Best underlayer and drytop system

I’m looking for the best underlayer and drytop system with farmer johns.

I’ve read a lot of the back posts, and other web sites like

I’d like to narrow the conversation some.

Beginner, big guy, no roll yet. Overheats easily in 50F air. I’m thinking for insurance against the unlikely event of a 1 hr swim in 48F water, but limiting the options to a farmer john and drytop or semi drytop system. Comfort in 50-60F air is a factor, but life insurance against a long swim in 48F water is also a factor.

So far I’m thinking a NRS Mystery 1mm neoprene L/S top under the farmer john. Full dry top with latex neck gasket. When air temp allows it without my cooking, a wool top over the farmer john for added insulation. I wonder whether a semi dry top neo neck gasket would be ok if wearing the Mystery shirt, but for a long swim, maybe not. I do have a fat neck which would help seal the neo. Even the XXL mystery shirt may not fit me yet until I come down more in weight. I’m 52” chest, 48” waste.

I feel chilly in 10 minutes submerged with just polypro long underwear under a farmer john plus dry top, so the polypro long underwear is not the ticket. In fact it holds a lot of water.

Some will be understandably tempted to say just get a dry suit. I tried a Kokatat Gortex. I perspire so heavily under most conditions that I’m drenched under it, even with the breathability.

Reed Chillcheater L/S top and cag (semi dry top) looks nice. I’m thinking that’s optimized for comfort, and warm air/ cold water, good for experienced paddlers in groups who don’t expect to be submerged long. Probably not ideal for a long swim though.


Paul S.

Yikes, 1hr at 48 degrees
48 degree water is pretty cold water. Many would say it is below the range at which a 3mm farmer john can provide adequate protection. Farmer John’s in particular allow flushing of water into the suit as you swim and the arms are unprotected. A Mystery top or Hydroskin shirt adds a layer but it is a thin layer. I would encourage you to actually try this system in cold water and determine your own comfort and safety level.

At 48 degrees you will also need good neoprene on the hands and feet because the water will quickly make bare hands and feet first painful then unusable. If I were actually going to swim in 48 degree water for an hour, drywear with appropriate thermal layers, along with hand, feet, and head protection would be my only choice. For me personally, based on experience, the type system you describe might be sufficient if immediate rescue at hand but no way I would plan on the hour window. The only neoprene that will protect you at that level might be the heavy diver type wetsuits (6 or 7 mm?).

All paddlers balance dressing for the water vs. dressing for the air temp. I find neoprene reasonably uncomfortable to wear for a long period of time and will always try and find a drywear solution. I also think a good assessment of self rescue skills, paddling with others?, etc… should all be factored so you have a complete cold water paddling plan.

you might be on to something
Even the XXL mystery shirt may not fit me yet until I come down more in weight. I’m 52” chest, 48” waste.

Some will be understandably tempted to say just get a dry suit. I tried a Kokatat Gortex. I perspire so heavily under most conditions that I’m drenched under it, even with the breathability.

well with what you said above, please don’t take this as a dig… I’m a big guy myself… bigger in the chest, a little smaller in the waist.

but you may be on to something with the Goretex…

“paddle your way to a slimmer new you” LOL

might help with those extra pounds you want to get rid of.

that said, you’re a braver man than I am… I usually don’t go out if the water’s less than 50-55

You going solo?
I’d be grabbing the bow of my buddy and dipping off of it, dipping my hands into the cold water, wearing a cotton hat and dipping it often. and wearing a drysuit! If I was doing the cotton hat thing, I’d keep a hood in the pfd pocket.

And I’d be working on that roll.

But that’s just me.

Maybe I’m off but
I think the ocean off the Oregon coast is about 50F, and most of the lakes in the winter are about 50F. I dropped it a couple degrees for margin. I’m not saying I want to intentionally swim for an hour. I’m saying if I had to swim for an hour under emergency conditions, I’d like to still be alive at the end (all be it hypothermic.) Maybe some of you are saying that’s a pipe dream. No problem. Honesty is good.

I do sometimes paddle alone. I stay within 200 ft of shore and lakes and bays only in that case.

Paul S.

You need a drysuit if the water is that cold and you want to be able to be able to spend an hour in the water if necessary. A wetsuit will be fine for short swims, but I would not trust it for an hour.



– Last Updated: Aug-14-06 12:44 PM EST –

An old rule in Maine that has worked for a long time. A 50 yr old person in 50 degree water will be severely hypothermic or worse in 50 minutes. That's without immersion clothing, but if your personal tolerance is actually less than the average...

One thing to consider - water, especially moving water like in a current, removes body heat at a much faster rate than air. So a combination that could have you sweating bullets while upright could become at best just enough if immersed in the water.

