What To Wear and Bring On Board While Stand Up Paddle Boarding
This article outlines some of the key clothing and accessory options for you to consider for your stand up paddle boarding outings in different weather conditions, with the aim of keeping you comfortable and properly equipped at all times.
A Guide To The Right Gear For All Types of Weather
For some paddle board owners, choosing the correct clothing can make the difference between the board sitting in a garage or getting regular use. Dressing correctly not only protects you from adverse conditions but can extend your season, even allowing year-round paddling. Where you live and where you paddle, whether it is a warm lake in summer, a glacial river in winter, or something in between, will have an impact on what you choose to wear.
Summer Paddling GEAR
Summer is the most carefree of seasons for paddleboarding, and the warm weather is the least demanding for suiting up for SUP. Even so, there are items you’ll need depending on where you’re paddling and what you plan to do on your board.
Bathing Suit or Board Shorts
When the weather is fine and the water is warm, there really is no better feeling than taking to the water in nothing but your bathing suit or board shorts, with your bare feet gripping the deck pad so you can really feel every movement the board makes as you skim over the water. Of course, this does not give you any protection from the sun, wind, or anything that could hurt your bare feet, so depending on where you’re paddling and the weather and water conditions, you’ll need to consider adding to your wardrobe. Generally, clothing that breathes and doesn't inhibit your movement is perfect for casual paddle boarding and you don't need to put too much thought into it.
A rash guard or moisture-wicking athletic shirt is a great choice for sun protection, with many offering SPF 50 protection. A good rash guard sheds water and is fast drying, making it ideal for hot days in the sun. A close-fitting rash guard can also be worn under a lifejacket, with the added benefit of preventing chafing. Choose a neon-colored rash guard in a bright color such as pink or orange if you want to be easily spotted in the distance by friends and family members
Keeping a hat on your head is essential whenever you are on the water for more than 10-15 minutes. In hot conditions, a sun hat will offer much-needed protection to prevent sunburn, dehydration, or sunstroke. Keeping the sun off your head and face will not only make you more comfortable and prevent sunburn but will also allow you to paddle for longer periods of time before experiencing fatigue from sun exposure. The ideal hat to wear while paddle boarding will be tight-fitting to stay on your head during wind gusts, have a brim large enough to keep your face shaded at all times, and be made of washable material so you don’t need to worry about it getting wet.
If you are paddling in an area with rocks, fishing hooks, or anything else that you wouldn’t want to step on with bare feet, you’ll want to wear something to protect your feet. There is a whole gamut of waterproof footwear to choose from, ranging from thin and stretchy booties to full-fledged running or hiking shoes made of waterproof materials (generally these are not advised for SUP as they can dig in and damage your deck pad). Even if you plan to paddle in bare feet, you may also want to have a pair of shoes on board in case you decide to get off and explore the shore at any point on your outing. Often the choice of footwear comes down to the environment. Generally, on a nice sandy beach, you will go barefoot, but in a river or lake, you will need some sort of protective footwear at least until you are on the board where you can remove your shoes and store them in the bungee area.
A personal flotation device (PFD) is essential to safety while on the water and should be worn in most paddling situations. Some paddlers may feel that wearing a bulky life vest kills their fun outdoor vibe, which is why the inflatable belt pack PFD was invented. A belt pack PFD is worn comfortably and inconspicuously around the waist and has a CO2 cartridge that inflates the vest when a cord is pulled in an emergency situation. Whether to wear an inherently buoyant life jacket or an inflatable belt pack PFD is up to you to decide, as long as you choose one or the other. Many paddling locations will require that you either wear a US Coast Guard-approved PFD or have one on your board. For more details on choosing a PFD or life jacket see How To Choose a PFD of Lifejacket for SUP >
Never forget sunscreen. In the searing sun you should be wearing a hat and shirt as a minimum for protection but sunscreen is going to be the frontline in the prevention of a very painful next day, or worse, serious complications down the road. Sun exposure adds up and creating good exposure prevention habits each time you are out on your SUP is best practice.
Spring, Fall, or Winter Paddling GEAR
As the weather gets colder, the demands for dressing increase accordingly. There is still a lot of fun to be had on the water after summer’s end, so it’s worth acquiring or repurposing some basic gear to keep you paddling comfortably in lower temperatures. Selecting the right gear for colder temperatures usually is dictated between a core garment being a wetsuit or a drysuit and will depend on a number of circumstances. It should be noted that cold water paddling is for trained and experienced paddlers only. Exposure to freezing cold water can be lethal so it is not something that should be approached casually.
