Another cold weather paddling question

I live in MN, and have paddled in about 50 degree water temp which is about the lowest temp I have paddled.

I have had opportunities to paddle with others lately, but the water temp is around 38-40 degrees & I don’t have a wetsuit or drysuit. After some reading, I know everyone recommends a drysuit, but I don’t have $1,000 to fork out for one right now. So what’s the best alternative? 7mm wetsuit ?? Will that do the job if I swim in 38 degree water? I mostly run rivers & can swim to shore pretty quick if I have to. Will a 7mm wetsuit keep me warm enough AFTER I get to shore. Most the runs I do are in the middle of nowhere & can take hours to get to the take out site. So, would I be OK running several more miles after a swim with a wetsuit?

I Don’t Know the Answers…
to your questions about wetsuits. But… keep an eye out for deals on drysuits. Some years back NRS was discontinuing a model and blowing stock out the door in the $300 range.


– Last Updated: Nov-28-12 6:26 PM EST –

A quality drysuit doesn't need to cost $1000. I bought a used high end Goretex Kokatat suit in excellent shape a couple of years ago through the classifieds here for $400. If you do regular checks of suits for sale on Ebay and various paddler sites such prices are not at all unusual. There's a men's large on Ebay at the moment at $320 with no bids and less than 3 days to go:

and an XL for $250:

Since a good 7mm wetsuit will run you $200 or more and be pretty restrictive for paddling, $400 is not such a big difference as a comfort and safety expenditure. A drysuit is more versatile too, since you can adjust the layers under it to varying ambient conditions. Others may offer alternate opinions but mine is that if you seriously intend to pursue winter paddling, a drysuit ought to be something you plan to acquire.

I own several wetsuits and would not want to do an extended hike through wintry woods wearing one, to be honest with you.

Wetsuit sale

– Last Updated: Nov-28-12 7:16 PM EST –

I waveski in this in 33-40 degree water up to six hours straight (never coming out):

Doesn't sound like you are half in/half out of the water the whole time like I am while waveskiing. You may do better with a 4/3 with a hood - enough for what you described as a quick swim to shore:

The "drylock" has Excel's new tech with more watertight seals in the wrists and ankle areas, as well as the zipper. Some folks don't like the "step in" through the neck/shoulder area design. I don't mind it. In which case, look at another brand like O'Neil, Rip Curl, etc.

I have a Kokatat and Palm drysuit that I have not worn in at least 5 years. Fact is, for me, the drysuits don't stay "dry" if I do anymore than lilly dipping. The wetsuits are far better, more comfy and, I would maintain, safer for my application which is waveski surfing on a rocky, barnicle covered break and/or reef. And, no, the wetsuit doesn't not hamper my paddling as some folks like to post -- which makes me think they don't have wetsuits and are just blowing smoke.


Hard to say
Different people seem to have differing tolerance to cold water immersion.

I lived in the southeast for a while and frequently paddled on water in the upper 40s to 50 degree range and got pretty used to it. When I moved to northeastern Pennsylvania and paddled creeks in the early spring in snow melt the water temperatures were below 40 degrees. For me the difference was dramatic. I found that even with good protective clothing a swim in water of that temperature was almost immediately debilitating.

I would be cautious about a trip that would require a prolonged hike out after a swim until you know how you will react. If you do go, I would take a towel and dry fleece in a dry bag as well as fire making materials so that you could get warm and dry after a swim, and then I would resolve to hike out.

I would say that if you are significantly obese and/or underweight for your height, you may not find a good fitting wetsuit. This would compromise how well the wetsuit functions by minimizing flush through (which should be just a trickle while immersed). In this case, better off with the looser, “Glad bag” fit and/or multiple folded fabric of the sleeves and legs of a drysuit.

Obese not an issue …
I’ve noticed some really fat guys out on SUPs lately. They seem to find enough rubber to cover themselves.

Not that I am skinny … my wetsuit has a drier fit every time I go out lately.

7 mm is too thick
for paddling. Most will recommend 3 mm for occasional immersion and that will work fine for most people down to about 55F. I’ve worn a 3mm suit for ocean activities in SF and Monterey bay (and the coast south of Monterey) and it is fine, for me, anyway down to 55F or so.

