Paddle, Paddle, Glide… What To Wear Kayaking

Two people paddling a kayak on Lake Tahoe

When gearing up for an adventure on the gorgeous waters of Tahoe, one major thing to consider is what to wear kayaking. Even though the air temperature is warm or even toasty, Lake Tahoe’s water stays cold. So chilly that its waters can literally take your breath away. This advice will make sure that you’re prepared for Tahoe’s climate.

Tahoe’s Waters Can Kill You

kayaker wearing a personal floatation device on Lake Tahoe
Paddler wearing a P.F.D. – Image appears courtesy: Sierra Business Council

Yes, it looks like the Caribbean. Yes, it’s absolutely perfect out. Just don’t let the beauty affect your preparedness. Lake Tahoe’s waters hover around 64 degrees and can get colder if the wind picks up. Cold water shock does happen and is deadly! In fact, every summer SEVERAL people die from it on the waters, and yet it’s so easy to prevent. All you need to do is wear a personal floatation device or P.F.D. for short.

Dress For Tahoe’s Climate AND Waters

The underlying rule you should always think about is that you must dress for the water temperature AND the air temp. The basic rule is if you take the air temperature plus the water temperature and that number is less than 120, wear a wetsuit or dry suit.

Why Worry About How Cold Or Warm The Water Is

As we’ve talked about in What’s A Float Plan & Why You Should File One, you should always be prepared if things go wrong. If you do end up in Tahoe’s cold water, it can suck the heat out of your body quickly. In addition, if you’re paddling a sit-on-top kayak, you have to expect that your lower body is going to be wet.

The Basics

First and foremost, even on those rare cloudy days, you’re out on the water so wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and of course sun block. That high elevation sun will bake you. Second, skip the cotton. Cotton soaks up water like a sponge. Instead, wear synthetic layers that are moisture wicking and quick drying. With that being said, having layers is always a good idea.

Use Local Shops As Your Mentors

employee organizing paddle shop in Lake Tahoe California
Image appears courtesy: Adrift Tahoe

Just like going for a hike, ski touring, or mountain biking adventure, stop by one of the local shops to find out what to wear for kayaking and get guidance for the day. They’re the experts on the weather and water temperatures especially when the mountains can affect the weather dramatically. You may also be able to rent a wetsuit or dry suit from the outfitter if needed, saving you room in your suitcase.

Once You’re Finished

You’ve just finished your perfect Tahoe paddle adventure. You have a sense of euphoria and feel accomplished. You just want to relax on the beach and chill out. But wait – you don’t want to be chilled to end your day especially in the mountains, right?

After Glow Essentials

what to wear kayaking
Image appears courtesy: Round Hill Pines

To be really prepared for mountain paddling conditions, part of Tahoe paddle culture is to have your stash of post-paddling gear in your car to jump into. Pack your car with warm clothes, water, and snacks to recover. Essential clothing includes a warm jacket (we prefer a big down jacket), long underwear, wooly cap, gloves – you know, like you’re going skiing.

Even on the hottest days of summer, the lake is Always Cold – so just be prepared and have your stay-on-the-beach-don’t-lose-your-parking-spot strategy down.

The Lake Tahoe Water Trail is a Sierra Business Council sustainable recreation tourism project. Learn more about SBC's innovative social, environmental and economic development projects in the Sierra Nevada at www.sierrabusiness.org.


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Sierra Business Council and the Lake Tahoe Water Trail Committee and their contributors will be in no way responsible for personal injury or damage to personal property arising in conjunction with the use of this website or printed materials. Good judgment and planning are critical to any successful outing. Before heading out on the water, it is recommended that you check with other sources of information for the latest lake conditions.

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