Can You Wear Waders on a Kayak? (The Surprising Answer)

Can you wear waders on a kayak? It’s a controversial topic that kayakers and kayak anglers don’t take lightly. 

Some kayakers prefer to wear waders on a kayak because they provide extra warmth and protection from the elements. While other folks say you will sink if you fall overboard wearing waders in a kayak. 

So who is right? Let’s find out.

Can You Wear Waders on a Kayak?

Wearing waders while kayaking can be an effective way to stay warm on the water, but it is crucial to ensure you wear them in combination with a wading belt, personal flotation device (PFD), and dry top. Wearing a tight wading belt is critical to keeping any water that gets sneaks inside the waders at a minimum.

Why Wear Waders on a Kayak?

Protecting yourself from the elements is crucial if you paddle in cold or windy weather, especially on open, unprotected waterways. So, the main reason to wear waders in a kayak is to help protect paddlers from the elements and keep them warm. Waders are roomy, and paddlers can wear multiple layers of clothing underneath to keep warm.

How to Dress if You Wear Waders on a Kayak

If you choose to wear waders when you paddle, make sure you use the complete system, including:

  • A pair of well-fitting waders – ensure the waders are not too big. Neoprene waders are great because they will help insulate and float.
  • A properly fitting wading belt – a snug wading belt is critical.
  • A dry top – preferably a dry top with gaskets around your neck and sleeves, not a rain jacket.
  • A properly fitting PFD – always wear a life jacket when you paddle.

Alternatives to Wearing Waders on a Kayak

Some paddlers will opt for a dry or wet suit when they paddle in cold or windy conditions. One popular option is a 3mm neoprene Farmer John wetsuit, which provides a comfortable, form-fitting suit with plenty of stretch and flexibility.

In addition, a wetsuit can be worn comfortably and won’t mess up your paddle stroke. One of the main reasons paddlers wear waders on a kayak is to keep warm, but all those extra layers can be uncomfortable and bulky.

Practice Self-Rescue

Every kayaker needs to learn how to self-rescue, which involves getting back into your kayak after you capsize. Re-entering your kayak can be more difficult with added bulk if you wear waders or a wetsuit. And cold water, wind, waves, or other bad weather adds a new dimension to self-rescue.

If you are wearing shorts or a swimsuit on a warm sunny day and end up in the water, it’s generally easier to get back in your kayak than when you are wearing bulky layers. However, with cold water, blowing wind, and waves smashing into you, the panic button goes off, and you can get a little bit freaked out.

Knowing how to get back in your yak is a critical survival skill when you paddle. Whether you wear waders, a wetsuit, or a dry suit, you must practice and become proficient at self-rescue.

So, learning how to effectively self-rescue can make all the difference in getting back to shore safely, and learning these techniques helps minimize risk and maximize safety on the water. It also gives paddlers peace of mind before heading out onto the water, knowing they have the skills to protect themselves in an emergency.

One of the hardest things for kayak anglers to do is flip their kayak over once it capsizes. Righting the kayak can be challenging with fishing rods and other fishing gear on board. Practicing getting out of the water and back on the kayak quickly is key.

Always Wear Your Life Jacket

You should always wear a life jacket when you paddle. It should go without saying. Unfortunately, paddlers often underestimate the importance of wearing a PFD. Life jackets keep you afloat in an emergency so you can either get back in your kayak or float until help arrives. No matter what type of clothing you choose to wear on the water, make sure you wear a properly fitting PFD.

The Importance of a Wading Belt

If you wear waders on a kayak, a wading belt is critical. A well-fitting and snug wading belt keeps your waders in place and significantly limits the amount of water that can enter your waders.

Of course, if you go in head first or your entire body is submerged, you can expect some water to find its way in. But a wading belt is a huge part of reducing the water entering your waders, so you don’t get weighed down. It’s harder to get back in your kayak or swim to shore if you have to if your waders are full of water.

What Do People Say About Wearing Waders on a Kayak?

You will hear all kinds of opinions on whether or not paddlers should or shouldn’t wear waders on a kayak. Many people in forums say that wearing waders on a kayak is a terrible idea. But, come to find out, many folks who say that have never tried it.

Plenty of paddlers report consistently and successfully wearing waders when they paddle, having fallen overboard and successfully re-entered their kayak. But the common theme in these success stories is that the paddlers wearing waders used the complete system mentioned above.

Check out the list of approved gear (#5) from the Oregon Rockfish Classic, as an example posted on the Northwest Kayak Anglers forum. Waders with a wading belt and dry top are acceptable gear.

Are Waders Safe on a Kayak?

Most of the horror stories about paddlers wearing waders on a kayak are because people don’t use the complete system described above. Not to say bad things can’t happen, but if you wear waders on a kayak, make sure you follow proper procedures. 

One of the interesting things you will hear is that people think that if you get water in waders, you will sink to the bottom. However, if water gets in your waders, the water density is the same as the density around you. So the hard part is getting back on your kayak if your pants are full of water.


Waders can be a safe option if you take the necessary precautions. Ensure your waders fit correctly and have a wading belt, personal flotation device (PFD), and dry top to provide extra protection. 

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.