Below that, a dry suit is preferable to a wetsuit since it allows more freedom of movement. I have a 7mm suit for SCUBA and it is not something I could sit or paddle in for any length of time. It resists motion and limits comfort if you try to bend it more than it really wants to. Bending these suits will, over time, degrade the suit. It will tend to compress, fold, and eventually crack if you try to force it into shapes it doesn’t really want to take.


One of these days I will take issue with Pblanc, but not on this.

  1. Cold water response if very individualized.
  2. People paddled cold water for years without dry or wetsuits. Precautions are necessary.

    My canoeing mentor was an old school guy named Roger Corbett. He paddled for 50 years, year round. I don’t think he ever wore a drysuit or wetsuit, but in winter, he picked his spots. He stayed off big waterways where a swim could possibly go on for a long time. He carried a huge drybag of back up clothes. I never did see him take a swim, but he made me put on stuff out of that drybag after I went swimming with the ice blocks, even though I didn’t feel like I needed to.

    I paddled for years with splash gear over polypro and polar tec. I took a few additional swims with ice blocks. If you are on a small stream, you can usually stand up or quickly swim over to the side and get out. I mention the splash gear because even though I would end up getting soaked, I think it acts much like a wet suit, and the water takes a minute to fully inundate the splash suit, so you don’t get that immediate shock. Plus, you don’t have ice water circulating through your clothes directly on your skin. I mention the polar tec because the threads do not absorb water and water literally falls out of the garmet minutes after a swim. If I was working hard, I wouldn’t even change clothes.

    Your paddling team is always important, but it can be critical in ice water. You may have to let your boat go so you can get out of the water, and if you do, there goes your dry clothes. So you have to be able to count on somebody helping you retrieve your boat, or loaning you their spare clothes until you get yours back.

    Like I mentioned, Roger carried a big bag. Part of the reason is to loan out to people on your team, because if they have a bad day it can ruin your day, too. Another reason is once you’ve used your spare gear, you have no back up, unless you have a second set. So after that first swim, you have to decide if you have enough redundancy to go on, or if it is hiking time.

    Anyway, you can paddle in cold conditions without the “necessary,” high cost stuff, but you need to take precautions and have a plan.

    All that said, a drysuit is a really, really, nice thing. I have one in extra large you can try to fix up if you want. It leaks somewhere. Aqua seal might be able to fix it. I replaced it and have been wondering what to do with it. I still fall out of my boat, and it is so nice to just be able to get back in the boat and resume paddling without having to regear.

    Last thing I will mention here is that they say the first thing to go in hypothermia situations is your judgement. I took swims and remember thinking, hey, this isn’t too bad. But then I’d ask myself, is that my judgement going, or am I really okay? And I’d usually decide to get the heck out of the water and think about it later. I’ve never figured out the answer.


Don’t forget head gear and plugs
A nice warm neo hood and ear plugs make a huge difference if you get your head wet. Ear plugs I also find very useful, even if I have a hood that covers my ears. Cold water in the ear could disorient you very dangerously and quickly plus it is said to cause surfer’s/swimmer’s/kayaker’s ear (bone growth in the ear canal that reduces its diameter and your hearing ability over time).

I paddled with a dry top and a 3mm farmer john suit recently because I had no other option. The water was not cold so that’s not the point. The point is that I thought I would feel contstrained and uncomfortable, but I did not. I felt very nice for the 6 hours or so I spent on the river and was glad I had the long legged neo suit on since the water splashing inside my kayak was pretty chilly. With long sleeves neo, I’m not sure how I would feel - never tried it, but I can imagine if the fit at your arm pits is not good you will hurt pretty soon, the rest of the suit is not a big deal, other than gettin sweaty.

With a good dry suit and if you are not paddling all out, you will be pretty much dry at the end of the day as the fabric breathes and vents enough to keep-up with moderate levels of effort. Plus, it is a lot easier to get in and out of my dry suit than from a 2-piece top/bottom and at the end of the day I don’t come out of it dripping wet and naked or nearly naked in the cold as I would be from a wet wet suit…

kayaking cl.1-4
with a bombproof roll you could get by with a drytop and wetsuit underneath. This subject of yours is an annual thing here in the northeast…and in the end, everybody I know wears a drysuit. No need to spend the grand, I find the pee zip option unnecessary, booties a must but they’re pretty much a standard these days.

