How To Gear Up for Watery Outdoor Adventures

Outfit with the latest technical footwear and apparel that best caters to your next adventures on (and in) the water.

Let’s face it: Water often comes with the territory when you’re adventuring outside. Whether you’re paddling your local lake, rafting a river, fishing your secret stash or hiking along a shoreline or up a canyon, water is an integral element of your outing. Thankfully, a host of brands are putting water performance at the forefront of their latest designs, be it for quick-dry swim and surfwear, paddling outerwear and even hiking apparel. Here are the latest technical breakthroughs explained, tips on how to choose the right equipment for your chosen activity ahead, plus a few standout product examples to whet your appetite on getting wet this season.  


Whether you’re surfing, paddling, snorkeling or swimming, these base layers guard your skin from chafing rashes as well as the sun. Surfers in particular seek them for warm-water torso protection from the abrasion of saltwater, sand and their boards. Many designs integrate the UPF ratings of other sun-protective clothing to ward off UV rays from both the sun and reflected in the water. 

  • Fit and stitching: Rash guards should fit snug to keep chafing at bay, while still being loose enough for freedom of movement. Most also feature six-panel construction and flat-lock stitching for fit and chafing prevention. Longer sleeves are warmer and offer full-torso UV protection. Tanks and short sleeves work well for hot days and increased range of movement, though sacrificing sun protection
  • Material: Usually made from a blend of synthetics, including Lycra, neoprene, polyester or nylon-spandex, each option offers differing levels of stretch, warmth and breathability: Lycra is breathable with a high degree of stretch, and dries quickly; neoprene is also stretchy, offering top insulation qualities for cooler water; nylon-spandex is versatile and quick-drying for many purposes; and polyester breathes and wicks moisture well, but isn’t as stretchy as Lycra.   

Perfect Pick:

Roxy Women's Active Long Sleeve Crop Rashguard

Made from recycled, chlorine-resistant VITA Xtra Life Lycra that’s both ultra soft and super stretchy, this fitted, cropped-length top performed with a UPF-50 rating. 


If you’re out on the water, sun exposure is more than likely. Even in overcast conditions, technical apparel protects your skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation rays. Another reason to add it to your list? UV exposure is greater when you’re on reflectable surfaces like water, and at higher elevations. Most clothing specific to this task has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating to gauge its protection level. It’s similar to sunscreen’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating system against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, only for apparel. And it filters both ultraviolet A (UVA) and B (UVB) light. 

How To Choose: The higher the UPF rating the better sun protection. For instance, a UPF rating of 15 offers the minimum degree of lab-tested protection, and means the fabric allows 1/15th of available UV radiation to pass through it. A UPF rating of 30 offers even more sun protection and a rating of 50 is even better. (Note: Fabrics rated below UPF 15 aren’t considered UV-protective.) For added sun protection beyond UPF ratings, look for denser weaves, darker fabrics, and in polyester or nylon blends. Other features to look for include stretch fabric in certain areas for better fit; a loose cut for comfort; quick-drying material (wetness can reduce a fabric’s UPF rating); added coverage like collars and cuffs; and vents for air circulation.  

Perfect Pick:

The North Face First Trail UPF Long Sleeve Shirt

Featuring a UPF rating of 40+, this collared shirt’s moisture-wicking FlashDry-XD material (made from 100% recycled polyester ripstop) keeps you cool and dry while keeping the sun off. Forward-facing shoulder seams make it compatible with multiple packs, plus a back yoke with mesh underlay boosts breathability.


Though there’s a water-shoe option for every activity—from neoprene booties and sport sandals to all-terrain shoes and water-repellant hikers—the various styles share a common attribute in amphibious performance. Manufacturers have ushered design improvements to keep wet feet warm, comfortable and ready. From the sole up, look for special rubber to provide traction, plus tread patterns that enhance surface area for grip (sometimes sipped to help move water to the side like a snow tire). Drain holes through soles and footbeds can help shed water. And rugged, quick-drying, well-ventilated uppers, often incorporating mesh and other lightweight, non-absorbent fabrics for enhanced breathability, help cover your feet when you encounter water—whether you’re walking beachside, canyoneering, paddling or even swimming. 

