are several different approaches to kayak clothing and different
people have different preferences but in the main they all try
to consider 2 different and often opposite requirements. The first
requirement is to keep you at a comfortable temperate whilst you
are actually in the kayak and paddling away. This might be in
calm inland conditions on a hot summer’s day when you’d
possibly be too hot in even shorts and t-shirt. On the other hand
you might be paddling in the open ocean in January at -5 deg c
with a 20 knot wind blowing….. Now that's cold!!.
second requirement to consider is that your clothing should be
able to let you survive when it all goes wrong, the boat capsizes
and you end up in the water , struggling to get back into your
kayak, or you get separated from your kayak and you have to bob
around in the water until someone hopefully rescues you. There
are also several different types of kayaking with different considerations.
River kayaking in white water could consist of several short bursts
of activity in between which you return to the bank. The chances
of capsize are significant and frequent and if kayaking in the
winter months in the UK the water is usually not very much above
Kayaking on the other hand could last all day and, on a good day,
you might not end up in the water at all. There can be long periods
of relaxed paddling with the occasional frantic moment when a
wave hits you unexpectedly. If the weather picks up you might
be in for a hard time battling waves and against the wind and
tide. Knowing the weather forecast is a must in both planning
your journey and planning your attire! If you capsize and you
can't recover then you might end up in the water for an awful
Shorts are often worn in combination
with a cag top. They can be ‘straight cut’ or
‘prebent’. Prebent shorts are specially shaped
with a lower front and higher back so that they sit better
when in the seated position. Sometimes they are called ‘seated
shorts’. During immersion in cold water they will
offer a degree of warmth around the area covered by virtue
of the ‘wetsuit effect’ of trapping a thin layer
of water around your body (For more on this see our ‘How
wetsuits work’ article).
Trousers are essentially longer versions
of wetsuit shorts and provide a bit more warmth in colder
Drysuits are full length, boiler suit
shaped garments that keep the wearer completely dry when
immersed. Tight latex rubber seals fit tightly round the
neck and wrists whilst watertight socks cover the feet.
A watertight ‘dryzip’ allows the user to don
the suit and seal themselves inside.
are normally ‘shell garments’ that require the
wearer to wear additional warmth layers underneath in order
to regulate temperature in line with the weather conditions.
The drysuit itself keeps out the water and provides a significant
level of wind chill protection.
feature other ways to close the neck. Neoprene neck seals
or neck systems that can vent open are sometimes seen. These
systems are rarely as effective as a latex seal in terms
of being watertight however some users trade this performance
feature in order to have a suit that can be opened at the
neck in warm weather.
are normally made from either latex rubber (like the neck
and wrist seals) or fabric material (Like the rest of the
suit). In our experience latex socks are more reliable,
are less likely to leak, and are easier to repair than fabric
socks. Fabric socks are normally made from breathable materials,
however, this benefit is normally last as wetsuit boots,
that are normally worm on top of the socks, are not breathable,
so almost all of this benefit is usually lost. Normal socks
are worn inside the drysuit socks to provide warmth and
comfort to the wearer. Neither latex nor fabric socks are
very comfortable if not worn with a normal sock inside.
Drysuits are broadly separated into 2
types; breathable and non breathable. Breathable drysuits
are made from materials that allow an amount of water vapour,
but not liquid water, to pass through the material. The
idea is that when you sweat, the warmth inside the suit
turns the sweat to vapour which can then escape though the
breathable drysuits tend to be made of a rubber material
that is sandwiched between 2 layers of fabric. The construction
of these suits is normally similar to drysuits used in diving.
These are often made from fleece material and are normally
one piece jumpsuits. A one piece garment is preferable to
separate top and bottoms as it keeps the number of crossing
layers at the waist to a minimum. Multiple layers at the
waist can become restrictive and cumbersome with a tight
spraydeck over the top so a single piece garment is significantly
more comfortable. The single piece design also avoids cold
spots where a gap may appear between the back of the trousers
and the bottom of the jumper.
Undersuits should be warm enough to offer
protection should prolonged immersion occur but not so warm
as overheating will occur during normal paddling. A 2 way
zip on the front of the suit allows the relief zip in many
drysuits to be used more easily.
