Base layer for dry suits

For those that paddle where the water is cold early/late in the season… what’s your go to for base layers? Onesie of some kind, top/bottom combo, etc
Wool type, non-cotton are the best options, but looking to see what ppl like the best.

Wool-blend socks, fleece pants (either warmup-type or pajamas), dri-fit shirt, then one or two merino dress sweaters (that have holes in them so I can’t wear for work) OR a super-awesome thick wool sweater that my wife knit for me. She kinda didn’t intend for it to be paddling gear but I freakin love it for both paddling and everyday/outdoor wear.


It depends on how warm the day will be since it is easy to over heat in a drysuit. I have a year old Kokatat Odyssey, which is a fantastic dry suit. I got over 20 years out of my previous Kokatat so I was sold on their quality. The Gortex does breath some so that helps but you’re still likely to sweat if you’re paddling at a decent pace, especially if its warm and sunny.

I’m always dressed moderately warm in the event that I do end up in the water. Mostly I wear pants with a synthetic fabric, a synthetic t-shirt and a fleece top. On colder days, I’ll wear heavier fleece or maybe light fleece and a thin puffy type pullover jacket and possibly synthetic long underwear.

Feet are tough since you likely have limited space in your foot wear for socks. And possibly limited space inside of your kayak so your foot wear can’t be too bulky. Over the years I’ve used different type of shoes and boots. I’ve settled on slightly oversized (to allow for Sealskinz socks) hard soled dive boots- the Seac Rock boot is similar to what I have . Inside the dry suit I wear Darn Tough wool socks and Sealskinz waterproof socks. In the event that you perspire or have clammy feet, the Sealskinz socks allow the moisture to move away from your feet and the wool socks.

I’ve got two stretchy fleece onesies. One was an off brand I got cheap on Ebay and the other a Kokatat bunny suit that turned up in my size used at my local outfitter’s consignment department (for $10!). Both have a drop seat so I can use them with the rear relief flap on my Kokatat dry suit. I also have NRS Hydroskin and Smartwool tops and bottoms, but I do tend to prefer the bunny suits because of their being less bulk around my waist. I wear Pacas alpaca wool socks under the suit booties and cheap Deep See shortie hard sole 5mm neoprene dive booties or perforated water shoes/sandals over them.

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At 50 degrees I still drench with sweat wearing wool socks, a long sleeve tee and thin jeans under the dry suit under a PFD and baseball cap. Sometimes soaking the cap isn’t enough and I unzip the PFD.

I would often use a very light two piece wetsuit underneath.
At first the idea seemed ridiculous, but I soon came to prefer this set up.

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I stopped using my onesie since if you also layer with separate tops & bottoms then tinkling can be complicated. I use a short sleeve synthetic compression shirt and then typically add two more light to medium weight layers depending on the temp. I often wear an NRS sun shirt with a built-in neck gaiter as my top underlayer since I like having the fabric on my neck vs the neoprene of my semi-drysuit. I also use electric socks and they eliminate any concerns with cold feet and also allow temperature adjustment which gives some “tunability” to your comfort which for me really helps minimize the too hot or too cold challenge (along with a range of hats and gloves).

For me it’s any combo of light/medium synthetic base top and fleece top, maybe an old cashmere sweater. Then various weights of synthetic base bottom and soft fleece lined pants. Coolmax socks under medium wool socks in neoprene NRS Boundary boots. Basically alot of mix and match depending on the day. I’ve use my semi-dry suit alot this winter (probably 30 times), but admittedly it’s only for fairly short paddles (pack canoe) close to shore so I’ve never suited up for a long day. Love that suit!

Jogging or hiking clothes. Polypro, fleece or wool. Prefer separate tops and bottoms to onsies.

My preference is Chillcheater stuff (TRANSPIRE FLEECE LONG TROUSERS – Reed Chillcheater Limited). Really soft, really stretchy, really easy to pull down when using a relief zipper and come in two thicknesses. I use a dedicated pair to sleep in during cold weather hammock camping.

@StrayedAfar brought up a really good point about feet. Even sizing up on my overboots doesn’t leave much room for socks. I’ve found REI wool liner socks work well and don’t hold odors.

I tend to heat easily. You need to test your gear and know your comfort level. I wear separate top and bottom of a wool/synthetic blend which are pretty light. On top I add medium fleece shirt. I also wear wool hiking socks. That is fine for a few minutes in water with ice. If iknow that I will be teaching rescues (especially self rescues) and talking while swimming then I add a medium fleece pants too.

It does depend on the weather. Best to think in terms of a base layer, and then insulating layers. Multiple thin insulating layers allow you to adjust for the conditions.

Start with a moisture-wicking base layer next to the skin - I go with polypropylene. Then think about insulating layers. If it is realty cold I’ll wear polypropylene long johns and a fleece liner suit. Wool socks over liner socks for my feet. If it is warmer, remove the long johns, or even liner suit. Some people prefer wool for insulation - personal preference.

Don’t forget neoprene gloves and a hat/hemet liner.