What to Wear Kayaking

One of the first rules of kayaking in any temperature is don’t wear cotton. Cotton takes 3 times as long to dry as a technical layer fabric does. Jeans or cotton tshirts are the last type of clothing that you should wear for your journey. Cotton clothing is also super heavy when it’s wet, which makes it harder to swim to safety. You’ll definitely want to dress for the water temperature and not the air temperature and here are some reasons why

Hear are some pointers on what to wear kayaking, following these general guidelines can help keep you out of harms way

Always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) when you are out on the water kayaking at all times.  This is rule number one and one of the most important steps you can take.   Your chances of survival in the water increase dramatically when you have a PFD on.   
Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature; this may mean wearing a wetsuit or dry suit depending on the combination of the air and water temperature
Dress in layers, especially on top.  There is common rule about kayaking that takes into account the combination of air and water temperatures.

It is called the 120 rule.   It’s a rule paddlers use to decide when it’s safe to paddle without wearing some form of immersion wear like a dry suit or wetsuit. Basically, you add the water and air temperatures together, and when the combined total is greater than 120° F, then it’s safe to paddle without immersion wear.

Dress for sun protection. Regardless of cloud cover, a day on the water is a day of magnified sun exposure. So wearing clothing with UPF fabrics is a smart choice (plus sunscreen for incident rays of  UV radiation).

Avoid cotton in all layers, because it absorbs water and stays wet; seek quick-drying fabrics instead. For any clothing layer that touches your skin, go with wicking, quick-drying nylon or polyester (or another synthetic fabric). 
Wear clothes that allow for greater range of motion and will be comfortable for long periods of sitting.

Abrasion resistant fabrics are more rugged and can stand up to the elements and encounters with sand, water and any rough materials of your kayak.
Avoid metals within zippers, fasteners and hardware that could rust Water, particularly salt water, corrodes many metals, so rugged plastics are a good alternative. 

 Dressing for Kayaking in Mild Conditions
a kayaker on the beach, getting ready to set out on the water on a warm day

Underwear: If paddling in warm conditions for shorter outings, many people choose to wear a swimsuit as a first layer. Just keep in mind the general guidelines above to make sure you’ll be comfortable for the duration of your trip. Otherwise, choose noncotton sports bras and underwear suitable for outdoor pursuits.

Tops: Rashguards, which are made of polyester or nylon blended with Lycra® spandex, are well-suited to paddling and other water sports because they’re quick drying, stretch well and have high UPF ratings to protect against damage from UV rays. Their formfitting design and flat-seam construction make them comfortable, too, when layered under other clothing or a wetsuit. Your favorite synthetic or wool base layer can work fine as well.

Water shirts: Most of these tops also offer UPF protection, but differ from rashguards by having a looser fit. If you don’t plan to swim in them, they’re a good option.

Bottoms: You can wear  comfortable and quick-to-drying items on your bottom half; board shorts or comfortable quick-dry pants are good options. Avoid those that bind or chafe. Superthin fabrics, like in some synthetic yoga pants, are not a great idea because they aren’t made to stand up to constantly shifting in your seat as you paddle.

Mid-layer: If conditions don’t require either a wetsuit or a dry suit, then bringing along a fleece jacket or other warm, synthetic mid layer makes sense.

Outer layer: If you expect any exposure to significant rain or wind, choose a quality waterproof/breathable jacket and rain pants. Paddling jackets are nice because they have gaskets at the wrists and neck to ensure the water stays out; they’re especially nice for keeping out the drips that run down your paddle shaft. If you’re going on a short outing and don’t expect significant rain, a breathable/water-resistant jacket can work just fine.

Footwear: Neoprene paddling booties are ideal because they’re lightweight, water-ready and protect toes and the bottoms of feet. Any footwear that does the same will work fine. Water sandals, though, will be less protective than booties and can collect gravel, sand and muck underfoot during put-ins and takeouts. Avoid anything without a back strap, like flip-flops, because they come off your feet too easily.

For colder conditions and where rain or wave splash are likely, you can also get waterproof socks or waterproof paddling booties. Another option is to wear thick noncotton socks inside your booties for added warmth.

Hats: Look for hats with wide brims or capes. Consider a cap leash, too, if you don’t have a chin strap or other reliable way to secure your hat. In cold conditions, you also need a beanie for warmth—it should fit snugly under or over your other hat.

Gloves: Paddling gloves are great because they protect against both blisters and blustery days. “Pogies” are another cool-day option: They fasten to the paddle and you slip your hands inside them to grip the shaft. Some people prefer them because pogies let their hands directly grip the paddle while also being shielded from the elements.

Glasses retainers: Few sights are sadder than a pricey pair of sunglasses sinking to the bottom of the river. Your retainer needs to float (check it at home) and always be attached. (It’s a good idea to bring a spare retainer, too.)

PFDs: There’s a reason kayak rental shops require you to wear a personal flotation device (PFD), even if you only plan to paddle close to shore. Those close-in waters are where most drowning accidents happen, but they rarely happen to a paddler wearing a PFD. Even cool water feels shocking when one capsizes—a PFD provides core body warmth and keeps you afloat without having to rely solely on swimming ability. So don’t journey out kayaking until you put on a properly secured PFD. For sizing and fitting advice (snugger is better