If you're wondering what to wear sailing then you've come to the right place. We've extensively tested loads of kit so we can bring you the best options
Are you are heading out on the water sailing for the first time, or perhaps you’re just curious to see what other wear when sailing, if so, look no further as I bring you my roundup of the absolute must-haves in terms of sailing clothes.
But first thing’s first, not all sailing is alike. I started out racing dinghies throughout my youth and it was not until I was in my late teens and into my 20s that I started racing, and then cruising on yachts or keelboats. The kit required for both of these sports are significantly different and, though you can sail a yacht wearing a wetsuit, it’s not going to do much to keep you warm. Similarly if you step into a dinghy wearing offshore sailing waterproofs (often called foulies) then you’ll be fine, but far from comfortable.
For the purposes of this article I’m going to kook at the clothes you will need to go yacht or keelboat sailing for a day on the water. At Yachting World we have plenty of articles on the best clothing for offshore sailing, the best wetsuits and best clothes to wear for other watersports like best kayak clothing and what to wear paddle boarding. So head over to one of those if that’s what you are after.
Sailing a dinghy on a beach holiday is a common first introduction to sailing, but for many it’s just as likely to be a day trip out on a keelboat, either hired or invited along by some friends who have already fallen in love with sailing and are hoping to pass on some of that joy.
And once you’ve caught the bug it can be hard to know where to start in terms of what clothing you need to buy and what is the most important kit to purchase first.
What to wear sailing quick links
Best Boat Shoes – Tribord sailing 500 boat shoes
Best Sailing Jacket – Gill OS3 Coastal Jacket
Best Sailing Trousers – Gill OS3 trousers
Best Lifejacket – Spinlock Deckvest Lite
Best Drybag – Overboard 30lt Pro Sports Backpack
Best Sailing gloves – Decathlon adult sailing fingerless gloves
What to wear sailing
There are several reasons I would put footwear at the top if the list of important clothing items for sailing. Firstly, a good pair of sailing shoes can often be worn ashore too, so it’s not a single-use purchase. Another good reason to buy a pair is that, although sailing on a yacht in trainers is broadly fine, some trainers will leave marks on the deck of a yacht, which can be a bit awkward if you’re leaving unsightly patches on your friend’s new boat. As such, many boat owners have a ‘boat shoes or boots only rule’ when onboard, so you would do well to pick up the best boat shoes you can early.
Decks can often be slippy and for those unused to the motion of a boat at sea, it can be hard enough to keep your footing, so buying a pair of shoes that have good grip will at least help you stay a little more secure.
Given that the main thing you will want out of a pair of boat shoes is grip, then you should focus on what the sole is like first and foremost. Personally, I always favour ‘razor cut’ soles. These tiny little zig-zag grooves – which are thin enough to look like knife cuts – help move water away from the underfoot area and keep the rubber of the sole in contact with the deck. But a word of warning with razor-cut soles, the more you wear them on hard wearing surfaces, such as concrete, the less effective they will become, so it might be worth skipping these if you’re predominantly buying boat shoes for use ashore, with the occasional sailing trip in mind.
The stereotypical boat shoe that probably springs to mind for most is a leather, moccasin style deck shoe. And worry not, these won’t mark you out as a beginner whose only experience of sailing is from the movies, these are actually the shoes that many sailors wear for days out on the water. They can also cut a dash ashore too, so they are probably the best solution for the beginner – and seasoned pro alike.
Tribord Sailing 500 boat shoes
Decathlon is a name that pops up over and again for those wanting to get into many sports. The French sports apparel giant is very hard to beat when it comes to producing decent sports kit at sensible prices.
This classic choice from Decathlon is made of flexible full-grain salt-water resistant leather, with a non-marking siped rubber sole. This sole offers a best of both worlds compromise, not being a true razor-cut, but delivering a great deal of the same grip level in a hard wearing sole for use on land.
There’s a padded leather insole and tongue, but no fabric linings that absorb foot odours.
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If you’re not keen on the traditional deck shoe look, then Zhik’s Fuze boat shoes are designed as an out-and-out boat shoe but offer more trainer-like styling. Zhik, an Australian company, produces a great deal of sailing kit that is usually developed alongside top international racing sailors and offers great performance – though their equipment does sit at the higher end of the price bracket.
The Fuze deck shoes are very lightweight, flexible and comfortable, with excellent support. A one-way drainage system is incorporated in the sole to let water out but not in. These are my go-to boat shoe if I’m not having a casual day out and their performance in terms of grip and comfort are second to none.
Sailing Jackets and trousers
Although I’ve put footwear at the very top of this list of what to wear sailing for being both relatively affordable and thus an easy first purchase for a new sailor’s kit bag, waterproofs both jacket and trousers are the key items that will keep you warm, dry and comfortable when sailing.
