Kayak Clothing

I am a beginner kayaker hoping to buy my first kayak in the spring. Can someone give me a clue as to what kind of clothes kayakers wear?

My husband gave me a wet suit for Christmas and I thought this was kind of overkill for someone who will not be in whitewater but rather on lakes and rivers.

I saw some tops at Campmor but I’m confused as to what people wear on their legs. Shorts or pants?


Are you talking about…
summer paddling, winter paddling, swimming weather paddling or cold weather paddling?

My wife and I are recreational paddlers and we wear the following:

If you are talking about summer when the water is warm and the air temperature is warm, my wife wears nylon or poly pro shorts and a short sleeve nylon or poly pro T shirt.

It is good to keep a light weight waterproof gortex jacket with you just in case you get into some cool rain

During the winter we both layer and on the coldest days wear long johns of lightweight polar fleece with a pair of lightweight waterproof gortex cycling pants over them. For tops we wear a poly pro either long sleeve or short sleeve lightweight jersey covered by a long sleeve polar fleece top covered by a water proof gortex jacket.

Depending on the temperature we put on and take off as required.

We both wear farmer john type wet suits on occasion in the summer if we are in a frigid temperature WW river such as the Nantahala.

Never wear cotton clothes. Even on a warm summer day, if you get wet and it turns cool you will get chilled to the bone.



It all depends on the temperature of
the water that you will paddling on. First Rule of Paddling: Always dress for the water, not the air.

There are about a gazillion posts on here about clothing. Try searching through the archives.

There are almost too many variables to consider to be able to prescribe “the right clothing.” Some general thoughts:

  1. wear a tight fitting, mosture-wicking base layer - keeps you dry and protects against chaffing.

  2. it needs to be comfortable

  3. breathable outer-layers are better (my opinion) than non-breathable ones.

  4. A good hat with a decent sized brim (one that affords some protection to the back of your neck) is a must.

  5. whatever you wear, always have a clothing change with you that is kept DRY.

  6. cotton is bad

    As a point of reference: I live and paddle in South Carolina. In the winter, I wear a wetsuit with a wind shell. For the majority of the year, I wear swim trunks, river socks, and a mysterioso top. I always wear gloves and a wide brimmed hat.

    Oh yeah - and a PFD.

Take a look at these…
These articles are in the paddling.net guidelines section…

Dressing for Success - The Four Seasons



Dressing for Cold Weather Paddling



Wate Temperature
and air temps count. You said Spring and you are up North so you will have to generally wear warmer duds than me. Nine months of the year I wear an old pair of cutoffs, a very light and loose long sleeve shirt, web and neo cheap boat shoes, and a Tilley. The other three months I wear layered fleece under and have seal skin waterproof socks, dry pants, and either a dry top or a spay top. I have water proof gloves and a fleece beenie.

Happy Paddling,


Check this out …


dry top vs spray top
Is a spray top good to go, or is it better to spend the extra money on a drytop? I’ve been looking around for a while, and the drytops are a bit more expensive.

Also, are the polypros supposed to be skin tight? I feel like a sausage when I try them on.


On the poly pro:
No, not tight. Go comfortable.

The poly pro is just for wicking.

On the “spray top” If you are talking about a waterproof jacket, that is what we wear.

We have dry tops, but they are too uncomfortble so we very seldom use them in the conditions and places where we are generally paddling.



Poly-pro fit
Certainly need to be comfortable. I have found that different brands sizes fit differently so there is some “fit” to be found just by trying different brands. Read the “Made of” label on the material. I have found that poly-pro is poly-pro is dry-wick. In fact, Wal Mart’s brand is every bit as effective as Under Armour’s and at one-fourth the price. Also, you can catch it on sale at the end of the seasons. The trade off is that the closer the fit, the better for chafe protection.

I use the combined
air and water temp to decide what to wear. 75 degrees or less full dry suit and neoprene cap plus layers of poly and fleece. 100 or less wewith poly pro cap. greater then 100 polypro top and bottom plus shorts. But in all conditions a spare change of clothing in a dry bag. Brands of poly all start out similar but the only brand that lasts for me is Patagonia. I have tryed most and after one season the others loose their ability to return to original size. To work they must be next to your skin. MHO.

Sometimes rules must be broken…
“Never wear cotton clothes.” That is a rule of thumb that I have to break.

I always wear silk or cotton next to my skin. Wearing nylon, polyester or wicking fabrics, besides feeling yucky to me, causes a heat rash in hot weather and dermatitis in cool or cold weather.

Buy cheap at thrift store. Carry a spare set of clothes in gallon jug in your boat and $20 in case you need to hire taxi. I have sectioned off a 2ft square box where top left is suntan lotion. Next is a section for shades. Knowing where your stuff is does save a lot of hassle. Stack boxes in garage to store stuff. I like golf hats with a brim that goes all round for better protection. Less apt to blow off.

What to wear?
Welcome to the addictive sport of paddling.

It’s good that you are concerned about what to wear as it could mean the difference between being comfortable or miserable and heaven forbid, possibly life or death. Also, be smart! ALWAYS wear your PDF when paddling. It’s difficult to put on when you’re in the water.

As with other sports, layering is important but be sure you don’t wear too many heavy layers that inable you be flexible when you move and should you capsize, you can’t get back in your boat.

What great suggestions everyone has given. You can tell many have come from personal experience. I’ll be taking a look at some myself.

Thanks everyone.

Michigan Nana

Spring is the "killer season"
Souns mellow dramatic but spring is known among kayakers as the “killer season”. Because of warm air and freezing waters new folks are lured out there not knowing that a 50 year old person will drown 50 per cent of the time in water only as cold as 50 degrees if they must swim more than 50 yards!

Do check out the sources above. It is a bit intimidating and can be costly, but with some respect will come both comfort and enjoyment.


I sometimes wear cotton in summer, too
Usually a ss button-up cotton shirt. Much cooler than a t-shirt. With water temperatures in the mid-high 80s, air temps in the 90s, and relative humidity in the 80s, there is no danger whatsoever of getting chilled on the Texas coast between June and September. I like supplex nylon for shorts, but don’t like it against my chest and back.

All kayakers are required to wear Tilley

can get by with ball caps.

Where is Grayak?