What to Wear While Paddleboarding

The question of what to wear while paddleboarding comes up regularly when new paddlers first start out. You’ve seen the magazine photos - smiling bikini clad models paddling in the sun, sporting dry hair and no pfd, or in some cases wearing nothing at all (we saw you, Orlando Bloom!).


As sexy and idyllic as this may seem, the reality of doffing most of your clothing and safety equipment while paddleboarding in many climates is far from practical and in many cases very distant from safety. And, not so different from most outdoor sports, especially water sports, you have many factors to consider when dressing for your adventure.



What to Wear - Critical Factors

Here are some of the most important elements that affect your comfort and safety while out on the water:

  1. Water temperature

  2. Air temperature

  3. Wind Chill

  4. Heat generated from paddling (adds warmth)

  5. Distance from shore, expected time on water & weather changes


Let’s dive in a little deeper to make sure you have a clear understanding of the importance of each of these factors while you are planning to get out on the water for your paddling adventures.


Water Temperature

Water temperature varies greatly from locale to locale, while in many areas, such as the Pacific NorthWest, ocean waters remain cold throughout the year, increasing only a few degrees in the summer. These water temperatures, often at odds with the air temperature, can make it difficult for paddlers to know how to dress for their on-water adventures. The best and overriding rule to go by is always: “Dress for immersion!”


What does this mean? Simply put, assume you will fall in and wear clothing appropriate for the water temperature, rather than the air. It may not need to be said, but cold water (any water less than 21 celsius or 70 Fahrenheit) is our greatest concern.


“Cold water immersion is the leading cause of death in paddlesports, yet thousands of paddlers are unaware of the danger.” In fact, cold water can be so dangerous that paddlers who fall in while inadequately prepared can die within seconds. This article on the 5 Golden Rules for Boating in Cold Water is a MUST READ for anyone venturing out for a paddle in cold water.


It may be helpful to understand that heat is actually conducted away from the body (through convection) 24 times faster in water than in the air. For paddlers who are wet or immersed in the water this means hypothermia will set in at an alarmingly rapid rate. Canada’s AdventureSmart safety program explains the 1:10:1 Principle of Cold Water Immersion. While this may seem terribly scary, we can’t stress enough how important it is to be well educated on this topic. What does all of this mean for paddleboarders trying to decide what to wear when paddling in colder waters?


  • To protect ourselves from massive convection heat loss while in cold water or while wet, it is necessary to wear an appropriate thickness of wetsuit or a drysuit with warm under layers.

  • It is important to remember that while a drysuit keeps you dry, it has no insulatory properties. Your warmth must come from the clothing you wear underneath.

  • Typically, the colder the water, the thicker the wetsuit needed to keep you warm.

  • Wetsuits require a thin layer of water to sit between your skin and the neoprene. This will work better if you are generating heat from movement which warms that layer of water.


Air Temperature

To protect ourselves from cold air temperatures (heat loss through convection) and help capture and hold the heat we create while paddling, we need an insulation layer (or two). This layer should be snug-fitting and consist of fabrics that help move moisture away from the base layer, yet retain your precious body heat. These layers trap your body heat in air pockets between the fibres of materials like wool, fleece and other synthetic fills.


To protect ourselves from hot air temperatures and the sun, it is important to wear cooler clothing that also provides sunblock. Rashguards, light workout wear and bathing attire are appropriate in these conditions along with sunscreen and hats to prevent heatstroke. Having plenty of drinking water on board is a necessity.


Wind Chill

Wind chill, the "feels-like" temperature, is how cold it actually feels on your skin when the wind is factored in. Wind strips away the thin layer of warm air above your skin. The stronger the wind, the more heat is lost from your body, and the colder it will feel. When the winds are light, it will feel closer to the actual air temperature.


To protect ourselves from wind chill (heat loss through convection) as well as help hold our heat produced from paddling, we need shell layers. Jackets, paddle tops and drysuits made of nylon, Gore-tex or other finely woven, windproof materials tackle this job best. This external layer also helps keep you dry when it rains or you get splashed.


Generated Heat from Paddling

We’ve already mentioned the body heat that is being generated while you are paddling. You have learned that to keep it next to your skin you need both insulation and wind protection. If you are overdressed, however, you might overheat and begin sweating. In colder air temperatures, too much trapped heat (in the form of damp sweat) actually makes you colder. Ideally, your windproof shell can be unzipped and/or your thermal layer can be removed and stored in an attached dry bag until you cool down. One of the advantages of a drysuit is that it enables you to carefully slip into the water for a few moments to cool down, when you start to overheat, yet stay dry to prevent hypothermia.


Distance from Shore, Expected Time on Water & Weather Changes


These factors go hand in hand. If you expect to be out far from shore or paddle longer distances, it is necessary to take into consideration the time it will take you to get back to warmth and comfort. Should you happen to fall in or become cold and wet from unexpected changes in weather leading to rain or wind, you want to know you are either wearing or packing the necessary clothing to give you time to get home safely. This requires careful trip planning and preparation.




Getting Ready to SUP

So, now we have an understanding of many of the hazards we should be concerned with when going out for a paddle and the factors we need to be aware of when deciding what to wear while stand up paddleboarding.


