Guide On What To Wear Kayaking In Summer: Hot & Cold Weather

by Jason | Last Updated:   April 11th, 2022
Guide On What To Wear Kayaking In Summer: Hot & Cold Weather


Kayaking and the summer go hand in hand, and it’s no surprise why. There’s nothing better than being out on the water on a sunny day.

But, if you’re new to kayaking in the summer heat, you might be wondering what to wear when kayaking in summer.

Here’s the thing:

Due to the heat, you want to be able to stay comfortable and not be too hot, but you also need to think about keeping warm when you get wet. To back things worse:

You don’t want to feel soggy all day because you brought the wrong clothes with you. So, in this article, I wanted to explain everything you should think about in terms of summer kayaking.

And if you’re new to kayaking, I’ll even be giving you some advice about what to wear when the weather’s cold, raining, or mild and what to bring with you on your trip.

Sound good?

Great, let’s get started!

Tips On How To Decide What To Wear Kayaking

Deciding what clothes to take with you on your kayaking trip is never easy, especially if you’re new to the sport. And there are a few tips you can use to help you out, no matter whether it’s summer or winter.

So, let’s start the article with a few tips you can follow:

Safety Considerations 

If you’re not comfortable on the water, there are some safety considerations you should take into account in regards to clothing. 

So, let’s take a look at a few things you can do to stay safe on the water:

  • Don’t Wear Cotton: On dry land, there’s not a better material than cotton, but in the water, it can be pretty dangerous. When the material gets wet, it makes you feel colder, and even in the summer, this is not ideal. Wear synthetic fabrics when you’re out on the water; it will make you feel warmer.
  • Take The Water Conditions Into Account: The most important thing to consider is the water temperature. Let’s say it’s a nice 30°C outside the water (pretty nice, right?); well, it could still be 10°C in the water. If you capsize in the wrong clothing, you could still be at risk of hypothermia.
  • Always Check The Weather: Although the water temperature should be one of your primary concerns, you still need to consider the outside weather. It can rain in the summer, and the winds can pick up, which is a recipe for a cold trip if you’re not dressed correctly. Make sure you check the local weather report for the area you plan to go to. 
  • Always Wear A PFD: It doesn’t matter how hot, or cold the water or air temperature is; you should always wear a life jacket. It should always be an essential part of your get-up, even if it feels too hot outside. If you ever fall in cold water, you’ll be thankful you had something to get you to the surface while dealing with the shock.

Comfort Considerations 

And it’s not just safety considerations you need to take into account; you should also be thinking about your comfort. 

To help you out, I’ve listed some of the comfort considerations you need to keep in mind when you’re choosing your summer kayaking clothes:

  • Choose Comfort Before Fashion: Granted, people like to look good when they’re outside, and that’s okay; just make sure the clothes you choose are comfy. Being comfortable in your clothes over a long distance will make your trip far more enjoyable than someone noticing your designer clothes.
  • Are You Using A Sit-In Or Sit-On-Top kayak: It might sound strange, but the kayak you’re using can affect which clothes you should bring. People using sit-inside kayaks will feel colder but stay drier unless they’re whitewater kayaking. And then you have some sit-on-top kayaks that have holes, so your butt gets very wet, but you also get more sunlight to your legs. Try and choose the right clothes for the job you need.
  • Make Sure You Layer Up: Yep, you should still layer up even if you’re in the summer months. It’s easier to take clothes off to cool down than to have no extra clothes to warm up. Outdoor activities are about being able to adapt to the changing weather conditions when you need to. So, make sure you always have multiple layers with you when you go kayaking in the summer.
  • Think About Your Kayaking Style: When we talk about kayaking trips, you can usually split them between casual and adventurous. And which one you plan to be taking part in will depend on how you should dress for the trip. If you’re going for an adventurous paddling trip, you’re probably going to be quite warm from the intense paddling. And you might get quite wet due to the paddling, waves, or whitewater. 

What Water Type Are You Kayaking In?

As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest mistakes people make is dressing for the air temperature and not the water temperature.

And that’s not to say you don’t have to think about the weather, because it does play a significant role in what you should wear. But you still need to focus on what type of water you’ll paddle in.

So, in this section, I’m going to be breaking down the different water types, so you know what to expect when you’re paddling:

Study The Conditions

Before you go out kayaking, it’s worth studying the weather forecast, so you know what to expect when you get there.

Depending on the water and air temperatures, there’s a chance that you’ll need to wear a wetsuit or a dry suit. And yes, even in the summer, the water can be pretty cold, so you could be in for a shock if you capsize in a t-shirt.

If you’re planning to get out in the ocean, there’s a good chance the weather will be nice. But, you should still check out the water conditions; the Atlantic Ocean can get pretty cold, even in the summer.

Whitewater Rapids

What to wear kayaking in summer in whitewater rapids

Even if you’re paddling on a glorious summer’s day, you can guarantee the water will be cold in the rapids.

And that means you’ll have to dress accordingly to the water conditions just in case you take an unexpected dip.

