From the Editors at Canoe & Kayak
What you wear in a boat is as important as any other aspect of the sport. If you paddle enough, you will be getting wet, whether in your boat or not, and how warm you are makes all the difference. A good way to chose paddling clothes is to always dress for immersion.
WARM WEATHER PADDLING
The more you paddle in paradise, the more protection you will need from it. There are a number of lightweight, waterproof, breathable, synthetics that crush down to a small size for packing. Supplex, Ultrasensor, and Solumbra garments are super lightweight garments that provide UV protection while keeping you cool. You’ll want some kind of water- and windproof shell that is water resistant and breathable. In tropical conditions it is essential to have a hat to protect you from the sun.
MODERATE WEATHER PADDLING
A good first layer is lightweight polyester fleece, or some other synthetic. Wool and silk will work also. On top of this, some people will wear nylon shorts or pants and have another layer of heavier poly for the top that wicks moisture away from your skin. Some fabrics are woven so densely, they become an effective water and wind barrier by themselves. It is a good idea to have a paddling jacket. The seams should be strong and taped, everywhere. There should be latex gaskets around the wrists and neck, protected by some sort of cuff. There should be a waist closure that is convenient and snug. Some paddling jackets have spray skirt tunnels that do an excellent job of keeping water out.
COLD CLIMATE PADDLING
Many kayakers who get into trouble in cold water often become hypothermic; even moderate wind will get you wet enough to affect your body temperature. Once you lose a little dexterity and judgement (signs of hypothermia) the chances of capsize rapidly increase. You lose heat in the water 27 times faster than you would in still air of the same temperature. Wet suits come in a variety of shapes and sizes and insulate you from the surrounding cold water. Some wet suits are lined with plolypro to make them more comfortable and warmer. For the ultimate in cold-water protection, you’ll want a dry suit. This is a waterproof suit with a waterproof zipper and latex gaskets. Wear it with polypro underneath and you’re ready for anything.
It is also important to keep your feet and hands warm and dry. Sport sandals are great for warm days. Dedicated paddlesport shoes work well in moderate conditions. You can always warm these up with poly fleece socks. Knee-high rubber boots and neoprene booties work great too. Thin neoprene gloves are okay for moderate conditions, and pogies, mittens that attach to the paddle while allowing your hands contact with the shaft keep you hands toasty..
Wearing the right clothing will have a large impact on performance while paddling, making your trip more comfortable and enjoyable.
-- Watch more tips in action from our Safer Paddling series.
-- And get acquainted with all the basic skills for your first kayak tour in our Need to Know series.