3mm Wetsuit

I bought a 3mm farmer john style NRS wetsuit. What is the lowest safe temperature to use a 3mm wetsuit in? I also have 3mm wetsuit boots to go with the suit. I tried it in 70 degree water and it seemed fine, but I don’t know how much lower I could safely go.

I will be paddling in the ocean and some bays, if that makes any difference.

As a guide

I have seen several different tables
showing various ranges of temperature for a 3MM wetsuit. You also have choices of what to wear on top, which can alter your own comfort level.

I use mine down to near 50 degrees water temperature. I have various tops I wear underneath, from a short sleeve ultra-thin poly top, to a normal long sleeve rash guard, to a fleece-like long sleeve. I also have a few neo shirts I can wear, up to 1.5MM long sleeve that can extend the comfort time in the water.

If the air is warm I’ll often wear a short sleeve paddle top, overcast or lower temps I wear a long sleeve paddle top.

There are two temps I try to balance. The water temperature, which is why we care in the first place. You need to be able to handle this. The air temperature - this is hard to do, if you are in warm air and cold water, and it’s sunny. If it’s overcast and/or windy, it’s easier. The air temperature is often what drives the number and thickness of the other layers I wear. I like winter best, since it’s easier to stay comfortable in a wetsuit.

I have practiced in 45 degree water with the wetsuit and it isn’t my preferred choice for water that cold. Some people can’t handle below 55 degrees - your own personal number may be different.

Too subjective
I’ve used a full wetsuit that was 3/2mm (3mm in the torso) in mid-50s water with air slightly warmer than that. But only briefly was in the water.

You need to experiment for yourself, because there are so many variables:

  • Your body fat percentage
  • Time in the water
  • Wind conditions (wind chill happens with neoprene unless it has a smooth outer face, which is not a good paddling-suit material)
  • How much other protection you have, such as neoprene hood, booties, and gloves
  • The fear factor–which depends on how good your recovery/roll skills are
  • Whether you are hungry or thirsty

I use
a full (hood and arms) 3mm wetsuit for spearfishing (full immersion) and can stay in water temps in the high 50’s for about 45 minutes before I get chilled. I also use it to kayak surf (very little immersion) in 47-50 degree water for hours with no problem. I’ll throw a windbreaker on top if the air is cold or it’s windy.

Add a jacket
A farmer john, even with something underneath, is not all that warm. But adding a jacket (NRS sells one to match your suit) will substantially increase how cold the water can be.

note about chart
A note about the chart mintjulip linked to -that sees to be targeted at surfers, who spend more time in the water than we do. You may or may not find the chart to be conservative for paddling use.

What a wet suit will do is buy you time. If you end up wet exiting, you need the time to be able to get back into the boat. Each person’s tolerance to cold, skills keeping upright (and getting back in quick when not), and risk tolerance all play in their decision of what and when to wear thermal protection.

Before I had a dry suit, I would wear my 3mm in waters down to about 50F. Probably would have worm it in lower, but never really had the opportunity. Now when waters are in the 50s, I’ll wear the dry suit.

At some point when water temps are in the 60s, I stop wearing the wet suit or dry suit. So water temp of 70+ would have me not wearing one (unless air temps are cold).

^good input here^

– Last Updated: Aug-12-10 3:47 PM EST –

We all vary; sometimes I'm colder in the exact same conditions than I was previously. Pikabike gives us the variables above.
I use a 3mm almost exclusively but couple it with a dry top when it gets colder. When it gets colder still, I switch to the dry suit.
IMO one's awareness/accurate perception of one's abilities also influences how one dresses.

Depends on you
and where you paddle. I wear a 3mm farmer john all year in NY coasal waters which in the winter are in the upper 30s for a good part of the winter. In the winter I am usually doing long distance training which makes wearing a dry suit or dry top out of the question because I would drown in my own sweat. In 12 years and a lot of miles of paddling I have never had to wet exit my kayak. However I always carry a submersible VHF and know there is a Coast Guard Station and the County Police Marine Station near to where I launch. I also practice cold water immersion and rarely paddle more than a mile off shore. I will not paddle in the winter if the temp is below 25 or the winds are above 25 mmp - just too cold!

I use a 3mm Farmer John with a 2 mm
jacket in icey water. I use booties, gloves and sometimes a hood BUT it’s only good for about 10 miniutes and it’s very cold.