Kayak Fishing Clothing on the Cheap!


If you've ever shopped for anything marketed as "fishing clothing", you've undoubtedly noticed it's ridiculously expensive. (And some of the dedicated kayak fishing clothes are beyond-the-pale dorky. This little number, for example, would go over well at a Trekkie convention, but there's no way I'd wear it.)

This is all wrong to me.

I'm a fishermen. I find slimy, cold-blooded, water-dwelling animals and try to capture them using hooks. If things go according to plan, my clothing is pretty much guaranteed to be abused. I'll probably gouge it, tear it, and abrade it. And I'll definitely soil it with dirt, mud, blood, and fish slime. This all happens by design. So the last thing I want is to be fussy and overly protective about my clothing because of the expense!

At the same time, there are certain performance properties that I really want in kayak fishing clothing. So while I'm all for minimizing expense, cost can't be the only consideration.

I want the cheapest clothing that still works well.

So I've been on a dedicated mission to find inexpensive but performant clothing for kayak fishing. And I thought I'd share some of the things I've learned with you. I should point out that I'm located in North Carolina where the temperature is generally temperate. In particular, the winters here are pretty mild. So my advice might not work for you if you live somewhere more extreme…

First Principles

  • In warm/hot weather, I accept getting wet. Waterproof clothing is uncomfortable in the heat. I know that fabrics like Gore-Tex are supposed to wick but if you've ever worn a Gore-Tex jacket on a hot and humid day, you know that its wicking capabilities are greatly overstated. I think it makes more sense to get clothing that can deal with being wet, by drying quickly, by wicking moisture so it doesn't feel wet (and cold), and by retaining insulating properties even when wet.
  • In colder weather, stay dry. It's a hokey movie, but one part they definitely got right in Titanic: The people who fell into the water died and the people in the boats lived. When it's cold, you need to stay dry because hypothermia is serious business. Since I don't have a dry suit, if it's really cold then I don't go out on the water.
  • Cotton is out. Clothing insulation works because of dead air pockets between you and the outside. Air is a poor conductor of heat, so fabric that can trap a lot of air between you and the outside will keep you warmer. When cotton gets wet (from water or sweat) all of the air pockets in the fabric fill up with liquid causing it to lose its ability to insulate. Cotton garments can absorb up to 27 times their weight in water, so they also get really heavy and take forever to dry. This is all bad enough that there's a saying among outdoor sports people: "Cotton kills." If the air is colder than your body temperature, you’ll feel cold because your cotton clothing is saturated and no longer providing any insulation. This can lead to disorientation, hypothermia, and potentially death if you become too chilled. Hypothermia can occur in temperatures well above freezing and become serious if you get wet and chilled. Cotton also does not wick moisture. Wicking fabrics move water from wet areas (like the surface of your skin) to dry ones (like the outer layers of clothing) via capillary action where it can evaporate. So when cotton gets wet, it holds the dampness against your skin and you feel wet/sweaty and cold. Other fabrics to avoid: Rayon, Viscose, Tencel, Lyocell, Bamboo and Silk
  • Synthetics and wool are in. Synthetics like nylon and polyester dry fast, wick moisture, and retain their insulation properties when wet. And if you avoid the prestige brand names, they're not terribly expensive either. Wool is warmer than synthetic fabrics and it stays warm even when wet. Merino wool has nice wicking properties. Unfortunately, wool tends to be expensive. But for cold weather, it's pretty amazing stuff. If you're worried that wool and synthetic fabrics are going to be itchy, stiff, and uncomfortable, you need to check out the newer fabrics. They're soft, nice to the touch, and very comfortable. 
  • Be a layer cake. Here's a good primer on layering if you don't know what it is or how to do it. It's a great approach for kayak fishing since it's highly adaptable to changing weather conditions and you can get use out of your clothes all year round by incorporating them as layers in the various seasons.
  • Discount stores are your friend. As I said, one of my primary goals is affordability. Target and Wal-mart have most of what I need and if it gets damaged I won't lose any sleep over it. Is it the highest quality? No. But I'm fine with that. The "active wear" section of the store is where you want to go. You'll find the sports clothing made from synthetics there. They'll advertise quick-drying, wicking, and other features that you want. But since it's not name brand stuff, it's a lot more affordable. If you have an Academy or similar discount sporting goods store in your area, that's even better! You'll have a better selection and still get good prices. The big emporium type sporting goods stores like Dick's, Bass Pro, or Cabela's have a good selection, but they typically don't have great prices in my experience. (One exception are teh clearance racks!) Obviously, buying online is a great option.

