Paddle Wear for Kayak Anglers

In New England and beyond, kayak anglers deal with forever changing conditions. Cold water, cold air and a sunny, warm, pleasant day turned thunderstorm with hail and a rapid drop in temperature. How about that summer sun that shows no mercy? In this article we will look at the clothing that we wear and the functions of each. For sit on top kayakers we hope to be on our boats and out of the water but the chance for a swim is realistic not to mention the wetness that we encounter. For this angler, I go by the 50-50 rule. If the air and water temp don't equal 100, I am better off casting from shore or stay home and tie some flies. We all have our own comfort level. What ever the temperature, there is paddle clothing available for your protection. We strongly advise not to use any products containing cotton. Cotton does not breath and if wet will soak up water and become heavy.

Hypothermia (pronounced hi-po-ther-mee-ah) occurs when the body temperature falls below 95°F (35°C). The condition is often fatal. At body temperatures below 90°F (32°C), heart rate, respiratory (breathing) rate, and blood pressure fall. When heat loss is greater than heat retention and heat production, the result will be hypothermia. Wear the right clothing for the water, which means dress for the water temp and not the air temp. Any water colder than 96.8 degrees F can cause hypothermia.

Paddle Clothing:

Dry Suit-
A dry suit is designed with latex gaskets at the neck and wrists with taped seams ensuring a complete water tight seal. Some models have attached booties in lieu of latex gaskets at the ankles. A semi dry suit will have the same features as a full dry suit except a neoprene collar will be in place of the sometimes uncomfortable latex neck gasket. Most dry suits will be made of a breathable material and have relief zippers for men or women. Most dry suits have no installation value. Only a shell to keep water out. We recommend to wear synthetic breathable clothing in layers to add insulation value. Prices for dry suits will range from 350-900 dollars.

Wet Suit- A wet suit is designed to trap a layer of water against the skin to insulate the wearer from cold temps. With that being said, wet suits will give you the best protection when it gets wet. A proper fit is essential to a wet suits functions. Too tight and you will feel uncomfortable. Too loose and you will let more water in then is needed. Since we are fishing on a kayak, we are not in the water full time other then launching and wash from waves. Consider this when looking at wet suits for paddle wear. Wet Suits can be purchased in a variety of styles (full suit, shorty, farmer john) and thickness (1mm-7mm). For kayaking we recommend a farmer john style that has a liner for comfort. Farmer John wet suits will allow you full motion of a paddle stroke. Prices for wet suits will range from 50-160 dollars and custom designs will start around 300 dollars.

Dry Tops- Dry tops come in many styles. All will have a Latex gasket on the neck and wrists. The latex gaskets keep water out and the seams are water proof. On the bottom will be a drawstring and waist band, normally constructed from neoprene and Velcro to attach belt. A good quality Dry Top will be made from a breathable material. Dry tops normally do not have insulation value. We recommend to wear layers for comfort. It's not a bad idea to order tops one size larger to feel comfortable while paddle and have enough room for layers. Dry tops will range from 100-400 dollars.

Semi Dry Tops- A Semi Dry Top will have the same features as a regular Dry Top except the neck gasket will be a more comfortable neoprene neck cuff then a latex gasket. If submerged the neoprene cuff will let a small amount of water in. Normally drops of water. Semi Dry Tops will range from 75-300 dollars.

Waders and Dry Bibs*- Waders can be purchased in a few types of materials. For kayak anglers Nylon and Neoprene stocking foot waders are the most popular. Nylon has no insulation value but is breathable. Neoprene waders (3-4mm) has good insulation value but is not breathable. A synthetic material worn underneath waders is recommend for wicking purposes and further insulation value. Dry Bibs are similar to waders but most have latex gaskets at the ankles. Waders will range from 49-250 dollars.

*Most kayak anglers wear waders or dry bibs in the kayak. We recommend not to wear waders or bibs in the kayak without the use of a Dry Top or Semi Dry Top and one or two wader belts.

