With so many disciplines and influencing sports feeding SUP with different views and knowledge, knowing and understanding the best kit choices for you can be a minefield. One of our goals here at Haywood Sports is to make SUP a simple sport for you, so you can go and enjoy your time on the water and not get lost in all the unnecessary noise.
What makes us confident in our recommendations? We have been paddling SUP since 2009 across all areas of the sport, This gives us a rounded opinion of what does and does not work, to give you the best options for you to try.
From this experience, this blog will cover two key points:
What we consider the essential kit to take when going for a paddle
What options you have so you can be as comfortable as possible.
This blog focuses on kit to take with you, and by that, we mean clothing and useful tools relating to yourself. Equipment such as leashes and spares will be covered in a later blog post.
Cover the basics for every paddle
Our paddling sessions should start before we get on the water through kit preparation. We have all done it where we really cant wait to get out on the water and end up forgetting something important or essential. To avoid this, get yourself set up with a dedicated SUP kit bag or box with your essential items always in it. That way, you are less likely to forget or misplace something essential.
Another must-do for every session is telling someone you are going for a paddle. You should tell them where you are going and how long you expect to be as the bare minimum. It's also worth estimating where you think you will get to on your paddle, especially if your on a river or coast where access and currents could take you out of sight of passers-by if things do go wrong.
So what's in our kitbag? This list is what we consider the bare minimum we take with us when we go for a paddle. Not all of this kit will go on the water with us, and ultimately you should find a selection that works for you depending on the conditions and where you are paddling.
Waterproof phone case
Small dry waist pack
Alternate clothing options
Hydration bottle or pack
It's worth adding that we always have a dry change of clothes with us as well.
One thing to remember when it comes to clothing is there is no right or wrong with what you must or should wear when paddling. Ultimately its what you feel most comfortable in that is the best option for you. That could be just a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, or a full dry-suit and buoyancy aid.
However, what is important is dressing to the conditions and what you are doing on the water. For example, if you are going for a white water paddle, wearing just shorts and a t-shirt is likely not the best choice. Likewise, if you plan to push yourself on a 10km time trial, a full dry suit, buoyancy aid, boots, and gloves will probably be too much, and you are likely to overheat.
Here is a great way to categorise your clothing to give you many options, no matter what type of paddle you are doing.
As you become more confident in your paddling skills, becoming less likely to fall off, lightweight clothing is likely what you will be paddling in most. Especially in the warmer months. These items offer the most freedom when your paddling and help keep you cool on warm days.
Lightweight clothing can be shorts, t-shirts, leggings, compression layers or lightweight neoprene such as 0.5mm tops and bottoms. Whilst you don't need specialist paddle clothing, there are plenty of good brands out there offering lifestyle and performance clothing choices from SUP Brands.
This clothing style is typically very similar to running and fitness gear which many of us have already, but it's worth considering the following when picking lightweight options.
Rash Vests - Whilst great for summer days in the waves, rash vests are not the best choice for paddling in for several reasons. Firstly they are not designed for 'dry' paddling, so they are not focused on being breathable and allowing your body to dissipate heat and sweat naturally. They are also very susceptible to wind chill, especially when wet, and as paddlers, the wind is our biggest challenge from the conditions. A better alternative is an SPF 'technical' t-shirt or vest, which will not only be more comfortable but also protect you from the sun and dry quickly when wet.
Layers are better than a single thick item - For those days when it's still a little cold or for early morning or late evening session, being able to add and remove layers will allow you to adjust to the conditions as you warm up or experience any changes to the conditions. If you just went for a single thick layer, you can find yourself either too hot or cold without the ability to adjust as needed.
Windproof jackets and tops - Bar far, the best piece of lightweight clothing you can have at your disposal is a windproof jacket or top. Being able to stop the wind chill will help you stay warm without overheating and protect you from getting an unexpected chill when out on the water if the wind picks up. Lightweight running or cycling tops are a great choice as many can be packed up and clipped around your waist when you don't need them.
Avoid some 'natural' fibres - Whilst natural fibres are great for sustainability, some items such as cotton t-shirts can cause other issues such as staying cold when wet and offering no sunscreen protection. Other fibres, however, such as Marino wool, can be a great base layer for those chilly days.
Clothing in this category can be used on its own or with other clothing to give you an almost unlimited range of options depending on the conditions. Either as slightly thicker layers for spring and autumn or as an open water selection for those paddling further afield without the need for a dry or wetsuit.
This category includes thicker neoprene items up to 2mm, kayaking style trousers and cags and thermal layers and heavier jackets. Another item here is the SUP suits which have gained popularity in recent years.
Neoprene is designed to be in the water - whilst a highly versatile material, neoprene is designed to be wet and then warm up the layer of water trapped next to your skin using your body heat. Therefore, it's worth pairing neoprene items with lightweight jackets and tops in particular or kayak style cags to give protection against the wind when your paddling.
