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Eyewear Solutions For Kayaking & Paddling

For people who regularly paddler in rough surf, river and whitewater environments, equipment is always a subject of concern. From dry suits to helmets, PFDs to paddles, and even boats, kayakers and paddlers have a number of gear and equipment factors to consider in preparing for their activities. And, appropriately enough, there are a number of sources for information about the types and how to purchase this gear. However, there is another sort of equipment that is of concern to some paddlers that often receives little or no attention and that is eyewear.


For any athlete who has need of corrective vision options, eyewear becomes an immediate concern. Generally speaking, there are four options: glasses, contacts, prescription goggles, and laser corrective surgery. However, because the decision to have surgery is a very personal one, and because many people disregard goggles as an uncomfortable and inconvenient option, the two worth debating for kayakers and paddlers are glasses and contact lenses.

When it comes to this debate, there is a clear choice for the average paddler: contact lenses offer corrected vision with no risk of hassles or issues that can easily arise from wearing glasses out on the river.

Here are a few specific issues to consider when making your eyewear choice:

Splash – The most obvious problem with wearing glasses in a choppy paddling environment is that splash from the river can obscure your vision. There is really no way to keep water droplets off of glasses, so while the lenses will correct your vision, you will be limited in other ways.

Steam – It is quite common in an environment such as out on the river for glasses lenses to steam up as your glasses need to cope with the change in temperature between the water and the air. This can actually be a worse obstruction than splash droplets – a steamed lens can become completely opaque, which can be at the best inconvenient and at the worst dangerous.

Loss – In large surf or during hole moves on the river it is not uncommon to lose your glasses. Glasses are made to fit tightly enough that they don’t fall off at random, but abrupt or violent shifts in position can still knock them out of place. You could therefore be inconvenienced by dropping your glasses into your boat, or, even worse, into the river!

Ultimately, the above listed inconveniences are enough to make contact lenses the logical choice for paddlers and indeed other water sport enthusiasts. In fact, to make the decision even clearer, there are even some newer models of contact lenses that are specifically designed for enhanced stability. This can be helpful while kayaking or paddling, as significant splash can knock even contact lenses out of place!


  1. D Dichen

    I have paddled for a good few years now and the problem that I have it that, whilst I am not short/long sighted, I do suffer from an astigmatism. It means that I have a big problem with glare which, during the summer, is unavoidable; but I have been able to find a way around this! I bought myself a pair of these sunglasses that are polarised and float, with a wrap around and easy tighten cord built in so that you don’t lose them but they stay comfortable. They even fit snugly under a helmet and my pair have kept me on the water for about 4 years now without a single problem. Definitely a good investment for those who have problems with glare and want a pair of sunnies that they wont lose.

    • admin

      When Oakley stopped doing the waterjacket they sold off the design. The ones in your link are very similar.

  2. eyesonjason

    I know I’m commenting on an old post, but bear in mind the risks of water coming in contact with contact lenses. Water can lead to quite nasty eye infections, so I would recommend if using contact lenses then to discuss with your optometrist/contact lens optician regarding perhaps a pair of disposable lenses to discard once leaving the water.

  3. Esther Wheeler

    I always wear daily disposable contacts for kayaking and they are wonderful. I paddle with a few people who just wear glasses and there are moves and conditions they won’t paddle in as they are scared of losing their glasses. Not that the cost is troubling them, the lack of vision is the issue. So, whatever you chose, I think you need to option that doesn’t add something else for you to worry about!

    I have lost my contacts occasionally; had them blow out on the sea and washed out on white water. If I get a full face of water with my eyes open I’ve actually lost both contacts at once! Oddly, this tends to happen more on white water courses than on rivers. I always carry my spare glasses in my boat and spare contact lenses in my BA.

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