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Dressing for WNC’s Fall Paddling: Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worse

As many would say, it is always a practical idea when paddling to “hope for the best, but to plan for the worse”. Paddling naturally holds an inherent risk of the water-sport to possibly get wet, so it is always best to be prepared in case an unexpected capsize does occur. As I like to say, “expect the unexpected” and one can be prepared for the best or the even the worse. When planning to paddle it is smart to dress accordingly to the weather, length of trip, distance from shore, and if a portage is necessary.  Checking the weather forecast, air temperature, wind, chance of rain, and water temperature will help determine how to properly dress. Especially for potential and unexpected capsizes, having extra clothing in a dry bag and secured is always recommended; along with dressing from head to toe may be critical for comfort.

The ideal key factors for preparation of dressing while being on the water is layering, with the overall goal to stay comfortable while paddling in the unpredictable outdoors. The trick to layering clothing is the order and function behind the layers. Wicking, warmth, and weather are the main factors that will give advantage as your body temperature or weather changes. Layering allows one to have the ability to add or remove clothing as needed.


Clothing & Layering: The Three W’s

Wicking – layer next to the skin; a.k.a. base layer

  • Moisture management (Short-sleeve = warm days, Long-sleeve = cool days)
  • UV protection

Warmth – second layer; insulation layer

  • Wool, fleece, or pile (Allows moisture to move through the fabric)

Weather – third layer/outer layer; protects from elements such as wind,

rain, and splashes water away from body

  • Water-resistant, waterproof, wind resistant, windproof, and breathable (Protective breathable and non-breathable layers)

Dress from Head to Toe:

  • Rain hat, jacket, shirt/pullover, pants, wool-blend socks, booties, gloves, etc.



Choosing Fabrics

     ⊗ CottonNot recommended for paddling in cool or cold temperatures.

  • Absorbs and retains moisture, takes too long to dry, works to cool the body.
  • Cotton is great for sweltering summer days, helps body stay cool.

     ⊕ Wool –  Popular outdoor fabric because of its insulating properties.

  • Traps some body heat when wet

     ⊕ Spandex Synthetic fabric made from rubber, has ability to expand

  • If wet, it will dry out when exposed to sun

     ⊕ Polyester Cloth woven fiber

  • Lightweight synthetic polyester fibers are a desirable choice for base layers
  • Polyester is used for next-to-skin garments such as T-shirts and long underwear tops and bottoms

     ⊕ Fleece or Synthetic Pile Lighter than wool and more compressible

  • Maintains its insulating properties when wet
  • Dries much faster than wool because it does not absorb moisture

     ⊕ NylonWind and water resistant

  • Excellent choice for shorts, pants, and wind jackets


Extreme Protection- designed specifically for paddling

  • Spray wear (Splash jackets) 
  • Neoprene wet suits
  • Dry suits

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