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What To Wear When Kayaking And Canoeing – Summer & Winter Clothing Tips

Nicola Burridge
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Embarking on an adventure and wondering what to wear kayaking? 

Choosing the right attire can make all the difference between a memorable voyage and a soggy misadventure. 

In this guide, we’ll unravel the secrets to staying comfortable, dry, and stylish on the water. Dive in and discover your perfect kayaking ensemble!

What To Wear When Kayaking

Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

A personal flotation device, or PFD, is an essential piece of kayaking equipment for safety in all conditions. A PFD should be worn at all times while you’re kayaking so that it can save your life in an emergency.

Here are some of the best life jackets for kayaking.

I always recommend that you wear your life jacket no matter where you’re kayaking. Emergencies can happen fast and you may not have time to locate your life jacket, let alone put it on, if you capsize without wearing it.

Your PFD should fit you snugly and it should be comfortable to wear. Each person on your kayak requires their own PFD by law. 

Find out more about how to choose a life jacket

Waterproof Jacket

A waterproof jacket is an essential item for any outdoor activity. For kayaking, it can be even more important to wear a rain jacket as your outer layer to protect against spray and splashes from your paddle. 

A lightweight waterproof jacket can be easy to stow on deck using bungees. You can also keep it safe in a dry bag until you need it.

A paddling jacket or dry top can often be more comfortable than a typical waterproof jacket, as this is made specifically for paddling. 

Unlike a rain jacket, a paddling jacket tends to be put on over your head like a T-shirt. Many of them are similar to a dry suit but without pants. This means that you’ll often find gaskets at the neck and cuffs of paddling jackets to help keep water out.

> Kayaking in the rain

Some waterproof paddling jackets come with hoods attached but most don’t have a hood. 

Check out some of the best dry tops for kayaking here.

Rash Guard

Rash guards are usually designed to be tight-fitting for freedom of movement. This design also allows you to fit other layers and clothing on top. 

For example, rash guards can be ideal for wearing under wetsuits, as it means your skin is not directly next to the neoprene of the wetsuit. It also makes getting the wetsuit on and off a little easier. If you’ve ever tried to remove a wet suit from your wet skin, you’ll understand the difficulty. 

Many rash guards have added sun protection, such as UPF 50 fabric, which helps to stop the sun’s rays from reaching your skin.

Here are some of the best rash guards.

Water Shoes

The type of water shoes you’ll need for kayaking will probably depend on the type of kayaking you plan to do as well as on the weather and water conditions. 

Water shoes are generally not waterproof: they’re water-friendly. This means your feet will usually get wet. 

Water sandals can be ideal for warm-weather adventures. Water shoes that have more of a hiking shoe design can be great for kayak camping adventures and other kayaking trips where you might need to hike or portage. 

Water booties fit more like a sock and can be excellent kayak shoes if you’re in a sit-inside kayak. However, water booties don’t tend to offer much support so I don’t recommend walking too far in neoprene booties. 

Check out some of the best water shoes for kayaking.


A wetsuit can be a good idea for most types of kayaking, as wetsuits come in a range of thicknesses to suit the air and water temperature. The thicker the suit, the more insulation it will have and the warmer you’ll be.

Wetsuits also come in a range of styles, including shorties, full wetsuits, and two-piece options. 

Remember, a wetsuit won’t keep you dry. They’re designed to let a thin layer of water into the suit. This layer of water is warmed by your body heat and acts as a thermal insulator to keep you warm, even though it feels cold when you first come into contact with the water.

Check out some of these top-rated wetsuits for kayaking.

Dry Suit

Three kayakers wearing dry suitsPin

Dry suits can be particularly ideal for kayaking in cold conditions, as these suits are designed to keep the water out so that you stay dry. 

Dry suits are typically worn as the outer layer of your kayaking clothing. This means for paddling in cold weather you’ll usually need to wear base layers underneath to maintain your body temperature. 

A base layer and a mid-layer will typically be required under most dry suits as they are generally not thermally insulated on their own. 

Dry suits feature gaskets at the neck and cuffs to stop water from getting inside the suit. The suits are loose, unlike wetsuits, to allow you to fit your layered clothing underneath.

Here are some of the best kayaking dry suits

Paddling Pants

Paddling pants are essentially like the bottom half of a dry suit. This means your legs will stay completely dry. You wear them over your existing pants so that you have a waterproof outer layer. 

Spray Skirt

If you’re kayaking in cold conditions in a sit-inside kayak, a spray skirt can be an essential item for keeping water out of your cockpit. 

Spray skirts are worn around your waist and then connected to the rim of your cockpit, creating a seal. These are mostly used for sea kayaking and whitewater kayaking, where rough conditions are more likely.

A spray skirt will also allow you to perform a kayak roll without getting water into your cockpit.

Check out some of the best kayak spray skirts here.

Paddling Gloves

Paddling gloves come with two main benefits. Firstly, you can protect your hands and fingers from blisters and calluses with a good pair of kayaking gloves. Secondly, paddling gloves can protect your hands from the elements, whether it’s cold or sunny. 

