Session 2.5
Session 2.5 (courtesy, Immersion Research)

What clothing do I need for the different types of paddling?

I see a variety of different kayak clothing on the market (i.e., drytops versus wetsuits). I have always been confused about the different weather conditions and types of kayaking in which each type of clothing would be appropriate. Can you help? Philip Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Session 2.5

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In choosing paddling clothing you have to remember one thing: It’s not about the boat. It’s about what happens when you get dunked in the water! So no matter what, you need clothing that can keep you warm even if you’re not in the boat. Even on a warm summer day, that will probably mean synthetic long underwear, a Farmer John-type wetsuit bottom, and upper-body wear that’s appropriate for the conditions—either a short-sleeve or long-sleeve top that’s waterproof or water-resistant, and insulation to match.

Session 2.5 Session 2.5

Generally, though, tourists can count on staying drier than whitewater paddlers. So whitewater folks often like to wear a “spray top,” a garment with neoprene seals at the neck, wrists, and waist so that you stay dry almost no matter what. A good example of this is Immersion Research’s Session 2.5 jacket ($140-$170;, which uses a waterproof-breathable fabric to keep you from cooking in the thing.

Tourists in warm climates can usually get by with light synthetic clothing, and have to worry more about sunburn than anything else. Cold-weather paddlers, however, may have to anticipate what might happen if they’re in the water for an extended period of time, or get caught in rough, chilly weather. Serious cold-water tourists often wear a full drysuit, such as Kokatat’s Gore-Tex Dura Drysuit ($830; It’s shockingly expensive, but provides the best protection possible in extreme, cold conditions (of course, you also need to don insulation under it).

So one outfit doesn’t suit all conditions. Sometimes shorts and a light shirt are fine. Sometimes you can put on stuff you’d wear backpacking and be fine (plus a personal flotation device, of course). Other times you have to dress as if you were scuba diving. It’s all a matter of where you’re going, what the water/weather conditions are apt to be, and whether you’re just offshore or heading out to sea.

For everything paddling, check out Outside Online’s all-new Kayaks Buying Guide.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: courtesy, Immersion Research