A simple wind and waterproof jacket will be absolutely fine if you are planning on sailing only in the summer months on a very small number of occasions. However, if you are looking to be out on the water with anything approaching regularity then you will want to invest in some proper sailing kit.
There’s no escaping the fact that for a decent set of sailing waterproof clothing, you are going to be spending a fair bit of money. But the cost of a decent sailing jacket and trousers is similar to that of any adventure sport, such as skiing of serious hiking. And these are key items to make you more comfortable and thus enable you to enjoy the experience. Assuming those who are already big-time sailors will be looking elsewhere for the best offshore sailing jackets and trousers, I’ve focussed here on inshore or coastal clothing, which is usually cheaper than true offshore kit and much less bulky.
Gill’s latest lightweight OS3 fabrics use a fundamentally more sustainable material than the long-running industry standard durable water repellant (DWR) coatings. These have been used for decades to improve waterproofing are are what makes the water bead off a new jacket.
However, DWR finishes are typically based on fluoropolymers that have toxic by-products which persist in the environment. Instead, Gill’s OS3 range uses a plant-based finish the performs the same function as the DWR coating.
The OS3 jacket is made of a two-layer fabric with a non-absorbent, quick drying lining. It has a high-visibility hood, adjustable cuffs with PU inner seals, an internal storm guard and is available in men’s and women’s fits.
Gill OS3 coastal trousers
Utilising the same fabric as their jacket these trousers offer strong sustainability credentials. The trousers feature a front zip and internal gusset for wet weather protection the braces can be adjusted to ensure a comfortable fit while the reinforced seat and knees protect against wear and tear.
I’m not, personally a huge fan of this type of braces. They do offer plenty of adjustment, which is a plus, but they can also slip off the shoulder if you are particularly active. If I have the choice I will always pick a trouser with full shoulders for offshore use, or without shoulder straps. But that is mostly a personal preference and plenty of people still like the braces-type trouser.
Zhik INS200 Coastal Sailing Jacket
There’s a lot to be said for a choosing the best inshore jacket you can find. It will be lightweight, comfortable to wear, very easy to move around in and is likely to see a lot of use.
Zhik’s INS200 and 300 series are arguably the most carefully designed of all. Both are made of an impressive three-layer fabric with taped seams and have a sculpted fit that minimises excess material.
Zhik INS200 Coastal trouser
The matching Zhik INS200 salopettes feature adjustable elastic suspenders with a central back strap for comfort – which also helps stop them slipping off the shoulder.
There’s a waist is elasticated for a secure fit without the need for a tightening system, all seams are taped with critical junctions further reinforced. They also have a laser cut water drainage system to help keep you dry.
Lifejackets and PFDs
It’s absolutely vital that you wear a lifejacket while sailing, particularly if you are new to the sport and don’t yet have great balance onboard. Most boat owners will have rules about wearing them onboard which can vary from ‘must be worn at night and if the wind is above x’ to ‘it’s your personal choice’. But for many people they are an absolute must to wear onboard.
The only reason lifejackets are not at the very top of this list is that many boats have a number of spares for crew to use when they are onboard. But it is something you will want to buy for yourself after a time, both for safety and for your own comfort.
As we found in our best lifejacket test, cheaper models tend to be bulkier and more likely to catch on things as you make your way around the boat. They also typically offer fewer extras. They key thing you need to decide when buying a lifejacket is whether to go for a manual or automatic inflation type. Manual inflation are a lot cheaper – and do not need a new gas canister putting in once they have been inflated. But if you go overboard and are knocked unconscious you clearly wont be able to activate it.
The other point to note is that lifejackets come with different levels of floatation. Most coastal lifejackets are either 150 or 180N. The higher this number, the more buoyancy is offered. To support a 1Kg weight you need a force of 9.8 Newtons. 1 Newton is equal to 0.225lb. A 150N adult lifejacket will therefore support someone with an in water weight of 15.3Kg or 33.7lbs.
Spinlock Deckvest Lite
Spinlock is pretty universally acknowledged as one of the market leaders in lifejackets and this Deckvest Lite is a really great bit of kit. Its stylish – or as stylish as a lifejacket can be – and it fits close to he body and so is less likely to catch on things as you work on deck.
It’s the manual inflation type and comes in a variety of casing colours and is easy to repack when it has been deployed. It fits smaller adult body types well, has a very high visibility bladder and is great for everyday wear.
The over the head style donning can feel a little restrictive for some and the fit is such that it might not suit larger bodies.
