Safety Gear and Clothing
As paddlers its always a good idea to choose clothing that will protect us from the elements and that is suitable for immersion in water in case we do take a dip.
How to dress for paddling
1. Choose the right materials
Cotton fabrics can retain up to 25% of their weight in water and take hours to dry so they are generally not the best choice for a paddling trip unless your traveling through an extremely hot environment and want something that will cool you down. Synthetic fabrics such as fleece, nylon, and capilene should be worn rather than cotton.
2. Protection from bugs and sun
In hot environments, protection from the sun and bugs are often the first concerns. Clothing should be lightweight, loose fitting, and breathe well. In locations where biting insects are a problem, lightweight long sleeve shirts and pants will protect the skin. A face net may be needed in many coastal or swampy locations to keep away pesky mosquitos and of course lots of high factor sun screen for your body, face and lips.
Shorts are the coolest choice for the lower body but leave the lower legs and ankles exposed to sun, bugs, and brush. A quick drying material such as nylon will keep the paddler dry and cool throughout the day.
Sandals allow the feet to dry, an important feature in hot and wet environments. Sandals with a secure heel strap, thick sole, and toe-box covering the toes are ideal. Flip flops offer very little foot protection, are easily lost, and should be avoided as a paddling shoe.
Long sleeve shirts made of lightweight cotton or a quick-dry synthetic fabric will provide you with protection from the sun and bugs. Many new synthetic styles offer built in UPF protection and a flip-up collar to shield the back of the neck. Button up shirts are often preferred because they can be unbuttoned to provide ventilation or buttoned to shield the skin from bugs or sun.
6. Hats and sunglasses
A wide brimmed hat and sunglasses will shield your head, face, eyes, and neck from the sun and provide a welcome bit of shade on hot days.
7. Lightweight Gloves and suncreen
Lightweight gloves will shield your hands from the sun.
Sunscreen should always be worn on any parts of the body that are exposed.
9. Specialised cold weather clothing
Cold paddling environments are dangerous and hypothermia is always a concern. In these environments it is worth investing in more specialized clothing to keep you warm. Always dress for immersion in water rather than for the temperature of the day.
A wetsuit is made from neoprene and are available in varying degrees of thickness and coverage. A Farmer John suit, resembling a pair of overalls, is often favored by paddlers because it allows for a better range of motion in the arms and shoulders. Wetsuits work by trapping a thin layer of water between the neoprene and the paddler’s body. Body heat warms the thin layer of water and after a few cold minutes in the water, allowing you to begin to warm up. A thin synthetic layer can be worn between the skin and wetsuit to prevent chafing and a paddling top is often worn over the torso and arms to deflect spray.
Drysuits are much more expensive than wetsuits but offer paddlers more comfort and protection.
Utilizing tight gaskets at the neck, wrists, and ankles a dry suit seals out most water. Layers underneath can be tailored to fit the temperatures of the air and water. Most dry suits are made from breathable but waterproof materials such as GoreTex. Some dry suits may have booties on the feet instead of gaskets at the ankles to provide an additional level of protection. Other dry suits are classified as “Semi-dry” and have a neoprene closure at the neck instead of a tight gasket. They are not as waterproof but are much more comfortable.
12. Gloves and Pogies
Thick neoprene gloves or pogies are often worn to protect the hands and keep them warm and neoprene hoods can be worn over the head in truly cold environments. Neoprene booties over thick wool socks will protect the feet, especially when using a dry suit with attached booties to keep the feet dry.
Check out the weather forecast so you can dress suitably for your adventure or trip.
Not matter what the weather make sure you are dressed suitable for a swim. If your out on a beautiful sunny summers day and capsize into an ice cold glacial lake you need to make sure your choice of clothing will mean you are going to be ok both out of the water and in the water just in case you do fall in.
Its definitely worth the investment in specialist gear if you are going to be paddling in cold weather conditions. Once you try a drysuit you will rarely turn back.
It is also worth considering the colour of your gear. Bright colours will definitely increase your visibility to others out on the water.