What to Wear Kayaking in Hot Summer Months

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With the right gear, it’s possible to enjoy kayaking at any time during the year. But do you know what to wear kayaking in hot summer months? 

Most kayakers would agree that there is nothing quite like going out for a paddle on a warm – or even hot – summer day.

I believe that the beauty of kayaking is that you are right down next to the water, as close as you could be without going in. That connection feels all the better when the air temperature is soaring up into the 80s, 90s, and beyond.

So, if you are planning to take your boat out as often as possible during the hot summer months, you’ll want to be prepared with the right gear for those adventures.

Pick Out the Right Clothes

Woman in a life vest and hat kayaking

Let’s jump right into what you should wear when kayaking on a hot day. Below is a list that highlights concepts to keep in mind as you build your outfit for the day, or as you shop for supplies for the season ahead.

Plan on Getting Wet

For those who are relatively new to this sport, it’s important to understand what the experience is like before picking out what to wear kayaking. If you are picturing a peaceful cruise across the water where you soak up the sun’s rays and stay completely dry… well, you are in for a surprise.

Kayaking is not a dry activity. Even with a spray skirt in place, you should expect to get wet every time you put your boat in the water, which means you should pick out clothes to match that expectation.

Anything you don’t want to get wet should be left at home, in the car, or in your dry bag. 

Choose Clothes that Dry Quickly

Look for shirts and shorts that are made with artificial fibers rather than natural materials like cotton– in fact, you may want to totally avoid cotton. You want garments that are going to dry quickly after they get wet and not bog you down when you get out of the kayak to take a break, explore a hike, etc.

If the clothes you have in mind would be good for a day of wading into the water off of a beach, they should be appropriate for kayaking.

Consider a Swimsuit

Your day may not include swimming, but a swimsuit is perhaps the ideal choice for summer kayaking adventures.

Since your bathing suit is meant to get wet, you won’t have to worry about being uncomfortable as you get splashed along the way. Most swimsuits dry quickly, so if you get out to spend some time on the shore during your excursion, your suit will dry off and you will be nice and comfortable until you jump back in the kayak to get moving again.

Add Layers for Options

One thing to remember about summer kayaking on hot days is that the weather isn’t going to be hot from sun up to sundown.

While you probably don’t need a rain jacket, you might encounter colder weather in the morning or evening conditions that feel a lot like cold weather paddling. Sure, the afternoon high might feature hot air around 90*F, but what will it feel like in the morning when you arrive at the water’s edge and find some cloud cover?

Kayaking in the summer requires you to be flexible and adjust quickly to changes in air temperature as the day moves along.

The best way to combat temp changes is by dressing in quick-drying layers.

For example, if you are planning to wear a swimsuit for your kayaking trip, you can use that as a base layer and add a long-sleeve technical shirt and lightweight pair of paddling pants over top as an outer thin layer.

This thin outer layer will likely be peeled off quite quickly once you start paddling away, but you’ll be glad you have them on before the temperature starts to rise.

Items like a thick fleece layer or even a light fleece jacket aren’t great picks for paddling in the summer.

Footwear Choice is Important

Wearing the right footwear for a summer kayaking outing is an important part of staying comfortable. You’ll be resting your feet on foot braces – or pegs – while in the boat, so going barefoot usually isn’t a great choice.

At the same time, a pair of tennis shoes won’t either, as they will get soaked and your feet will likely overheat inside the hull. Wearing flip flops could work in a pinch, but even those will have comfort issues as the day goes on.

The answer here is water shoes. Worn without socks, water shoes come in many shapes and sizes, including sandal-style versions and some that look more like traditional shoes.

Water shoes are made from materials that are meant to get wet and are quick drying, and they will help keep your feet cool. Also, when you decide to get out – whether to walk along the shoreline or wade in the shallow water – you’ll already have the right footwear for the job in place. A good pair of water shoes should be considered standard equipment for the summer kayaking season.

Protect Yourself

Woman applying sunscreen

It’s not just clothing pieces that you need to consider when you’re kayaking in the summer. There are other critical items or situations to consider.

