Stand-up paddle boards make it easy to enjoy a day out on the water. Whether you plan to rent everything you need or purchase your own gear, it doesn’t take much to get started. With a life jacket, paddle, and stand-up paddle board (or SUP), you’re ready to have a blast.
Until you start thinking—and overthinking—about what to wear paddle boarding. We’ve been there too. Especially as a newbie learning how to paddle board, you’re probably torn between wearing a swimsuit or wearing a more traditional outfit.
That’s why we put together this complete guide on how to dress for paddle boarding anytime, anywhere. Read on to learn about the best options for whichever kind of SUP adventure you’re planning.
What to Wear Paddle Boarding When It’s Hot
When it’s hot outside, you’re guaranteed to have a great day paddle boarding. Nothing beats some fun in the sun with a gorgeous body of water at your feet.
The only real challenge here is picking an outfit that protects you from the sun, can get wet, and doesn’t restrict your movements. Luckily, as paddle boarding continues to explode in popularity, more and more great clothing is becoming available.
If you look at other paddle boarders in the summer, you’ll notice most people wear swimsuits or boardshorts. These are both perfect choices except for one detail—they don’t offer much protection from UV rays.
You have choices besides a swimsuit, though. Rash guards are a great choice in any weather, plus they’re often made with SPF materials. You can even wear a normal shirt and shorts if you’d like. Just remember to pick something you don’t mind getting wet.
Keep in mind that especially near bodies of water, the temperature can change a lot throughout the day. Many people opt to dress in layers and bring a dry bag or dry box on their SUP.
As the weather warms up or cools down, you can add or remove layers to stay comfortable all day long.
Basically, getting dressed for paddle boarding in warm weather comes down to your comfort level. Sometimes our whole group wears swimsuits.
Most often, everybody wears something a little different, and that’s okay!
One of the best things about this watersport is how much you can customize it to your own preferences.
No matter what outfit you ultimately choose, always wear sunscreen. Ideally, you should opt for waterproof sunscreen. Don’t forget to reapply according to the package directions.
SUP Sun Protection
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of soaking up some sun while you paddle. With the refreshing water at your feet and sunshine warming your shoulders, it’s easy to stay comfortable for hours.
But you can always get too much of a good thing—especially the sun’s UV rays, which can seriously damage your skin.
Quick biology class recap: not all your organs are inside your body. In fact, your skin is your largest organ. (1) It’s easy to take for granted, which is why you have to pay special attention to sun protection.
Always wear sunscreen, even when the weather is cloudy. Take the time to reapply according to the instructions. According to the World Health Organization, skin cancer is becoming more common. 1 in 5 Americans will develop a form of skin cancer in their lifetime. (2)
What to Wear Paddle Boarding When It’s Cold
When it’s cold, you have to put a little more thought and care into your paddle boarding outfit. Falling into the water is fun and refreshing on a hot summer day. But during chilly weather, this can make you shiver for hours.
The best thing to wear paddle boarding during fall, winter, or any cold weather is a wetsuit. Nothing protects your body heat from water like neoprene, the material wetsuits are made from.
But if you want to paddle board in a range of cold temperatures, you’ll need more than one wetsuit. Each one is made of a specific thickness of neoprene. The thickness is measured in millimeters, or mm.
Wetsuits also come in different types. You’ll often see surfers in wetsuits that stop at their knees, for example. Colder water requires more coverage.
In extremely cold climates, it’s recommended that you wear a full wetsuit, gloves, boots, and even a hood to keep your head warm.
Before you decide what to wear paddle boarding, research the location’s climate. Compare the temperature to each wetsuit you’re considering.
Preventing hypothermia and staying safe is worth taking the time to get this right—in the US, death rates rise 8 to 12 percent every year as the weather gets colder. (3)
Alternatives to Wetsuits
If you’ve ever worn a wetsuit, it’s probably not your favorite article of clothing. Neoprene is unbeatable when it comes to preserving your body temperature… but everything else about it can be annoying.
Wriggling into your wetsuit and properly caring for it after a day on the water isn’t fun for us, either. We understand why you might want to find an easier alternative.
You do have alternatives to a wetsuit in certain scenarios. Unfortunately, wetsuits are truly the safest and most effective option for water below 60 degrees F / 15 degrees C. Water at this temperature or lower can cause cold shock after just a few minutes of being submerged, so that layer of neoprene is essential.
But if you’ll be paddling in water warmer than this threshold, you’re in luck:
There’s a wide range of thermal rash guards on the market, and they’re perfect for water in the range of 60 – 70 degrees F (15 – 21 degrees C).
In recent years, neoprene alternatives have slowly been tested and become available. “Eco-wetsuits” are the current hot topic. These are made from a variety of natural materials, and people who wear them say they feel much better than a neoprene suit.
Whether you purchase a traditional wetsuit or an alternative, always start by researching your destination. What to wear paddle boarding when it’s cold comes down to whichever option will keep you warm and dry.
Why Rash Guards Are a Great Idea for Paddle Boarding
We can’t talk about what to wear paddle boarding without singing the praises of rash guards. In any kind of weather, a rash guard is a great choice.