Do you know of anyone who has stuff you could borrow to try taking a swim in? Or maybe rent a kayak from somewhere that provides wetsuits and/or drysuits, take a swim in them at least off the dock going out and coming in? (And dunk off of others' bows while out.) It may be worth the price of paying for a guided tour here and there to get a better sense of what you need to expend for clothing. No matter what you do, dressing for 50 degree water will be more of an endeavor financially than if you were in Florida. And October is a nice time to hit the online sales.

dry top?
I think the idea of dry top has the same problem as dry suit when it comes to over-heating. There’s simply no way to dress for an hour of 50 degree water without over-heating when paddling hard. “Pipe dream”, as you yourself put it.

Most people’s solution would be to stay close to shore so your swim will be MUCH less than an hour. Or learn to roll so you can cool off intentionally.

But it sounds like you’ll be going out with buddies. So choose carefully who (and what condition) you go out with. With a well-praticed assissted rescue, you’ll be back in the boat in a minute. That’s when a dry top + farmer john would actually make sense.

That’s actually not bad.
“An old rule in Maine that has worked for a long time. A 50 yr old person in 50 degree water will be severely hypothermic or worse in 50 minutes. That’s without immersion clothing, but if your personal tolerance is actually less than the average…”

I’m pretty sure my personal tolerance is above average. If average, I would only need the cold water gear to extend me for another 10 minutes;-).

I have swum in a farmer john and dry top, but just for about 10 minutes. During rescue practice I’m not cold at all. If just floating I can feel the cool right away, but certainly not freezing or shivering. I should have tried swimming for an hour but didn’t.

I think I got people concerned for me with my statement of 1hr, 48F. It was just my stab at stuff-happens-worst-case-scenario. As I think it through, OK, how about 50F water, swim for 10 to 20 minutes.

With my original statement of 48F, 1hr, most people have responded with ways to keep from spending an hr in the water, which is ok, or recommend a dry suit, which is valuable if I just need to see the light there. As far as I recall, nobody’s actually said anything about best underlayers to go with the john and dry top. I’m still interested in that discussion if anyone has thoughts on that. Is 1mm neo shirt under the john and wool over the john, the best, or are there other good ideas?

Paul S.

There just aren’t any good options
that will allow you to stay cool out of the water, but keep you safe in the water. I used to do rescue practice in a 3mm Farmer John with a Kokatat Inner Core shirt under it, 200 weight fleece jacket over it, and a semi-dry top over that. I would get cold after about 15 minutes in the water, but I’m not very heavy. The problem was, if I was just paddling around, I would get very warm. The only solution for me was a dry-suit, with smart wool under it. The weather where I am is pretty much the same as where you are. I paddle in the ocean a fair amount. As warm as a dry-suit can get, it is much more comfortable than any other alternative. And worth every penny I spent.

what he said
Hi Paul,

Unfortunately, you’re stuck with a dry suit in the situation you specify. Anyone who trys to tell you otherwise may make you feel good, but won’t be giving you reasonable advice. A dry top + FJ is fine if you can stay in your boat or are only out briefly, but if you are repeatedly dunked or loose your boat, it will not suffice in 50 degree water. The ticket for staying cool is to slow down, leave your head bear or get it wet with a wet hat, or get your body under the water rolling, sculling or with a buddies bow. Sweating under a dry suit is fine. You’ll be wet, but warm. If wishes were fishes, we’d be swimming in the ocean, but we’re not, so stay warm. It is better than the alternative.

If my underlayer is completely soaked
in a dry suit, will I be fine? I wrung a cup out of my polypro underlayer the one time I tried a Kokatat Gortex dry suit, and a splash out of each arm when I pulled on the wrist gaskets. I should have tried swimming in it, but it was a brief loaner for a demo and off a dock and wouldn’t have been convenient.

The direction of LJ and DT started out as partly a money issue, but now I’m just wanting to be sure the DS is really the best way to go for me. Looking around tonight I’m realizing a DS can be had for 400 and change, no releif zipper. Basically I’m pretty well financed but frugal, and would like to start out inexpensive until I get more experience. Once I’m convinced I’m going in the right direction, and getting value for my money, then I’ll buy. I do need someting by Sept 13.

Thanks for all the conversation by the way.

Paul S.

A drysuit can be surprisingly comfortable in warmer temperatures. I have used mine in up to 75 degrees. More frequently though in the 55-65 range.

I found that if you burp the suit thoroughly and take a swim before starting it really helps. Being albe to roll is a big help too, but not essential. If you are with buddies you can hang onto their bow and cool off in the water.