  • Slip-ons: These sock-style shoes are best for casual beach and boat use, and some light swimming activities. Think of them as a foot covering upgrade from your flip-flops, though they lack the support of beefier water shoes (better suited for hiking, beach walking and sports like whitewater paddling) which cinch down with straps or laces and often extend farther up the ankle.
  • Sandals: From closed-toe options (more ideal for hiking) to more airy, open-toe models designed to provide traction and protect your feet from rocks, most capable outdoor-sport sandals have multiple tightening points for a secure fit, as well as quick-drying fabric and drain holes. Look for soles that offer proper traction when wet (and when used on wet, slick surfaces) plus ankle or heel straps to keep them in place.
  • Booties: Neoprene wetsuit booties are great for protecting your feet and keeping them warm—especially if you’re planning cold-water or -weather adventures. Most have rubberized treads for traction and contour the foot, ideal for fitting inside kayak cockpits, plus side zippers for access and/or Velcro ankle straps for support. Downside: They don’t let your feet breathe as well as sandals or other water shoes, and don’t provide the walking support of a rigid shoe.
  • River shoes: Designed more like a sneaker, river shoes provide burlier ankle support and a thicker tread for traction and shore scrambling. They’re usually made from quick-drying mesh, with drain holes and other water shoe features. The compromise: They don’t dry as quickly as sandals, and cost more.
  • Hiking/Canyoneering: More akin to lightweight, water-repellent hiking boots  with lugged soles, these shoes are built for hiking canyons and crossing streams. Their focus is on light weight, breathability, traction and support, and usually cost a bit more than their more low-profile cousins.  

Perfect Pick

Astral Loyak

This all-around, low-profile water shoe is designed to do it all, from deflecting splashes to helping you dash the distant shore. Comfortable on water or land, they’re self-draining (holes throughout the footbed and sole), quick-drying (including hydrophobic canvas uppers) with a flexible, high-grip sole that conforms to exterior terrain and the interior of a paddle craft.


Paddling tops are waterproof jackets made for all types of recreational paddling, from paddleboarding to canoeing, rafting and flatwater or whitewater kayaking. While offering less waterproofness than dry tops, which come with latex neck and wrist gaskets, paddling jackets ward off splashes and rain and, when combined with a synthetic underlayer, keep you warm in most conditions. If you’re expecting to do more hiking than actual paddling, you can also go with a lightweight, breathable rain jacket, which will effectively ward off the elements.

  • Fit: Most paddling tops feature a loose, comfortable design built so as not to impede your paddling motion. Most also include an adjustable neoprene collar, cuffs and waistband to keep splashes out.  
  • Materials: Paddling jackets are usually made from two- and three-ply fabric (polyester, nylon or similar) that is both waterproof and breathable—so you don’t overheat when paddling.  
  • Pockets: Most come with a chest pocket and/or other pocket configurations—often with die-cut drain holes, and designed for access with a PFD worn over the top—to store accessories.  
  • Other features: Reflective tape helps make you visible on the water; hoods, if so desired; short-sleeve and long-sleeve variations; and quarter-length front zips for accessibility and breathability. These jackets are also small and stashable, making them easy to stow when not in use. Heavier-material models, known as semi-dry tops, feature an adjustable neoprene neck gasket. 

Perfect Pick: 

Orvis Men's Ultralight Wading Jacket

Made from a stretchy, three-layer waterproof/breathable nylon shell, with a durable, water-repellent PU laminate finish, this jacket is made for fishing, but works for other on-water applications just as well. It offers high-performance water/wind protection without the bulk thanks to extras like AquaGuard zippers, a three-way adjustable storm hood, and an integrated Dolphin Skin cuff system.


Sunglasses are largely personal preference, but if you’ll be on or near the water, several key features will make your outing more enjoyable, from polarized lenses to sunglasses that, yes, float. Regardless of style, you’ll want a pair to protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, reduce eyestrain in bright reflective conditions and offer protection from wind (and errant debris). Today’s shades are lighter and higher-performance than ever for any watery adventure. Buying Tip: If you’re spending a lot of time on the water, consider either a floating option, a pair of gas station cheapos that you don't care about losing, or a sunglass retainer to keep track of a rugged pair of polarized shades that better reduce glare.  

