Clothing for kayaking

Clothing for kayaking

What to wear?

There’s a phrase that should always be at the forefront of your mind when thinking about heading out: “Dress for the water, not for the weather”. The average water temperature in a UK inland lake on a hot summer’s day is anywhere between 14-19 degrees, dropping to a Baltic 0-6 degrees during the winter.

The rest of the year, you should probably consider arming yourself with the following items of clothing to make sure that you’re both safe and warm if (or rather when) you end up in the drink!


A Buoyancy Aid

This goes without saying, but a buoyancy aid should be your absolute number one priority whenever you’re heading out onto the water.

There’s no shortage of different types, brands and models, but it’s absolutely essential to ensure that you get the right fit. A loose buoyancy aid can actually do more harm than good, whereas an overly tight vest will restrict your movement and could hamper any attempts to get back onto your kayak should you accidentally end up in the water.

Falling into cold water can cause cramping of your muscles and cause breathing difficulties, even when you’re fully conscious. A buoyancy aid will help keep you on top of the water, no matter what’s happening to your body beneath the surface.

Putting your life jacket on before heading out into water should be as automatic as putting your seatbelt on to drive your car. Don’t be silly: make it a priority and get a buoyancy aid …


Changing Robes

As far as I'm concerned, the changing robe is one of the most important pieces of clothing you can buy.

Whilst not strictly ‘clothing’, changing robes have become more and more popular in the last few years as people discover just how useful they can be! They come in two varieties: either waterproof or towelling.

The waterproof versions are generally hard-wearing and fleece lined for maximum comfort and warmth after a long day out on the water.

They are designed so that you can get changed out of your wet clothes without having to find a changing room (and for those who don’t own the ubiquitous Volkswagen T4/T5/T6) and for keeping warm and toasty whilst lounging around lake-side.

The towelling changing robes are more about drying off under whilst still protecting your modesty, but once again, they double up nicely as a smart and comfortable way of keeping warm whilst not out on the water.

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A Wetsuit

There are many different types, including sleeveless, shorties (missing lower arms and legs), full length and two-piece.

Just to complicate matters, all of the above are available in various thicknesses of neoprene from 2mm up to a massive 8mm, and you will usually find two neoprene measurements on most wetsuits.

If you were to buy a 3/5mm wetsuit, the first number will refer to the size of the neoprene on the body, whilst the second measurement will refer to the arms and legs.

The reason manufacturers do this is to concentrate the heat conservation on the most important part of your body (your core), whilst leaving your extremities with the extra movement and flexibility that you need to paddle comfortably.

Wetsuits work by trapping a layer of water close to your skin and using your body heat to warm it to the same temperature as your body, creating a barrier against the cold water outside.

The thicker the wetsuit, the more protection you’ll be afforded against the cold when in the water, but beware of going too thick or thin in the summer and winter respectively- you need to be as comfortable as possible!

We do sell a range of wetsuits, but you will need to call in the shop to purchase since sizing can be difficult to get right online.

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A Rash Vest

This is a thin, close-fitting layer, worn between the wetsuit and the skin and usually made of Lycra. It does exactly what its name would suggest- protects the wearer against rashes and chafing that can occur when wearing a wetsuit.

They also offer a small bump up in the thermal properties of the wetsuit they’re worn under, but it really is quite minimal unless you purchase one that is specifically designed as an insulating layer.

Rash vests are also commonly worn as t-shirts in the very best weather, as they protect against UV rays.


Dry Suits

Dry suits are the opposite of wetsuits (unsurprisingly!) and are for the more adventurous of you out there!

The chances are, unless you’re heading out into the very coldest of waters or are looking at being more than just a fair-weather kayaker, you won’t need one!

They’re usually worn over a set of layered thermal underclothes for maximum protection against cold water and keep the wearer completely dry.

They also feature high and tight collars and cuffs, so as to not let any water in at all. Only for the bravest paddlers who want to keep going all year round!



Not essential, but nice to have in slightly colder weather. They come in two flavours- Neoprene and waterproof.

They work in the same way as wet and dry suits would and although they’re not often worn in the summer, you’ll find a lot of spring, autumn and winter kayakers will wear them, just to add that little bit more comfort.

A ‘Cag’

Cags, or cagoules to give them their proper kayaking name, are loose-fitting jackets worn over the top of either wet or dry suits to add an extra layer of protection and warmth. They’re generally loose at the shoulders and arms and tighten up towards the bottom of the torso to allow for proper movement whilst paddling.

They range from basic, cheap windstopper types through to hugely-expensive technical Goretex models. Once again, not an essential item unless you’re heading out in the worst of the weather or specifically looking for white-water conditions.


There’s plenty of different schools of thought when it comes to footwear and it’s more down to your personal comfort levels and how hard-wearing the soles of your feet are to begin with!

The majority of kayakers will either be barefoot or in rubber/neoprene boots. They’re usually worn to protect the feet both on the journey from the car to the water and during the launching of your boat or kayak, but can add that little bit more comfort on all but the hottest of summer days.

I hope this article has given you a little bit of an insight into what you need to be wearing whilst in and out of the water! Happy paddling folks!


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