What to Wear on the Water: Paddlesports

Hi, I’m Rob, Chief Instructor at Whitemoor Lakes Activity Centre in Staffordshire. I’ve been investing in paddlesports kit, both personally and for our centre, for quite some time and this has given me a rounded perspective on appropriate kit choices when you’re starting out. There’s such a vast array of different kit you can get and for this reason we’re going to focus on clothing, in a later blog we’ll move on to boat types and paddles.

It can be a bit daunting to start thinking about what to wear, will I get wet? Will I get too cold? Will I be too hot? Will I be too restricted? 

The questions above are important to determine our clothing choices and I will try to guide you in making those decisions. 

Are you just trying paddlesports?

Swimwear & Normal Clothing

If you’re just trying water sports as a one off, maybe just whilst on residential or on holiday we usually recommend wearing swimwear or normal clothing instead of investing in something more expensive.

Important things to consider are:

  • Even in warmer seasons you can still get cold when wet. 
  • Manmade over natural materials. Manmade materials have much better qualities as they dry out a lot faster and don’t hold the water as well
  • A bonus of swimwear and normal clothing is that it’s low cost and likely to be things you already have.

Recommendations for types of clothing to wear:

  • Thin fleeces
  • Jogging bottoms
  • Leggings
  • Polyester t-shirts

Do you regular do paddlesports? 

Wetsuits & Associated Accessories

Once you find yourself doing paddlesports more regular, wetsuits are your next investment, they’re easily accessible and reasonably low cost, even from new (roughly £15/20 from a supermarket). Alongside wetsuits you may want to think about wet suit boots/shoes and a rash vest (a Lycra based layer for your torso). If you’re thinking about buying a wetsuit make sure you have the correct size for your body shape, it’s essential that the suit is tight fitting to your body without being restrictive in movement. I’d suggest always going and trying a wetsuit on in a shop first as there’s such an array of sizes and shapes of suit.

Basic options with wetsuits are:

  • Shortie wetsuit which has no arms or legs on it, perfect for the summer months.
Shortie wetsuit from Wetsuit Outlet
  • Long John Wetsuit which has no arms on it, this is preferable to a lot of kayakers because it keeps your legs warm but doesn’t restrict arm movement. 
Long John Wetsuit from Wetsuit Outlet
  • Summer full body wetsuit (usually 3mm thick) great for the warmer months as it covers the whole body yet is still breathable.
Summer Full Body Wetsuit from Wetsuit Outlet
  • Hybrid/steamers full body wetsuit (usually a mixture of 3/5mm thick) these wetsuits usually have thicker panels on crucial body parts such as the torso and thinner panels on areas that need more flexibility such as underneath the arms and back of the knees.
  • Winter full body wetsuit (usually 5mm thick) is a great option for the colder months as it covers the whole body, but not recommended for the heat of summer.
Winter Full Body Wetsuit from Wetsuit Outlet

My view would be that a wetsuit is a good investment if you’re spending a lot of time in the water. A wetsuit holds a layer of water between your skin and the suit which warms up and helps to retain your heat. It is also a great choice if you’re looking for something for various types of water sports. If you’re looking at gear specifically for kayaking or canoeing, when you’re less likely to spend time in the water then there’s more appropriate specialist gear you can purchase. 

If you’re looking to buy a wetsuit I’d recommend either going to a local supermarket (if you’re looking for a cheap of the shelf option) or a local wetsuit retailer such as Boardwise based in Cannock (local to Whitemoor Lakes) or if you know exactly what you want, WetsuitOutlet is a great online retailer. 

Are you focusing specifically on kayaking or canoeing?

Specific Gear

So now we get into the realms of more expensive gear, specific to paddlesports. There are various options to choose from:

  • Dry suits are all in one oversuits worn over the top of appropriate clothing, you have the option to wear thicker clothing in the winter seasons and thinner clothing during summer so it can be worn all year around. It should keep you 100% dry underneath although this depends of the quality of the suit. There are various types on the market some designed specifically for kayaking or canoeing.
Dry Suit from Northeast Kayaks
  • Cag tops are made out of the same material as a dry suit but have a gasket at the waist so purely keep your top half dry, again you can wear normal clothing underneath. Some cags are semi-dry which usually means that one or more of the seals around your wrist or neck are neoprene rather than latex (neoprene is more comfortable against the skin however it can let water through whereas latex can’t). 
Cag top from Northeast Kayaks
  • Dry bottoms are made out of the same material as a dry suit and have a gasket at the waist and keep your bottom half dry. Some dry bottoms come with fabric feet, some come with ankle gaskets allowing you to choose whichever works best with the other kit you own. 
Dry Bottoms from Desperate Measures

Usually cags and dry bottoms are worn as a two piece system so in effect are almost as good as a dry suit. However they will never fully seal you against the water like a dry suit but they are most cost effective and more adaptable depending on the climate and the circumstances. 

  • Neoprene shorts and trousers are an adaptable bit of kit that are normally worn with a cag rather than normal shorts or dry bottoms, they’re a cheaper alternative to dry bottoms and they offer some protection for the lower body. 
Neoprene Trousers from Desperate Measures

I’d recommend various companies for specific gear which all have physical shops as well as the option to buy online such as Robin Hood WatersportsNorth East Kayaks or Desperate Measures

We really hope that this simple guide of what to wear on the water will help you chose your kit more wisely. Obviously this is a really basic guide but hopefully it’ll point you in the right direction. Keep your eyes peeled for further blogs.


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