What works best for rowing is breathable and fairly tight. Avoid long basketball shorts or warm-ups, loose tops, bulky jackets or sweatshirts. Don’t wear shirts or jackets that have open pockets – your oar handles can get caught in them.
This is important for maintaining the right temperature, which will change frequently, depending on the weather and how hard you are rowing.
Your base layer should keep you as dry as possible, which means getting the sweat off of your skin and away from your body so that it can evaporate at the surface. This layer is normally thin and snug, made of fabric that will perform this “wicking” action.
This should be fairly loose and will keep the air warm around your body while letting the moisture out. Lightweight fleece and lightweight wool are good choices – you mainly want to keep your core warm. Polar fleece vests are good for this and keep your arms free, so you don’t feel straight-jacketed.
This should be lightweight, water resistant and windproof, and breathable. This is usually worn when it’s raining or in rough water or if you have a lot of splashers in your boat. JL Racing makes splash jackets in OAR colors and with the OAR logo on them. They typically make them with a half-zip unless you order them specially with a full zipper.
Keep in mind
It’s amazing what a little piece of cloth can do to block the wind! Look for a jacket that is form-fitting so that it does not interfere with the oars, and has ventilation panels on the sides for breathing.
You can lose a lot of body heat through your head. On cold days, wear a snug-fitting hat – lined wool or polar fleece – to keep warm. On sunny days, wear a cap with a bill so you can cut out the glare and see things better.
Let’s face it – hands get cold while rowing when the temperature drops. Some people row with gloves – others prefer not to. Some use poagies. It’s a personal choice. But there’s no denying that you feel your oar better when there’s nothing between it and your skin.
Tip: wear shoes that have a back on them – not flip-flops – so they will stay on your feet when you are carrying heavy boats up a steep ramp. Waterproof boots are nice on cold days, especially when you’re hosing off the boats. They stow pretty easily in the cubbies on the dock. Some rowers wear watershoes while rowing, which can keep your feet warm in cold weather.
Socks should be synthetic or wool to help ensure that feet stay warm while wet. You should also keep a second pair on land.
And don’t forget
Sunglasses, sunscreen and a bottle of water on hot days. Tip: if you have a hard plastic or metal water bottle, put a sock on it so it doesn’t clatter around in the boat.
What not to wear
Nothing too waterproof
Waterproof clothing is not required for rowing. Water-resistant is preferable. Really waterproof clothing tends not to breathe, which increases body temperature and causes more sweating, then holds in perspiration. This makes it difficult to regulate your temperature, plus it’s hard to take off. You don’t want to be wet inside or out when you row.
Avoid wearing cotton. When it gets wet, it doesn’t keep you warm – just the opposite. It should never be used as a base layer, because it doesn’t wick moisture away from the skin.
Down should never be worn on the water. When down gets wet, it will clump, get very heavy, and is not insulating.