What to Wear

Does this make my hips look big?

In Canoeing, it is important that clothing should look fantastic!, however it's more important to protect the body yet not interfere with movement. You need to keep warm, dry and comfortable so here are some guidelines to help you get kitted out. If in doubt, ask someone more experienced to help you choose your kit.

Wet Suits

Canoeists wear a wet suit when the water is cold and there is a good possibility that they will fall in at some point. A "Long John", a wetsuit without arms, is best as it gives freedom of movement. Make sure that it doesn't dig into your shoulders when you move your arms about.


As an alternative to the wet suit, and to deal with a wider range of conditions and styles of paddling, the layers system has developed. Insulation comes from several layers as more air is trapped in and between thin layers than in one thick layer, so you stay warmer. A base layer of specialist man made fibre (long johns that aren't a wet suit!) that carries moisture out, but keeps you warm is best, with fleecy layers on top. On the outside you need a wind and waterproof top, called a cagoule or ‘cag'. There are many types, some will keep you completely dry (a dry top) as they have rubber seals to the wrists and neck, and others are ‘semi dry' with neoprene wrist seals. Some are breathable to an extent. A cag is an essential first bit of kit to buy, it makes paddling so much more comfortable. Go for quality and durability as you are likely to use it for several years.

Warm Weather Paddling

Remember it is always colder on the water as the wind is able to get straight to you, and when you get wet you get cold. It is seldom warm enough in this country to wear just shorts and tee shirt. Usually you will need a cag and some form of footwear.


Wet suit shoes or boots are ideal as they keep you warm even if they get wet and they don't have thick soles that will make you uncomfortable in your kayak. Old trainers or plimsoles are a good stand in and sports sandals are OK in the summer. You must always wear something on your feet as you can get nasty cuts and possibly infections from broken glass etc. on the river bed or seashore. Make sure you don't have long laces trailing that could get tangled in the boat.

Kayak and Canoe Journeys

On a longer trip it is important that you are comfortable and allow for changing conditions so again lots of thin layers will give some flexibility to add or take away as you get hot or cold. For canoe paddlers, a long style 'shell' jacket, which can be easily vented, is a sound investment, or waterproof salopettes with reinforced knees. Keeping the head warm and keeping the sun out of your eyes are also important.

Buoyancy Aids

Buoyancy aids are worn by canoeists because they give freedom of movement, they provide good insulation from the cold and they protect the body from blows.Canoeing buoyancy aids are foam filled not air-filled, so they can't be punctured. They are not a lifejacket so they wouldn't automatically float you on your back if unconscious, but they are much easier to swim in. Choose a buoyancy aid which carries the CEN 393 Standard label of approval. It should give 50 Newtons of buoyancy minimum.

Get the correct size for you so that it fits snugly, will work well when you are swimming in it, and will be comfortable to wear, even when you are moving your arms by paddling all day. So check that you can sit and move comfortably in your canoe or kayak while wearing it. Buoyancy aids which pull over the head and those with front zip up openings are equally good. The BA must have a belt or drawcord to secure it at the waist and should be brightly coloured, so they can be seen easily. Its primary function is to save your life so don't skimp on price at the expense of quality, and look after it. Don't use it as a pillow or cushion. Keep it clean and store it in a cool place. Make a point of practising swimming in your buoyancy aid and other canoeing kit.

Always wear a buoyancy aid when you are paddling

A buoyancy aid should be worn for every canoeing activity, regardless of how well you can swim. It will keep you afloat in the event of a capsize and will allow you to use a normal swimming action to help yourself. No one has ever drowned from a canoe on simple water, whilst wearing a buoyancy aid. An adult in the water not wearing a buoyancy aid is worse than no help to a child that is wearing one. Everyone in the Club must wear one always.

Spray Deck

The spraydeck is an elasticated 'skirt' which stops water from entering the kayak through the cockpit area. In rough water it is essential and in cold weather it helps keep you warm. A quick release strap must be fitted, and available, in case of emergency. They come in fabric (preferably with a reinforced rim) or neoprene, more expensive, but warmer and usually more watertight.


Helmets are needed for white water, polo and surfing. Choose one which can be adjusted to fit your head perfectly, goes over your ears to some extent and has a strong chin strap. Do not buy a helmet with a peak they are dangerous in white water. Helmets should be CE approved - CE1385