Crewsaver Crewfit+ 180N pro
This is an excellent lifejacket, leading the way with coastal lifejackets that will take you offshore and into the night with its well positioned strobe light and nicely designed sprayhood.
The thoughtful design is apparent throughout, but perhaps was taken one step too far with the CO2 bottle anti-unscrew seal feature making it a poor choice for frequent flyers but an excellent choice for people who worry about their CO2 bottles coming unscrewed.
A waterproof bag is useful for sailing and other watersports too. If you’re just taking layers ashore/to the beach, a cheap dry tube style bag will be fine, albeit not overly durable or practical in use and so not the best waterproof bag option to pick. Also the typical single shoulder strap these have is not comfortable when the bag is laden.
It is arguably a better investment to choose a more robust backpack or duffel style bag with external pockets, more comfort features and better waterproofing. It should last longer, better protect your kit and be more comfortable to carry.
Overboard 30lt Pro Sports Backpack
British brand Overboard specialises in waterproof bags and cases with an impressively extensive range and a clear, intuitive website to help you make a suitable choice.
This backpack is a well considered design for dinghy trips ashore and was thus a go-to choice for a week’s vacation, where we used it everyday.
Features I particularly grew to like are the adjustable chest straps and sternum straps which help make it feel like a comfortable hiking backpack, the front mesh for stashing a layer and the side pocket for keeping a water bottle to hand. There is also a small internal pocket for an iPad.
Yeti Panga 50lt
The Panga is among a range of Yeti kit we’ve used and abused regularly this season, all of which has come out favourably and as ‘get what you pay for’ items. Your eyes may water when you see the price, but you can be assured not a drop will find its way into this bag.
The robustness and quality of construction shines through. A laminated high density nylon is used for the bag’s construction, which is really hard wearing, but it is the near bullet-proof moulded EVA padded bottom and the size of the patented teeth on the zip which make you instantly realise this is a no-nonsense product.
There are six lashing points, and the handles at each end and buckles feel sturdy enough to haul a boat out with.
When you pull the zip fully closed it’s easy to tell the bag is hermetically sealed, as it becomes a giant cushion – and indeed can make a useful seat, even with just air inside. There are two zipped mesh pockets within.
Sailing gloves are a particularly essential bit of kit for two key reasons. Firstly if you are going to spend any time on a boat then you will be handling sheets and lines. Though salty old seadogs might have well-calloused hands and thus be impervious to the rigours of rope handling. For the rest of us, protection is essential to avoid blisters!
A secondary dimension is to keep your hands warm. This is typically less important for the casual sailor as you’ll probably be out in milder weather and for shorter stretches of time, making it less likely you will get cold hands in the first place and more likely that even if you do, you will be able to warm back up again after a short time.
Unless warmth is the main goal – of you’re sailing off-season or overnight – then you’ll typically want a fingerless glove, which allows you to tie / untie knots and generally be able to use your fingers a bit more.
Decathlon adult sailing fingerless gloves
Sailing gloves can be disappointingly easy to lose, so keeping a spare pair in the bottom of your kit bag can be a good move.
This pair of fingerless gloves from Decathlon is priced such that keeping a few extras around won’t cost a fortune. And for the beginner sailor it means a pair of gloves that are functional but wont break the bank.
They have plenty of grip, offer good protection, are made of a comfortable stretch fabric and have a Velcro wrist strap.
Despite the competitive price the specification is good enough for ordinary use.
Gill Deckhand Sailing Gloves – Long Finger
The Gill Deckhand gloves have been the go-to glove of our tester – and passionate racer – Rupert Holmes for years now. For a while there was a women’s option available which was a much better fit than the unisex version. The full fingers for three fingers provide warmth, while the fingerless thumb and pointer mean you still have plenty of dexterity in the fingers.
The way the glove is tailored to the curve of the hand makes them easy to wear and easy to grip lines and other control surfaces. They do get a bit soggy to wear when wet and Rupert keeps a few pairs to be able to swap out while the others dry off. They usually him a season and need replacing but he keeps buying the same gloves because they are so comfortable to wear.
It’s worth noting that, although these gloves may only last Rupert a season, he is a serious short-handed and fully crewed racer and will put many miles in over the course of a season.
Of course these are just the basic essentials for any aspiring sailor. And there is plenty more kit you may want to pick up as you do more sailing. Sailing sunglasses are very important to protect your eyes, but any sunglasses will do initially. You may also want a hat for sailing or if you are heading out to see in the winter months you might want to pick up the best thermals that you can to keep you warm.
As you become more experienced then picking up a proper offshore sailing jacket and offshore trousers will be important and you will probably want to ditch the boat shoes in favour of a pair of sailing boots.
Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Head to Amazon’s dedicated sailing page for more marine products.