Clothing advice for new kayakers

My wife & I just started kayaking last summer. We live in the Metro-Detroit, near the Huron River & many small inland lakes. At this time we are casual paddlers, generally on smooth water & a river with almost no current.

Since we only kayaked when it was warm last summer, we mostly wore sandals, shorts & a t-shirt. Now that spring is here we would like to get started again, but are unsure about what to wear. What do you wear when the air is 60 but the water is still pretty cold? We are not ready to invest in wet suits just yet, as where we kayak we can get out of the water quickly if we tip. Any suggestions?

Uhhh wetsuits.

water wear
hi …i suggest that a set of neoprene chest waders w/belt, in at least 3 mm thickness… and some sort of rubber or latex gasketed waterproof jacket with Fleece under it… is about as cheap as your gonna find. i think that combo would at least protect you long enuf to get to shore…hypothermia doesn’t take long to have effect on the muscles and cause them to stiffen up and lower body temp, plus the neoprene will help you float. i just got back from a Paddlefest here in NY, so far i’ve decided to get bib overalls by kotatat (Tropos whirlpool)and use it with a kotata jacket with latex gaskets , that i already have. Kotatat gore-tex bibs w/booties, will run ya about $550 according to Kotatat rep @ show. good luck

Re Wetsuits
If your water is as cold as ours, hypothermia isn’t the only cold-related menace to life you face on the water. Cold shock can kill or incapacitate very quickly indeed - just Google the term and you’ll understand. The wetsuits for us are a minimal line of defense - and don’t forget head protection also. Farmer John wetsuits can often be had for less than $50 - places like Costco have them seasonally - what’s your life worth?

casual paddler:
a paddler who hasn’t capsized in cold water yet

You can find wetsuits on sale for quite cheap, and they’ll last a lifetime. NRS has great wetsuits, and they usually sell last year’s model at a good discount.

Another alternative is hydroskin (shorts or pants, and then a long or short sleeved shirt). Hydroskin is like thinner, more comfortable wetsuit. It’s wonderful stuff (also usually on sale at NRS), and is a good compromise for the kind of paddling you’re doing. It’s comfortable, you can layer other clothes on top of it, but it will keep you alive while you get to shore if you’re paddling in cold water, close to shore. Whatever you do, don’t get in a kayak with chest waders on! They’ll fill up with water if you capsize and make it impossible to rescue yourself.

The NRS sale website is

They have a good information page at

Test it for yourself.

– Last Updated: May-19-08 8:51 AM EST –

If you can get out of the water easily, then you can wade in easily as well. Put on what you plan to wear and wade in to see what it feels like. Every person reacts differently, so what you can tolerate will likely be different than what your wife can tolerate.

Yesterday, when I was paddling, the air temp reached ~73F. The highest water temp we measured was 56F in a sheltered bay and in the lake proper it was 50F at the surface. Another paddler and I intentionally capsized to practice group rescues. I was wearing a drysuit with fleece layers underneath and was in the water 2-3 minutes. I would not have wanted to be in any longer than about 10 minutes. My (bare) hands were cold and stiff when I resumed paddling.

Wetsuits are inexpensive. Don't forget gloves and, as others have mentioned, protection for your head.

read this post…
Read this post:

Then find out what the water temperature is in your area.

Remember, if you capsize, it will likely take you a few minutes to decide to bail on the boat and swim. Then swim time to closest shore. Then time to find warmth.

If water is lower than 65-70, you definitely want some sort of additional protection. 3 mm farmer john wet suit, 3mm shorty wetsuit, dry top, etc.

Note, unless it is blazing hot and you want to be cooled off, always choose materials besides cotton. Polypro, etc. all dry quickly and provide some warmth even when wet.

I used to paddle the Urine River
When I was in Grad School I paddled the Huron quite a bit in Canoes. I think from this time of year on, you will be fine with just wearing nylon and keeping dry clothes in a water proof bag. In the fall you will want to check into wetsuits.

I fell through the ice cross country skiing over the Huron … now that was cold and I lived to tell about it.

No cotton clothing
If there is any chance of getting wet, whether from rain/snow, excess sweating, or capsizing, do not wear cotton clothing, period.

Cotton does not keep you warm when wet, and it becomes a soggy, heavy, stretched-out mess. It makes fantastic lounge-around wear for AFTER paddling (driving home), but don’t use it for paddling in.

There are lots of other options, from quick-drying woven synthetic shirts and shorts (for hot air and warm water temps), to various thicknesses and lengths of neoprene wetsuits, to drysuits with appropriate underlayers. But NO COTTON!

