Tried and tested by us, view our range of great kayaking clothing that we wear everyday.
“It's better to be hot and bothered than cold and emotional” - You can always cool down, but you can't always warm up!
Clothing is a key consideration when going paddling - you must get this right in order to enjoy kayaking safely and make the most of your day paddle.
The clothing Golden Rules - your kayak clothing should:
- Have NO COTTON - when it gets wet, it does not dry and remains cold and heavy! “Cold Cotton Kills!” NOT EVEN JOCKS or socks!
- When wet it must stay warm AND dry quickly!
- Blocks wind, sun, rain and sea spray!
- Protect from the unforgiving marine environment, such as rocks, barnacles and oysters, plus sand flies and mosquitoes that are found in the most beautiful kayaking locations!
- Be high visibility and reflective - you want to be seen by other water users day and night!
Base and Thermal Layers
The principal behind being comfortable on and off the water is layering - add more thermal layers in cool weather and thicker thermals, and lighter layers in the warm seasons.
In Tropical locations and northern Australia lighter clothing is appropriate - quick-dry Sunsmart clothing is preferred.
In southern Australia and other temperate locations we prefer a thermal top on all but the very hottest days. As a 3 to 3 & 1/2 season top we prefer the Adrenalin 2P Thermal Long Sleeve Rash Top - it is a medium weight thermal top which stays warm when wet, dries quickly and in our preferred colour, yellow, highly visible if we are paddling without a jacket/cag.
In winter and really cold locations the Lavacore Long Sleeve Top is ideal - it is a thicker thermal with a water repelling outer layer. Colour is not so important here - it will be under a cag or paddling jacket!
We do not recommend you wear a nylon rashie for paddling - they can wick the warmth away and you chill down quickly, particularly if you are wet. They are almost as bad as cotton!
We wear and recommend:
Long pants serve the dual purpose of keeping legs warm and the sun (and bugs) off - particularly when in an open canoe, sit-on-top or fishing kayak. In a sea kayak the lower legs are protected from the sun by a spraydeck or at least partly by being in an enclosed cockpit, so you can get away wearing board shorts or paddling shorts in warmer weather.
Paddling shorts are available in different fabrics - choose between a medium thermal material (Adrenalin 2P Shorts) or thin flexible neoprene (Sea to Summit Splat Paddling Shorts). Both will keep you warm when wet and dry quickly so it is a personal choice which fabric you prefer.
Long pants are essential for prolonged sun exposure and for cold and windy environments. For hot weather choose Sunsmart cargo pants. When the weather is cool and/or windy we recommend thermal pants - Adrenalin 2P Thermal Long Pants or Lavacore Long Pants. For added warmth in wet environments add a pair of dry pants over the thermals.
Thermal pants can be rather form-fitting! Some guys (& girls) like to wear their boardies over the top. We do recommend ditching the undies (no cotton!) and speedos - these can draw the warmth away from your body so that even if you are wearing thermals you are experiencing a cold bottom! Also compression pants are usually not thermals - unless they have a fleecy lining, so these are not recommended for paddling either - they are designed for compression during recovery, not watersports.
We use and recommend:
Cags, Paddling Jackets and Dry Pants
Your outer wear is important to prevent windchill - where your clothing is wet and the wind further chills you down. You should be wearing a thermal base layer that stays warm when wet and dries quickly, but on windy and cold days you will need an outer layer that keeps the wind out and your body warmth in. Even on warm days we carry a paddling jacket (cag) in an accessible part of the kayak (day hatch or behind the seat) in case conditions change - you can still get cold in windy conditions on a warm day.
Dry pants are a great addition to your paddling kit on sea kayak trips where being wet all the time would be a real drag! South West Tassie wilderness was one such place - having dry feet and legs really enhanced the enjoyment of the scenery! Even though it was summer it was still coolant wet. Dry pants are also great when kayak fishing - they keep off the sun and keep you warm while waiting for that big one to bite!
What to look for in outerwear:
- Breathable fabrics, water resistant and quick drying
- Hood, with brim - to keep off the rain and protect the back of the neck in the cold and wet conditions - you are really well protected when paddling downwind. Note that hoods can act as a sea anchor and fill up in the case of capsize.
