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Look The Part and Dress For Comfort With Our Kayak Clothing & Apparel!
When shopping for kayak clothing, the first key to success is to dress for the water. Yes, you want to look the part - but staying safe and comfortable always comes first.
Nothing cramps your style worse than chafing, hypothermia, or heat stroke. Fortunately, a wide range of ergonomic, breathable kayak apparel has been designed specifically to keep you comfortable whether you’re running waterfalls in cold whitewater or sea kayaking on a hot summer day.
How Do You Choose The Right Kayak Clothing?
For example, if you’re paddling frigid whitewater in balmy weather, you still need to wear a dry suit, regardless of air temp. But don’t fret, you won’t get too hot. The top brands (which we carry here at OutdoorPlay) incorporate heat-reflecting materials into their layering, shirts, pants, and outerwear to help keep your body temperature regulated in varying weather conditions.
The second key to protecting yourself from the elements both on and off the water is layering. A combination of thin and thick layers can provide more heat retention than one thick layer while allowing you to remove one if you begin to overheat.
We know picking the right kayaking apparel can be confusing so we’ve put together a quick guide below, along with a gear glossary.
Note: regardless of all weather and water variables, however, the absolute most important piece of kayak clothing is the PFD, Personal Floatation Device. Seriously, NEVER leave shore without it. Call us if you have any questions. We’re happy to help.
Breaking Down The Different Types Of Kayak Apparel
There are so many different types of kayak apparel, and all these different types work best in different situations. If you’re new to kayaking, choosing the right apparel can get pretty complicated.
Don’t stress, though - we’re here to make this shopping trip as easy as possible! We’re going to break down the different types of kayak clothing and explain when you should use each type.
Kayak Clothing for Cold Water
Since water sucks heat away from your body 25 times faster than air, taking a big swim in cold water unprotected can be fatal. Fortunately, with the right kayak clothing, you can stay warm and completely dry - no matter how rough the waters are!
The safest and most comfortable choice in cold water is to wear a drysuit, because, as the name suggests, you’ll stay completely dry. With latex neck and wrist gaskets, these full coverage paddling suits block all water entry, but you’ll need insulating layers beneath to stay warm.
Start with a thin base layer-- a long sleeve top and pant combo, or a full-length dry suit liner-- to wick sweat away from your skin. These can be made out of natural fiber like merino wool or silk, or synthetics like nylon, polyester, or polypropylene. Next, choose a thicker thermal layer, again covering the whole body, with perhaps fleece or pile. Keep layering as needed to accommodate air temps and reach your preferred “toasty” level.
While not as waterproof as a full dry suit, if you’re not comfortable in a one-piece you can still stay mostly dry with a separate drytop and drypant combo. In the event of swimming, however, water could leak in through the bottom of the jacket and top of kayak pants. Again, layer accordingly beneath.
Avoid wearing your favorite cotton Outdoorplay t-shirt, even if it is your magic paddling weapon. It may be cozy when dry, but cotton absorbs water, dries slowly, and chills you when wet.
The Importance Of Dressing Properly For Cold Weather Kayaking
Sudden immersion into cold water can cause “cold shock drowning” by making you gasp and hyperventilate, quickly sucking in water.
It also causes loss of muscle mobility and brain function, making it harder to self-rescue. Even if you don’t gasp and you manage to make it to shore, long-term immersion can still lead to hypothermia, and could cause a potentially fatal drop in body temperature.
So, if there is even a question of whether the water is too cold, or if you chill easily and prefer to stay dry, wear a dry suit.
Kayak Clothing for Cool Water
- Drysuit with Light-Weight Base Layers
- Paddling Wetsuit with Paddling Jacket
- Kayak Drytop and Pant Combo with Base Layers and Pants
- Kayak Shoes and Gloves
In cool water, you also have the choice to wear a full kayak wetsuit or a layered combination of neoprene tops and bottoms.
A paddling 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, so wearing anything under it besides a rash guard compromises its ability to keep you warm. Also, since mobility is key for paddling performance, most kayakers choose not to exceed neoprene thickness of 2-3mm.
If one piece suits aren’t for you, don’t worry. 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, both long- and short-sleeved, and pants, full-length and shorts. 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.
Lastly, if kayaking on calm but cool flatwater with warmer air temps, you can also choose to wear a paddling jacket and paddling pants with base layers beneath. Again, start with a thin base layer to wick moisture from your skin and then continue with thicker layers to desired level of warmth. While paddling jackets and paddling pants are both wind and waterproof, they are not designed to completely bar water entry if you swim.
Kayak Clothing for Warm Water
- Shorty or Farmer John Wetsuit, or Neoprene Layers (with Paddling Jacket)
- Light-Weight Base Layers with Paddling Jacket and Paddling Pant or Kayak Shorts Combo
- Rash-Guard and Shorts (with Short-Sleeve Paddling Jacket)
- Kayaking Footwear or Neoprene Socks
It’s harder to go wrong when the weather is right. Warm water means less clothing but more options! Here are some ideas:
If the air temperature is a little cool, you might want to wear either a short-sleeved, knee-length 2mm wetsuit called a Shorty, or a sleeveless 2mm wetsuit called a Farmer John. Or, if one-piece suits aren’t your style, you could wear a thin neoprene top and neoprene bottom, or a mix-and-match combo of neoprene layers in varying thickness to adjust to fluctuating air temps. If using a spray skirt, you’ll need to wear a paddling jacket on top of your neoprene garments, as well.
