Dry suit: now what?

Just bought my first dry suit. Been reading on what goes under, but I’d like some input from the good people here.

Goals are to paddle into, say, November/early December here in Virginia, where the air temp is probably 40-50 on average. I’m planning to stay off the ocean, and mainly stick to flat water (and no rolling) during my first cold season.

I know the main idea: the dry suit keeps you dry, but not warm. What goes on underneath? Specifically, what type of material do you wear under? I have some Polartec tops from NRS, so I’m guessing something of that ilk. And how many layers might you wear?

Same questions for foot and head. The most flummoxing part of all this is what I’m going to do with my feet. Simply buy a pair of booties two sizes too large and cram my latex socks in there? Sounds like a nightmare to get on. Any simpler solutions?

You are on the right track…
but how many layers is up to you. As for your feet a good pair of wool socks is fantastic. I prefer these shoes for winter.


The neoprene along with the zipper entry make for a easy to put on and well insulated shoe.

what I do - my air temp is a bit warmer
I am rarely paddling when the air tempts are below 50. My eater temps can get into low 50s. I wear a pair of socks like bike socks or hiking sicks under the dry suit booties. I wear tights on my legs. Running tights if warmer, a fleece tights of cooler. A fleece top if cool or PolyPro type top if warmer. Multiple layers if needed.

Head is easiest to adjust and can make a large different in temperature, so I have a neoprene cap or wool cap that i would wear or not wear depending on whether I am cold or warm.

Fleece and booties

– Last Updated: Oct-13-14 7:18 AM EST –

Although some people prefer wool underwear, I'm partial to synthetics. Typically, I'll wear a thin underwear layer with varying weight fleece on top to suit the conditions. I do like wool for socks and liners in my dry gloves.

On your feet, neoprene boots a size or so larger than you wear in summer will work. The secret to making they easy to get on is to put talc inside the boots and on the outside of the latex socks. They'll slip right in.

On your head, I wear whatever is comfortable for the conditions, but I ALWAYS have a neoprene hood on deck that I can don if the conditions get rough.

What works best for me for my feet when it’s cold is neoprene boots with neoprene bootie sox inside. I tried wool sox and others, but the neoprene booties work much better.

Dry feet
I’ve been paddling in 45-47F air temps for several weeks. No dry suit. Just long paddling pants, a lightweight fleece, and an Under Armour Storm pull over. And a Buff. That, plus my PFD, keeps me warm.

On my feet I wear a pair of SmartWool socks (medium weight) and these neoporene wet socks: http://tinyurl.com/nxysn4b.

I stand in the water long enough to get into (and out of) my kayak. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover my socks and feet remain completely dry.

Hands are a different story. Not found any gloves that will keep my hands dry and warm.

second the synthetics/fleece
Synthetic underlayer, I use synthetic long underwear, with fleece layer over. I highly recommend a one-piece or “union suit” for that light underlayer, it’s so nice not to have waistbands bunching up.

Do you snowshoe or Xcountry ski?
It is likely the same stuff will work under the dry suit. Both are fairly high-sweat activities, and wicking quality is the most important factor under the dry suit.

But the same stuff doesn’t work for everyone, hence my question about what you may already have around. For example my husband found stuff with some silk in it worked well for him, all that did for me was leave me with a soaked layer about as comfy as wearing wet paper towel after a short time. Some people can wear stuff with wool in it, but that just itches for me.

My own best solution has been a thin underlayer that is all about wicking, like CoolMax or thin polypro, and a layer of fleece above that appropriate for the temperatures. Your will likely need that top layer to be warmer/thicker on your torso than for your legs. But see for yourself - the same stuff is not the best stuff for everyone. The worse that happens if you get something less than ideal for under the suit is that you can wear it on winter days outside or around the house at night. If you are living in dry suit turf, no insulating layer goes unused.

My one exception for the wool is the socks - I find wool socks to be the best and they don’t itch my feet.

And yeah - my winter booties area a size up from anything I would use in warmer weather. But after the cost of a dry suit, that is a cheap investment.

Yup – just like hiking or snowshoeing
You’ll need a base layer and an insulating layer depending on the temperature. Unlike hiking, it is tough to peal off layers when you get warm, so it is best to go light on the insulating layers.

Start with a moisture-wicking base layer next to the skin. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon and polypropylene are best since they don’t absorb water and allow it to move away from your skin to outer layers.

Over the base layer you’ll want an insulating layer to hold the heat. I go with fleece since it is lightweight, breathable, and afford good freedom of movement.

On your feet, the same process applies – breathable liner socks, insulating woolen or neoprene socks with neoprene boots. Neoprene gloves for your hands and a helmet liner or hat for your head.

At 40 to 50 degrees, your problem will be not to overheat.

