Choosing the right clothing for kayaking is tough. What should I wear Kayaking?

When you are ready to head out with a kayak or canoe, how you dress depends on a number of different factors: is the weather warm or cool, is the water calm or choppy and how likely is it that you will capsize.
On a warm summer day, paddling across a calm lake, minimal layers will do the trick. Rain gear on top will help keep you dry and an insulating layer underneath can help keep you warm, if you need it. But in late fall and during the winter months, when there’s a good chance you might end up in cold water, you need to be prepared for taking an icy swim.


Wetsuits use the insulating warmth of water to help keep the cold at bay. While it may seem like these neoprene outfits sit directly on your skin, they allow a very small amount of water to slip between you and the suit. Your body heat then warms that water and it serves as insulation against the water outside the suit.

Since one of the ways that cold-water paddling can leave you freezing is through evaporative cooling – the cooling that occurs when the air evaporates water next to the skin – the neoprene helps seal the water in close to your skin. No evaporation means that even after you get out of the water, the wetsuit can help you stay warmer.
Choosing the right wetsuit for your cold-water paddling depends on personal preference and the activity level expected. For moderate weather paddling, Farmer Johns and Farmer Janes are commonly worn. This sleeveless suit will full-length pants might leave you with a farmer’s tan, but many paddlers like it because it allows you to keep your upper body cooler. Other options include full-length suits, short-sleeve suits and separate jackets and pants.

The thickness of the wetsuit is also a factor in its use and warmth and protection it provides. Bulkier wetsuits are used primarily by divers while kayakers usually stick with neoprene suits, usually at 2mm or 3mm thicknesses. The thicker suits provide more insulation against cold water, but can hamper movement.
Others who are less concerned they will be taking a swim in cold water opt for polyurethane-coated fleece. This fuzzy material looks a bit like neoprene and offers warmth, elasticity, and a barrier against wind. Like neoprene wetsuits, these garments allow water in next to the skin to warm up, but block evaporation and cooling from the wind. Without the insulating warmth of the neoprene, these outfits are best for splash dampness not total submersion.


While a wetsuit relies on your body heating the water captured next to it to help keep you warm, a drysuit focuses on keeping you dry. No matter where the water comes from, drysuits are the best when it comes to keeping you protected from the elements. Drysuits are commonly made using a nylon material that is then waterproofed using Gore-Tex. They are designed to keep any water from reaching your skin. Even if you capsize and spend time swimming, the latex gaskets and roll-up closers of the one piece suit keep the water off you.

Drysuits offer no insulation against the cold, so they are usually worn with insulating underwear or fleece liners designed to protect you from the frigid temperatures of the water or the weather.
The hardest time for choosing proper clothing for your kayaking trip is when the weather has recently warmed, but hasn’t been warm long enough to warm the various bodies of water.

Breathable Gore-Tex is the best option in these cases. The fabric allows you to remain cooler while you are kayaking and yet protects you from the frigid water if you are splashed or capsize.

Dry Tops

Dry tops are made much like dry suits in that they include waterproof gaskets to prevent water from coming into contact with your skin, however, these suits only cover your upper body. The waistband is double layered and attached to your spray skirt. Most often, dry tops are paired with Farmer John wetsuits or dry bibs.

Insulation and Liners

Underneath your wetsuit or drysuit, you may need another layer of insulation when things get very cold. Polartec® Power Stretch® fleece are a great choice and are designed fit perfectly under any protective clothing or worn separately. The fabric is abrasion-resistant to be soft next to your skin and breathable so that you don’t get too hot.

Additional Protection

Additional accessories are available to make your paddling experience more comfortable in not so comfortable temperatures.  Gloves, mitts and pogies are available to keep your hands warm.  Pogies are a hand covering that attaches directly to your paddle, allowing you to remain in direct contact with the shaft.  Head warmers and hoods are also available to prevent heat from escaping and to keep you toasty warm.

Sign up for our awesome Newsletter!

Email Address