Keep in mind, appropriate clothing is not the only consideration when planning what to wear for your outing. The following safety requirements must always be adhered to, no matter what clothing you choose:

  • A properly fitted PFD or life jacket

  • A pealess whistle or other sound signalling device

  • A coiled SUP leash (*for flatwater paddling)

  • Water shoes or sandals for beach landings


Want a quick checklist to make sure you’re dressed and ready for your next SUP adventure?

Grab a copy of our FREE downloadable Day Kit Checklist!




What to Wear SUP Clothing Guide

Here is a handy chart to help guide you in making your clothing choices (keep in mind these are only suggestions and you should do further research to ensure maximum safety for you paddling in your particular conditions).


In cold air or water temperatures (<10C) you should wear:

  • Wetsuit (3+ mm)

  • Base layer leggings + top

  • insulation layer leggings + top

  • Wind-blocking layers over top of the wetsuit (paddle jacket/rain pants)

  • Wool socks

  • Neoprene booties

  • Toque and neoprene gloves

  • Buff or neck gaiter

  • Drysuit

  • Base layer leggings + top

  • Insulation layer pants + top

  • Wool socks (inside drysuit)

  • Neoprene booties

  • Toque and neoprene gloves


We found this great video comparing wetsuits and drysuits, so have a watch to learn more.


In cool air or water temps (10C - 20C) you should wear;

  • Wetsuit (2-3mm for core warmth) or neoprene top + bottom

  • Base layer top

  • Insulation layer top

  • Wind-blocking layers over top of the wetsuit (paddle jacket/rain pants)

  • Toque and neoprene gloves

  • Wool socks

  • Neoprene booties

  • Buff or neck gaiter


In warmer air and water temps (20C+), you can get away with;

  • Bathing suits, rash guards, board shorts or swim leggings

  • Workout clothes (t-shirts/board shorts) made of quick-dry fabrics - NOT COTTON

  • Sports sandals or water shoes

  • Sun hat

  • Sunglasses with strap




Dress In Layers for Stand Up Paddleboarding

We hear it all the time when talking about moving our bodies in the outdoors. That is because figuring out a layering system that works for you, not only makes trip planning easier but also keeps you comfortable and safe when practicing outdoor sports, including paddling.


The idea is to protect yourself from the elements by means of good perspiration management. A three-layer-system is ideal and will keep you warm and dry and can be adapted for paddling. This includes a base layer for removing moisture, a mid-layer to keep you warm, and an outer layer to protect you from the elements. For paddling in cool, wet conditions this could mean a thin wool shirt, a fleecy and a rain jacket. In cold conditions, wool long underwear, a wetsuit and a windbreaker might be a good layering system for you. A system for warm conditions might mean wearing a bathing suit with a light fleecy and rain jacket stowed in your dry bag. It may take some trial and error to refine what works best for you, but over time and with gained experience you will start to learn your preferences.



Footwear for Stand Up Paddleboarding

Stand Up Paddleboarding adventures don't always include white-sand beaches and crystal clear water. A rest break or an emergency may require you to land on rugged barnacle-clad or slippery terrain. You may find yourself launching from rocky shores, cobble beaches or docks at marinas. Protect your feet from jagged rocks, nails and debris beneath the water by wearing proper foot attire. If you prefer to paddle barefoot, tuck your footwear securely under the bungies or in your pack upfront so you have easy access to them when needed.


Your footwear options include;




What Else do you Need for your SUP Adventure?

Now, you have yourself dressed with the required safety gear packed and ready to go. But wait … there are a few extra items you will need to get ready before you hit the water. Every time you paddle, you should have all of the following either on you, or in a waterproof dry bag firmly secured to your board.


Bring

  • 10 L waterproof dry bag (to hold the following):

  • Sunblock & chapstick

  • Sun hat

  • Toque

  • Warm fleece/wool sweater or synthetically insulated jacket

  • Water

  • Warm soup or tea

  • Healthy snacks - fruit, berries, nuts, crackers & hummus

  • Communication device - fully charged cell phone, VHF marine radio, Inreach or other SEND device in a waterproof case

  • Extra clothes in case you (or your friend) fall in

  • Rain jacket and rain pants

  • Map or chart of area and compass

  • First Aid kit

  • Emergency blanket or shelter

  • Firestarter, waterproof matches

  • Bathroom kit (TP, roll of dog poop bags, hand sanitizer, feminine hygiene products)

  • Watertight flashlight

  • Optional: Camera (waterproof or in a waterproof case)

  • Buoyant throw line



Did you get our FREE downloadable Day Kit Checklist yet?



We’ve covered a lot of territory here, and many more questions may come up as you begin to navigate Stand Up Paddleboarding in varied conditions and environments. It is always recommended that you seek professional advice before heading out on your adventures. Safety should be paramount when planning your paddling trips and knowing what to wear and bring along on your board, will ensure you enjoy your outings with peace of mind and loads of stoke!


Do you have a favourite drysuit or waterproof gloves you never leave shore without?


Tell us in the comments below about some of your go to paddling clothes and the awesome adventures you wear them on.


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