Test your choices
Once you get set for what you wear under the suit and on your head and feet wade out in the water and dive in and see how you do. Lots of kayakers are surprised at the effect the cold water has on their heads and inner ears and find the suit seals might not be as good as they thought, insulation thick enough or have issues burping air out of the suit. Best to discover what it is like with a test drive or two not when you have capsized for real in cold water.

Water temps ?
When the water temps get below about 60 F, you need to thinking about a wet suit or dry suit. Below 50F and your chances of lasting in the water for a prolonged swim drop quite a bit.

mid grade
long underwear…Duofold’s silk like pajamas with a long sleeve polyester crew but only midgrade bottoms is a good start. Try that and try swimming immersion with the suit.

Depends a lot how you paddle. Or sweat. Physical condition, fat layers or not. Steady paddling below sweat levels is a good start.

The neo head helmet is an excellent idea. But your feet have no Gore Booties integral with suit ? Ach !

Wrong suit. Find the tailor.

Wax zippers with drysuit beeswax.

I have Polartec stretch long underwear. Intended use is apres paddle at Glacier Bay.

Wicking is essential, linked to using the suit as bellows for forcing air circulation around body, out suit. I use a Goretex sprayskirt , functioning a release for moisture from underdeck around legs.

fleece, pile, and other synthetics

– Last Updated: Oct-13-14 8:00 PM EST –

I bought some fleece pajamas at walmart. Also got some synthetic long johns and light pile jackets at Kohls. Hood/balaclava at Dicks. Now the booties, and pogies I went speciality- NRS. You can get the rubber socks, and booties on easier if you put on knee high hose in between the layers- my wife gives me her old pairs with runs in it- beside who doesn't like to do a little crossdressing before hitting the river? Real important to protect the head in cold water immersion, so I always wear something to protect it in cold water. Its easier to dress on a cold day with cold water than a warm day with cold water. Very hard to stay comfortable and safe in those conditions.

I have two sets of insulating clothes
I have lighter weight nylon shirt and long underwear for when it is warmer, and heavy weight polyester shirt and pants for when it is cold. I got it all at an army surplus. For about $40 ($10/piece) you can get two set ups like me.

I believe that they are meant to be army pajamas for warm and cool climates.

So now…
OK, this thing is comfortable body-wise, but good lord is the neck gasket killing me. I always knew I had a thick neck, but wow.

What’s the careful way of stretching this out without going too far and ruining it? Anything more clever than a series of cylinders of various radii?

u might like this (warming cold hands):

Anecdotally speaking I’ve noticed my hands get really warm when I do breathing exercises to meditate. Go figure, this sounds like the opposite effect.

Trim the neck gasket one ring at a time
Trim one ring, wear it on the water, evaluate. Repeat as necessary. Don’t let it get too loose; if you reach a point where the gasket feels tight on putting the suit on but you don’t notice it after a few minutes, STOP TRIMMING ANY MORE. You cannot un-trim a gasket!

As for layers, use whatever synthetic or wool long-sleeved or -legged insulation you have, layered if they’re thin. Decide if they work for you; leave alone if they do. Otherwise, spring for new togs. It’s not worth trying to limp by with crappy underlayers when you’ve bought the big-ticket item. Patagucci, Craft, SmartWool, and several other companies make really good underlayers for active sports use.

I recently found that a neoprene hood that drapes over the neck gasket area down to the shoulders is much, much warmer than just a hat. Something about not getting cold wind and spray on the neck makes a big difference. Mine’s an O’Neill Hyperfreak; it’s only 1.5mm but feels warmer than my 3mm neck-less hat. It even has a rolled tube of raw neoprene lining the top edge of the face, under the brim–acts like a gasket. A toggle allows tightening around the face if desired.

Yes, you need to buy booties that are at least one size larger to fit the drysuit’s socks inside.

Another thing: When I wear bike shorts instead of underpants (under the long johns), my butt and upper legs stay warmer.

The real flummoxing part
Your air temps are slightly warmer than where I live now. But your freshwater venues will probably get colder than sea water here. I assume you often get nights at about freezing point. Makes it harder to dress for both air and water. I used to live in CO, and although occasionally daytimes reached upper 50s and even 60s in winter, the water was either hard or only in the 30s. What I did was to really pull in the horns, be extra-conservative when paddling in winter. I think this is just as important as layering up.

SP, will try that
Thanks for the link. Should come in handy after I’ve snowblown the drive. Sixteen inches incoming, starting tonight.

BTW, Nubs is open this weekend if you want to get an early start on your downhill season. Boyne Highlands is open, and Boyne Mt. opens this Friday, Nov. 21.

thanks - unbelievable!
We were getting all excited because the tiny local ski hill opened today (Mt. Brighton, man-made snow). I think it takes three or four Mt. Brightons to make a Boyne.

I use deep breathing in panic situations also, helps get composed and minimize the panic.