The simplest answer is…

– Last Updated: May-19-08 8:34 AM EST –

The most expensive yuppie gear possible.


wear what you want... if it is just a quick trip on the pond, I don't change my clothes just for it. Otherwise I wear light windbreaker type pants or ripstop BDU pants & a t-shirt &/or a "hoodie" (without the drawstrings ofcourse, you must think about the children...)

Depends ENTIRELY on the type of paddling you are doing...


Paddle easy,


From what you described
what I would wear would be a long sleeve poly pro T shirt, a nylon bathing suit and water shoes.

If there is a wind blowing that will bring that 60 degrees down in wind chill I would bring along a light weight spalash jacket, or a polar fleeze top.

If you can get out of the water quickly you should have no problems.

My wife and I practice assisted rescue and we can get each other back in our boats quickly in case of a mishap.

I was on a cold water lake this past weekend and that is what we wore.



Hey, Welcome To Paddling
Fellow Metro Detroiter Here.

Check these places for local shop support

Riverside Kayak Connection @

also check out RKC’s message board for local info/paddlers

or Kayak Corral @

I am out there all four seasons. A lot depends on your budget/time spent on cold water/long term paddling goals/etc.

I agree with above post re: no cotton - fast drying clothes like the performance hydrophobic poly shirts which are now plentiful and cheap. Nylon ‘running’ pants. etc.

Invest in mukluks and neoprene gloves, they are most definitely worth it!

For colder air/water I use a goretex suit with bib overalls and a parka. It is not sealed like a dry suit with neck and wrist gaskets so I find it more comfortable. I have capsized in 35 degree water on a 40 degree day. The goretex suit will act like a wetsuit by helping to heat the water trapped inside. Blocks out wind also. Some protection to allow you to get back to your vehicle and warm up.

O.K. for daytrips. Any extended trips when you are far from home requires more serious gear, of course. You can build upwards from there as needed.

A drybag with towel and dry clothes/shoes is also a must if you are far from your car.

Always in my hatch:

  1. dry bag to hold all items below
  2. ground tarp with space blanket backing (great 2 in one item)
  3. towel
  4. dry sneakers (any old pair will do)
  5. ‘warm up’ suit - jacket and pants
  6. t-shirt
  7. socks and underwear - you ain’t gettin’ dry and warm without these babies
  8. rain poncho
  9. waterproof matches
  10. camp cookset
  11. roll of toilet paper - great kindling - or for that “other” emergency

    Plan safe and have fun!

    See you out on the water,


Come to Florida!
See you soon.

chest waders?
I,d advise not wearing these in any boat.Not too long ago a man waded out into a lake to check the foot valve on his water line.He wore his waders with a belt to keep water out, but when he slipped the air in the bottom acted like a float and he never regained his footing.Maybe a pfd would balance things out.Just give it some thought.

me too…
I have had a hard time deciding what to wear since the water is warming up a little. I just bought my first kayak and decided to invest in a dry suit so I wouldn’t be limited in the spring and fall here in Wisconsin. And because I value my life.

I do a lot of outdoor activities and I NEVER wear cotton. In very warm to hot weather it is different but we usually don’t have too much of that where I currently play.

I have never used a wet suit before and am looking at purchasing one. What are the water temp ranges that most of you use a wet suit???

neoprene chest waders
are great if you’re never going to get in water over your head. If you capsize in chest waders, do not roll up, and you have layers on over the chest waders you may find you have a buoyancy problem. The chest waders will fill up, you will have a life jacket on top, a couple layers underneath that and a skirt. What if the water in your waders is enough to hold your head under even with the lifejacket on?

I would leave the waders at home. Buy a farmer john wetsuit and a drytop.

Wetsuit thicknesses vary
You can get really thin neoprene, like 1.5mm; I have a vest made of this stuff. 3/2mm and 4/3mm seem to be common combinations, but I’ve heard of 7mm wetsuits (probably horrible for paddling in).

I use a 2mm “shorty” (short-sleeved arms and legs) for water temps in the 60s and 70s, though I also sometimes wear it for water in the mid- and high-50s if the air is warm and conditions calm. But the full wetsuit (3/2mm) is better for water temps in the 50s. I will even use it for water temps in the 60s if I plan to practice much rolling.

Your mileage may vary. If you don’t roll or do something else to cool off, neoprene can get very hot when the air temp rises. Also, where I live the bright sunshine and altitude exaggerate the air temperature–feels like an enormous difference when a cloud passes over the sun even for just a few minutes. Black neoprene sucks up the sun’s heat.

What to wear
Dress for the water temperature, best bet. Never cotten, make sure your core is protected from the cold water in case you swim.