There are two different types of kayaking gloves: full-finger and fingerless. 

Check out the best kayaking gloves here.

Both can help to improve your grip on the paddle while providing blister protection during long kayaking trips. 

Waterproof Socks

A good pair of waterproof socks can be ideal for any kayaking trip unless you are planning to do warm-weather kayaking only. 

Waterproof socks are designed to keep your feet warm and dry, helping to prevent hypothermia in extreme conditions and helping to minimize blisters from friction inside your shoes. 

They’re made with multiple layers of fabric, with a waterproof membrane that prevents water from getting through.

Some waterproof socks are breathable but they typically don’t offer as much breathability as wool socks, for example. 

For added breathability, you could always wear wool socks underneath. This may also improve the thermal insulation, keeping you warmer for cold weather paddling.


Whether you opt for a warm winter hat, a rain hat, or a lightweight sun hat will depend on the weather conditions. 

The main consideration when choosing a kayaking hat is to make sure it can stay on your head without being blown off in the wind. 

Remember, you’ll need both of your hands to paddle, so you don’t want to have to grab your hat when a gust of wind tries to take it.


Polarized sunglasses can be a great accessory to wear kayaking at all times of the year. Even in winter, bright sunlight can affect your vision. A pair of polarized sunglasses can prevent glare reflected from the water, making it easier for you to see the route ahead. 

Sunglasses can help to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Ultraviolet light from the sun can damage your eyes just as it can damage your skin, so it’s important to protect your eyes whenever possible. 


It’s important to wear sunscreen when you’re participating in outdoor activities between spring and fall. 

In some climates, you may need to think about sun protection during every season. The UV level in Florida in the winter, for example, is still enough to give you sunburn if you don’t wear sunscreen.

I recommend wearing at least SPF30 while kayaking. Remember to apply the sunscreen to all exposed skin. Don’t forget about your ears and lips. 

I find it useful to keep a small amount of sunscreen on deck where you can easily reach it while you’re on the water. 

Kayaking Helmet

If you plan to venture into sea caves or take on a challenging whitewater river, a kayak helmet can be necessary for safety. 

In rough waters, you can be more likely to capsize. A helmet can help to prevent head injuries in turbulent waters where there could be hazardous rocks and hard surfaces.

Check out some of the best kayak helmets for whitewater kayaking.

What To Wear When Kayaking In Hot Summer Conditions

Kayaking Family Wearing Sun Protection Pin

Avoid Cotton

While cotton can be a great material for breathability in warm weather, it’s not so good when it’s wet. Cotton holds water, which can make it heavy and uncomfortable to wear. This also means it will take a long time to dry. 

Instead of wearing cotton, you should opt for synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and nylon. These tend to be quick-drying fabrics that don’t absorb a lot of water when they’re wet. 

Sportswear, such as yoga pants and running shirts can be ideal clothing to wear kayaking in the summer, especially in mild to warm weather. Sportswear tends to be made from moisture-wicking, quick-drying materials that are ideal for a kayak trip.

In very hot weather, you might want to opt for swimwear, such as board shorts if you want to be able to jump off to swim now and again. 

Use Sun Protection

Sun protection is very important when you’re kayaking in hot weather. When you’re out on the water, there is often very little shade. This means you need to think about providing your own shade.

Hats and sunglasses can be great for shielding your face and eyes. A hat can also help to prevent sunburn on your scalp.

Make sure your hat has good ventilation so that you can avoid overheating. It’s also a good idea to take plenty of rest stops to seek shade and cool down to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke. 

Loose-fitting clothing with long sleeves can be more beneficial in protecting against sunburn than a close-fitting short-sleeved t-shirt. 

Light colors tend not to absorb as much heat as dark colors. For example, white shirts reflect the sun which can help keep you cooler than a black or dark blue shirt.

Remember to cover all exposed skin with sunscreen to avoid sunburn. 

Check The Water Temperature

Even though the weather above the surface might be hot, the conditions below the surface may be very different. This is why you should always check the water temperature before you head out kayaking. 

The air temperature can be significantly higher than the water temperature. This means you should dress for the water temperature so that you’re prepared should you capsize. 

Wetsuits can be useful for these conditions as you can choose the correct thickness of neoprene for the combined air and water temperatures. 

What To Wear When Kayaking In Cold Winter Conditions

Layer Up

I recommend wearing layers for kayaking in winter. Layers keep you warm as they can help to maintain your core body temperature.

It can be a good idea to wear a thermal base layer as your first layer as this can provide additional insulation for winter kayaking. 

You can wear a thermal base layer under a winter wetsuit and you can add extra layers on top in extreme cold conditions. 

If you opt to wear a dry suit, you will need to wear a thermal base layer and an insulating mid-layer to provide enough warmth to keep you comfortable in cooler weather.

Remember, synthetic materials in your insulating layer will generally perform better when wet. Down, for example, tends to lose its thermal qualities when wet. 

Merino wool, on the other hand, is a natural fiber that maintains its thermal properties when wet, making it a good base layer fabric for a kayaking adventure in cold water.

