a water repellent coating and are quick to dry.

The hidden elastic waistband helps to give you a more comfortable fit. But the sizes do run small. 

Pros

  • Lots of pockets
  • Tool storage
  • Made for fishing

Cons

  • Sizes run small

19: Carve Designs Bali Shorts

Carve Designs Bali ShortsPin
  • Materials: 51% recycled polyester, 37% polyester made from coconut, 12% Spandex

These Carve Designs Bali Shorts can be ideal for women paddlers. They have a fresh, casual look to them, with a board short styling. But they have the benefit of not having a built-in liner. So you can wear your own swimwear comfortably underneath.

They offer UV protection in the UPF50+ fabric, so you can be safer in the sun. They’re also made with sustainable fabrics to reduce the impact on the world’s oceans.

They have side pockets and a comfortable elastic waistband with adjustable drawcord. But they have no zippered pockets.

As a bonus, the fabric is also odor-resistant in addition to being quick-drying and breathable.

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • No built-in liner
  • Sustainable fabric

Cons

  • No secure pockets

Kayak And Canoe Shorts: Important Features

Fabric

Materials that are quick to dry can be best for paddling shorts. You’ll usually notice that most paddling shorts are made from synthetic materials, such as nylon and polyester, rather than natural ones. Synthetic fabrics will often dry much faster than cotton, for example.

Cotton should generally be avoided for kayaking, as it retains moisture.

Quick-drying, breathable fabrics can be ideal. Recycled fabrics can be even better as they’re more environmentally friendly.

Some good fabrics will include a durable water repellent coating, which can help water to roll off in beads rather than soak through. This can be ideal for paddling, as it can help you stay dry even if you do get splashed.

Other fabrics are designed to be suitable for swimming as well as quick drying.

Moisture-wicking materials can be beneficial in keeping moisture away from your skin, including sweat.

What should you wear when kayaking?

Pockets

Pockets can be a useful feature to have in a pair of paddling shorts as it can give you a place to stash chapstick or keys and keep them on your person.

If you plan to take a swim, a zippered pocket can be handy so that your belongings don’t also take a swim.

Most pockets on water shorts usually have a mesh lining, which can help with drainage so that you’re not sitting with a pocket full of water.

Some shorts may also have accessory attachment points that can be useful for securing keys or hand sanitizer.

Sun Protection

Many fabrics used in outdoor clothing often have some type of UV protection built in, especially if they’re made for use on or in the water. This is often referred to as UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor).

The higher the UPF rating, the more protection the clothing will provide. The higher the rating, the less UV radiation can penetrate the fabric.

UPF50+ is the highest rating and blocks 98 percent of the sun’s UV rays. So this can be a good feature to have on your paddling shorts, as it can give you an extra layer of sun protection alongside your sunscreen.

Don’t forget your sunscreen and remember to protect the rest of your body.

Length

The longer the short, the more protection you’ll have for your upper legs. However, shorter options can sometimes be more comfortable for sitting down, especially if you’re kayaking.

Shorts are generally measured by inseam but there are some that display an outseam length. The outseam length is the length of the entire shorts from the waistband to the hem.

A length that hits just above your knee can be a good option, as this can allow your knees to bend comfortably while you’re seated in a kayak or canoe. If you’re paddleboarding, length may not be as important for comfort.

The length you prefer will also likely depend on whether you’re a man or a woman, as women’s shorts generally tend to be cut shorter.

Remember the shorter the length, the more often you’ll probably need to apply the sunscreen.


In Short: Conclusion

Rounding up our top picks for the best kayak shorts, the winner is the Vuori Cruise Board Shorts because they’re made from sustainable materials, they’re comfy, lightweight, and have a pocket for your keys or cards.

Our runner-up choice is the Hurley Phantom short because of the classic, versatile look and they’re breathable, quick-dry material. They’re also a good length for paddling and are comfortable in warm weather.

When choosing the best kayaking shorts, think about comfort and sun protection. UPF-rated fabrics can be great but you should also wear sunscreen. Opt for quick-drying materials and a comfortable length.

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