What to Wear Kayaking

What to Wear Kayaking

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Fashion Afloat: How to Dress for Kayaking Success

Whether you're taking the kids kayaking on a flat water lake or splashy whitewater river, wearing the right clothing makes the difference between a great day and a bad experience. Deck your kids out in styles that are summer-savvy and won't leave them waterlogged.

Ditch the T-Shirt and Jeans

T-shirts and jeans might be classic summer outdoor wear, but they're the absolute worst thing to wear kayaking. Splashes from your paddle, an unexpected dunk in the creek or water collected in the bottom of the craft means you'll get at least a little wet. Cotton absorbs water and dries slowly, meaning a t-shirt and jeans will turn heavy, clammy and cold—and stay that way for hours. Surface winds and cooler temperatures on the water mean cotton-clad kids will get cold, miserable, whiny and at increased risk for hypothermia.

The Best Outfits

Breathable, synthetic materials like woven polyester provide the best combination of quick-drying fabric with sun protection. Make sure each family member has:

  • Long-sleeved shirt and pants from quick-dry material that is Ultraviolet Protection Factor-rated. Kids paddling in swimwear will get sunburned early on. Pack UPF-rated clothes to cover as much skin as possible when they're done with the sun. Look for shirts with sleeves that roll up and pants with zip-off legs for versatility. These fabrics are lightweight and hand wash easily, making them a great vacation investment.
  • A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
  • A dry bag secured to the inside of the kayak with a light fleece jacket, a lightweight fleece hat and a change of quick-dry clothing. These items can quell teeth-chattering crying and be actual lifesavers should weather or wind increase hypothermia risks. 
  • Closed-toe water shoes or neoprene booties for river paddling. Broken toes and gashes to feet are common when taking a spill from the kayak on moving water. 

Cold-Water Paddling

Base your decision to include a wetsuit or dry suit in your kayaking wardrobe on water temperature, not outdoor temperature. Hypothermia is a real and potentially fatal risk, even on hot summer days. Kids lose body heat even faster than adults, and they are often having too much fun to realize how cold they are.

Check the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) Water Resources website to get water temperature data for the river or lake you plan to paddle. If water is under 75 degrees F, plan for at least a "shorty" wetsuit—one with short arms and legs—to keep the kids warm at their core. Wetsuits should fit snugly with no extra room since they heat the water next to the body to insulate from the cold water. Rent kids' wetsuits from a local outfitter, as this is one item where you can't leave room for growth. A rash guard or thin fleece shirt underneath will keep seams from rubbing and getting uncomfortable.

The Most Important Fashion Item

A life jacket is the most important thing to wear kayaking. The U.S. Coast Guard mandates that kids under 13 wear one when on a boat of any kind while underway. Mom's rules should mandate wearing one at any age: Even the strongest, fastest kid on the swim team will drown if knocked unconscious or paralyzed from hypothermia. Life vests make kids easier to see in the water, too, lessening the chances of accidents with motorized boats on a lake.

Fortunately, today's life jackets are fashionable and comfortable sports gear that kids usually don't mind wearing. Just make sure that infant, toddler or other non-swimmer jackets have a strap between the legs to keep them from sliding out as well as a head support that keeps them from floating face down.

Other Things to Bring

Tuck a few more items in each bag to make sure the trip goes well. A small microfleece towel helps kids dry off and warm up more quickly. Granola bars or other sealed snacks can chase away the "hangries" and restore energy. A rain poncho or solar blanket takes up little room but can prevent hypothermia from unexpected summer showers.

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