How to Dress for Kayaking

45° to 55° Water Temperature

When the water temperature drops below 55° it is important to wear a drytop or drysuit as an outer layer. Your insulating layer - what you wear under the drytop or drysuit - will depend on the air temperature and the wind. Photo of drysuit, hood and poggies.

A few points to remember about drytops and drysuits:

  • A drytop will only keep you dry if you stay in your kayak. With a good drytop, you can roll a couple of times and keep dry. If you take a swim, water will seep up through the bottom of the drytop.
  • A drysuit keeps you dry, but the insulation under the drysuit is what keeps you warm. The drysuit itself only has as much insulation as a paddling jacket.
  • We don't recommend non breathable drytops or drysuits. With non breathable outerwear, you stay wet from your own perspiration, which can lead to hypothermia.
  • The clothing under a drytop or drysuit needs to be a layering system, as in all temperature ranges. The base layer should be thin should move the moisture away from your skin to the next layer and, finally, out of the drysuit. goertex

Don't forget about your head, hands and feet.

If you get a drysuit, get one with Gore-tex socks (above right). Dry feet are a treat at the end of a long cold day of paddling. Remember that the Gore-tex socks are not insulating, so wear warm socks under them.

Poggies (right) are mitts that attach to a paddle. They don't keep your hands warm if you take a swim, but they do allow you to have a better feel of the paddle. For cold water paddling, a pair of gloves worn under poggies are essential.

The head is a major source of heat loss. While it makes up only 9% the body's surface area, we lose almost half our body heat from it. Fuzzy Rubber hoods are excellent insulators, and are easy to adjust while under way. You can wear one around your neck, protecting a large heat loss area, and with one hand put it on your head for warmth or remove it for cooling.

Next PageA Storm Cag (also called a seal suit) is a great addition for sea paddlers. It functions as a rain cover and windbreaker. Since it is worn over your paddling gear, you can put it on or remove it while under way. The trick to being comfortable and safe wearing a drysuit is to dress warmly enough under the drysuit to be safe if you take a long swim, but not so warm that you'll overheat. By using a hood, poggies and a storm cag you can adjust for a wide temperature range without adjusting the insulation under the drysuit.

In this temperature range one can clearly start to feel the effects of "cold shock" upon sudden immersion. You may immediately feel yourself hyperventilating (gasping for air) and have difficulty tying to handle your equipment (boat, paddle). It becomes difficult to talk someone else through a rescue for several minutes as your body is sending a message about how uncomfortable it is. You will be confused (loosely translated: "I don't understand what's going on") and your body will refuse to calm itself down.

Below 55° Clothing Option Chart

Any layer below can be matched with any other layer

Base Layer

Insulation Layer

Outer Layer

Extra Items

Second Skin Tee

Winterweight Tee

Dry Top

Hood or hat

Inner Core

Paddling Shirt


Gloves or Poggies

Second Skin Pants & Tee

Storm Cag


OuterCore Pant & Shirt


  Neoprene boots & warm socks

When cold water paddling, your safety gear is not limited towhat you wear. Extra equipment to carry in your kayak should include:

A waterproof bag with extra clothing

A VCP Igloo

A heavy duty space blanket

and a stove or thermos of hot liquids.

Make sure you test whatever clothing combination you decide on.

Always dress so you will be happy to take a swim.

New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department ©
1220 South St. Francis Drive | Santa Fe, NM 87505
EMNRD Legal Disclaimer