Safety Gear and Clothing
Make sure you are wearing the correct clothing for the appropriate weather. On a hot summers day, a rash guard might be enough however on a cold winter day multiple layers and a drytop might be warranted. Don’t underestimate the change in weather and temperature and pack accordingly.
How to dress for paddling
One of the things you really need to be aware of out on the water is that you are dressed suitably for the climate and water temperatures that you will be encountering. The clothing you choose can make the difference between a fun day out and a long uncomfortable paddle. In some more extreme climates wearing the right type of clothing can actually be a vital piece of your safety equipment. There are some specialist items of clothing designed specifically for kayaking that are worth considering investing in to help you be properly prepared for your adventures. Here’s our guide to some of the things you should think about when selecting your paddling gear and clothing.
1. Choose the right materials
Cotton fabrics can retain up to 25% of their weight in water and take hours to dry so they are generally not the best choice for a paddling trip unless your traveling through an extremely hot environment and want something that will cool you down. Synthetic fabrics such as fleece, nylon, and capilene should be worn rather than cotton.
2. Protection from sun
In hot environments, protection from the sun should be one of your first concerns. Make sure you have lots of high factor sun screen for your body, face and lips. If your out in the sun for prolonged periods of time think about getting a helmet with a peak to protect your eyes.
A wetsuit is made from neoprene and are available in varying degrees of thickness and coverage. A Farmer John suit, resembling a pair of overalls, is often favored by paddlers because it allows for a better range of motion in the arms and shoulders. Wetsuits work by trapping a thin layer of water between the neoprene and the paddler’s body. Body heat warms the thin layer of water and after a few cold minutes in the water, allowing you to begin to warm up. A thin synthetic layer can be worn between the skin and wetsuit to prevent chafing and a paddling top is often worn over the torso and arms to deflect spray.
Drysuits are much more expensive than wetsuits but offer paddlers more comfort and protection. Utilizing tight gaskets at the neck, wrists, and ankles a dry suit seals out most water. Layers underneath can be tailored to fit the temperatures of the air and water. Most dry suits are made from breathable but waterproof materials such as GoreTex. Some dry suits may have booties on the feet instead of gaskets at the ankles to provide an additional level of protection.
5. Drytops / Cags
Specialist dry tops / cags can be worn instead of a dry suit. Made from the same materials as a dry suit these tops come in a variety of thicknesses and levels of dryness. As well as keeping out the water they also work really well as a wind stop and provide sun protection. They do not provide warmth so are best worn over a fleece layer, rash guard or wetsuit.
6. Dry trousers.
Dry trousers are as the name suggests trousers that are designed to keep your lower body dry. Like the dry top they are made from similar materials to the drysuit. They can come in a variety of styles. Some have loose open ankles, others have feet attached and some have ankle seals. They are a great idea in colder climates.
7. Fleece / Thermals
Wearing a fleece layer(s) on a cold day or when paddling in cold water will make a massive difference to your temperature and ability to paddle. You can get a whole variety of fleeces specially designed for kayaking that are lighter weight and less bulky than standard fleece. However any fleece should work as they will keep you warmer on the water.
8. Rash Guards
A rash guard is specialist top designed to keep you cooler out on the water. They are commonly used in water sports and have a number of qualities that make them suitable for kayaking. Most rash guards are light weight, quick drying and offer a barrier to prevent friction, for example if used under a wetsuit. They can be used on their own as an outer layer in warm climates or under a wetsuit or dry top in cooler climates. They are deigned to offer sun protection, but they are not designed for warmth so they are best used in warmer climates. If you are paddling in cold conditions or in cold water you may well be better in a fleece / thermal.
Shorts are the coolest choice for the lower body but leave the lower legs and ankles exposed. Consider wearing long pants to protect your legs should you take a swim or need to venture through the bush.
10. Gloves and Pogies
Thick neoprene gloves or pogies are often worn to protect the hands and keep them warm. Gloves can also be worn in warm climates to protect your hands from sun and wind damage.
11. Skull cap
A skull cap is a specialist neoprene hat that is designed to go under your helmet in cold environments.
12. Spray skirt / Spray deck
A spray skirt is a skirt designed to keep water out of your kayak. They have a handle at the front which is used to remove them from the boat when upside down or exiting the kayak. Most spray skirts are made from neoprene and fit tightly around the cockpit. They can also be made from Nylon. Nylon sprayskirts are easy to remove and are best for paddlers just learning to use them. See the sprayskirt section for more information
13. Drydecks / Cagdecks
Drydecks are are combination of a dry deck and a sprayskirt. They are commonly used in play boating as they are a lot less bulky than wearing the items separately and work really well in keeping water out of the kayak.
14. Throwbag / Throwline
A throwbag is a bag that contains floating rope. It is used to perform rescues when kayaking. See the Rescue section.
It is important when ever working with or using a rope on or near a river to carry a knife. Specially designed knifes can be purchased that are designed for use on and near water.
It is a good idea to carry a whistle when paddling on rivers as they are used to attract attention and help in an emergency. In some situations they may also be used for communication. See the communication section.
17. Pfds/ Bouyancy Aid / Life jacket
A Pfd is a floating device specially designed for paddling. It is one of the most important piece of safety gear. See the Pfd section for more details
On rivers it is important to wear a specialist safety helmet. See the helmet section for more details.
Check out the weather forecast so you can dress suitably for your adventure or trip.
No matter what the weather make sure you are dressed suitable for a swim. If your out on a beautiful sunny summers day and capsize into an ice cold glacial river you need to make sure your choice of clothing will mean you are going to be ok both out of the water and in the water just in case you do fall in.
It’s definitely worth the investment in specialist gear if you are going to be paddling in cold weather conditions. Once you try a drysuit you will rarely turn back.
It is also worth considering the colour of your gear. Bright colours will definitely increase your visibility out on the water.