It’s the inevitable question we all face before we leave the house – what to wear?
When it comes to what to wear paddle boarding, the appropriate apparel primarily depends on the water and weather conditions. And even if it’s a hot day with great conditions, if you’re planning to stay out for a while, you’ll need to pack away the appropriate wear and gear to keep you comfortable and safe no matter what the conditions are.
Because paddle board clothing largely depends on the conditions, let’s start with the one thing you will need to wear or have ready to wear no matter what the conditions are – the PFD.
Huh… What’s a PFD?
Personal Flotation Device
Whether it’s a boiling hot July day, or a balmy fall evening, you will need to have a personal flotation device with you when paddle boarding. It’s required by law actually. A lot of paddle boarders think this is ridiculous because what is a paddle board other than a flotation device?
However, because of the size of most paddle boards, the coast guard considers paddle boards as small vessels. And, small vessels are required to have flotation devices on board. If you choose to ignore this law (not recommended) you can face a pretty hefty fine up to $500.
Many paddle boarders choose to go with an inflatable PFD, such as the Quicksilver one located here on Amazon. These inflatable PFDs are great because they’re small, and compact. They basically fit like a fanny pack on your waist. If you are in an emergency situation you simply pull the drawstring, and the vest automatically inflates from a CO2 canister.
The negative side of the inflatable PFDs is that they are on the more expensive side, and you’re required to wear them at all times when on your “vessel”.
The other PFD option is just the traditional life vest. You can strap this to your board, and be legally compliant. You don’t need to be wearing the vest as long as it’s strapped to your board. This is what I use and I simply have a life vest I bought at an outdoor store for $30 and I strap it to the cargo net on the front of my Tahoe Alpine Explorer. It works fine. The only negative is that it takes up space on your board. Also, if you wanted to wear a PFD for just an extra since of security, the traditional life vest is more cumbersome than an inflatable PFD, and harder to paddle in.
Here are three more excellent options for paddle boarding life vests.
What to Wear When Paddle Boarding in Warm Conditions
For 90% of people, these are the conditions they’ll most likely be paddling in, as paddling tends to skyrocket in the summer months. Understandably so. Who wants to freeze their butt off in a frigid lake in the middle of winter?
If you’re paddling in the summer time, you most likely need to plan for sun, and dress appropriately. That means comfortable enough to enjoy the weather without overheating, but it also means being prepared for UV exposure.
Here’s a few items I recommend for warm summer paddling:
Quick Dry Shorts – In case you fall in it’s nice to have a pair of shorts that dry quickly once you get back on your board. Even on a warm day, it’s more comfortable to paddle when your dry.
Sunscreen – Even if it’s slightly overcast you’ll catch a lot of UV rays bouncing off the surface of the lake. So, board shorts might not be the only
Sunglasses w/leash – If you’re paddling in the sun, sunglasses will definitely come in handy as you’ll catch rays from the skies and off the reflection of the water. And what’s that about a leash? Yup, I’m talking about those dorky sunglass leashes most people wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. They may not look cool, but they’ll keep your glasses on your head. If you forego the leash with your sunglasses, you might as well kiss those babies goodbye. Most people I know have sacrificed at least one pair of sunglasses to the waters – I feel a wave of sadness now just thinking about the last pair I lost.
Long Sleeve Shirt – Whether it’s full sun, or slight breeze, a long sleeve rash guard top can come in handy. It can protect your body from the sun, which is especially vulnerable on the waters due to sun from all angles. Also, on a breezy day, a thin rash guard top can be all you need to ward off the chill.
Hat – This falls into the bucket of sun protection, which is the same bucket that most paddle board clothing falls. A hat can be a good alternative if you want to avoid losing your favorite pair of sunglasses, but still want to keep the sun out of your eyes. Plus hats typically float better, so if it does fall off you should be able to reclaim it. The only drawback is that a hat won’t provide you protection from the glare coming off the water. But, it can still make a huge difference.
What to Wear Paddle Boarding in Cold Water Conditions
If you’re hungry enough for paddle boarding sooner or later you’re going to brave the cold. And, unless your the abominable snowman, board shorts won’t cut it. Instead you’re going to need a wetsuit or a dry suit. And, you’re probably going to want some very warm clothes to immediately get into after you squeak out of that miserable wetsuit. Sorry, I’m getting cold just thinking about it.
Here’s a few of the best wetsuits on the market, that come highly recommended.
You can also check out my SUP wetsuit guide, for a full rundown.
As is the case with most Patagonia gear, their wetsuits are top notch and they stand by their products. Most people find these suits to be the leading choice in wetsuits, and durable after years of wear. If you do end up having issues, Patagonia has a great reputation for standing behind their products, and replacing or repairing them when things go bad.
These suits can tend to run on the expensive side, but I can personally say that I’ve never regretted the extra cost of a Patagonia product due to its quality, and their warranties.
Also, you can sometimes find deals on their wetsuits if you keep an eye on the clearance section of the Patagonia site, or checkout discount sites like Backcountry.com. As I write this Backcountry has several Patagonia wetsuit choices on sale.
Where to Find Discounted Wetsuits
Wetsuits can be a pretty large expense, especially if you just put down the cash for your new SUP. So, understandably most people want a deal. Sometimes you can find used wetsuits online via craigslist, but few people want to wear a pre-used wetsuit. I don’t blame them. We’ll leave it at that.
Fortunately, you can find some good discounts on new paddle board wetsuits. One of my favorite places with the largest selection is Sierra Trading Post. If you’re looking to save cash on a wetsuit that will keep you paddling all winter long, I can’t recommend Sierra Trading Post enough. Last I looked they had all your wetsuit needs; booties, hoodies, half suits, full suits, wetsuit tops, etc. Plus, with a lot of the gear having discounts up to 70-90% off, you can walk away with a decent wetsuit for under $100.
Okay, happy hunting.