Lots of good advice here
I agree with all of it. Even today, on an extended trip I often paddle in cold water with no wet or dry suit and even do lake crossings and the like. I am aware of the dangers and I do take precautions. My tolerance for rough water, white water, and wind, goes waaaaay down in that sort of situation because I understand that the risks are much much higher and I am literally taking my life in my hands. Also, and this may be the single most important thing I do, I try not to go out in these conditions without at least one other boat paddling with me. There is huge safety in numbers.

Wetsuit after a swim

– Last Updated: Nov-29-12 9:10 AM EST –

About the being up in air after a swim in a wetsuit - IMO you still need to have some solid wind blocking layers, a really good warm hood and good gloves for your hands to avoid dropping from hypothermia. Wool is still warm when wet, so feet are relatively easy to manage as long as you can stand the squishy feeling.

Cost can still add up. If it is a good enough wetsuit it'll be more than the basic Farmer John, and the cumulative cost might end up emulating the cost of a used drysuit. So price this all out and check with places like the Kayak Academy for used suits before you jump on anything.

This is based on my own experience. I tried going into the fall with layers of neoprene, probably cumulative 5 mill on my torso and 3 on my lower body, with a drytop, for rolling/aka swimming practice. I didn't quite have it down....

One session I got out of the water, wet from the swimming part of my practice, on a local pond wearing the above with temps dropping from the mid-60's to upper 50's and a brisk wind coming up from a storm that was blowing through. It took all of three minutes for my teeth to start chattering uncontrollably. I ran to the car parked nearby to start stripping and my hands were getting hard to manage before I was fully out of the dry top. I am not sure I could have gotten out of all those wet layers in time had I been in the open air rather than at least blocked from the wind in the car.

Granted I don't carry a lot of body fat when I am in shape - and I was at that point - but that moment got me looking at dry suits however I had to manage it. There is also the option of telling any family and friends to give you a gift certificate to the same place that sells them...

I figured
the responses I would get would be diverse. A little more info: I am 6’ 170 Lbs so fitting a suit for me is not a problem. I also ALWAYS paddle with at least one other paddler in cold temps. I have a small & a large dry bag as well. The issue is maybe having to hike it out several miles if things go bad-losing my boat & dry bag. Gotta plan for the worst. Or do I just avoid my favorite paddling spots & just make runs that are safer & a short hike if things go bad? Pick by battles?

thnk you very much!
I’m in the market and resisting the drysuit (have one, it doesn’t keep me from sweating).

you answered your own question.

There’s a saying that is very true as well. One’s a witness, 2 are help.

My advice based on your bio…

Dry Top and Waders
You might want to consider a dry top and breathable neoprene stocking foot waders if you are looking for a cheaper option. I have been pairing my bib style waders with just the NRS Paddle boots and with all that neoprene down there your feet stay dry and warm in the water. I use two wading belts – one at my waist (mandatory to use) and one at the chest (might be overkill). Throw the jacket on over that and then a nice tight PFD. You end up with a lot of straps reducing the ability of water to enter.

I am not sure what type of kayaking you are doing but I mostly stick to canals, shallow streams, slow moving rivers and mellow lakes near shores. I don’t think I would want to do open water in waders or have to go for a 15 min swim but for water that isn’t very deep that you just stand up and walk out it works great and keeps you pretty dry.

This is good video comparing dry suits and dry top/waders:

bio. states cl.1-4 kayaking
anything 2 or over is what my opinion is based on. That long trek through the woods comes into play as well.

Ok, Individual Perhaps…

– Last Updated: Nov-29-12 2:13 PM EST –

how is it I am out in the break zone for 4-6 hours, getting hit with 30-40 degree water, along with 10-20 knot westerly offshore winds, with air temps down to 20 degrees (my limit, especially with 10 plus knot winds) and not get hypothermic from "evaporative cooling" of my wetsuit? How then would I get on-shore to walk maybe a mile or two (which I have done) and then succumb to the same evaporative cooling? Ain't happened yet in 6 plus years of post nor'easter paddle surfing.

I may not have the most time in winter paddling experience but I wager I am among the top 20 percentile in the P-Net universe -- Mostly in my wetsuit.

Maybe I am the outlier (in P-Net but certainly not in the northeast surfing universe)...


I’ve seen it.
I’ve paddled around wearing a wetsuit feeling just fine, got out at a rest landing and became pretty cold when there is a wind. I don’t get the same level of effect wearing a drysuit. I’m sure if you exercise enough (walking rather than resting) or have any form of wind break you won’t notice it so much. And if your wetsuit is VERY warm then you may get cooler but still warm enough not to mind.