For those coming from a surf background, a wetsuit is the go-to garment for cold water protection. A wetsuit traps a layer of water that is warmed by your body heat to keep you feeling warm, even when the water is cold. A good winter wetsuit can be combined with neoprene booties, gloves, and a hood to get you on the water during the coldest of days. Wetsuit technologies have vastly improved over the years with softer materials and thermal linings to allow you maximum comfort and range of movement.
Many suits are available on the market, so you’ll need to choose one based on the conditions you will be paddling in. Summer 3/2 suits (3mm body material and 2 mm in the arms and legs) are lightweight and ideal to take away the chill on days when the air temperature is warm but the water is cold. These are available in long and short sleeve options for comfort in different temperatures. A short-sleeved wetsuit also knows as a shorty can help bridge the gap when it isn’t quite cold enough for a full wetsuit. The heavier autumn and winter suits are usually between 4-6mm thick, yet very soft and pliable. Neoprene always stretches when wet, so if you are trying on a wetsuit for the first time, you want it to fit snugly to keep you as warm as possible in the water.
If you come from a kayaking or scuba diving background, you may already be familiar with drysuits. As the name suggests, a drysuit is designed to keep your body completely dry, with the exception of your head and hands. Most dry suits are fitted with built-in socks, but you will need to wear a set of boots or shoes over the socks to protect them and provide a better grip on your board. A drysuit won't provide any insulation, so you should also wear thermal clothing layers and wool socks underneath the suit to keep you warm. A disadvantage of a drysuit is that the suit traps some air, making it more difficult to swim. But for glacial fed rivers or for paddling when the air or water temperatures are below 50 degrees (or higher depending on your cold sensitivity), it is really the only option for keeping you warm and protected.
Hats and Hoods For Cold Water Paddling
In cold conditions, a winter hat or neoprene hood is essential to reduce heat loss. The head can be extremely sensitive, especially to cold water immersion and the dreaded brain freeze.
What Else To Bring On Board?
Once you’ve decided what to wear on your paddling outing, you can turn your attention to what you should bring with you on your SUP for both safety and convenience.
As mentioned above, a personal flotation device is a necessity for safety in most paddling situations. The lone exception is ocean surfing, where PFD’s are not usually worn in the “surf zone” close to shore. Part of the thinking behind this exception is that generally, the ocean wants to bring you toward the shore and surfers knowingly assume any risk to participate. Surfing involves a lot of falling, so you want to minimize anything that can get caught on the board or any part of yourself. Outside of the surf zone when you are exploring the coastline, you’ll be expected to have a personal flotation device and should be wearing one.
You should always use a SUP leash to keep your board from getting away from you when you fall off. There are various types of leashes adapted to different paddling situations, such as coiled leashes for flatwater paddling, straight leashes for surfing, and hybrid leashes that work across different paddling environments. When paddling on rivers with moving water, you should have a quick release leash that attaches at waist level and has an easily accessible mechanism to release the leash and avoid life threatening entrapment if the leash gets tangled around rocks or branches while the current is pulling.
If you are paddling on rivers with whitewater, a helmet is also essential and sometimes required by local regulation to prevent head injuries on rocks.
We also highly recommend bringing a dry bag, which gives you a safe place to keep your keys, wallet, phone, and any valuables that you need to keep dry. Even if you aren’t going for an extended paddle, you won’t want to leave these items on the beach or in your car. Also, having your phone on board gives you a way to call for help if you get into trouble. Look for a dry bag with a pair of straps so you can wear it as a backpack and free your hands to carry your board and paddle to the water. When you get to the water, you can place the drybag under the cargo bungees and clip it around a cord so it can’t fall off the board.
If you’ll be out on the water for any length of time, staying hydrated is important. For this reason, you should always bring a removable water bottle that you can keep under the cargo bungee. Since you’ll be out in the sun, we recommend a vacuum insulated bottle that you can clip to your board’s cargo bungees to keep your water cool.
Plan Ahead and Always Be Prepared
When you are planning what to wear and what to bring on your paddle board outing, always plan for the worst while hoping for the best. It’s always better to be a little too warm and remove a layer of clothing than to be cold and have nothing warm to wear. It’s also better to have safety equipment you end up not needing than to get into a situation that makes you wish you were better equipped. Follow these tips to be safe and comfortable while on your paddle board and to extend your paddling season so you can spend more time on the water.