Ideally, you should be wearing a full wetsuit and at least a half-dry suit; it will keep you warm and protect you from the cold water.

Calm Rivers Or Shallow Bays

What to wear kayaking in summer in calm rivers or shallow bays

When it comes to shallow bays or calm rivers, you need to think about the likelihood of you falling in the water.

If it’s sunny, you should be good using a rash vest and a pair of shorts. It’s quick-drying, and as long as you don’t fall, you should be okay.

Oceans Or Lakes

What to wear kayaking in summer in the Ocean

And this one really comes down to where you are in the world. Even when the weather is warm outside, the water can still be freezing.

And this is why it’s so important to get your clothing choices correct and dress for the water conditions, not the weather.

If you’re enjoying a sit-on-top kayak in Costa Rica, there’s a pretty good chance that the weather will not be an issue. The Pacific Ocean isn’t even that cold in the area, so you’re probably going to be more worried about staying cool.

On the flip side, if you’re paddling in Wales, UK, there’s a good chance the water will be freezing, even in sunny weather.

For this reason, I recommend that you dress in warmer clothes; you can always take some layers off while you’re out on the water.

And the last thing is always be prepared for falling in the water, even if you’re not planning to. 

What’s Best To Wear When Kayaking?

Kayaking in clothes in the summer can be a little bit different when you compare it to the winter, and that’s why I want to spend some time breaking it down.

You came here to understand what to wear in the summer, but I think it’s important we go through all the seasons, so you know what you need and when you need it.

So, let’s take a look at how you should dress depending on the weather:

What To Wear Kayaking In Hot Weather?

What To Wear Kayaking In summer in Hot Weather

When We’re talking about warm weather, we’re looking at the water temperature being above 25°C; this is because warm water usually correlates to hot air temperatures. And as we mentioned before, water temperature is an essential factor.

When it comes to warm weather kayaking, there are three things you need to think about:

  1. Sun Protection: Sun protection is one of the most important things you need to think about when kayaking in the summer. And you need to think about this even if the clouds are out. Ideally, you should be looking for clothes that protect you from the sun, sunglasses, and a sun hat.
  2. Find Clothes That Have Moisture-Wicking Properties: When it’s hot outside, and we’re exercising, it’s guaranteed we’re going to sweat. Our bodies are designed to help us cool down. And this is why you should be looking for synthetic materials that can wick the moisture away from your body.
  3. Clothes That Prevent Chafing: Chafing is a severe problem because of the range of movement kayakers use. And this is further increased with the salt and abrasive material. Your best option is to use something like a rash guard to protect your body from unnecessary chafing.

Now you know some of the problems people run into and what you should be watching out for, let’s talk about the clothes you should bring with you:

Hats

When you’re paddling in the summer, you’ll be exposed to the sunlight for long periods of time. And this is why you should protect your head from the sun with some sort of hat.

When it comes down to which style of hat you should choose is entirely up to you. Baseball caps feel incredibly comfortable, but they don’t offer as much protection from the sun as a wide-brimmed sun hat.

Think about which style is going to be best for you and take that one. Saying that, if the sun is shining down, and wide-brimmed sun hat will provide more protection, even if it doesn’t look very stylish.

And prolonged sun exposure can lead to heat strokes so who cares if it looks stylish as long as you stay safe.

Sunglasses

Another thing you should think about when you’re kayaking in the summer is protecting your eyes. When you’re paddling in the sun, the rays will reflect off the water into your eyes, which can start to cause some damage.

You should be looking for polarized sunglasses with a good fit that feels comfortable enough to wear for long periods. And if they provide side protection for your eyes, it would be highly beneficial. 

Tops

One thing you need to think about when you’re choosing a top is how comfortable you’re going to be in a hot environment. And you have many options out there for you to choose from.

Most people like to go for a rash guard T-shirt with sun protection. They stop the chafing and help to wick away sweat from your body. Other people like to use a lightweight long-sleeved T-shirt that’s not cotton.

Your upper body will be exposed to the sun for long periods of time, so it’s important you find a suitable material. I usually go for a rash guard that offers UPF protection, so you don’t burn in the heat.  

Bottoms

When kayaking in the summer, the best thing you can wear on the lower half of your body is a pair of synthetic shorts or swimming shorts. That being said, if you’re in a sit-on-top kayak, you might want to think about something that provides UPF protection to your entire legs.

Footwear

When it comes to footwear, you need to think about where you’re paddling. For example, if you’re kayaking from a sandy beach, you probably don’t need any footwear at all.

But, if you do need to wear some footwear while you’re kayaking, there are a few features they need:

  • Lightweight
  • Quick-draining 
  • Very breathable
  • Secure fit

A few people out there think they can go paddling in flip-flops, but this isn’t a good idea.

Flip flops are great when you’re walking along the beach, but if you fall off your kayak and need to swim, your flip-flops will slip off your feet.

If you want to wear something like flip-flops, you should opt for sandals; they strap to your feet, so there’s less chance of them falling off when you swim.

