I am originally from the south. I live in Wisconsin now where the water temps stay rather cold to cool for the majority of the year. I am buying my first kayak and am trying to decide if I need a dry suit, wet suit, etc. I know that when I did spring whitewater on the Wolf River, we all had dry suits. I am getting a touring kayak,however,so I am wondering if a wet suit would do, and should I get a Farmer Jane? And this may sound stupid but am I to assume you wear the Farmer Jane with fleece, etc over it when the air temp is cold? Give me a break but I am ignorant to cold water sports. Anyone who paddles cold water like to share what they use?

Dry suit
The water temp is what matters most. I used to wear a farmer John until I took an unexpected swim in March on a river in Rhode Island. Bought a drysuit before I paddled again.

A wetsuit will buy you time, but I just can’t deal with the cold shock when you first hit the water. Add to that the fact that I find a drysuit to be more comfortable than a wetsuit, and you have my choice. I’ve worn my drysuit in 80 degree weather up in Canada because the water temps were in the 40’s. Just roll a lot to cool off if you need to, or take a swim if you’re a canoeist or on a SOT.


– Last Updated: Mar-18-08 2:27 PM EST –

I had to add so many layers to make any combo of wetsuit plus stuff work for even 50 degree water that I could barely move, let alone winter and spring temps in the 40's. Drysuit is a good one-garment situation - you can use the same fleece under it that you use for going out in the winter snow.
And, if wearing something like a wetsuit, you still need a windblocking layer over it because wet neoprene is c-c-cold in a stiff cool breeae.

We Paddle Cold Waters…
…almost year around - our ocean is never what we consider warm enough to venture far from shore without thermal protection. Several years after we started kayaking, we got Farmer John wetsuits - better than nothing, we reckoned, especially with a good cold water hood and gloves. We found, however, that there were disadvantages - they’ve difficult to don, tend towards sweatiness, are somewhat restrictive etc. We also found they rapidly chilled us when wet and there was any wind, which isn’t what we wanted after a good dunking. So we found more and more exuses not to wear 'em (too warm, wind’s quiet, we’ll being sticking close to shore, etc., and stayed ashore days we would have liked to venture out.

A couple of seasons ago, we finally bit the bullet, and bought semi-dry suits (Kokatat SuperNova. Absolutetly the best move we’ve made -much more comfortable, can layer for warmth below it, etc. If you plan to spend much time on the water, it’s well worth stretching the budget to get some sort of dry suit.

One final tip - use fleece or merino wool next to the skin, fabrics that wick sweat away from you - damp cotton underwear under anything can make it pretty chilly and clammy. Again, give a lot of attention to head protection (you lose an amazing amount thru your head) and hands (lose dexterity very quickly indeed).

Finally, if you have any doubts about how well your termal protection will work, take your question to the first piece of open water you can find, and go swimming. Nothing like those little icy liquid fingers for probing for cracks in your protective shell.

one or two
Why would a person choose a two piece dry suit over a one piece? I found a one piece dry top on sale… but I am not sure that would be the way to go. I think you are right about the dry suit. I was so comfy when I was wearing one on whitewater, why wouldn’t I use it on a cold lake? AND I will be doing a lot of solo trips in the early spring.

There are two piece systems that some find to be fairly dry, but you have just about spent the bucks for a drysuit for the good ones. And they all leak a bit if you really take a swim. It could be argued that the 2 piece systems are more flexible. As you paddle more in varying situations and your skills improve so that the likelilihood of a long swim is reduced, a two piece system can be a good fit for some paddles.

But the one piece suit is kinda the baseline - it’s the one that you can use anywhere.

clothing choices

– Last Updated: Mar-18-08 6:42 PM EST –

hi birdiewi welcome to the upper Midwest! We have some great paddling here...

