Jump to content

Essential Paddling Clothing


Recommended Posts

I apologize if this topic has been covered thoroughly elsewhere, if so, feel free to direct me there. Excluding a dry suit, what do folks consider essential to have as clothing options for paddling in warmer months? At this point, I have a paddling top for windy/rainy paddles, and have wondered what else I should think about getting. I see all sorts of gear on my fellow paddlers, from full to shorty wet suits, short-sleeve paddle jackets, splash pants, dry tops, neoprene shorts, etc., etc.

I recently bought a shorty wet suit (sleeveless) at a very good price--and it FIT, which is a miracle. I got to thinking it would be a nice extra layer for cloudy/cooler days or if I planned to be in the water practicing reentries etc. I didn't want a full-legged wet suit because I tend to run warm. But having done some reading, I am wondering if I'm better off with something else?

Right now, my goal is to paddle into late summer/early Fall and to start to spend more time in the water working on skills and hopefully a roll. I'd also like to extend my season a bit on either side. I'm a skier, so I won't start paddling until mid-late May. Do I even need more than my paddling top? If not, why do a I see such a range in the folks I've paddled with (and not just Phil and Lorrie! :) ).

What are some of your essentials--things you've found have made a difference in your comfort/safety when paddling?

Thanks for any suggestions!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In my six years of kayaking here's what I've found works for all my non-winter paddling days.

-- Farmer john full length wetsuit, for cooler days. I recently purchased a new one from NRS that is lined with a "dry" fabric so that on a multi-day trip, it's dry to the touch when you have to put it on next morning. None of that yucky damp neoprene feel. Absolutely love it and well worth the few extra bucks. This is my first "essential" and my default. The only time I don't wear it is on a hot day when the water is relatively warm. I strongly recommend a "farmer john" sleeveless to allow full flexibilty for your paddling stroke.

-- Windbreaker paddling top to carry in a hatch and put on over the wetsuit if I get chilly.

-- Dry top with latex neck and wrist gaskets for cooler days. This is my 2nd essential. When you need to stay warm, add some layers under it and you'll be toasty.

-- Polypropylene long sleeve tops to wear under /over the farmer john full-length wetsuit on chilly days.

-- Farmer john shorty wetsuit, for warm to hot summer days when the water is also warm.

Various combinations of the above have worked for me every time and I have never been really uncomfortable.


Link to comment
Share on other sites


if not in a drysuit: my basic summer/warm weather paddling getup:

Surfskin pants or shorts (its like neoprene with fleecy inner lining, acts like a wetsuit but comfortable)

Merino wool pullover underlayer ( next to skin: layers if needed: layering hardly ever needed in summer)

Kokatat Knappster short sleeved semi -drytop

NRS watershoes


spray skirt

hand- held compass


usually a helmet, or some sort of hat

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I dress like Peter does...

when too cold for either my shorts or my "longs" (Kokatat Surfskin Longs or Kokatat Neocore Shorts) with either a Knappster top or Paddling Jacket I move into the drysuit.

Personally I find wetsuits terribly uncomfortable and restrictive. The length of the torso always give me a backache, it is just a touch too short and so always pulls and I feel like I am fighting it all day. I also get rub marks from the arm holes - super sensitive skin.

If you go the wetsuit route, you will find that the shorty styles don't usually have a relief zipper. Therefore if you need to pee, you need to remove your life jacket and any layering pieces and then bare yourself to the public... Discreetly of course (unless you are in a hurry:) ) Therefore for the times I am in shorty weather, I prefer separate pieces.

If you go the full farmer john/jane route, be sure to buy one with a relief zipper for the same reason as above.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Excluding a dry suit, what do folks consider essential to have as clothing options for paddling in warmer months?

A helmet for safety and as a hat for sun protection. Ideally without holes so you can use it to dump water on your head when you don't want to roll. I like the Strutter from Sweet Protection, but fit is essential.

A Buff to protect my neck.

Some light weight summer paddling gloves I found at EMS. They help keep away blisters.

Light weight non-cotton tee shirt and tights/shorts to wear under a dry suit. Preferably a dry suit who's durable water repellant has worn away. So the dry suit still keeps you dry, but the fabric wets out. All the cooling benefits of wearing a wet cotton tee shirt without the downsides!

Depending on my layering choices, an old dry suit can keep me cooler or warmer than any wetsuit, so I never paddle with a wetsuit. Of course if you can not afford a dry suit, a wetsuit might be a cheaper alternative. I do occasionally wish for a shorty wetsuit to wear at pool practice sessions on days the pool is cold, but that is off your summer topic.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


I hear you about shorty vs. long Farmer John/Jane type wet suits. The main difference, of course, is your legs are covered--which doesn't make much difference when paddling as most of the heat is being generated in your torso which has the same material on it (with or without a paddle jacket). When paddling in our colder waters even in summer, your legs are in the 55-60 degree water when launching and landing. And inside the boat, they are on or near the bottom of the boat which sits in the same cold water. So neoprene on your legs can be welcome protection.