Dress For Both The Air Temperature And Water Temperature

For kayaking in cold weather you’ll need to take into account the air temperature as well as the temperature of the water. 

Cold water shock can happen quickly if you capsize your kayak in cold water. This can cause drowning even for people who are considered to be good swimmers. 

Whether you opt to wear either a wetsuit or drysuit, you should always wear a life jacket as your final layer to prevent drowning.

Hats and kayaking gloves can also help to keep you warm and comfortable during cold-weather kayaking trips.

Types Of Kayaking And What To Wear

Recreational Kayaking

Recreational kayaking generally involves flatwater conditions. This means there is typically less chance of your kayak capsizing. 

However, the risk of capsizing is not zero, so you should always think about the water temperature when you decide what to wear kayaking. 

As well as your PFD, you should wear clothes to suit the conditions. 

If you plan to use a sit-on-top kayak, you will probably get wet. A dry suit or a paddling jacket with waterproof pants are good options for keeping you completely dry. 

If the air and water temperatures are warm then you might opt for swimwear, a wetsuit, or lightweight layers made with abrasion-resistant fabrics, such as sportswear. 

Remember to wear a pair of paddling shoes and avoid flip-flops. Flip-flops will usually come off your feet if you have to swim. 

Don’t forget the waterproof jackets!

Whitewater Kayaking

Rafting enthusiast tackling white waters.Pin

If you’re whitewater kayaking, you will get wet. There’s also a higher risk of capsizing in rapids compared to flatwater, so you should always wear a PFD to keep yourself afloat in an emergency and a helmet to protect you from serious head injuries. 

As well as dressing for the air temperatures, the water temperatures can be more important for whitewater kayaking. A dry suit can often be your best choice as this can keep you fully dry. 

You should also wear a spray skirt to seal your cockpit and allow you to roll your kayak safely and efficiently. 

Kayak Fishing

The same considerations should be taken for kayak fishing as for recreational fishing, as these two types of kayaking tend to be in similar conditions. 

Stick to the principles of layering and take into account the weather forecast for your paddling trip. The water and air temperatures will play a role in what you should wear, particularly if you plan to fish in cold water or particularly cold conditions. 

Life jackets should also always be worn on top of your kayak clothing.

Fingerless gloves can be useful for fishing, as they can keep your hands warm but also allow for the movement of your fingers for dealing with your catch and organizing tackle.

Find out more about kayak fishing gear.

Sea Kayaking

For sea kayaking, you should opt for a suitable wetsuit or dry suit, as well as a spray skirt to seal the cockpit of your kayak. 

You will usually experience cold water during a sea kayaking trip, so you should dress for cold conditions, even if the air temperature is warm.

You may require a helmet if your paddling trip takes you alongside cliffs or into caves. 

Again, life jackets should always be worn while kayaking on ocean waters. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Dressing For Kayaking

What To Wear Kayaking In Fall

You should dress for paddling in colder water and cooler air temperatures, with waterproof jackets and quick-drying base layers. 

What To Wear Kayaking In Spring

Spring can sometimes have colder water than you might expect, so wear base layers and waterproof outer layers to protect from the cold.

Lightweight water shoes might be sufficient if the air temperature is warm.

What Shoes Should I Wear When Kayaking?

A good pair of kayak shoes can help to provide grip on wet surfaces as well as protect your feet on rocks and slippery docks. They’re also quick-drying for comfort. 

If you’re paddling in salt water, make sure you rinse the shoes after your trip. 

How To Dress For A Kayaking Tour

If you’ll be kayaking in cold water conditions, you might want to think about wearing a dry suit with thermal base layers to keep you fully protected.

In warm water conditions, a wetsuit or yoga pants and quick-drying sportswear can be ideal. 

If you’re on a multi-day tour, a wetsuit might not be the best option because they can take a long time to dry and you don’t want to put on a wet wetsuit the next day.

Remember to have spare clothing in a dry bag.

Can You Wear Normal Clothes Kayaking?

Technically, you can wear normal clothes but you might not be comfortable.

Many fabrics don’t perform well when they’re wet, which is why you want to avoid cotton and denim for kayaking. 

These materials become heavy and uncomfortable when wet, which can make you cold.

They can also make swimming difficult in an emergency.

How To Dress When Kayaking Or Canoeing - PinterestPin

8 thoughts on “What To Wear When Kayaking And Canoeing – Summer & Winter Clothing Tips”

  1. I really like how you talk about what to properly wear and how to gear up for a canoeing trip. That is something that I have been preparing to do for a while now. It would be great if I could find some awesome whitewater rapids or a lake nearby that works well for canoes so that my wife and I can rent a canoe and take it out this summer.

  2. Travelling to the seashore you need to have special shoes for kayaking not to hurt your feet. But when you are in a hurry you don’t have time for browsing it in different shops. Use the privileges of living in the 21st century and buy online here and you will save your time and forces!

  3. I have been kayak fishing for 8 years now and can’t seem to find a sandal that won’t give me a rash were they contact my feet. I have had a few brands like Teva and Keen. Not cheap sandals but all give me the same result. I have never has a rash wearing any other shoes. Any suggestions?


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