Originally, these athletic shirts were designed for surfers. They come in a wide variety of styles and configurations, but they’re usually made of polyester, nylon, or spandex—materials that are lightweight and quick to dry off.
The name explains the purpose: to protect you from chafing, rashes, and sunburns while you’re on the water. These days, rash guards often include materials to help protect from the sun’s UV rays.
On warm days, you can wear a rash guard like any other shirt. Just throw it on and you’re good to go. During the cold season, layer your rash guard under thicker layers like a wetsuit.
“Since sunscreen can wash off after you’ve been in the water a while, you need to keep reapplying it all day long. But a rash guard with built-in sun protection can save you the hassle of slathering on SPF over and over again.”
This is the best way to prevent chafing while you’re doing any SUP activity. You see, whether you’re doing yoga, recreational paddling, or a more intense activity, your arms power the SUP’s movement.
And even if you’re just going out for a quick hour-long session, the skin on the undersides of your arms will repeatedly brush against your sides. Without a rash guard, this motion is a recipe for painful chafing and days of discomfort.
Finally, always check for information about UV protection while you shop for SUP clothing. Thanks to modern innovations, you have all kinds of stylish, comfortable, and protective options.
What to Wear for SUP Yoga
When you’re trying to decide what to wear paddle boarding—especially for yoga—you might feel a bit lost. We certainly did for our first SUP yoga session. You want something that isn’t constricting, ideally stretchy and soft.
But most swimsuits tend to be tight. You’d never do yoga on solid ground in super snug and revealing clothing, so why would you want that during SUP yoga? We get it.
We have two favorite options for SUP yoga. Either opt for typical yoga clothes that you don’t mind getting wet or wear a rash guard.
Standard yoga wear is awesome because it’s usually moisture wicking. Whether you work up a sweat during SUP yoga or fall in the water, any moisture will quickly evaporate. This makes it easy for you to stay focused on what yoga’s really about: finding the harmony between mind and body.
We’re thrilled to report that you can now find rash guards specifically designed for SUP yoga, too. These soft and flexible shirts are usually long-sleeved to protect you from sunburns while you stretch, but lightweight enough to not be a distraction.
What to Wear for SUP Fishing
Getting dressed for SUP fishing isn’t too complicated. If you’d wear something on a fishing boat, odds are it’s appropriate for SUP fishing. You should also know that most paddle boards designed for fishing are bigger than their recreational counterparts.
The bigger size means you can pack more gear, making it easy to bring anything you might need. We like to bring fishing hats, or any wide-brimmed hat to protect from the sun. You also can’t go wrong with a good pair of sunglasses.
Just like any time you’re on the water, you’ll need a personal flotation device (or PFD). Life jackets are the go-to for recreational paddle boarding, but we prefer a waist-belt PFD for fishing. It just makes it easier to cast out and reel in.
Other than that, consider anything that’ll make your fishing excursion easier. A fishing vest, a bandana, and extra sunscreen are all on our must-pack list.
What to Wear for Whitewater and River SUP
What to wear paddle boarding usually comes down to picking something you don’t mind getting wet. But whitewater and river SUP excursions take this to another level. The rule of thumb here is always, always, always dress to fall in the water.
With recreational paddling, it’s common for beginners to fall in the water. When you’re paddling on a river, though, even the experts fall in often. That’s why you need to gear up a little more for this activity.
A wetsuit is always a good idea. Rivers and whitewater are rarely warm, so it’s crucial to have protection from the chilly water. Wearing a life jacket goes without saying. You’ll also want a helmet and high-traction footwear. We like neoprene shoes the best for this purpose.
Whitewater and river SUP are both great ways to get your adrenaline pumping. Even Class 2 rapids are a wild ride on a stand-up paddle board, whereas they can be pretty tame in a more traditional vessel.
The Most Important Thing to Wear Paddle Boarding
There’s one thing you should always wear while paddle boarding, no matter the weather or activity: a personal flotation device.
There’s quite a few reasons that a PFD is necessary. First, if you’re paddle boarding in the US, it’s federal law. The US Coast Guard considers stand-up paddle boards to be vessels, so you aren’t exempt from this requirement. (5)
It’s also common for US states to have their own laws, fines, and penalties related to wearing a life jacket or PFD. Basically, paddle boarding without one is a sure way to get a ticket and put a damper on the day’s fun.
These laws exist to keep you safe. Strong swimmers often drown or need rescue because they didn’t wear a PFD, even in bodies of water they’re familiar with. Drowning is, sadly, the number one cause of visitor deaths in US National Parks. (6)
To be clear, we love paddle boarding. It’s a great workout, rewarding, and tons of fun—so long as you take the proper safety precautions. That’s why when we talk about what to wear paddle boarding, we have to talk about the importance of wearing a PFD.
What About Footwear?
Footwear is another common dilemma when you’re deciding what to wear paddle boarding. You want something sturdy and supportive to help you balance, but not all shoes are water friendly. The idea of paddle boarding barefoot probably crossed your mind, too.