I live in SE Michigan and do flatwater kayaking 10-11 months of the year. I prefer large lakes which are slow to warm up or in winter, and also paddle some shallower rivers with current (which stay open longer into winter, and sometimes all winter)

I am a small woman and my bodymass loses heat easily. Good swimmer but know that in cold water I can't swim nearly so far or efficiently.

very rough guide for my Michigan paddling:

between late November and mid April, my choice is a drysuit w. different layers beneath. My base layer is a union suit made of capiline/wool. Add calf length socks, crotchless synthetic tights, and a warm synthetic top depending on the water temps. On my head I wear a neoprene/rubber skullcap with a wool cap at the ready. I also carry an Overton's neoprene diving hood for really strong precip or when I want to practice stationary sculling.

From then til Memorial Day I wear a 3/2 Farmer Jane with different layers over it, or no layers at all. BUT I pack my drysuit if I'm planning on being in the water awhile for practice or classes, and/or if I'm headed to the Great Lakes which can be quite chilly even in early June. Many Paddlers wear drysuits on Lake Superior pretty much all summer, and I would definitely bring one along if you have it and plan to paddle there. OR rent one and see how you like it.

Back to the wetsuit in October, adding layers until it's time to return to the drysuit in late November.

As to layers: I have some thin poly ones by BomberGear and Body Glove, and thick Polarfleece tops. HydroSkin and WaveLite are good pieces to have and come in different thicknesses. But before you invest in paddling specific clothing, check your skiing or cycling wear for layering pieces. Buy paddling gear later if you need it, after you are used to what you like and how you paddle.

My primary drysuit underlayer is a capilene/wool union suit w. long arms and legs. I'll put a polarfleece shortsleeve top and a pair of crotchless synthetic tights on bottom if I need more layering.

those underlayers (and others I own, like NRS Hydroskin and BodyGlove synthetics) can also over my 3/2 mm BomberGear Farmer Janne. Usually I prefer to put them OVER - much easier to take off, esp. when wet or damp and less likely to snag the zipper. Finally, my wetsuit fits great w. nothing on underneath so layers underneath kinda defeats my purpose.

Finally, my favorite piece, because it's so versatile is a shortsleeve BomberGear drytop (it's call the Hydroflash shorty). It can go solo over my wetsuit or take some layers underneath. The wide arms don't inhibit a full range of motion. I just prefer shortsleeve as the material stays out of my way and doesn't slide around my wrists. I also have a full on drytop w. sleeves and a hood (Nimbus by BomberGear) which I very seldom wear. by the time I need that might as well get out the drysuit.

Hope this helps. Feel free to email me with any questions. You are asking good questions to be a smart northern paddler.

I also wanted to say that BomberGear was out of business for a few years (roughly 2005 thru late 20070 but Rob's got it coming back. You can find old stock and new on his eBay site he is seller pure-passion4ever. I really like BomberGear and own five clothing pieces plus a touring skirt.

Sometimes we forget …
that there are great resources on the web.


sometimes we forget
that someone else further up the thread cited this exact same site :wink:

all good. We are all trying to help someone new to cold water paddling.


– Last Updated: Mar-19-08 10:02 AM EST –

I didn't see where... if it's there it's easily missed.

Are you seeing something I’m not?
I can’t find it. Was a post deleted?

for all the great info!! Wetzool, I did see that site and it does have some great info on it too. To everyone else, thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I can read all the articles in the world but it does help so much to hear a few personal experiences. That is why I like message boards:)

I believe I should probably go for it and get a dry suit right away. I have plenty of base layers and fleece to go under. The past few winters I have been learning all about layering and cold weather LAND activities. Winter can actually be FUN when a person is dressed appropriately! When I moved here, I didn’t even have a decent coat and I was miserable.

Thanks again to everyone for sharing.

I did a second post with links to nrsweb and along with suggestion to search archives here… it did get sent, but somehow swallowed in the great internet sea, I didn’t look for my post immediately after I sent it, I had a bunch of browser windows open.

anyways It looks like our OP is very aware of hypothermia in other pursuits, and we all helped her with clothing for on the water… that’s what really matters.

OK, not trying to be funny
or anything but crotchless tights?? You modified a pair right??