Your Ultimate Guide to Kayak Outfits: Dressing for Every Season

Kayaking is an exhilarating water sport that immerses you in nature’s beauty. Whether you prefer a sit-inside or sit-on-top kayak, one thing remains constant: you will get wet. Thus, choosing the right outfit for kayaking is crucial. Unlike stand-up paddleboarding, which focuses on clothing suited to air temperature, kayaking requires you to dress according to the water temperature. Don’t worry if you’re new to kayaking; we’ve got you covered!

Dressing Appropriately for Kayaking

When it comes to kayaking, comfort is key. You want to avoid chafing, stay protected against the elements, and ensure comfort during long periods of sitting. To prevent chafing, it’s best to avoid cotton clothing as it can cause irritation when wet. Instead, opt for neoprene as a base layer to reduce friction.

Prioritizing Water Temperature

Unlike the air temperature, which can be warm during summer, water temperature remains chilly. As a kayaker, you will inevitably get wet due to splashes and the kayak’s proximity to the water. Depending on your location, you may notice kayakers wearing wetsuits or drysuits. Drysuits are essential for water temperatures below 45ºF (7ºC).

The Importance of Layering

Layering is the secret to staying warm and regulating your body temperature while kayaking. By using thin layers, you create air pockets between your clothing, providing insulation. While layers primarily serve to keep you warm, they can also offer sun protection if needed.

  • Base layers: Opt for quick-dry tops, swimwear, or lycra to wick away sweat while paddling.
  • Mid-layers: Add additional warmth with fleecy layers or an extra wetsuit under your drysuit or waterproof jacket.
  • Outer layers: Use drysuits, gilets, and waterproof jackets to protect yourself from harsh elements. Kayak life jackets also provide additional warmth.
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Essential Kayaking Wardrobe

To ensure you’re fully prepared for your kayaking adventures, consider adding the following items to your wardrobe:

  • Rashguards: Both long sleeve and short sleeve options provide sun protection.
  • Boardshorts/swimsuits: Perfect for warmer days when you want to stay cool.
  • Waterproof pants: Keep you dry and warm on colder days.
  • Waterproof jackets: Opt for those with neoprene cuffs for added protection.
  • Kayak shoes: Choose neoprene for warmth or open options for ventilation.
  • Hat or helmet: Depending on your type of paddling.
  • Gloves: Improve grip and allow for more effective paddling.
  • Kayak life vest: An essential for safety and extra warmth.
  • Wetsuits: Ideal for insulation in cooler temperatures.
  • Drysuits: Fully waterproof suits that require layers underneath for warmth.

Dressing for Each Season

As the seasons change, so does your kayaking wardrobe. Let’s take a look at what to wear during different times of the year:


Spring can be challenging to dress for due to varying temperatures. While the air temperature may rise, the water temperature remains cold, especially with melting ice from nearby mountains. Therefore, it’s crucial to be prepared for icy waters. Wear a thick wetsuit (at least 5mm), neoprene boots, additional layers like fleeces, and don’t forget your kayak life vest for safety.


The hot summer months provide an excellent opportunity for recreational kayaking. Depending on your location, you may enjoy sunny days and warm waters. Swim shorts, swimsuits, or bikinis are suitable for these conditions, along with a rash guard for sun protection. Wear water shoes, apply sunscreen, and don’t forget your kayak life vest, if required.

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Fall can be tricky to dress for as air temperatures drop faster than water temperatures. Dressing for the water is essential. Layering is still necessary, so opt for thin, non-cotton layers, kayak shoes, and your trusty kayak life vest.


Winter brings the coldest conditions for kayaking. To combat the cold, you’ll need water-resistant clothes and plenty of layers. Wear a drysuit, fleecey layers, winter jumpers, waterproof jackets, gloves, kayak boots, and, of course, your kayak life vest.

Nighttime Kayaking

For those seeking an extra thrill, nighttime kayaking is an exciting experience. When dressing for nighttime paddling, consider the temperatures and wear appropriate gear. If you’re wearing a wetsuit or drysuit during the day, continue wearing it at night. Consider adding an extra layer in case of a chill. Don’t forget to bring a head torch for better visibility.

Wetsuit or Drysuit?

Both wetsuits and drysuits are popular choices for kayaking, depending on the water temperature. Wetsuits, made of neoprene, insulate the body by allowing a layer of water between the skin and neoprene, providing a thermal barrier. Drysuits keep you completely dry but require layers underneath for warmth.

Layering with Wetsuits or Drysuits

Layering is crucial for staying warm during kayaking sessions. If you’re wearing a wetsuit, consider adding an extra lycra rash guard underneath for extra thermal protection. However, if you need additional warmth, it may be time to upgrade to a drysuit. For cold weather paddling, opt for thermal base layers, quick-drying tops, jogging pants, fleece sweaters, and waterproof socks. Don’t forget your life jacket and zip-up waterproof jackets for added wind and spray protection.

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The Role of Spray Skirts

Spray skirts are designed for comfort and safety, primarily used by advanced paddlers in whitewater kayaking situations. They keep water out of the kayak’s cockpit, preventing destabilization and swamping. Spray skirts are personal preference, and experienced kayakers should be able to Eskimo roll or detach them if they capsize.

Life Jackets: A Must-Have

A life jacket is an essential safety item for any kayaking adventure. Not only does it ensure your safety, but it also provides an additional layer of warmth. When choosing a personal flotation device (PFD), look for ergonomic design, breathable materials, lightweight construction, and sufficient buoyancy.

Clothing to Avoid

To enhance your kayaking experience, avoid certain clothing items:

  • Cotton: Cotton absorbs water and is slow to dry. Opt for quick-drying materials like nylon, polyester, or wool/fleece thermal layers.
  • Rust-prone hardware: Choose clothing with corrosion-resistant metals to ensure durability in various weather conditions.
  • Yoga pants: While comfortable, they may lead to chafing and wear down on the seat.
  • Footwear without backstraps: Avoid flip flops and sandals without secure backstraps. Opt for footwear that ensures stability and won’t constantly require adjustments.


Dressing appropriately for kayaking is essential for comfort, safety, and maximizing your enjoyment on the water. Pay attention to the water temperature, layer wisely, and choose the right gear for each season. With the right outfit, you’ll be ready to embark on unforgettable kayaking adventures. For all your kayaking needs, visit UpStreamPaddle. Happy paddling!