What To Wear Kayaking (Your Ultimate Guide)

Going kayaking is an exhilarating experience and wearing the right clothes can either make or break your day on the water. In this blog post, we’ll explore what to wear kayaking for the most enjoyable (and chafe-free) experience.

Comfort is key, so it’s important to select clothes and gear that will keep you as comfortable as possible (in warm weather and cold weather.) Breathable, quick-drying synthetic fabrics (like nylon, polyester or wool) are ideal for preventing moisture absorption. Avoid cotton at all costs as it absorbs water and takes forever to dry.

Dressing in layers is always recommended as you can always remove layers if you don’t need them. If you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick list of what to wear kayaking:

  1. PFD (personal flotation device)– always wear a PFD when in the water as it could save your life in a sticky situation.
  2. Base Layer– a bathing suit is the most obvious choice and works great here.
  3. Tops and bottoms– choose thin layers made of synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon (avoid cotton at all costs.)
  4. Middle Layers– like a wetsuit or drysuit (when weather conditions call for one) or a warm synthetic layer such as a fleece jacket.
  5. Outer Layers– like wind and waterproof jackets and pants (if it’s calling for rain) or a breathable water-resistant jacket if not.
  6. Footwear– neoprene water boots and shoes are best as they will stay on your feet, provide traction and keep your feet warm when paddling.
  7. Hat– choose something with a wide brim and have a way to secure it in case it blows off. In colder weather choose a beanie made of synthetic fibres to keep your head warm.
  8. Paddling Gloves– gloves are nice as they will protect your hands from the elements (and blisters.) “Pogies” are another option.

A Closer Look at What To Wear Kayaking

PFD (aka Personal Flotation Device)

Wearing a life jacket while kayaking is essential for safety. It will provide extra buoyancy in the event of an emergency and help keep you afloat if you fall overboard.

In addition, some PFDs come with pockets for storing items such as sun protection or snacks, which are nice to have within close reach. Wearing a PFD is mandatory in many places, so it’s important to check local regulations before setting out on the water.

With a good-fitting PFD, kayakers can stay safe and enjoy their time on the water knowing they are prepared for whatever might come their way.

PFD personal flotation device
Photo from: REI

Best Base Layer For Kayaking

Many people choose to wear a swimsuit as their first layer. Non-cotton sports bras and moisture-wicking/quick-drying underwear (without scratchy tags or seams) are also good options.

swimsuit for kayaking
Photo from: REI

Most Comfortable Tops and Bottoms

Best Tops For Kayaking

Rashguards made with synthetic fibres are a great choice for this top layer. They are quick-drying and generally have a high UPF rating to protect you from harmful UV rays.

Water shirts are also an option as they will also provide necessary protection from the sun but tend to be a bit looser fitting than rashguards (if you like things a little more loosey-goosey!)

kayaking rashguard
Photo from: REI

Best Bottoms For Kayaking

Wear something that is comfortable and quick-drying on the bottom (like board shorts or quick-drying pants.)

We shift around a lot when paddling so you want to wear something that can stand up to that friction without causing any unnecessary discomfort.

Avoid thin layers (like some yoga pants) that can wear easily and bottoms with snaps, buttons or zippers that can potentially cause irritation (and rust in saltwater conditions.)

hydroskin shorts for kayaking
Photo from: REI

Middle Layers (For All Conditions)

The mid layer may include either a wet or dry suit (more details about which is your best option below.)

Wetsuits (aka Wet Suits)

Wetsuits are best used in conditions where the water temperature is potentially cold enough to drop your body temperature by dangerous amounts, but the air temperature is warm enough that it would make wearing a dry suit very uncomfortably hot.

An example of this would be kayaking on a large lake (or sea kayaking) on a hot summer day. The water temperature could still be very cold, even though the air temperature is very hot (making for a potentially dangerous situation if you were to fall in.)

A wetsuit will keep you protected from these temperature fluctuations by allowing a thin layer of water between it and your skin (which heats to normal body temperature) and is comfortable enough to wear in the heat.

Photo from: REI

Drysuits (aka Dry Suits)

A dry suit is designed to keep you completely dry in cold water (go figure!) The most common types have gaskets and built-in boots to help keep the entire suit sealed and watertight. They are typically worn in extreme cold and winter kayaking situations.

Warm clothing must be worn underneath a dry suit (unlike a wetsuit) to keep your body temperature stable. Drysuits are typically worn when cold water temperatures are present and the temperature regularly drops below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

drysuit for kayaking
Photo from: REI

Outer Layer (Your Final Layer Of Protection)

If you’re expecting wind or rain, an additional outer layer can be worn such as a breathable rain suit (jacket and pants) or a paddling jacket.

Some paddling jackets can attach to the spray skirt of your kayak and prevent water from entering the cockpit of your kayak (keeping your even more comfortable and dry.)

If you’re not expecting any rain, a breathable and wind-proof jacket can be a good option.

paddling jacket
Photo from: REI

Footwear To Keep Your Feet Warm And Dry

Neoprene paddling booties and waterproof socks are great additions to any kayaking wardrobe, offering protection and comfort in wet conditions.

Booties help protect feet from sharp rocks, sticks and other debris while wading out on a river or lake. Waterproof socks will also provide another layer of warmth in colder conditions.

Avoid flip-flops (as they can easily fall off) and full-on running shoes (as they will be VERY uncomfortable if they get wet) when you are kayaking. Sandals with straps are okay but just remember that they will not keep your feet warm.

paddling booties
Photo from: REI

Hats And Head Protection

A wide-brimmed hat or hat with a cape will help protect your face and neck from sun exposure. It is also a good idea to get a hat with a chin strap or cap leash (so you don’t lose it if the wind decides to pick up.)

In colder weather, it is a good idea to keep your head warm with a beanie made of synthetic fibres.

And, depending on what type of kayaking you do, a helmet is recommended to keep your head protected.

sun hat for kayaking
Photo from: REI


Both paddling gloves and “Pogies” are great additions to any kayaker’s wardrobe. These gloves are designed to provide a secure grip on the paddle, prevent blisters and keep hands warm and dry, which is especially important for longer trips or colder climates.

“Pogies” are thick neoprene attachments for paddles that allow the paddler to grip the kayak with their bare hands while having them fully covered and protected from the elements. Some kayakers prefer Pogies as they can quickly remove their hands from them and their fingers aren’t separated (as they are in gloves.)

paddling gloves
Photo from: REI

In Conclusion

When selecting what to wear kayaking, the most important thing you need to consider is comfort. The goal is to stay warm (in cold weather), or cool (in warm weather) and dry, no matter what the weather conditions. Always check the weather forecast before heading out!

For cold water, wet or dry suits are often recommended. If air and water temperatures call for it, you may want to skip these suits and opt for kayak-friendly clothing such as lightweight long-sleeved shirts and pants that are specifically designed to be quick-drying and comfortable.

In addition to what to wear, you’ll also need to think about what gear and accessories you may need. You should also consider bringing along a waterproof dry bag that can hold important items such as extra clothes, snacks, sunscreen, and emergency supplies.

Now that you know what to wear kayaking and what essential gear you should bring along with you, all that’s left is for you to get out there and have an amazing kayaking or canoeing adventure!

Happy kayaking!