What to Wear When Kayaking in Cold Weather

The spring has finally arrived and you are ready to go for kayaking on the river. The temperature is hot, so you don’t want to get too hot. So you just wear a short, a cotton T-shirt and a light jacket and load your kayak. But this could end badly if you go out kayaking like this. The clothing for kayaking should be chosen considering the water, not the air. Early spring is the dangerous period for kayakers to get attacked by cold shock and hypothermia. The water temperature can be 30+ degrees lower than the air temperature. So if you don’t choose perfect clothing, you could end up in water. And don’t forget to take a dry bag for sea kayaking as your gears will get wet by the waves. Now we discuss the correct kayak clothing.

  • Without a wetsuit, people will become shocked by the difference between the air and the water temperature and may lose consciousness.
  • Those who don’t lose consciousness only have about 30 minutes in 40-degree water before exhaustion.
  • A 3mm neoprene wetsuit will provide you extra 30 minutes.
  • If the water temperature is 35 to 40 degree, you will get only 10 to 15 minutes before your arms become dysfunctional.
  • When cold incapacitation happens, even experienced swimmer can’t solve it.
  • When kayakers get wet in the cold water, they lose their body temperature five times faster than when they are in the air at the same temperature.
  • This situation can cause cold shock. Cold incapacitation, hypothermia and even lead you to the death.
  • Remember the 5-50-50 Rule, which means that kayakers have 5 minutes to swim 50 yards in 50-degree temperature and has a 50/50 chance of surviving that.
  • Also keep in mind the 1-10-1 Rule, which means that if a kayaker suffers cold shock for only one minute, he has 10 minutes before he can no longer function and then will succumb to hypothermia in 1 hour.
winter kayaking clothing

So, how would you protect yourself? Well, you can do it with a proper kayaking clothing and with a PFD. Here in this article, you will find some guidelines for clothing for cold weather kayaking.

The first thing you have to keep in mind for your safety is, “Dress for the water temperature and not for the air temperature. Another rule is, “Layer it on” Layers are very important for protection during spring paddling. Typically you will need three layers; a base layer for wicking sweat away and keeping you dry which is made of synthetic nylon or smart wool. A mid layer will give warmth but it will not absorb lots of water. The outer layer will be protecting you from wind and water. A waterproof kayaking jacket is the best choice.


Wetsuits are comfortable garments that are made of neoprene. They are usually 2mm to 3mm thick. They do not keep water out, but they trap a thin layer of water next to your skin where you feel warm. When you wear a Wetsuit, you may feel restrictive to movement. Wetsuits come in different styles such as long sleeved, short sleeved, Farmer Janes and sleeveless Farmer Johns. Among them, Farmer John suit is the most popular as there is not loss of mobility from tight fabric over your arms.


Drysuits provide the best protection for cold and rough water kayaking. Drysuits are coated with polyurethane. They are totally waterproof. They are properly constructed so that they can stand against water. A Drysuit must have correct layering to be effective.First, a wicking layer that will wick moisture away. Then an insulation layer of smart wool for insulation. Drysuits are the best clothing for you if you are going for kayaking in cold weather.

Finally, before you go out for kayaking, make sure you were correct clothing. Always remember that you have to wear clothing keeping in mind the water temperature but not the air temperature.

Last Updated on January 2, 2021 by Leo Evans

Leave a Comment