Long John's the underrated choice - a neoprene Long John or Jane as they are sometimes called is a great way to give yourself some added protection without the restrictions from a full wetsuit. They are ideal if you might fall in and the water is still cold, and they also work wonders for keeping your legs and core warm whilst your arms are free from any restriction. A great piece of kit highly recommended by ourselves.
SUP Suits are worth the money - the price may seem on the high side, but the SUP Suits soon pay back their investment. They are quite simply one of the most versatile options you can give yourself. Think of it this way, with a SUP Suit and a few simple base options; you can paddle in all conditions pretty much year-round. If you wanted the same versatility in other items, you would need physically more options, and so it's easy to spend more than the value of a SUP Suit. The reason for this is these suits are not only waterproof, but they also offer protection from the wind and are breathable as well, so they cover all bases for an item of full clothing covering.
A little clip paddling in a SUP Suit made by Starboard
Offering the ultimate protection, heavy-weight items are pretty much a must for winter paddling. especially in ocean conditions through the winter months. There are also specialist items in this category to give the best protection against the elements, such as heavy-duty white water drysuits, for example.
This category includes neoprene full suits +3mm in thickness and thick neoprene boots and gloves. If you invest in a wetsuit for the winter, we encourage you to look at a 4/3mm option as they offer a good compromise between warmth and comfort for paddling. If you need extra warm add a windproof top layer or a lightweight base layer underneath.
Using a dry suit - gives you the ultimate protection from the elements being waterproof, windproof and warm, especially with the correct base layers and accessories. Just keep in mind that some of the heavy-duty suits are not as flexible or breathable as the lighter weight SUP specific suits that have come onto the market recently. It's therefore important to pick the right suit for your style of paddling.
Correct fitting wetsuits - will not only be more comfortable but also keep you warmer. More often than not, a thick 5mm suit will have a chest panel to help against wind chill, but just like their summer counterparts, they will often be best paired with a windproof layer on top. Different brands fit differently, so it's worth trying a selection to find which fits you best. A good suit is a snug fit, not loose or tight on you.
Paddling in thick gloves - isn't always the best way to keep your hands warm. You may find that paddling without gloves is actually warmer and will help stop cramps from over gripping the paddle through a big squidgy material. It's worth trying palm-less mitts, which can be warmer as your fingers are together sharing warmth, and they are great for stopping the wind chill. If you suffer from particularly cold hands, try using a thermal inner glove under a larger pair of neoprene mitts - if you are unlikely to fall in, then a ski glove or mitt is a great way to stay warm in winter also.
Recent early morning training - a mix of mid and light weight items here.
Our best advice
As we touched on at the start, it's really about finding what works for you with kit and clothing choices. The market is now full of options, so do your research and ask for advice from your local shop and experienced paddlers; it's very likely they have been there and done that so that they can give you advice based on personal experience.
Also, be prepared. Invest in a bag or box for your kit so its always ready to go and have a single home for it. That way, you can be adaptable to the conditions no matter where you go paddling.
If you are into your racing, then a great tip is to warm yourself up on land before getting on the water and ready for the start of the race. We have done it ourselves and see many others at events (especially on colder days) who are overdressed when waiting on the water for the start. You will soon get warm and use your training to figure out what you need to wear when pushing yourself on the water. There is always a lot of waiting around at races, so use that time to get ready and warm rather than heading on to the water with too much clothing.
We haven't covered the two pieces of kit that we always take with us regardless of what we are doing on the water. This being a mobile phone and an appropriate leash.
Mobile Phone - Two main reasons here why we always take a phone with us on a paddle:
You can use it to track your distance with an app. Our choice is Paddle Logger (for iOS) as it is not only a simple and fantastic app to use, but it also offers the safety feature, PaddleLIVE® - more details can be seen here.
It's our tool to get hold of someone if we are in trouble and also so someone can reach us whilst we are out on the water.
Leash - This is your safety line to your biggest flotation device; we don't go on the water without one. However, what is important here is that you should use the correct leash for your paddling, and we will cover this in our equipment blog later in the series.
How can we help?
At Haywood Sports, we are first and foremost paddlers. We are regularly out on the water covering many areas of the sport and have experience in participating and teaching right across the multiple SUP disciplines.
We are here to offer you advice and impart our knowledge so you can go out and enjoy your paddle without getting caught up in the unnecessary noise flooding the market. We have spent years trying out products, developing better ways of doing things and going out and doing it within the sport. We encourage you to reach out to us with any questions via our social channels, email, and website chat to ask questions at any time.
If you need a bit more guidance, such as preparation for a challenge or expedition, we are happy to help any way we can; get in touch to chat it through.
Scotty - Haywood Sports