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How to Dress for Kayaking

When the water’s warm, the only apparel items you may need, besides your life jacket, are shorts, a top and some sandals. You need to be much better prepared when water and weather are cold. Kayaking instructor Ken Whiting shares how to dress for kayaking and covers the base layers, insulating layers and outerwear pieces you need to safely extend your paddling past the warm summer months.

It’s particularly important to remember that when boating where the air temperature is warm, but the water’s cold, it is vital to dress for the water temperature. Water conducts heat away from your body some 25-times more quickly than air. Cold water kills, dress accordingly!

Neoprene garments, like a farmer john or jane, and separate pieces like HydroSkin tops and pants can provide good protection. Remember, these garments must fit skin-snug to minimize water entry and prevent water flushing in and out, pulling heat from your body. Choose neoprene thickness that’s appropriate for the water temperature, and for the possibility of taking a long swim. Adding a splash top and splash pants over neoprene apparel works great to minimize evaporative cooling.

Neoprene gloves and water shoes are important for keeping your extremities warm. Wear neoprene caps and storm hoods to keep your noggin insulated. For sit-inside kayakers, a good sprayskirt keeps cold water out and your body heat in.

Drywear is another step up in protection. It allows you to wear synthetic fiber layers underneath for insulation against the cold. Add and subtract layers to adjust to conditions.

A dry top with an inner tunnel can be paired with drypants for a pretty dry system. The ultimate protection is a full drysuit with latex gaskets and integrated dry socks. Yes, they are expensive, but if you want to paddle often in cold-water conditions, it’s a great investment in comfort and safety. Semi-dry tops and suits have a neoprene neck gasket that is more comfortable for some boaters than latex gaskets. It’s not quite as dry as latex but these garments can still be a good choice for those not boating in extreme conditions.