Paddlesports have evolved over the years, and a part of this evolution has been the development of specific clothing. There is a wide range of gear available, and regardless of the sort of paddling you do, you should be able to find clothing that will suit your needs. The downside to this is that it can be a daunting task deciding which clothing is best. Have a read as we break down the process of ‘becoming the best dressed on the water’.
The clothing you choose will depend on the conditions you expect to encounter. We typically need to protect against one or more of the following
When the weather is cold, you need an insulation layer to keep heat from escaping from your body. There are numerous fabrics that will achieve this, but polyester will outperform most other fabrics when used around water. Garments designed for water sports will differ to those for general outdoor use, in that they offer more stretch. This allows them to keep their shape better when wet.
Once you are wet, it becomes much harder to stay warm. Given that kayaking is a water sport, getting wet is a real possibility. Wearing a jacket will keep splashes off you, which can be perfect for sea kayaking. If you will paddle in rough seas, or expect to be rolling a bit, you need to consider a jacket that will keep you drier.
Wind chill has a huge impact on your body temperature. Even a light breeze can make the temperature feel less than what the thermometer will say. Wearing a windproof layer will help offset this effect.
Kayak jackets will work to keep both the wind out and the water off, so one garment can serve two purposes.
Vaikobi VDry Jacket
The Vaikobi VDry Jacket blocks the wind and repels spray. You won’t overheat thanks to the strategically placed mesh vent panels and the mesh lining keeps you comfortable.
Palm Surge Drytop
When you are paddling on the river, being dry can make all the difference. The Palm Surge jacket is a durable drytop with plenty of great features and an attractive price.
Kayak jackets have all sorts of features, and they are categorised according to the features a jacket has.
These have a basic sealing system at the neck, wrists and waist. Most often this seal will be made from neoprene, with a Velcro tightening system. If you roll, you will end up fairly wet. These jackets are a good choice when you expect to encounter some spray, but do not expect to be upside down.
Semi-dry tops have a more robust sealing system, preventing more water from getting into your jacket. To be classed as a semi-dry top, a jacket should have a double waist (two layers of fabric; one goes inside your spraydeck and the other over the top) and latex seals at the wrists. Latex seals are thin gaskets that form a watertight (or close to watertight) seal around your skin. The neck of a semi-dry top is usually non-adjustable and made from neoprene in a cone shape. If you roll whilst wearing a semi-dry top, you can expect a little water to enter the jacket at your neck, but nowhere near the amount that will get into a splash jacket. While not as dry as a drytop, semi-dry tops are more comfortable to wear as the neck is not as tight as that on a drytop.
As the name indicates, a drytop is designed to keep water out. A drytop has a latex gasket at the neck and the wrists. You can expect to stay dry, or close to dry inside a drytop. However, they can be a little uncomfortable to wear, as the neck needs to be firm in order to keep water out.
Layering vs an all-in-one garment
The traditional approach to dressing in the outdoors has been to wear several layers, each one serving a specific purpose. But, there’s another option, and that is to choose clothing that combines numerous functions into one garment.
Advantages of Layering
- Layering offers versatility. You can dress for a wider range of conditions by altering one or more of the layers you wear.
- If the conditions change, you are able to adjust your layering system to cope. For example, if the day heats up, you can remove your jacket and simply paddle in the next to skin layer
- You will find a great choice in garments, allowing you to fine tune your clothing system better.
Advantages of an All-in-One System
- Less bulk
- May offer greater breathability and freedom of movement.
Selecting suitable clothing for summer paddling is a bit easier than for winter. Clothing still needs to work well when wet, but there is one other requirement. Clothing needs to protect the wearer from the sun’s UV rays. There’s now a good range of clothing available that is light, comfortable to wear but will protect you from UV exposure.
What about Neoprene?
While neoprene is still the first choice for underwater use, there are numerous drawbacks for using it as a kayaking garment.
- Neoprene does not breathe, so you can become uncomfortable if you work up a sweat
- Chaffing is more likely in neoprene, especially around your arms. Neoprene is not a supple as other fabrics, so is more likely to rub.
- Garments that are not designed for kayaking (for example surfing wetsuits) will not be cut for sitting down. This can make them less comfortable when you are seated in a kayak.
- Some people find neoprene is not particularly warm when out of the water.
- There are exceptions however. Some neoprene tops and pants are available that are well suited to kayaking, especially when you expect to get wet. To make the neoprene work better, manufacturers can include a brushed layer next to your skin. This gives the neoprene a nicer feel and will keep you warmer when above water. To increase the breathability, the neoprene fabric can be perforated, and the holes allow a small amount of air flow through the fabric.
To get the most out of your clothing, ensure it fits well. Any space between your skin and the fabric will reduce the efficiency. Make sure tops are long enough at the back and that shorts rise up at the back to avoid the dreaded cold kidneys. For summer, aim to have maximum coverage for sun protection.
Don't Sweat It
When selecting clothing, try and avoid overdressing. If you get too hot and start to sweat, you run the risk of chilling off if you stop paddling or if the weather cools off. Tops and jackets with a front zip can be especially good, allowing you to control the airflow through the garment. Simply unzip when the temperature rises.
When selecting clothing, don’t overlook the water temperature. While your goal may be to stay dry, there is always a chance that you may capsize. Depending on where or when you are paddling, there could be a big difference in temperature between the air and the water. Factor this into your clothing choice.
The Extremities: Feet, Head and Hands
So far the focus has been on clothing for your torso and legs. We cannot neglect our hands, feet and head.
To keep your hands warm, you can choose to use either gloves or pogies. Pogies are special kayaking gloves that attach to your paddle. Head to our article comparing gloves and pogies for more information.
If it’s winter, a warm hat is a good idea. In the summer, a sun hat is an obvious requirement. Consider using a brightly coloured hat to increase your visibility. Vaikobi’s Performance Cap is ideal.