My Strategy

I've provided links to a bunch of examples, mainly from Target. But you can find most of these types of clothes at pretty much any discount store.

Summer

  • Synthetic T-shirts.  I typically find them at discount stores for $15-$20. I get both long  and short sleeve shirts and use the long sleeve shirt when I'm going to be out for a several hours to block the sun.
  • Underwear. Get the sports models that specifically list wicking and fast-drying. Look at the tag and make sure it's made from nylon, polyester, spandex, or some combination thereof. Avoid anything with cotton. Personally, I like the tight-fitting boxer briefs. 
  • Aqua shoes. These are really cheap ($20 or less) and specifically made for water sports. I don't usually wear sandals or mesh aqua shoes while fishing because of the potential for sunburn. An exception to that would be when I know I'll only be on the water for a short time.
  • Synthetic convertible pants. These have zip-off pant legs to convert to shorts. I like that versatility. Unfortunately, this is one item that I can't find at a discount store. Academy has a great convertible pant for a very reasonable price and the quality is pretty good too. That would be my budget recommendation. Another option is to search for good deals online. You can usually find no-name import convertible nylon pants on Amazon for $20-$30. These can be kind of hit-or-miss. I bought a couple of pairs and for about the same amount of money, the Academy pants are much better made. In particular, the zippers on my Amazon import pants are way too flimsy, fiddly, and prone to snagging. Also, you need to pay very close attention to the sizing information because some of those Asian import clothes can run really small! I don't want to scare you off Amazon altogether though. There are a lot of different vendors and products on Amazon!
  • Fishing hat. I like the classic Boonie hat because it provides better sunburn protection for  your ears, neck and face than a baseball cap.

Fall and Spring

  • The basic idea here is to use your summer clothing, and then layer or substitute some items with cooler-weather variations.
  • Over your synthetic t-shirt, add a thin pullover sports sweater like runners wear. These can be a bit more expensive so it pays to look for sales.
  • Use running pants as a base layer under your convertible pants. Running pants come in a variety of thicknesses for different amounts of insulation. And they tend to be tight-fitting so they can be worn under your convertible pants comfortably.
  • Along with my aqua shoes, I'll add some synthetic sports socks to help insulate my feet in the cooler weather. I've tried boots and shoes, but they get sloshy inside and take forever to dry. I'd rather just use thick socks and the aqua shoes.
  • Barring accidents, I can stay almost completely dry while kayaking. Except for my feet. I almost always have to wade in a foot or two of water when launching and landing. But in the cooler weather, my tolerance for wet feet goes down. So I'm experimenting with waterproof socks to keep my feet dry. The cheapest pair I've found that still had good reviews on Amazon were Randy Sun waterproof socks. At $35-$40, they're still pricey. My early impression is that they're definitely waterproof, and definitely not "breathable". But in the cool weather that doesn't matter much to me. It's still too early to speak to their durability...

Winter

  • Unfortunately, it's hard to go cheap on winter clothing for fishing. If it's cold enough, it's downright impossible. As I mentioned at the beginning, where I live the winters are mild. If you live in a colder climate, this probably won't work for you.
  • Once again, use the fall and spring clothing and layer more items on top. 
  • Add a heavy fleece sweater and a rain jacket.
  • If I need it, I'll use some synthetic long underwear or heavier running pants as a base layer.
  • A winter beanie cap, ear-flap hat, or other cold-weather hat is obviously a good idea. Personally, I have a Carhartt Akron hat. It's not expensive and I actually like how silly it looks. My kids think it's funny and I'll do darn near anything to make them laugh.
  • One way to stay dry is to wear waders over your running pants. I have a pair of hip waders I got from Amazon for a pretty decent price. I have mixed feelings about wearing waders on a kayak because in a tip-over, I'm fairly certain I couldn't swim in them and I'd have to take them off in the water. And I'd typically only wear them when it's cold, so taking them off is not a good idea either. But like I said earlier, if it's genuinely cold, I just wouldn't kayak without a dry suit.

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