  • Types: High-end frame and lens materials are more impact-resistant and flexible than casual sunglasses, but cost more. Sport sunglasses typically feature grippy nose pads and temple ends, which helps keep them in place. Some even include interchangeable lenses for different light conditions. 
  • Lenses: Polarized lenses reduce surface glare; ideal for all water-based activities (and long favored by anglers as they let you actually see fish). Photochromic lenses automatically adjust to changing light conditions, getting darker on bright days and lighter when it gets darker; they’re more expensive, but function well across conditions. Interchangeable (removable) lenses of different tints let you tailor your eyewear to various conditions. Other features to look for include hydrophobic coatings used to repel water; anti-fog coatings for humid conditions or lessening condensation when getting your heart rate up; and anti-scratch coatings for added lens durability. 
  • Lens materials: Glass offers the best optical clarity and scratch-resistance, but it’s heavier and more expensive. Flexible and lightweight, polyurethane lenses provide better impact-resistance while still offering clear optics, but they, too, err on the expensive side. More affordable, but less resistant to scratches, are polycarbonate lenses, which are lightweight and offer decent impact-resistance and optical clarity. Acrylic lenses are the most affordable option, but they are less durable with poorer optical clarity; they’re often best suited for casual use. 
  • Frames: Sunglass frames are usually made from some nylon variation or metal. Nylon is less expensive, lighter and more durable, with many watersport users preferring its impact-resistance for their activities. Metal frames have the benefit of often being adjustable, but are usually heavier and more expensive.  
  • Fit: Your frames should fit snugly on your nose and ears without pinching or rubbing, and stay on when you shake your head side to side. As for lens distance, make sure your eyelashes don’t contact the lens or frame. Hint: Many sunglasses let you adjust the fit by carefully bending the frame arms and/or nosepieces. Also, look for manufacturer sizing recommendations (i.e., “fits large faces”). 
  • Floating sunglasses: If you’re planning to spend any real time on the water, consider a growing niche of “floatable” sunglasses, which stay afloat—and hence can be retrieved easily—if dropped in the water. Weighing as much as 40 percent less than conventional sunglasses, they’re made from super-lightweight materials to ensure buoyancy.

Perfect Picks:

Oakley’s Gascan Polarized Sunglasses

With maximum clarity due to High Definition/XYZ Optics, these Iridium lenses optimize contrast and minimize glare, featuring an HDPolarized treatment to filter out 99% of reflected glare without the haze and distortion of traditional polarized lenses. They’re built with “O-Matter” frame nylon for lightweight comfort without sacrificing durability.  

Chums Orbiter Eyewear Retainer

For a retainer as insurance for your investment, try the simplicity of an ultra-light stainless steel cable that never gets sweaty, smelly or dirty. It features flat low-profile temples that fit most eyewear frames. 


Whether you’re hiking up a creek or hauling down a whitewater river, your base layer—often swimwear in hotter summer months—needs to be lightweight, well built and quick-drying so you don’t fret about getting wet. From boardshorts to bikinis, manufacturers have upped their game by dialing in more streamlined, supportive and form-fitting designs that allow freedom of motion, combined with a new breed of moisture-wicking materials that put performance above all else.

  • Type: Consider the activities you’ll be doing in your swimwear most before making your purchase, putting function at the forefront over fashion. Surfing? Make sure your boardshorts/swimwear will cover chafe areas. Lounging? Back fastenings might hinder relaxation time. Hint: For women participating in active watersports, a higher neck and no-slip leg openings will help.
  • Sizing: Check size charts if you’re buying online to ensure the right fit, as there’s no standardized size measure across brands. Look for three reference points: the waist, bust, and hips (taken at the widest part). No soft tape measure? Use string. Look for any adjustability features for a more custom fit.
  • Materials: While boardshort material is all about quick-dry properties, swimsuits add the element of stretch by combining nylon and Lycra or elastane/spandex (which provides the give). In general, a good ratio to look for is about 80/20, offering stretch but quick shape return. Care Tip: Try to wash out chlorine, salt and sunscreen after each use. Some experts also advocate using cold water over hot, which can break down fibers.

Perfect Picks:

Patagonia Men’s Hydropeak 16" Volley Swim Shorts

Made from four-way stretch Hydropeak, a quick-dry material repurposed from recycled polyester, these shorts stay put while shedding water thanks to an elastic waistband plus side and rear pockets with drainage holes (and a key loop for your shuttle home). 

Women’s Nani’s Avant Swim Crop Top 

This cropped-cut top features a longline built-in bra fit with removable soft cups. Adjustable straps offer a customizable fit while a full luxe lining adds comfort and support. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.