Got caught on Lake Superior w/o wetsuit and nearly capsized. Need to buy a good wetsuit for cold water paddling. Don’t know anything about them ie thickness, fit, features. Need advice about what to look for. No white water for me, just a safety issue for paddling the big lakes
Can I be first?
The standard response to this question is: buy a drysuit. Far better, more comfortable, and safer over a wide range of conditions.
Now that that’s out of the way, if you buy a wetsuit you don’t want anything too thick that inhibits paddling. I sometimes wear a 3 mm farmer john over a 0.5 mm hydroskin or 1 mm Mystery skin top. That plus a paddle jacket with tight neoprene seals will reduce water exchange significantly.
Or check out Reed Chillcheaters:
no affiliation, all disclaimers, etc.
Lake Superior is freezing in summer, and colder in winter. If that’s where you’ll be paddling, a drysuit makes sense.
If you are willing to settle for a wetsuit, let me make a suggestion: Rather than spending a lot of money outright, go to a dive shop and rent one. Then walk into Lake Superior to see what it feels like. There is a big difference between a 3mm and 6mm suit. But a 6mm suit is pretty restrictive, especially if it is a Farmer John. The use of gloves and hood also make a tremendous difference. Even so, I think you will be surprised at how cold you can get in a wetsuit.
If you are comfortable with your experiment, fine. If not, then your experience might steer you toward the dry suit.
I think you would get more use from a drysuit. A wetsuit works fine, if you’re wet. You don’t want to be wet. You want to be dry and a drysuit keeps you dry (and warm). Yes, it is also more comfortable, so you would be more likely to wear it. It’s much easier to put on and take off.
If you really want a wetsuit, the 3mm over a diveskin, or the like, is a nice set up. I dive waters in the low 50’s, with just such. The new suits are very ‘flexible’.
The dive suits have zippers in the wrong places for paddling and inhibit movement more, but the advice to rent one and see if you think you could handle water down to and below 50 degrees is great. Remember that the water temps in spring could well be in the lower 40's on a day when the sun is out and air temps are near 70.
I wouldn't consider 50 degree water without a drysuit these days - I got down to 51 degrees one fall with an NRS Ultra Jane with heavy hydroskin tops under it and a drytop above, practicing rolling aka swimming at that point. But after that fall a drysuit was on my list absolutely as soon as I could swing it.
What are your re-entry skills, do you paddle alone, in sum how long could you potentially be swimming?
with all of the advice given. But if you want to get a cheap( but good) wetsuit, look at Sierra Trading Post. I’ve bought most of my outdoor clothing at Sierra - they’re a great company. In fact, I bought my drysuit from Sierra, ($239)used it at Ladies of the Lake, loved it, etc. If I paddled the Great Lakes/ocean more than the two/three times a year that I do (sigh…), I’d get a name brand suit, but otherwise…and especially to get started, check out Sierra.
Wetsuit or Farmer John?
Wetsuit or Farmer John? - big difference.
If you want, you can read an article I wrote on that subject.
Nothing beats a swim in the apparel you are wearing to feel the realities. A Farmer John is good within a certain level of temperature and your tolerance to the cold. You have to understand it’s shortcomings however.
Only 2 sizes Sm/Md & Lg/XL. Extremely stretchy and comfy. Worth looking into.
See you on the water,
I used to use a one piece wet suit
and it worked fine. Yes it works when wet and that is when you want it to work. For the wind while just paddling I would use a dry top over it. One piece is better than a farmer john. I also would say go for the dry suit but for starters the wet suit should work just fine.