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What to Wear when Paddling in the Water
Choosing what to wear when you go out paddling your kayak, canoe, paddleboard or rowboat depends largely on what the current water temperatures are and less on how the weather looks. It may be a very sunny day, but the water may be freezing cold. If ever you fall in the water, you'll be in for a shock if you're wearing light clothing that's more suited for feeling cool and breezy on a warm sunny day.
You should always be sufficiently dressed in the event you capsize. If you take an unexpected swim in very cold water, you could easily suffer from heart and lung shocks making it more difficult for you to recover and get back on board your watercraft, and even start suffering from hypothermia in ice cold water.
If you're going to be paddling in warm and very calm waters, you can opt to wear lighter clothing, and just make sure you have enough protection from sunburns.
How to Dress for Colder Water Temperatures
In cold waters, a wetsuit or dry suit is a wise investment and could end up saving your life. With proper cold water clothing, you can fall in the water and get back up and paddle onwards with minimal impact on your performance.
A wetsuit is made of thick neoprene that traps a thin layer of water next to your skin that your body can heat up, which in turn helps you from losing too much body heat. You can buy thicker wetsuits that provide more insulation in colder water temperatures, which also gives you more buoyancy. Thicker wetsuits, however, are stiffer and harder to move around in.
A dry suit is made of a waterproof material that keeps you completely dry even if you fall in the water. This is ideal for extremely cold environments both in and out of the water. Dry suits don't provide much insulation from cold temperatures themselves, so you'll have to wear thermal layers underneath to control your body warmth. Compared to wetsuits, dry suits are loose fitting and can be easier to move around and paddle in.
Out of the water, wearing multiple layers helps keep you warm and comfortable in cold weather. Wearing multiple thin layers offers similar protection as one thick layer, with the benefit of being able to add or remove layers as necessary.
For the base layer, you'll want something that provides good freedom of movement. Clothes made out of moisture wicking fabric are a good idea since these keep your body cool and dry.
For extra warmth, wear an insulating outer layer made of wool or fleece to trap your body heat. Windproof and waterproof outer layers are also a great addition to your paddling wardrobe since these keep the water and rain out of your thermal layers.
Hats protect you from both the sun and rain and can make your paddling adventure more enjoyable. When shopping for a hat to go paddling in, look for wide brim hats that provide good coverage and protection from the elements. Having a chin strap also keeps your hat from being blown away by the wind.
If you're going out for long touring expeditions, you should consider wearing gloves to keep your hands and fingers protected. Your hands can become very soft and sensitive since they're wet all day long, so adding an extra layer of protection can keep them in good shape even if you're in the water for extended periods.
Aquatic shoes and neoprene boots can keep your feet from getting cut on rocks or other debris hiding deep in the water. In cold weather, these can also keep your feet from getting to cold and making you uncomfortable.