Likewise, you can wear a paddling jacket and paddling pants or shorts for splash coverage, with lightweight base layers beneath to wick moisture away and provide a touch of optional warmth.
If air temps are warm as well, you could just rock a rash-guard and paddling shorts, with a short-sleeve paddling jacket on top if using a spray skirt.
While you don’t have to worry about losing heat through your extremities in warm water, you still need to protect your feet with neoprene booties or paddling shoes. Rocks are real. Don’t find out the hard way.
The Difference Between Layering Garments & Outerwear When It Comes To Kayaking Clothes
Kayaking clothes can be divided into two main categories: layering garments and outerwear. As you can imagine, you’ll need both of these depending on the type of water you’re entering. Let’s break down each in depth.
Kayak Layering Clothing - Garments That Go Under The Outerwear
- Base layers - These are the first layer of clothing that go up against your skin. Designed to manage moisture, they are breathable, quick-drying, and wick sweat away from your body. They can be made of natural fibers like silk and merino wool, or synthetic fibers like nylon, polyester, or polypropylene. Most They come in three different weights: light, mid, and heavy or expedition.
- Thermal layers- This is just another name for base layers designed for colder adventures.
- Dry suit liners- These are one-piece base layers designed to wear under a dry suit.
- Insulating layers- Insulating layers are your middle layers. They go between your base layers and your outer shell, and their purpose is to keep you warm. They, too, can be made of natural fibers like wool and down, or of synthetic fibers like fleece. They come in light-, mid-, and expedition-weight.
- Neoprene layers- In recent years, kayaking clothes brands like NRS and Hydroskin have designed mix-and-match systems of neoprene tops and bottoms of varying thickness. These garments function like a wetsuit by trapping a layer of water between you and the neoprene, and then warming it up with your own body heat. The advantage of these neoprene “skins” rather than a one-piece is the ability to put on or take off a layer in response to fluctuating weather conditions.
- Kayak socks- These are designed to block water entry while allowing sweat to pass through, keeping your skin warm and dry. They range from ankle-length to knee-length and can be made of varying materials, including neoprene, nylon, GORE-TEX, and merino wool.
Kayak Outerwear - Last Layer Of Clothing, First Defense Against The Elements
- Paddling Jackets- These are made of waterproof materials and are designed to protect you from water splash, sun exposure, and wind. They’re highly breathable and ergonomically cut to allow for maximum comfort. Some jackets have adjustable Velcro straps at wrist, waist and neck, while others feature neoprene or even latex gaskets and waistbands. Unlike a dry top, however, they are not designed to keep you completely dry in the event of a swim.
- Paddling Pants- These are waterproof and breathable, allowing excess heat and moisture to escape while protecting you from the elements. They often come with ankle cuffs and adjustable neoprene waistbands to prevent water entry and keep you dry.
- Paddling Shorts- These can range from a loose-fitting nylon-spandex blend like a board short or swim trunk to a snug-fitting neoprene.
- Paddling dry suits- These provide neck-to-toe coverage. These are made of highly durable and breathable fabric, such as GORE-TEX, with latex neck and wrist gaskets, preventing all water entry. It is designed to keep you completely dry if you swim.
- Paddling dry tops- This is like the top half of a dry suit, with latex wrist and neck gaskets. Unlike a dry suit, however, a dry top is only completely dry if you’re sealed into a closed cockpit with a spray skirt. If you swim, water can leak in through the neoprene waistband.
- Paddling dry pants- Very similar to the bottom half of a dry suit except, again, water can leak in through the waistband in the case of a swim.
- Kayak wetsuits- These are offered in full-length, short-sleeve and knee-length (Shorties), and sleeveless (Farmer John style) of varying neoprene thickness.
- Kayak booties- These are made of neoprene and range from thin to thick soled. They are designed to retain heat and protect your feet.
- Kayak gloves- These are made of neoprene and are designed to keep your hands warm and mobile in cold water.
- Kayak hoods- Made of neoprene, a kayak hood is designed to retain heat so you don’t lose brain function in the event you swim in cold water.
What Are The Top Kayak Apparel Brands?
Some of our favorite brands who build top knotch kayaking clothes include Kokatat, Stohlquist, Level 6, Astral, Immersion Research, and Sweet Protection.
Need help picking out your cool kayak digs? Give us a call at 800-994-4327, Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm PST. We’re here to help!
Why Buy Kayaking Clothes At OutdoorPlay?
Now that you know everything there is to know about kayaking clothes, all that’s left to do is pick your outfits and start enjoying the water in comfort and style!
And when you choose OutdoorPlay for all your kayak apparel, you’ll be getting the best products from the best brands, at the best prices - we guarantee it. If you find a better price, we’ll match it!
Plus, your order ships free here at OutdoorPlay - so you can stretch your kayaking clothes budget even further. And, you’re sure to love whatever you end up buying from us. If not, we have a 100% money-back guarantee. Send it back and we’ll honor a refund, that’s how confident we are that you’ll love the kayak clothing you see here today.
Shop now in confidence - or, reach out for more guidance on the proper clothing for your next expedition!