Base layers and Insulation- Base layers and Insulation layers need to be of a hydrophobic material. These materials hold little water and are breathable. There are quite a few materials that you can use for a base layer underneath dry wear for the purpose of wicking away moisture from the skin. Polypropylene, Lycra, and Capilene are the most popular. Mysterioso, Polar Tec, and Under Armour and Patagonia have products using these materials. Some makers of dry suits also sell these materials in liners made for dry suits. For further insulation, snug fitting Fleece or extra layers of products containing Polypropylene, Lycra, and Capilene can be used. Base layers will range from 10-100 dollars.

Splash gear- Splash tops and splash pants are great for those cool water days or when you are caught on the water on a summer day with rain approaching. We recommend splash gear that is breathable with Velcro and neoprene wrist, neck closers. It's always good practice to carry splash gear in a dry bag stowed away and ready to use if needed, especially during the warm water paddling days. Splash gear will range from 50-200 dollars for top and bottoms.

Foot protection- Along with stocking foot waders and dry suits it's always good to wear wader boots or Neoprene Boots for further insulation and protection from sharp rocks and other sharp edges that are around launching areas. A good pair of Teva's can be worn with stocking foot waders or dry suits and also worn alone during warm water periods. Wool or Polypropylene socks can be worn under waders or dry suits to increase insulation. Wet suit users will need a good quality neoprene water shoe to wear with a wet suit. Wet shoes or Wet boots can be purchased from 2mm to 7mm. We recommend boot type with thick rubber soles. 10-80 dollars.

Head Gear and Gloves- Lets not forget head and hand protection. Wool and Polypropylene caps or headbands can help keep your ears warm and avoid heat loss through your head. We recommend gloves that are water proof but usually are tough to fish with. Having an alternate pair of fingerless gloves will help to fish and then alternate between the two.

Level of Protection

The following is a list of clothing for a variety of conditions that every kayak angler may face in a fishing season. Level 1 (harsh)- Level 4 (favorable) protection. "A,B,C,D" categories are for organizing and does not reflect "best" vs. "least" protection. It's always good practice to test your clothing in a safe body of water while performing a self-rescue.

Level 1 protection (less then 50 degree water and cold air)

Dry Suit with layers and foot protection.

B) 7mm Farmer John Wet Suit with 7mm Boots and Dry Top or Semi Dry with layers and foot protection.

C) Neoprene stocking foot or boot type waders with layers and Dry Top or Semi Dry with layers and one or two belts, foot protection.

D) We recommend a wool cap and gloves to be worn on cold days.

Level 2 protection (50-60 degree water and cold air)

A) Dry Suit with layers and foot protection

3-4mm Farmer John Wet Suit with 7mm Boots and Dry Top or Semi Dry with layers and foot protection

C) Neoprene stocking foot or boot type waders with layers and Dry Top or Semi Dry with layers and one or two belts, foot protection.

D) Optional wool cap and gloves to be worn as needed.

Level 3 protection (60-65 degree water and cool air)

A) 2-3mm Farmer John Wet Suit with boots and Dry Top or Semi Dry with layers and foot protection

B) Splash Wear, tops and bottoms, with first layer product for insulation.

C) Breathable Nylon stocking foot waders with Teva's or wading boot, first layer, Dry Top or Semi Dry and one or two belts.

Level 4 protection (65 degree water plus and warm air)

A) Hydrophobic material for t-shirt and shorts (Comfortable with UPF30+ which blocks out 99% of the sun's UVA and UVB rays)

B) Splash Gear (It's always a good idea to have a dry bag with Splash Gear for protection in the event of an approaching cold front or rain)

C) Head Gear (Comfortable with UPF30+ which blocks out 99% of the sun's UVA and UVB rays)

I hope you found this article helpful. Have a safe and fun filled season!

NEKF is a 501(c)(7) Club


- NEKF Supporting membership registration is now open for 2014!  See the top menu for the button to sign up.

-Check out the events tab in our forum for upcoming events.

-Thanks to all of our sponsors for making the 2013 Mass Bay Striper Shootout a huge success.

Become a supporting member of NEKF.
Learn more here.