What to Wear Canoeing

What to Wear Canoeing for a Comfortable Day on the Water

If you’re getting ready to go on a canoeing adventure sometime soon you’re probably excited. There are few activities as enjoyable and relaxing as canoeing, and you’ll be all set to have a leisurely morning or afternoon on the water. But if it’s your first time, or you haven’t been out in a while, you may be wondering what to wear canoeing?

After all, we all know that weather can change quickly out on the lake. One of the most important steps you need to take in order to make sure you have the best experience possible is to wear the right clothes for canoeing.

You don’t want to overpack, but you’ll want to wear flexible clothing and accessories to stay comfortable so you can have fun while canoeing.

The temperature of the water and air will be crucial, so keep that in mind. Even a day that might seem quite warm, might feel a bit chilly on the water, especially if you get wet or if there’s more than a moderate breeze.

Also, if you fall in the water at any point, it’s possible to get cold water shock or even hypothermia. Remember that the human body loses heat u to 25 times more quickly when in cold water than in air of the same temperature. Also, people of smaller size lose heat more quickly than larger individuals. This is why it’s especially important to make sure that kids are dressed well when you head out for a canoe outing.

In this article I’ll share my top tips so you wear the right gear on your upcoming canoe trip.

Let’s get started!

Layering: The Key to Dressing for the Canoe

For obvious reasons, layering your clothes is one of the most effective steps you can take to be properly outfitted for a canoe excursion.

That’s because if you feel too warm at any point, you can remove a layer or two and still have those items available to put back on if you need to.

Even if you don’t wear your extra layers in the beginning, I recommend that you have them in the boat with you in case the weather or your body temperature changes.

What to Wear Canoeing - Wear Layers to Stay Comfortable All Day

When you layer, you wear (and/or bring) two kinds of clothing—insulation clothing and a shell or windbreaker of some kind.

Insulation requires synthetic base layers as well as fleece. This will depend on how low you think the temperature could go.

If you’re going canoeing on an average summer day, you might want to bring a simple long-sleeve shirt.

If you are heading out in the spring or fall, bring two shirts, and maybe a fleece or a sweatshirt.

What Kind of Fabric is Best for Canoeing

We all have plenty of cotton in our closet, but cotton isn’t the best option for boating. It stays wet a long time and loses its insulating properties when it is wet.

I recommend that you shop with outdoor companies to find specialized base layers made from nylon and polyester or other kinds of synthetic fabric. These materials shed water and dry rapidly. They also will retain their insulating properties when damp. You should be aware that fleece is almost invariably synthetic.

If you’re running rapids in cold weather, invest in a wet suit or dry suit.

Again, stay away from cotton except for the shortest and most casual of canoe trips. This material will almost never keep your warm when you really need it.

For canoeing, stick with clothing made of synthetic materials or wool.

And if you’re bringing a few clothing items with you (and not wearing them), pack them in a bag. You should use a special bag called a dry bag, but if you aren’t a frequent paddler, a big Ziploc freezer bag could work. That said, you can find dry bags for very reasonable prices. This one on Amazon is under $15.

What to Wear Canoeing in Different Conditions

Get Ready for Wind and Water

When on the water, you’re sure to experience much more in the way of wind and cool breezes than you would on land. When traveling in a canoe, you have to assume that you will be splashed at one time or another. This is why you should bring a waterproof and windproof jacket. If there is a possibility that the air or water could be very cold, think about bringing a dry top or dry suit, as well.

A wetsuit will let a tiny amount of water to get inside. This remains between the wetsuit layer and your skin, giving you insulation. This means that you will feel the cold of the water at first if you fall in. On the other hand, a drysuit makes sure that you stay completely dry. Drysuits tend to be the best option for cold weather and dangerous conditions such as icy water.

What You Should Wear While Canoeing

Don’t Forget the Sunscreen and Sunglasses

With all the other preparations you need to make, you might find it all too easy to forget your sunglasses and sunscreen. I consider both of these items as essentials for a day on the water, though, and you will end up with problems (such as a nasty sunburn) if you don’t have them with you.

Many people have these items already, but it’ll cost less than $10 to buy a cheap pair of sunglasses and small tube of sunscreen for your upcoming canoe trip.

What if it’s Very Hot Outside?

If you’re going canoeing on a very steamy day, it’s possible that just your swimwear will be enough for you to wear.

But I still recommend that you bring some clothes with you.

Remember your sunscreen and sunglasses! Many people also like to wear a lightweight shirt. Look for fabrics that can wick away moisture, and possibly fabrics with some UV protection if you’re Irish like me.

Whatever you wear, if it’s a hot day make sure it breathes.

Don’t Forget Your Footwear

Remember that you should also wear appropriate footwear for canoeing. Find shoes that are not only comfortable but waterproof, as well. Waterproof sandals might be a good option, but they must have straps so you can be sure they won’t fall off.

We all love flip-flops, but once they get wet, many of them can be super slick under foot, making it easy to slip and fall while carrying your canoe to or from the car.

I always recommend bringing shoes that you’ll wear in the boat. If you choose to take them off while canoeing, they’ll sink right to the bottom if you capsize. This is another reason why flip flops are usually a no-no when canoeing.

Think about getting paddling shoes or river shoes. These shoes tend to dry quickly and often have sturdy construction. I have these ones.

Protect Your Eyes

I’ve already mentioned sunglasses, but honestly it bears repeating.

I see so many people heading out in a canoe without sunglasses, and the sunlight that your eyes will have to deal with on the water is especially strong, as the UV rays reflect off the lake or river.

You can damage your eyes if you don’t protect them with a  high-quality pair of sunglasses. It’s best to attach them to some croakies or a retainer strap of some kind so that you can’t lose them should you capsize. And choose Polarized sunglasses (Amazon link) if you have the choice.

Canoeing Gear

You could wear a hat, too. This will give you extra shade. Ensure that it’s securely attached to you so that it won’t blow away.

And if you wear your hat backwards, make sure you apply sunscreen to your forehead or you’ll have a pretty funky tan on your dome when you get back to shore.

Yes, I’m speaking from experience on that last one.