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What To Wear Paddle Boarding: A Guide to SUP Clothing

Woman paddle boarding on the sea
Stand up paddle boarding (or SUP) is as popular as ever right now. More and more people are starting to explore their local waterways by paddle board, and for good reason. It’s easy, fun, great fitness and highly accessible to those new to the water. With all that new exploration, knowing what to wear paddle boarding also needs to be explored. Wear the wrong kind of clothing for paddle boarding and you can be left cold, chaffed, uncomfortable or sunburnt, and no-one wants any of those!

SUP clothing should dry quickly, be comfortable and easy to move in, and it should also protect you from the elements. But the paddle board clothing you choose can vary greatly, depending on the type of paddle boarding you are doing, the weather and also on the water conditions. So, it’s important to understand what to wear paddle paddle boarding in all different conditions so that you can opt for the correct clothing for you.

What shoes to wear paddle boarding

One of the first questions that beginner paddle boarders ask is do I need to wear shoes when paddle boarding?

The answer: yes and no!

When you should wear shoes for paddle boarding

In certain scenarios wearing shoes is highly recommended. If you are paddling in areas where the sea, lake or river bed is predominantly covered in sharp and jagged rocks then protective water shoes will help prevent a mishap should you fall in, or when launching.

If you are paddling in cold conditions then you’ll want to consider wearing wetsuit booties to keep your feet warm. These are not waterproof and don’t prevent water from getting in. However, they perform in the same way that a wetsuit does by heating up the water that enters the boots. They also have grippy bottoms to stop you from slipping on your board.

Additionally, whitewater paddle boarders will absolutely need to wear shoes to protect their feet and toes from rocks in the rapids.

When you don’t really need to wear shoes

If you are paddling in deep water and launching off sandy beaches or directly off a jetty, there’s no need to wear SUP shoes from a protective point of view. Paddle board decks have plenty of grip that work just fine with bare feet. And if the weather is warm and the water temperature comfortable then wearing shoes for paddle boarding can become sticky and annoying very quickly.

Water shoes gear guide

Woman walking out of sea with board

What to wear paddle boarding in summer

The majority of paddle boarders tend to take to the water during the summer months when the water is warm and the sun hot. If this sounds like you, then firstly, good choice! Paddle boarding lends itself very nicely to cruising in the sunshine. But secondly, you won’t need to think too hard about what to wear paddle boarding. Swimwear, quick-drying shorts, a sun hat and a rashguard or sports t-shirt will do just fine. Easy!

That said, I recently wore a summer wetsuit (3/2) in the rain and wind in and it was perfect. It was June in the UK. If the sun decided to come out then I would have pulled the top of my wetsuit down, as I had a bikini top and short-sleeved rash vest underneath. This also meant that I wasn’t too worried about falling in (which is always a possibility when you have a wriggling 7-year old as your cargo!) If the risk of taking a swim was lower, I would have worn quick-drying shorts, a rashguard or synthetic t-shirt and a waterproof jacket.

Here’s a quick list of what to wear paddle boarding in the summer:

  • Rash guard

    Rashguard or sport shirt

    Properties: UV protective with long sleeves if you are sensitive to the sun, quick drying, fitted
    Fabric: Synthetic (polyester or nylon with elastane or spandex for stretch)

  • Patagonia shorts

    Board shorts

    Properties: Quick drying, not too baggy, comfortable
    Fabric: Synthetic (polyester or nylon)

  • Bikini top

    Bikini or swimsuit

    Properties: Quick drying, supportive, doesn’t rub when wearing a buoyancy aid
    Fabric: Synthetic (polyester or nylon with spandex or elastane)

  • Cap

    Sun hat or cap

    Properties: Quick drying, adjustable, UV protective, peaked, lightweight
    Fabric: Synthetic (polyester or nylon)

Paddle boarder and rocks

What to wear paddle boarding in winter

Choosing the right winter paddle board clothing is not quite as simple as summer SUP clothing. Firstly, winter conditions can vary wildly depending where in the world you are paddling and the local weather conditions. Secondly, it depends on what type of paddle boarding you intend on doing. Many SUP surfers continue their pursuit of the perfect wave right through the winter, regardless of the temperature. This requires a thick winter wetsuit, gloves, hood and booties.

However, for SUP touring during the winter, you can get away with wearing similar clothing to what you would wear winter hiking: warm base and mid layers with waterproof layers over the top.

