Cold water wetsuit: New materials

-- Last Updated: Jan-02-06 1:57 PM EST --

Yes, I apologize for digging up the dead horse, but I'd like to discuss a few things.

While a dry-suit is the de-facto king of cold water paddling apparel,it seems to me wetsuits get a really bad rap, especially with the newer materials on the market.

While some people find wetsuits disagreeable, I have an NRS 3mm Farmer John that admittedly isn't well suited to my proportions, yet I never have any complaints about it being restrictive or clammy.

In searching for a replacement for my ill-fitting F.J., I've run across all kinds of new materials available in SCUBA and surf suits that would be ideal for the paddler. There are easy doning, anti-bacterial linings that act as full body hydro-seals, exteriors that instantly shed water and super-flex neoprenes that stretch 250% or more.

Of course, the dry-suit is top choice for paddling super cold, big water, but a super-stretch full steamer or F.J./jacket combo seems ideal for those of use who primarily want reasonable protection to extend the late season a bit and to get an early start when the air temps are rising but the water's still chilly. Not everyone aspires to float with the icebergs on a daily basis.

Why on earth are paddlesport gear manufacturers still using generations old, stiff neoprene when far superior materials are available and why do so many people automatically shun "wet wear"? And why are decades old innovations commonplace to the diving/boarding world, completely unknown to paddlers?

Phrases like, "Just buy a dry-suit" or "if you were really serious, you'd buy a dry-suit" are commonly bandied about on this board by folks with little regard for those of us with budgetary limitations and/or modest aspirations.

Again, I'm not trashing the wetsuit and fully understand that there *are* conditions when they are absolutely neccessary, but feels like there's this silly mystique about them among paddlers.

I'm wearing my asbestos underwear, what are your thoughts?


Did Not Know
I have not kept up with wet suit materials. I have an old, maybe 25 years old, and patched suit that is not at all comfortable. I would not even think about wearing it paddling. On the other hand, if there are more comfortable, easy to doff and don materials available, I will take a look.

Happy Paddling,


Got links?

– Last Updated: Jan-02-06 2:09 PM EST –

I'm interested in an ultra-wetsuit, not as a replacement for my drysuit, but because I'm not satisfied with either fuzzy rubber or standard neoprene for the in-between paddling conditions. They simply are not stretchy enough to be snug (prevent water flush-through) while allowing freedom of movement.

Like you, I wonder if there is any real reason for not using better materials for this purpose. Reed Chill Cheater's Superstretch Aquatherm looks promising, but it's not available in the U.S., and all the sleeved suits made from it use a BACK zipper instead of a front zipper-not something I'd want for kayaking.

Another thing that makes me wonder is the thousands of people fishing in cold, fast-flowing water, using waders. Some of them are in bellyboats. Wouldn't they be safer using a drysuit? For fishing, there wouldn't be any need for Goretex, so the cost would be reasonable. Or they, too, could benefit from these ultra-materials we long or.

As for warm air temps coupled with chily water (something we frequently encounter in CO), the drysuit works superbly for that because a thin insulating layer under a breathable suit is more comfortable than either fuzzy rubber or neoprene, till the air temps hit mid-70s and above. One of the virtues of the drysuit is how well it can be adjusted to varying temperatures. But I'd still like another option for conditions with, say, air temps of 60 to 80 and water temps of 45 to 65.

my suit
I’ve got a 3/2 ripcurl full suit that I wear for bodyboarding down here this time of year (water is in the upper 50s to lower 60’s) and I find the material very pliable. The seams are taped and the zipper has a good backing so it doesn’t flush to quickly. It is quite warm for its light weight. I’ve used it a couple of times paddling in surf and it was okay but not great for kayaking. It is actually less restrictive than the XL Farmer John that I had. The toughest thing with wetsuits is finding a good fit. They must make wetsuits for bean poles. Dry gear offers a little more leeway for sizing.


– Last Updated: Jan-02-06 2:28 PM EST –

Most of the SCUBA wear manufacturers have their own superstretch material. Henderson (expensive), Tilos, Bare,Body Glove, etc. have them. Do a google search for hyperstretch or superstretch. Search the forums at You can get a *custom fit* 3mm farmer john made to your specification (including being constructed entirely from superstretch if you like) from for not much more than a premium off the shelf model.

There's a pretty good article here: about wetsuits for big folks, which is almost applicable to me, since I'm thin and have similar fit problems.

Google is your friend.

As for adjusting your drysuit, while on the water, how do you accomplish this without opening a zipper and completly defeating it's protection?


not a bad rap
the problem is wearing something that’s meant for immersion when immersion isn’t what’s going on. So when it starts getting cold,it’s the abrupt change in temps from being in a kayak to swimming that’s as much of a problem and not X material in Y degrees.

Look to fuzzy rubber hoods for getting the most out of your neoprene set-up since anytime the temps get cold the covering on your head becomes critical for time of immersion and recovery afterwards.

You are correct
Most of the people who post about the inadequacy of wetsuits have never tried a good quality full surfing wet suit. Surfers require extreme agility and mobility and there are some really good warm suits for


– Last Updated: Jan-02-06 5:47 PM EST –

I can and have surf paddled all day with my Body Glove 3/2 and QuickSilver 4/3 suits. You get used to the tight/snug fit much as you some have to get used to a tight fitting neck gasket on a drysuit/drytop.

The complaint about wetsuits being hot can also applied to a overlayering under a drysuit. You can regulate by removing headwear, and/or rotocooling. If you are solo and don't have a roll, pour water over yourself whether you have wetsuit or drysuit. Same effect.

I do believe that if you're doing normal tour paddling up in the north region in the colder seasons, you are probably better served with a drysuit. If you do extreme paddling where cutting/puncturing a drysuit is possible, there can be a case made for a good wetsuit. If you're only doing occaisonal paddling in the winter, there is something to be said about the 1/2-1/3 price of a good fitting wetsuit compared to a good drysuit. If you paddle where water temps never get below 45 degrees, I think you would be perfectly fine with a good wetsuit.

Frankly, If I live in mid to southern CA, I would not buy a drysuit ($950) and would settle for a set of good surfing wetsuits(about $500) and perhaps a semi drytop (another $100). The caveate is that you can roll and/or self rescue in you craft proficiently.


sing has it dialed!

sing has a very wide base of experience and imo little or no ego involved so he has been open to most alternatives to use.

From demystifying post I made in another current post, facts go to very well fitting, i.e., little water enters, and very very very little flush through is THE REASON for the suit NOT TAKING AWAY MAJOR HEAT as one moves. Flush through is similar to BILLOWS effects of regular winter clothing. The amount of cold challenge is dramatic in poor fitting wet suit. The new materials work by moving with you, by less leakage of seams, by being less restrictive. Inner surfaces that have fabrics help to keep warmed water from moving around, pooling in crotch, armpits, and neck, where blood vessels are near surface and remove more heat.

Do look at the new suits they are improved, ask my friends who like Sing make wise and careful choices about their equipment, know the safety margins, and end up with a room of equimpment for different purposes.

I meant that the drysuit is adaptable for that day’s conditions; did not mean to imply that I can change layers while on the water! Though I suppose it’s doable (shirt only) if rafted up with a partner.

I have added air to a drysuit after paddling, for more insulation, but I wouldn’t advise this for use while paddling. If you do go in, you don’t want to become Michelin Man.

Why? It’s simple
Wetsuits sell on price. The newer materials are more expensive. As soon as the price of a wetsuit gets anywhere near the price of a dry suit, it won’t sell.

Dry suits sell on function. Enough people will pay what it take to get superior protection and comfort to make it profitable to manufacture them.