What To Wear Kayaking In Cold Weather

What To Wear Kayaking In summer in cold weather

Cold weather paddling presents different challenges compared to summer kayaking, but it’s important to know what you need.

When you’re paddling in warm waters, the risk of hypothermia is present, but when you’re in cold water, the risk is very significant.

Remember when I mentioned that dressing for the water temperature is more important than dressing for the colder weather. Well, when you’re paddling in cold waters, it’s the most important thing you can do. 

If the water temperature is below 15°C, you are susceptible to cold water shock, which can instantly decrease your movement and lead to drowning.

And while I’m not trying to scare you from paddling in cold water, I want to point out the importance of wearing the right clothes for the job.

And when it comes to cold water, you have two layering systems to choose from:

  1. Wetsuit Layering
  2. Drysuit Layering

With that being said, let’s explain how both systems work:

How To Use The Wetsuit Layering System

Wetsuits are made from neoprene which is designed to be worn in cold water and provide insulation. 

It works by trapping water between your skin and the suit. Your body heat warms up the layer of water between the wetsuit and your skin, which is where the insulation comes from. And this is why you can stay warm even when you’re in chilly water.

But there is a problem with wearing wetsuits that not enough people think about.

Due to the way they insulate your body, they only work when people have prolonged contact with cold water.

And this means you really need to think about how you’re going to be paddling and if you expect to be in the water regularly.

If you do decide to use a wetsuit when you go paddling in freezing water, you’ll need to make sure you use the right layering system, and that’s what we’re going to be speaking about here:

Hat

Your body loses a lot of heat from your head, so it makes sense to try and trap the heat in and keep you warm in frigid water.

If your wetsuit doesn’t come with a neoprene hood, I’d recommend getting a kayaking skull cap to help keep you warm.

Top

Due to the design of wetsuits, you don’t need to wear anything underneath. But, if you want to provide some extra warmth, people like to wear a spray/rain jacket to give extra warmth when the air temperature is cold.

Footwear

Again, there’s no single type of footwear you should use when paddling in the cold, but there is a good option.

Neoprene boots are built for being in nippy water and can help to keep your feet warm when they get wet. 

Gloves

If the water is extremely cold, you might want to find a pair of gloves to keep your hands warm while you’re paddling. Again, your best option is to go with neoprene paddling gloves; they should insult your hands nicely.

How To Use The Drysuit Layering System

The big difference between wetsuits and drysuits is that a drysuit is designed to keep the water off you as much as possible. And this makes it great for people that don’t want to get wet.

Drysuits are full-body suits that are made with a breathable waterproof membrane like Gore-Tex. One of the best things about this is when they are used correctly, a dry suit can keep you dry even if you’re completely submerged.

The problem is:

Drysuits don’t provide much insulation from the cold, making it extremely important to layer up correctly.

So, how do you layer up your clothes correctly when you’re wearing a drysuit on your kayaking trip:

Hat

Some drysuits come with a hood built into the suit, but they don’t provide you with excellent insulation. And that’s why you should consider bringing a nice warm hat to compliment the drysuit.

Baselayers

If you’re going to be wearing a drysuit, you’re going to need a good set of baselayers to get you going. I like to get a top and paddling pants combination, and usually something I can go hiking with.

The most important part here is to find something that has an appropriate thickness for the temperatures you’re going to be facing.

Mid Layer Top

The insulation in your drysuit won’t be the best, so I like to add an extra layer to the system. I usually go for an excellent fleece option to keep me warm while paddling in cold conditions.

Footwear

The last thing you need to think about is what to wear on your feet, and just like wetsuits, there’s no right or wrong answer. But again, you’re going to be best with some sort of neoprene boots or water shoes.

Key Insights & Takeaways

As you can see, dressing for the summer is a little bit different than dressing for the water, but with the guide above, you shouldn’t have too many issues.

One of the most important things to remember is to dress for the temperature of the water and then the air temperature.

If the water is below 15°C, you’re at serious risk of going into cold shock, which can be potentially deadly. And this is why it’s so important to dress correctly when you go kayaking.

You should also find clothes that wick the sweat from the body are lightweight, comfortable, and provide a great range of movement.

If you follow those rules, you’ll have no problem knowing what to wear when kayaking in summer!

Frequently Asked Questions

What Do Kayakers Wear?

Your best bet is to wear a wetsuit or a dry suit. Both are designed to keep you warm in chilly water. Just remember you follow my basic principles when deciding which one will be best for you.

Can I Wear Jeans For Kayaking?

No, wearing jeans for kayaking is a bad idea. They don’t dry well when they get wet, and they get cumbersome, making it harder to swim. Not only that, but they make you feel colder when they get wet. Wear synthetic material when you go kayaking; they dry quickly and are easier to swim in.

What To Wear Kayaking In Florida?

Again, you have to dress for the temperature of the water. But, if you’re kayaking in the sea, you should be okay in your bathing suit and a rash guard; just make sure you protect yourself from the sun.

Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.