I find I wear my Hydroskin shorts only when I don't want to wear the neoprene wetsuit on my torso while paddling, It would have to be stinky hot for the neoprene on my legs to be a problem.

Just a thought.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Suz, the reason for your back discomfort in a wetsuit is pretty simple, they're designed and cut to be used in standing or prone position where your body is straight, not for sitting. Consequently, when you sit, the back of the suit gets stretched and it bunches up in the front. It's the same reason and neoprene shorts tend to ride down in the back when paddling. It's too bad that wetsuit makers don't offer a cut that's similar to a cycling "skinsuit", which is designed for a position where you're bent at the waist. I have seen some paddling shorts with that type of cut.

Then again, I can't stand wearing neoprene for paddling (other than boots and gloves), so it's irrelevant for me. I typically transition directly from a dry suit to a dry top with Hydroskin (or similar) shorts, based on the conditions.

One garment that I find really useful in summer & early fall conditions where you have cool/cold water and warm air is a short sleeve dry top. It provides excellent core protection against wind and water, but the exposed arms allow you to regulate your temperature so you don't overheat and sweat excessively. Waterproof/breathable fabric is key here, too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


It was good to paddle with you yesterday and to relax with ice cream afterward. Here is the progression of my paddling wardrobe and my thoughts.

1st purchase was a Farmer John wetsuit (it was on sale), paddling gloves, paddling socks and boots and a dry-top. I wore an old long-sleeved running shirt under the wetsuit. That served me well for the first and subsequent 4 springs and in the summer I moved into old running shorts with running t-shirts. And I wear a one-piece bathing suit under everything. I recycled my old suits from when I used to swim laps.

2nd purchase was off of Craigslist was a pair of hydroskin shorts a paddling jacket and a kayak cart (all for a ridiculous price). And I wore those in the summer for about 4 years

3rd purchase ~ rash guards! I started with one short-sleeved and one long-sleeved. Wore those for about 3 years and then started adding to the collection.

4th purchase ~ replacement hydroskin shorts (just this year) & a replacement paddling jacket from our gear swap in the fall

5th purchase ~ drum roll please ~ a dry suit! I have various weights of silk and wool long underwear that I wear under it, over the consistent bathing suit...

Last purchase ~ a cag (used)

Thoughts: buy Kokatat or NRS rashguards The in-expensive ones don't hold up well and on the short-sleeved ones the sleeves are too short causing chafing with the PFD

Yes, a dry suit off the bat would have been lovely but I wasn't in the position to make that purchase.

Troll Craigslist and other kayak clubs 9and of course ours) classified ads, great deals can be had
.I am happy with my dry-top and glad I have one.

If I can be of help further give me a call or PM me.

Take care,

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll put in a plug for a simple-seamed rashguard. (Meaning a layer you wear under everything else to prevent chafing.) The ones with "flat-lock" stitching (which is all of the special paddling ones) don't work for me. The stitching thread is too rough and chafes wherever the seam gets crossed by whatever I'm wearing on top.

So instead I bought myself some short-sleeved shirts which are made for general sports use. They are very thin, very, very stretchy in all directions, and one size too small. They have regular seams with the raw edges meant to be inside the shirt, but I wear them inside out under everything else. They work like a charm and cost very little off the clearance rack.

...Personally I find wetsuits terribly uncomfortable and restrictive...

Suz, I know you're not a wetsuit person :-) But for others... Wetsuits can be altered, believe it or not. I tried it, it worked. Instructions are here. Much better, but still restrictive :-(

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Katherine wrote:

<...a pair of hydroskin shorts, a paddling jacket and a kayak cart...And I wore those in the summer for about 4 years>

How's the cart working out for you, darlin'? Is it stretchy enough for you? ;^)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's too bad that wetsuit makers don't offer a cut that's similar to a cycling "skinsuit", which is designed for a position where you're bent at the waist. I have seen some paddling shorts with that type of cut...

Reed Chill Cheater makes pre-bent paddling shorts in Aquatherm and Aquatherm Fleece. Good stuff!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

I'd like to pick up this conversation again . . .

I have had trouble with a reaction to the seam glue in NRS wetsuits and want to switch to something else. I only wear a wetsuit for a short time in the shoulder seasons or the pool, so had a 3mm farmer john. It worked well for approx. 60 degree water. There don't seem to be very many manufacturers of 3mm wetsuits in short sleeve or farmer john with taped seams, so I'm also looking at Reed Aquatherm.

Does anyone know of a correlation/comparison of Aquatherm to mm thickness in wetsuits?


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...