Sun Protection

It’s likely that you’ll need some sunscreen on a hot summer day to deal with sun exposure, but your clothes can play an important role in that matter, as well.

Specifically, wearing a rash guard shirt is a smart move, as they typically offer UV coverage and make for a nice addition to your kayaking kit.

Another quick note on sun protection is not to forget your head. Wearing a waterproof hat that blocks UV rays is a good idea, as long as it fits snugly or has a drawstring to prevent it from blowing away while on the water.

If applying sunscreen, be sure to look for biodegradable or “reef-safe” sunscreen. These are made with ingredients that are not harmful to our birds, fish and amphibians that live on or in the water you’re kayaking in. After all, that is their home and we want to leave it the way we found it– or better.

Paddling Gloves for Comfort

You probably won’t need paddling gloves to keep your hands warm when kayaking in the summer, but they are a good item to bring along for other reasons.

Sweaty hands can struggle to hold onto a kayak paddle, and blisters are likely to develop as the miles add up. With quick-drying neoprene paddling gloves, you can protect your skin and maintain a firm grip on your paddle all day long. While some paddling gloves are meant for warmth, you can pick out a pair that is designed with summer in mind. These will use lighter materials and may have the ends of the finger holes removed to keep your hands cooler.

Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

It’s also important to remember that you need to wear a personal flotation device while kayaking.

Keep in mind that your life jacket is going to add a bit of warmth for your upper body. This is a welcome boost in cold conditions, but it could lead you to overheat when the weather forecast calls for high temperatures. You mind find that pairing rash guards with a life jacket is enough to keep you comfortable.

Other Summer Kayaking Gear

Kayaking gear in a kayak

Okay, so these items aren’t something you wear, but they are an important part of your personal summer kayaking kit so they deserve a mention.

Use a Dry Bag

As we stated above, you and your kayak are going to get wet even on a warm, calm summer afternoon. From a practical perspective, you need a way to keep a few important items in your boat dry, like your car keys, wallet, dry clothes for later, maybe a mid layer jacket, etc.

A small kayaking dry bag can be stowed out of the way on your kayak where it will be safe from the water and ready for you when the day of paddling has finished.

Bring a Water Thermos

Staying hydrated is critical in the hot weather, especially when you are active.

Look for a durable double-walled metal Thermos that will keep your water ice cold throughout the day. Many have pop-up straw functions that allow you to take sips of your water quickly.

Pack a Mini Cooler

Since snacks are a necessity (and sometimes medications must be brought on kayaking trips), it may be worth it to invest in a kayaking cooler. These coolers are designed to securely strap onto the back of your kayak. If purchasing one of these isn’t an option, a personal-sized lunch box can be tucked down into the hull.

The Importance of Water Temperature

Orange kayak on a lake

When talking about a “hot” day for kayaking, you are likely thinking first of the air temperature. However, the water temperature is also going to play a role in how you dress as well, since you’ll be coming into contact with that water throughout the day.

If the water where you plan to paddle is known to be rather mild – as would be the case in a warm southern climate – you won’t have anything to worry about. 

The story is a little different in the north, however. You might find yourself kayaking on a body of water that retains a very cold water temperatures even if the air temperature is downright hot. In that case, err on the side of wearing a little more clothing, especially early in the day. The feeling of ice-cold water dripping into your kayak early in an outing can be quite shocking and could make for an uncomfortable experience.

While a full dry suit probably isn’t necessary until you face colder conditions in the off-season, your body temperature can come down in cold water, even a sunny day. Again, this comes back to layering. Add an extra layer to protect against the cold water and peel those layers off as your body warms up and the cold water starts to feel like a nice bit of relief.

Build the Right Outfit For Kayaking in the Summer

Woman kayaking wearing a life jacket

Figuring out what to wear kayaking doesn’t have to be complicated. Wear clothes that will remain comfortable when wet, and use layers to adjust to changing conditions, and you’ll be off to a great start. 

From there, add some durable water shoes and a pair of paddling gloves to keep your feet and hands protected. Once you’ve assembled a basic kit of warm weather kayaking gear, you’ll always be ready to head out to the water when the opportunity arises. 

Have fun out there and be safe!

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