Going barefoot for recreational paddling is definitely an option. Many paddle board purists insist this is the best choice. It’s true that having your feet and toes in direct contact with your SUP can make it easier to stay balanced. Especially if you’re trying SUP yoga, you’ll appreciate being able to adjust with your heels and toes.
But in our experience, wearing water shoes is the best choice for paddle boarding. It’s so much easier to get a cut, scrape, or other minor injury when you’re barefoot.
Water shoes also protect you from all kinds of weather. If you’re on the water during cool weather, a lot of body heat escapes through your bare feet—you’ll be shivering in no time as the cold water splashes onto you and your SUP. On sunny days, your shoes protect against sunburns.
In a nutshell, wearing footwear on your stand-up paddle board is always a smart choice. Shoes protect your feet from the elements so you can focus on having a great time.
How to Choose the Best Paddle Boarding Outfit
At this point, you probably have a few thoughts about what to wear paddle boarding. You’ve learned about the best options for each climate and activity. You even know which details to keep in mind while you shop for outfits.
But this is where things can start to get confusing again. There are so many price points, brands, and materials to choose from! And it’s important to make sure your purchases are high-quality so they last.
The price, quality, and material of each piece are the main things you need to consider while shopping. Let’s take an in-depth look at these aspects.
We’ve all heard the saying “you get what you pay for.” In our modern world of fast fashion and discount retailers, this is truer than ever.
To be clear, we aren’t saying you should always pick the most expensive thing you can afford. But do keep in mind that inexpensive clothing and gear isn’t often made to last. Before you make this investment, read up on reviews and the company who makes it.
Weigh the cost against what your research tells you. You’ll also find that pricier brands have more lenient return policies or even a satisfaction guarantee. This no-risk option means it’s easy to make sure you get your money’s worth.
One pro tip on finding a great price: If you can plan a few months ahead, try shopping for your paddle board outfits in the off season. Look for a wetsuit in the summer and swimsuits or rash guards in the winter. It can take a little longer to find something you like, but this is an awesome way to get high-quality gear without breaking the bank.
The quality of your clothing affects how many seasons you’ll get out of it. Very inexpensive, low-quality options aren’t designed to last. The fabric will wear out, stretch, and fade after just a few SUP sessions.
But as you know, the most expensive clothing isn’t guaranteed to be the best. Sometimes you’re just paying for the brand name more than anything. To get around this, do your shopping with brands who have a history of making great products.
The longer a brand has been selling well-reviewed gear, the more likely it is to be high quality. That said, there are a few smaller brands working to innovate the industry with cutting-edge products.
The first time you buy paddle boarding outfits, we suggest shopping with a well-reviewed and long-standing company. You’re more likely to find a wide range of sizes, colors, and styles.
Once you have a feel for what you like, feel free to try a smaller brand. Look for one that specializes in the kinds of outfits you like best, and you’re sure to get a high-quality product.
You’ll often find that an outfit’s price and quality are influenced by the material. Top of the line products will be wind, water, and sun resistant.
Checking the material used is a great way to fact-check any brand. If a company claims to sell the best traditional wetsuits, they should be made of neoprene.
Rash guards are usually synthetic fibers like spandex, polyester, or even nylon with elastane. If a rash guard is made of cotton, it won’t serve the purposes it’s supposed to.
Always check the material against the function of the outfit. If they align, it’s a good sign you’re making a smart purchase.
How to Take Care of Paddle Boarding Outfits
Now you have some great ideas for what to wear paddle boarding. But you also need to know how to protect your new investment. Nothing is more frustrating than doing your research and finding some great gear, just to see your new purchases come apart at the seams.
High-quality paddle boarding outfits should include detailed care instructions on the tag. You see, this clothing requires special attention because it’s exposed to sun and water. The tags usually say to avoid washing with hot water or drying on high heat.
But even if your clothing doesn’t specifically list these guidelines, they’re a great rule of thumb. Hot water and drying on high heat can stretch and weaken the fabric, meaning you’ll have to replace it sooner.
We also suggest giving your clothing a quick once-over for grains of sand. If the sand gets into your washing machine, it can wear down the clothing and damage your washer’s drum. A quick rinse in the sink or a thorough shake-out are the best ways to quickly remove sand.
In short, always make sure your clothing is free of sand before washing. Wash everything in cool or cold water and hang it up to dry or tumble dry on very low heat. Double-check the tag on each item for specific care guidelines, and your gear is sure to last.
Today, you’ve read up on what to wear paddle boarding in any kind of climate. You also know all the features to look for and how to take care of your new clothing for years to come. Now all you have to do is get out on the water and have a blast!
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1. National Geographic, Skin
2. World Health Organization, Radiation: Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation and Skin Cancer
3. Environmental Protection Agency, Climate Change Indicators: Cold-Related Deaths
4. The Today Show, Experts Share Why You May Want a Rash Guard for Extra Sun Protection This Summer
5. National Park Service, Stay Afloat: Always Wear a Life Jacket
6. Forbes, What Are the Odds of Dying in a National Park This Summer?