Here are a few options of what to wear paddle boarding in winter:

  • Winter wetsuit

    Winter wetsuit with hood

    Properties: Warm (5+mm thickness), tight fitting, good movement through the shoulders
    Fabric: Neoprene

  • Wetsuit gloves

    Wetsuit gloves

    Properties: Warm (3+mm thickness), grippy palms, good seals and the wrists
    Fabric: Neoprene

  • Booties

    Wetsuit boots

    Properties: Warm (3+mm thickness), reinforced and grippy soles, good seals and the ankles
    Fabric: Neoprene

  • Thermal leggings

    Thermal leggings

    Properties: Tight fitting, quick drying, warm
    Fabric: Synthetic (polyester or nylon with elastane or spandex for stretch)

  • Waterproof pants

    Waterproof pants

    Properties: Waterproof, windproof, breathable, roomy enough to move easily in but not too baggy
    Fabric: Synthetic (nylon) with breathable membrane like Gore-tex or equivalent.

  • Waterproof jacket

    Waterproof jacket

    Properties: Waterproof, windproof, breathable, roomy enough to wear layers underneath, fitted hood

    Fabric: Synthetic (nylon) with breathable membrane like Gore-tex or equivalent.

  • base layer

    Base layer

    Properties: Quick drying, moisture wicking, fitted
    Fabric: Synthetic is best for quick drying, however, merino base layers are better at temperature regulating

  • Fleece


    Properties: Warm, quick drying, moisture wicking
    Fabric: Synthetic (polyester)

  • Fleece Hat

    Fleece hat

    Properties: Warm, quick drying, moisture wicking
    Fabric: Synthetic (polyester)

  • Waterproof gloves

    Waterproof gloves

    Properties: Waterproof, windproof, breathable, warm, grippy palms
    Fabric: Synthetic (polyester or nylon)

Man paddle boarding

What to wear paddle boarding in spring and autumn

Knowing what to wear paddle boarding during the spring and autumn can be a tricky one. Like winter paddling, there can be huge variations in the conditions and temperature, and also the bodies of water you choose to paddle on. A mid-warmth 4/3 wetsuit is a good option if there’s a chance you make take a swim or if you are SUP surfing. Whereas, on calm waters and in some areas / conditions you might get away with something less water-specific. Quick-drying leggings, swim leggings or board shorts, plus a few layers on your top half to protect from the cold and wind (base layer and waterproof jacket), all work well.

If the winter SUP clothing options, and their variations, are too extreme for the conditions you will be paddling in during the shoulder seasons, then here are a few other options of what to wear paddle boarding in spring and autumn:

  • Leggings

    Swim leggings

    Properties: Quick drying, tight fitting, UV protective
    Fabric: Synthetic (polyester or nylon and spandex)

  • 43 wetsuit

    4/3 wetsuit

    Properties: Tight fitting, sealed seams, good movement through the shoulders.
    Fabric: Neoprene

  • Thermal rashquard

    Fleece-lined rashguard

    Properties: Warm, quick drying, moisture wicking, fitted.
    Fabric: Synthetic (polyester fleece and lycra / spandex)

Man on SUP

Things to consider when choosing clothing for paddle boarding

Aside from the weather, water conditions and the type of paddle boarding you will be doing, it’s worth considering a few extra things when choosing clothing for paddle boarding.

The fit

As with all activewear, SUP clothing should be comfortable. This largely comes down to how well it fits. So firstly, get the right size clothing for paddle boarding! Once you’ve got that right, SUP clothing should also be:

  • Unrestrictive – your arms, shoulders and torso will be moving the whole time so your clothing should be stretchy to accommodate this. But you’ll also be switching between standing and sitting or kneeling, so restrictive pants will make life uncomfortable pretty quickly. Avoid stiff clothing that doesn’t move with your body.
  • Fitted – but no so tight that it’s uncomfortable! Baggy clothing becomes heavy when wet and can cause chaffing. It also makes swimming rather difficult, so avoid excess bagginess.

Fabric properties

Because there are so many different types of clothing for paddle boarding, the below properties don’t apply to any single garment. This is simply to clarify what each term means:

  • Quick drying – doesn’t hold moisture in or on the fabric for long
  • Breathable – allowing air and moisture to move through the fabric
  • Waterproof – prevents water from penetrating the fabric
  • Windproof – prevents wind from penetrating the fabric
  • UV protective – prevents harmful UV rays from penetrating the fabric
  • Insulating – provides warmth by trapping air between the fabric and the body
  • Moisture wicking – moving moisture away from your body

Woman walking into sea with paddle boars

The above options are just a guide on what to wear paddle boarding. You might find that you’ll never need to go near a wetsuit. Or you might really like some of the wetsuit variations that are available like ones with short arms and legs, ones with no legs and long sleeves or any combo of arms and legs! Once you’ve been out on the water a few times you’ll start to figure out what worlds for you. And so long as you are comfortable and warm (and that you avoid cotton where possible as it takes ages to dry and becomes heavy when wet), you’ll be just fine!

Happy SUPing, happy paddlers!

Joey Holmes

Joey Holmes
Joey is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard, and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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