- High visibility colours and reflective patches
- Pockets in useful places
- Neck and wrist seals - how well they hold water in or out
- Interconnectedness with spraydeck collars and paddling pants
We wear and recommend:
Effective headwear goes a long way towards maximising your comfort out on the water. The combination of sunglasses, cap and Buff protects from the Sun and also keeps the head warm in cool and windy weather. We prefer the cap and Buff combination over a broad-brim hat as the latter can lift up in the wind, exposing the face. Even with models that have a stiffened brim, sunlight and UV reflect off the water and you can still get burnt! Covering up completely with a Buff is really effective! Botox is too expensive!
Adapt-a-caps are an all-in-one alternative to the Buff and Cap combo if you find a Buff over your lower face a bit constrictive. The drawstring can loosen off if you want to wear it lower or looser.
There are lots of different combinations of head wear:
Helmets are recommended for use in surf and around rocks. Even if the water is deeper in the surf zone, a capsize may result in you emerging on the wrong (shoreward) side of your kayak and being whacked in the head as the next wave comes through!
Mosquito nets are essential on overnight trips and expeditions. Mozzies and sandflies seem to hang out at all the most picturesque kayaking destinations!
Products we use and recommend:
An important, but sometimes overlooked, item of clothing, gloves protect from the sun, cold, wind, blisters and the sometimes sharp marine environment.
Year round, sun gloves with UPF 50+ rating provide protection against UV damage, with the added bonus of helping to protect your hands not just from rubbing and blistering but also from barnacles and oyster shells - a slip or trip that might otherwise be a trip-ender! We use and recommend Sea to Summit's Eclipse Gloves.
When the environment is colder, you may want gloves with more warmth insulating properties. Neoprene gloves are one option - make sure the material across your palm is not too thick - so you can still find your holy-moly-crap strap in the event of a wet exit! Also you do not want to increase the diameter of your grip - this will stress your forearms. Alternately you can use paddling mitts, or pogies, that velcro to your paddle shaft and you can slide your hands in and out. The NRS Guide Gloves are a great option for cooler weather - neoprene keeps your hands warm but they are also fingerless to maintain dexterity.
More on our range of gloves and paddling mitts:
Footwear is vital - you should have a decent sole on your paddling footwear to protect yourself from sharp objects in the marine environment - rocks, barnacles, oyster shells, broken glass and all manner of other nasties hiding in the mud. Paddling socks - whether neoprene or thermal are also necessities - they will keep your wet feet warm and cover the gap between booties and long pants that gets munched by insects when you are off the water!
The sole of your booties should still be flexible enough so that you can maintain good feeling of your foot pegs, and if your feet are larger, not be too cramped in the end of the cockpit. Your paddling shoes should also be well attached to your feet so they don't float away if you take a swim or get sucked off in the mud in those low-tide landings - a velcro strap to tighten or an above the ankle opening help keep them on.
We have found a good lightweight minimalist runner to be good for kayaking, and there are a variety of water shoes on the market - choose something sturdy! Of the many paddling booties we have seen two that combine these features: NRS Remix Kicker booties and NRS Freestyle Wetshoe for a booties that extends further up above the ankle.
An important part of your base layer is keeping your feet warm - unless you are wearing a drysuit/drypants or some sort of high waterproof boot (mukluks), inevitably you will get wet feet, so you need to be able to keep them warm when wet. Wearing socks also protects that gap between long pants and booties from biting insects that seem to sneak up on you when you are busy at lunchtime and when setting up camp.
The choice comes down to thermal/fleece socks or neoprene socks. The 3mm neoprene socks is possibly a bit warmer but it is a personal choice and what you find most comfortable.
With fleecy / Polytherm socks, obviously the thicker the material is the warmer the socks - Sharkskin Chillproof Socks are the winners here.
We wear and recommend:
We seldom paddle distance in a wet suit - they are not the most comfortable garment compared to a good set of thermals and paddling jacket (or dry suit if it is really cold!), but a wet suit has its place when training or spending a lot of time paddling and playing in surf.
Most paddling clothing is designed for you to not spend much time immersed. Dry suits are designed for this but they are a major investment and are more suited to paddling in places like Tasmania, New Zealand and northern parts of North America or Europe, where you will get your money's worth. If you are learning to roll or other forms of self rescue, or like to play in surf, a wet suit is a much more affordable investment.
Ideally, for paddling you want one that will allow maximum arm movement - the sleeveless or "Farmer John" style. These are available with a mixture of 2mm and 3mm thick neoprene - greater thickness to keep your core warm and retain flexibility for your legs. Wear it with thermals under the top, wetsuit socks (and shoes) and a paddling jacket to keep off the windchill.
These wetsuits are ideally suited to water sports and are also popular with divers.
For paddling, we use and recommend: