Best wetsuit for kayaking?

I have been reading up on wetsuits, how to choose them and information on wetsuit performance, but one question remains:

What is the best, most popular wetsuit for kayaking?

It appears that only one manufacturer makes a dedicated wetsuit for paddling: NRS. The flexibility of the neoprene, the open arms to preclude restriction in arm movement, and the in-front zipper - among other things - I have found out are especially preferred by paddlers.

I would like to know what you prefer, preferably based on experience with different types of wetsuits. I paddle all round the Carolinas and further south and plan to extend my touring and fishing activities well into the Fall and Spring seasons.

One other thing, I am short and stocky, so sizing presents something of a challenge: suits that would fit everywhere else may be too long in the legs.

Thanks, as always, for your advice!

Others make paddling wetsuits
I have seen them by Neosport, Kokatat, Stohlquist, and Camaro. I’m sure I haven’t seen them all.

I own an NRS suit which I am happy with. Bought my girlfriend one, also. Wish I had gone with a different model for her, hers doesn’t have the dual zippers. Same priced model by other makers do have dual zippers.

I’d suggest a tour of the manufacturers websites to see what is available, then start your shopping.

I like the dual zipper pulls so you can relieve yourself, with a front zipper. Zippers on the legs so you can get in it and then firm up the fit to minimize water flushing.

Non paddling suits are better IMO

– Last Updated: Oct-28-09 12:37 AM EST –

Believe it or not you need better arm motion to paddle a surfboard out through breaking waves than to paddle a kayak. The surfing wetsuits suits in my experience are more comfortable and a lot warmer for the weight.

I've owned Excel, Oneil, Mormai, Rip-Curl, NRS. Different thicknesses for different times of year or surfing up north. Excel was probably the best quality, Rip Curl most comfortable. My current Oneil is the warmest. The biggest thing with wetsuits is that it has to fit your body shape effectively or else you get water pockets that cool you down or slow you down.

Note: the more zippers you have the less warm/comfortable you will be.

Lots of other wetsuit makers

– Last Updated: Oct-28-09 12:42 AM EST –

I don't think the NRS neoprene garments are that good even if they are marketed as paddler-specific.

Try on some surfing wetsuits instead. Stay away from the lowest-priced items, because the more expensive ones seem to have better (stretchier) neoprene. Fit will vary a lot, so you do need to try them on.

I've had good stuff from Camaro, BodyGlove, and O'Neill. But as I said above, the quality will vary depending on the specific model chosen.

I prefer shorty 2mm suits over sleeveless because my armpit area is sensitive to cold. The shorties are much easier to don and doff than full suits.

The zipper in back is not a problem, if that's what you're worried about.

2 or 3mm farmer john
My suggestion would be a 2 or 3 mm farmer john style, with a relief zipper appropriate for our gender.

Any of the name brands would likely be fine. Hard to go wrong with Kokatat. NRS does have some very attractively priced models, and I have had great service (they replace them after something as small as a zipper tab breaks off - them even paying shipping both ways).

I have used diving/surfing style ones in similar thickness and do find them a bit too limiting. Probably fine for basic paddling, but doing things like rolls and such was too constraining.

Oh - the prior poster is right that surfers needs more arm motion than paddlers, but surfers also need more warmth (being basically surrounded by the water, where we are not as likely to be in the water). That is why we can usually get away with farmer john style wetsuits.

Surfing suits are fine for rolling

– Last Updated: Oct-30-09 2:13 PM EST –

If fitted to keep all water out, they are restrictive in the shoulders. But if *just* big enough to let only a tiny bit of water in, they're fine.

How do I know this...I first bought suits based on mft sizing. Yeah, I could get the suits on and could paddle in them. Then one day it got too cold to roll without a drysuit, and I realized how much freedom of movement I'd lost using the very tight wetsuits.

So I just went up one size. I was near the upper limit of the size categories anyway. The bigger size is more comfortable for paddling in yet still keeps water out well enough. I just took one of these shorties snorkeling (in southern CA) and was surprised how little water entered. During the summer here, it was good enough to use for static braces and other stuff where upper body was fully in the water (in addition to rolling which is actually less cold).

I have the NRS farmer john and it works just fine. I am not a wetsuit or drysuit expert but I am warm and comfortable in both my NRS wetsuit and drysuit and no I did not spend thousands on them.

Are there others that are better? sure. Do I need them? no.


NRS type wetsuits - comment

– Last Updated: Oct-28-09 9:49 AM EST –

For winter paddling you would have to get a decent dry top as well as the Farmer John. The basic neoprene paddling wet suit not only fails to cover your arms, but is a fast path to hypothermia once they are wet and you are up in the wind. So the real cost is wetsuit plus dry top (the latter will cost more if you want something breathable and durable).

If I understand correctly, the surfing suits are better at blocking wind and may not require such a robust wind blocking layer. I use dry suits myself, but if you are looking to go wet you'd be well advised to look at the surfing suits. They will be pricier than the basic NRS wet suit, but probably less expensive than the NRS wet suit plus dry top.

PS - Check out - they get their hands on some of the suits that have been mentioned above.

agreed Celia
I assume a decent wind blocking top with a wet suit while kayaking. Depending on temps, this could be a nylon splash top, dry or semi dry top. Additionally, I did get the wetsuit jacket they have and have used it on occasion.


Wet suit wish list

– Last Updated: Oct-28-09 10:35 AM EST –

I always thought the ideal wet suit bottom with a dry top would be one where it was high pants with an extended back for the paddling seating position but .... it would have an up-facing tunnel out of thin neoprene or nylon that you could tuck into your dry top tunnel which would give you tremendous water proofing. Then with a neoprene spray skirt on top of that in the tunnel, it would really be very waterproof.

NRS auits are good
I bought their NRS Ultra Farmer John and have been very pleased. I paddle in spots where the water hits the upper 40s and have swam with it in 50 degree water in the summer and in cool Fall weather.

If you are going to be in the water a lot, you might want something that is designed for that like a surfing suit. And yes you’ll need some layers and something windproof on a cool, windy day. A basic waterproof top isn’t that expensive (not a drytop) and you can get form fitting synthetics tops in the $40 range, so I probably paid something like #200 for my wetsuit + one layer + windproof shell.


I prefer

– Last Updated: Oct-28-09 1:34 PM EST –

dry top and pants with polly fleece insulation.

I have a shorty 2.2 mm spring suit but don't use it anymore.

I use both a short and long sleeve dry top and layer up or down, and semi-dry pants with just neo shorts.

I use neo shorts, socks, shoes, and hat.

It has to be below 60 air temps to use a long sleeve dry top with insulation.

Thank you all . . . I ordered
the NRS Ultra John from Altrec (they’re having a sale, BTW). Your input was very valuable, as always.

I spent a lot of time on the phone with an NRS rep and he explained their reasoning behind their dedicated paddling wetsuit designs - which are especially pertinent to my paddling activities in the Southeast. Paddlers generally spend little or no time actually in the water, yet (especially in this region) while water changes temperature real slowly, the air can heat up quickly. This can make a typical full wetsuit unbearable. Also, flexibility for arm movement is essential.

With a farmer john, you can zip it open, even pull it down some, to cool off. On the other hand, they have a wet suit jacket to go over the top (making 5 mm total) when it gets really cold. (Maybe next year)

Also, I like the idea of a relief zipper. Peeing in the suit works okay, I guess, if you are spending most of your time actually in the water - but a zipper becomes really useful while paddling in/on a kayak or canoe.

The idea of a dry top is appealing, also. As it stands for this cold season - mostly kayak fishing because I have not gotten my roll in the Tern - it will be the Farmer John, a layer of fleece on top, covered by my NRS paddling jacket; maybe a wicking tee under all, if it looks like it might really warm up.

Thanks again for your advice. The collective paddling wisdom of this community is terrific!

I find that more often than not
I am opening the zipper down to my waist as it does get too hot underneath a dry top or even a splash jacket. I like being able to control my core temps like that. it is esy to zip up or down through a dry top.


NRS Grizzly & Mystery
NRS puts out a Grizzly wetsuit for short stocky folks.

They also have a Mystery line, which is windproof neoprene. Very warm. Spendy but worth it.

I wear an NRS Farmer Bill wetsuit with a Mystery top over it during that transition phase from wetsuits to drysuits. I like the padding in the knees on the NRS wetsuits, for those rare times I get to go whitewater canoeing!

No need to spend thousands on wetsuits
The mid-level shorty suits are inexpensive, and the full suits are easy to find at discounts. I’ve bought all but one of mine from Sierra Trading Post, which always has wetsuits on sale. If you can go to their HQ store in Cheyenne like I do, they also have more models that aren’t shown in the catalogs.

Got a 1.5mm O’Neill vest on sale for $13. Makes a good underlayer beneath the 3/2 full suit that was $120 (MSRP $180), or as the only top in hot weather and warm water.

One of the shorties cost only $40 on sale. The most expensive suit was a 4/2mm full triathlon suit on sale for $180 (MSRP was over $300)–it fits great and is super-stretchy due to having only one side faced with nylon fabric. But the same feature also makes it prone to abrasion plus it sticks too much to a foam seat (OK on a fabric seat).

Soooo, I’ve spent under $600 for all the suits, including the two I stopped using due to over-tight fit. Subtract those and it’s under $500 for a set of suits (a 4/2mm full, a 3/2mm full, two 2mm shorties, and one 1.5mm vest) that cover all conditions down to about 55-deg water and that does include lots of rolling practice in it. Reduce the set to one full, one shorty, and the vest and you can keep it under $300.

Below 55-deg water, the drysuit takes over, which means that I can save the most expensive item for a short part of each season.

I have NRS also. One suggustion is to
call them on the phone. I have the Farmer John and a neo jacket. Their staff is very well informed and will spend time with you on the phone. You will get a great fit by calling them and talking honestly about what sizes you need.

I like nrs
Keep it out of bright sun. I shower with it and then hang it in the shower to dry

Googled for this question and wasn’t disappointed by this old thread… thanks all!