Gear & Clothing Strategies for Warm Weather Kayaking

Kayaking is one of the outdoor activities that is growing massively in popularity these days. Especially as winter settles in here in North America, the idea of heading somewhere warm for a kayak trip in the sun, with clear blue water, bright sandy beaches and beautiful sunshine sounds amazing right now. The trips Sea Kayak Adventures run in Baja Mexico check all of those boxes, and provide an excellent option to escape the winter blues and get back into the sun. Kayaking in warm climates brings it’s own set of challenges though, not the least of which is sun protection when you’re out on the water. In this article we’re going to talk about how to dress for kayaking in warm weather to keep yourself happy, comfortable and, most importantly, not looking like a tomato. We’ve got lots to cover here so let’s jump right into it.

Sea Kayak Adventures Guests on tour in Eastern Cuba

 

Gear Essentnials for Warm Weather Kayaking

Personal Floation Device: 

First things first, there are a few things that you should never go paddling without. The most important of which is a Personal Flotation Device, or PFD. This is what most people would call a lifejacket, although if you want to get technical, a lifejacket is built in such a way that if the wearer is unconscious in the water, it will keep them face up, whereas a PFD is intended only to keep you floating. This is by far the most important thing to wear while kayaking, since in an emergency it can be what separates a scary story told around the campfire from a real tragedy.

There are different styles of PFDs, and the ones that are typically designed for kayaking have very little padding on the lower back, as this is more comfortable with the backrest of the kayak seat. However the most important thing is that your PFD fits properly for your body, is properly adjusted and always kept fully done up.

Sprayskirt: 

The other thing I would consider essential to wear when kayaking is a sprayskirt. The sprayskirt is worn around your waist and seals around the cockpit of the kayak. While some would say that you can kayak safely without one, I would argue that the benefits always outweigh the risks. First of all it will keep you much dryer, as it prevents waves from washing into the cockpit of your boat. In rough conditions this can be an essential safety feature, but even on a calm day it is far more comfortable to keep the drips falling off your paddle from soaking your legs. In addition it keeps the sun off of your legs, so you don’t need to worry about sunburning your knees. If it’s a calm and warm day, you can paddle with it draped over your knees rather than hooked over the cockpit, but it’s always worth having one.

There are two main styles of sprayskirt, one made of nylon, and the other neoprene. The nylon skirts are best for beginners, as they can be put on and taken off more easily.  Neoprene skirts fit the cockpit tighter and therefore provide a better seal for paddling in rough conditions or rolling your kayak. A neoprene sprayskirt can be more challenging to take off however, and makes some inexperienced kayakers uncomfortable, feeling like they could be trapped in the boat. If you’re planning on using a neoprene skirt, make sure you spend time practicing putting it on and taking it off your boat to get comfortable with it.

Sea Kayak Adventures Guide, Mario, paddling near Loreto, Baja

 

Clothing for Warm Weather Sea Kayaking

First of all a couple of notes on what types of clothing is and isn’t recommended. The main point here is to avoid cotton as much as possible. Kayaking is a water sport and cotton does not handle water well. Synthetic materials will always be better when kayaking, so try to keep away from the cotton t-shirt, even a blend is better than pure cotton.

Sun Protection: 

The biggest thing to think about in terms of dressing for warm weather kayaking is staying sun safe. Not only will the sun beat down on you from above, but it reflects off the water as well, hitting you with a double dose of powerful rays that can lead to sunburn, dehydration, eye damage and more. Keeping the sun off is the biggest key to success. We’ll work our way from top to bottom, starting out with what to wear on your head.

Head Coverage: 

Some kind of a hat is key. I usually wear a ball cap, but something wide brimmed is even better. The guides in Baja love their big sombreros, and I’ve known people to take a cowboy hat on every kayak trip. Just make sure that with those wider brims you’ve got some kind of a strap to keep it from blowing away in the wind. Next up comes sunglasses. Even with a hat the reflection of the sun off the water can be killer on your eyes by the end of the day. They don’t need to be expensive but UVA/UVB protection is a must, and polarized glasses are wonderful on the water. Here too, some kind of strap like Chums or Croakies, or just an extra piece of string to keep from losing them is well worth it, especially if your glasses are on the pricier end of the spectrum.

Upper Body: 

For your body my biggest counsel is not to forego sleeves. As much as soaking up the rays in a tank top sounds appealing, keeping the sun off your shoulders will make you a much happier camper by the end of the day. Additionally it’s not uncommon to hear complaints of chafing from the paddler in the tank top by mid afternoon, so sleeves are strongly recommended. On that note, I actually prefer long sleeves as much as possible. Nothing heavy of course, but a rashguard, or long sleeve t-shirt means I don’t have to worry about the sunscreen washing off my arms with every splash. For those of us who burn really easily, a sunshirt with built in SPF might be worth considering. Gloves (with or without fingers) can be an option as well. More for blister protection than anything else. If it’s your first kayak trip of the year and your hands are prone to blisters it’s not a bad idea to bring a pair along.

Lower Body: 

On the legs I just wear board shorts, or some type of athletic shorts. A sprayskirt will keep the sun off your legs, although if you’re not wearing one, make sure to sunscreen the area inside your knees. I’ve been caught more than once with a painful burn and some silly tan lines in that spot. On my feet I usually wear water shoes or sandals with a backstrap. I definitely like something that stays on my feet as I get in and out of the boat. 

Sunscreen:

This brings us to one of the most important things you’ll need to wear when you’re out kayaking on a sunny day. Sunscreen! Don’t make the mistake of ruining your vacation by foregoing the sunscreen on day one and dealing with a bad burn the rest of the trip.  Apply early, and reapply often. I always keep a tube of lip chap with SPF in my PFD as well. Sunburnt lips are no fun. If you’re in and out of the water frequently, a water resistant sunscreen will help a lot, and a reef safe sunscreen will help take care of all the undersea life we’re jumping in to explore.

Sea Kayakers exploring the geological formations around Isla Espiritu Santo in Baja

 

Overall dressing yourself for warm weather kayaking is all about sun safety and comfort. You don’t need to overthink it too much, everyone will find their own personal strategies for staying happy and comfortable on the water. I hope you’ll find some of these tips helpful for your next kayaking adventure. I look forward to running into you on the water sometime in the near future!

Cheers,

Colin

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