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Kayak Clothing and Kayaking Apparel - How to Dress for Kayaking

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Dressing for kayaking involves two main issues: comfort and safety. 

Getting it right will mean the difference between having a really good time vs. just enduring the cold until the end of the day. Kayak clothing is similar to any other outdoor clothing. You want to wear layers that can be added and removed throughout the day to adjust to the changing outdoor temperature.

The Kayak Clothing Layering System can be broken down into 2 simple parts:

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Base Insulation Layer Kayaking Clothing

This layer is worn right against your skin. Its function is to keep you dry and comfortable. By keeping your skin dry, it keeps you warmer. Many people refer to this as the wicking layer, because it moves the moisture away from your skin to the next layer. The thickness of this layer will vary depending on the water and air temperature.

Men's Base Insulation Layer

Women's Base Insulation Layer

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Outer Shell Layer Kayaking Apparel

The outer shell layer is worn over your base layer. This shell layer will help against both convection (the exchange of heat between the water/perspiration in contact with your body and the surrounding water) and conduction (the exchange of heat due to the direct contact of body and liquid). Simply put, this is the layer that keeps you dry!

Men's Kayak Outer Layer

Women's Kayak Outer Layer

base layering kayaking apparel clothing

Two Other Kayak Layering Options:

Neoprene Wetsuits
Neoprene Wetsuits are a cost effective alternative to the layering system listed above. A wetsuit is a neoprene garment that traps a thin layer of water between itself and your skin. Your body then heats up this layer which keeps you warm. A wetsuit is not outerwear, it is a base layer. Wearing anything under it compromises its ability to keep you warm. If needed, layer additional clothes on top of the wetsuit to increase warmth.

Wetsuit Advantages Vs. Disadvantages click here


Neoprene Layering
Recently, a wide variety of neoprene garments have been introduced that offer more flexibility than a wetsuit. For example, the NRS Hydroskin line of kayak clothing is available in mix-and-match tops and bottoms, both long- and short-sleeved. Paddlers can more easily adjust to the current weather conditions by selecting the appropriate combination of garments with the flexibility to be worn alone, or with an outer shell.

The Last Mile – Feet, Head, and Hands

Proper Footwear
Weather and condition appropriate footwear should always be worn when kayaking. Rocks, shells, sea life, and even glass have caused frequent injuries to unsuspecting kayakers because they weren't wearing proper footwear. Neoprene kayak booties are the preferred footwear for kayaking. Kayak booties come with a thick rubber sole to provide grip and protection. Booties come in high-top, over-the-ankle types and low-top, exposed-ankle types (see image). Over-the-ankle booties are much better at preventing water infiltration, and are therefore better at keeping you warm in cold water. For warmer water or weather, low-top booties provide protection for your sole and heel. Many kayakers add a layer of insulation with Neoprene socks as well.
Kayak Shoes/Booties          Neoprene Socks

Gloves & Pogies
Keeping your hands warm when kayaking is critical. Your hands are exposed to wind and spray, and often end up in the cold water.

To keep your hands warm you have two main options: neoprene pogies (left image) or gloves (right image). Neoprene gloves protect your fingers and also provide protection against blisters from your kayak paddle. Pogies don't hold heat quite as well but drain easily and allow direct contact between your hand and the paddle. They are simple to put on, too — simply attach them to your paddle shaft and then slip your hands in and out as needed. In the end, the choice between gloves and pogies is one of personal preference. Try them both and see which one works best for you.
Kayak Gloves          Kayak Pogies

Keeping Your Head Warm
Don't forget that most of your body heat is lost through your head! Keeping your head warm will make for a happy and comfortable day. Waterproof hats will keep your head warm and dry in rain or spray. For colder days, or for times when you know you will be immersed in cold water, a kayaking head heater is the way to go.
Kayak Hats          Kayak Head Heaters



For more information on kayaking, read our kayak articles:
Kayak Articles