Cag/Dry Top: Drycags
are essentially the top half of a drysuit. They are jumper
shaped and normally pull on over the head. When worn in
a kayak the theory is that as long as you stay in the boat
you will not get wet inside. The waist of the drycag overlaps
the waist tube of the spraydeck and the spraydeck fits tightly
over the cockpit rim of the kayak. If all these joins are
watertight then no water should get into the kayak nor into
the top itself thus you and the boat remain dry inside.
are normally sealed at the neck and wrists in the same way
as a drysuit. At the waist there is normally a way of tightening
the waist so it marries up with a spraydeck. The effectiveness
of the meeting of the waist and the spraydeck waist tube
will effect how well the garment will keep water out at
the waist. Some drycags have a double waist system where
the cag has 2 layers of material and the spraydeck tube
is sandwiched in between these 2 layers. Sometimes smoothskin
neoprene is used on the inside of these layers to improve
the ‘seal’ between the cag and the spraydeck.
well performing cag / spraydeck combination may even keep
you completely dry if you perform a manoeuvre such as an
the paddler has to exit the boat in an emergency and swims
then normally the spraydeck will still be attached at the
waist. The spraydeck and cag waist will be quite tight against
the body but will not be sufficient to give a totally watertight
seal in these conditions. Water will make its way up the
waist and ultimately wet the wearer.
the name ‘drycag’ really only applies whilst
the wearer remains in the boat.
are designed to reduce the chilling effect of cold wind,
rain and sea spray whilst kayaking. They do not keep you
totally dry and if you immerse then water will enter the
garment by the neck and probably other entry points (wrists,
waist, seams etc). Regardless of this , even when wet inside,
these garments significantly reduce the effect of wind chill.
are often made from lower cost fabrics such as PU (Poly
Urethane) coated nylon. Some spraytops are made from breathable
materials, but in the main, simple waterproof fabrics are
thin neoprene tops are a relatively new thing
to kayaking and are similar in appearance to a rash vest.
They are very stretchy and form almost a second skin round
the paddler. They are gaining popularity with river kayakers
in the warmer months. They are worm in place of a cag.
Full length wetsuits, whilst being warm, are relatively
unpopular in kayaking. The tight rubber around the arms
and shoulders can be restrictive for the repeated motion
experienced in paddling. They are sometimes worn during
surf kayaking though where the possibility of being repeatedly
‘thrashed’ by the waves can make a full suit
john style wetsuits , so called due to their
appearance similar to a farmer wearing dungarees, are more
popular as they combine the benefits of a wetsuit on the
bottom 2/3 of the body with unrestricted arm movement. Some
of the warmth of a full wetsuit is sacrificed in order to
free up the arms.
combination of a farmer john style wetsuit and a spraytop
is a common starting point for people taking up kayaking
in milder months. Beginners tend to be in the water more
often that experienced paddles so the wetsuit is a practical
garment in these circumstances. If you go to a club or outdoor
centre to learn kayaking you are likely to be issued with
this combination for your early training.
kayakers progress from this type of outfit onto drysuits
/ drycags etc and develop their own preferences for the
type of garments they prefer.
Deck/Spray Skirts: Spraydecks
(UK) or Sprayskirts (US) are garments made to
keep water from entering a kayak. When kayaking a person
sits in the middle of a large hole in the top of the kayak
through which their legs enter the forward section of the
boat. In the event of a capsize, rough weather or a simple
wave lapping over the top of the boat, water will flood
into this hole and enter the boat.
more water enters the boat the stability and buoyancy of
the craft are affected. As more water enters the boat it
will sink lower in the water until eventually it may sink,
or at least be completely swamped with water. It is much
easier to keep water our, than to let it get in and try
to remove it later and so spraydecks were invented to achieve
spraydeck should be tight round the waist of the wearer
and also tight round the rim of the kayak cockpit. A well
fitted spraydeck will keep water out in all but the most
demanding of conditions.
spraydeck should have a strong release handle that makes
it quick and easy to detach it from the boat in an emergency.
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