Are you sure about that rule?
The 50/50/50 rule I’ve always heard is:

In 50 degree water, you have a 50% chance of being able to swim 50 yards to safety if you’re not wearing immersion protection.

Age has nothing to do with hypothermia and I’ve never heard of the 50 minute thing, either.

Just get a dry suit
It’s by far the best option for the conditions you describe. Anything else is a crapshoot. Do you really want to bet your life on it?

It’s the same old dance
Everyone will tell you the same thing: “Get a drysuit, the best you can afford.” And everyone replies the same: “They’re too expensive. Okay, maybe I’ll get the cheap one.” Then they get the cheap one, immediately can’t understand how they ever went so long without a drysuit, and wish they’d gotten that even better one for a couple hundred more. Listen to a fellow Oregonian: Quit pinching pennies and get a good drysuit. A year later, looking back on it, it will be the best investment you ever made.

Don’t skimp if you don’t have to.
If you buy less than what you really need, you’ll end up disappointed and you’ll probably end up buying again, costing you more in the long run. Get a good waterproof/breathable dry suit with a relief zipper and latex or Gore-Tex socks. It will cost you more up front, but it will cost less in the long run, last for at least a decade and you’ll be more comfortable when wearing it.

The 50 yr old thing is part of it according to our neighbor where we rent in Maine, who spent his whole 75 plus life sailing there. But like any old saw, it probably has variations.

I also may have overstated the time frame - I am not sure if the 50 minutes is severely hypothermic or dead.

As to age, we have experienced much younger people who seem to have an amazingly better tolerance for cold water than I do, in classes and day trainings. And when we paddle in Maine, we’re in drysuits and the local(s) we paddle with show up in sandals, shorts and a long sleeve top. But all that’s probably a moot point, since it seems that most starting out on the board are over 40 and don’t start out in such cold water.

Wet underlayers in a DS

– Last Updated: Aug-15-06 8:44 AM EST –

Since I wear a drysuit just about year round, for dryness when it's not for warmth, I can talk about wet sweaty underlayers.

Yeah, at some point I find that I start getting a little chilled in air if it is a somewhat cool windy day, not a lot of sun, the water I dressed for was cold enough to require polypro and said underlayer is soaked with sweat. This time of year, with earlier sunsets and cooler night temps can be a case in point. And I have a top of the line GoreTex brethable drysuit. My solutions, any of which work fine:
Always carry a change of dry underlayers, change out at the half point in a longer paddle.
Wear stuff like a light pair of Supplex paddling pants, or jogging shorts, and short sleeve jog or biking super wicking top as underlayer on hot days. CoolMax underwear, wicks best of anything I've found.
I carry an oversized cag in my day hatch so that, if I just need a little extra warmth to cover the end of a paddle, I can pull it out and wear it.

And most important, stay wet. I can roll and scull. But if you can't do that yet (you should start on that as soon as you can given your paddling conditions), and you are paddling with others, you can just dunk over off their bow. No right-minded paddler should have a problem with your doing that, and just getting your head wet and back wet provides surprisingly good cooling even thru a DS.

One more point with to breathable DS or not - while I will probably be using my older wetsuit for a rock gardening class at an upcoming symposium, I have an extensive collection of high end neoprene and a very good Stohlquist drytop that have gotten wet just a few times in two years. Their last use was as a backup for when I blew a neck gasket near the end of a vacation in Maine in July, and even in that case I could have as easily managed with just a pair of neoprene shorts, some long underwear and a shell if I had just been willing to stay upright for the last few days. But I wasn't, so I pulled out the drytop and paddling pants, a pair of hydroskin shorts and a LS rashguard. I have a hydroskin and two Mystery tops, got them on sale, and they may end up coming out of hibernation for one day this fall over the last two years.

Point being - by the time you build up your inventory of separates in hydroskin, figuring you will need a couple of heavier pieces and both the neo and a wind blocking/splash/dry separate layer, you may find yourself not all that far away from the price of a DS. And unlike hydroskin, everything that goes under the DS will go out for winter sports as well.

Also - different materials work for different people. I like polypro, but my husband finds that thermasilk works better for him.

IMHO, this is not the place to be
cheap. If you do this right, the DS you are considering will last you years and years. If you get the cheap one (not goretex, without the relief zipper and booties) it will last you one season and then you’ll have to get the goretex one with the relief zipper and booties. There are years of experience talking to you here…and everyone saying the same thing…get the goretex DS, relief zipper and booties. It will save you many dollars in the long run. I have hundreds and hundreds of dollars of neoprene hanging in my garage that I never wear. I would have saved myself much money if I’d just gone straight to the DS. And many people (myself included) find their skills progress faster with a DS because they don’t have to be so nervous about swimming in cold water.