Dry suit or not? Is it just the $$$

From reading numerous posts on this site, it seems that the two dominant choices for extending your paddle season when the water is cold are to either pay a pretty stiff price for a dry suit or wear a farmer john and a dry top or paddle jacket. There will be some obvious circumstances for some boaters that make the decision easy, such as for those who almost always paddle in cold water, or roll a lot, but for someone who typically stays on top of his boat, and just wants to be safe should something happen, I’m curious if there are considerations other than $. Does the dry top or paddle jacket and farmer john combo offer you more options, such as wearing one without the other? Or is it the case that everyone would wear a dry suit if $ wasn’t involved in the decision? I have to decide which route to go before spring.

Lake Erie
I see Lake Erie in your profile. Suggests that at some point you’ll be out there and really caught in something - it’s the nature of that lake. You may want to up the ante on the likelihood of a surprise swim in the future.

That said, for most people the wetsuit/drytop and maybe spash pants combo works down to the mid-fifties for a pretty short swim. If you paddle alone though, you risk a long swim if things really fall apart. Also, what is your skill level? Do you have a roll, which shortens time in the water, that kind of thing?

The drysuit is just more comfy for most than wetsuit because it is - well - dry. Kinda like a day hatch for many - once you try it you don’t go back.

The decision really comes down to a good assessment of your skills for coping with a capsize and the likely help that will be available if something happens.

Agree with Celia.
Depends mostly upon the water you expect to find yourself in. I paddle mostly whitewater, so I expect to get wet regularly, if not submerged. The drysuit is an insurance policy that I felt compelled to invest in, besides extending my paddling season. I grumbled about price, but ultimately am glad I went for it. I wear it all year round and not only in the cold, but in different locales (a week ago in North Florida and the Carolinas surf, this morning in an upstate NY creek).

But I do paddle with some who do not like them, and prefer going the drytop-combo route. As to the farmer john/drytop giving one more options, this is somewhat true when temps/weather are moderate and not extreme. I like having my feet absolutely leak proof in winter, so opting for a drysuit with attached booties made the most sense.

Protection after being wet
The wetsuit approach will work in winter. Add the paddling top and splash pants and you will be able to paddle comfortably in winter. Even if you do find ourself in the water, you will be fine, it’s when you come out of the water that you will be uncomfortable. If you paddle in places where you can pull out when that happens, then you are okay, but if you have to paddle for another couple of hours to reach your take out, you will be cold and miserable. Cold weather gear can add up in price in a hurry. Let’s do some quick math with approximate prices.

Farmer John $130

Semi-Dry Paddle top (non-gore-tex) $160

Splash Pants $80

Neoprene Mukluks $90

Expedition weight base layers $100

So far that’s over $500. Compare this to the prices of non-Goretex Drysuit and you will find that the drysuits are about the same or even less.

Drysuits are not as flexible through the season, but coming from someone who has a huge closet of paddling gear, the only thing I use in the winter is a drysuit.

the real answer
is that kayakers are gear heads and love to buy new stuff—after all he who dies with the most toys, wins. BTW I have both a drysuit, a farmerjohn wetsuit and a paddle jacket and use them all. I’ve tried a dry top and was not impressed with it. I had the fj and paddle jacket for years but never felt like it would give me a lot of protection in Nov—March if I had to spend more then 5 minutes or so in the water.

If you are really on Lake Erie or the
Great Lakes in general, and you want to paddle through most of the year…You have no choice but to buy a drysuit. You can get by with a two piece suit if it seals well, but you must ( in my opinion) prepare for an unexpected lengthy immersion. A semi dry top and farmers johns will not get it done this time of year. We spent a couple hours in the St. Clair River this Sunday working on rolls, wet exists, self rescues, and assisted rescues, all of which were in 50 degree air temps. As it is usually 20 to 30 degrees this time of year, I cannot say that my good comfort in my dry suit would have been as good if the air temps were lower. Clothing and your PFD represent the most fundamental aspects of your on water safety, as it has been stated here many times…It is better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. South of the Mason Dixon it might be a different story, not up here. JMO

Kokatat super nova
Two seasons ago I had the same concern. Planned on staying in my boat and wanted protection against hypothermia if I capsized and needed to stay in the water more than a few minutes. I opted for the Super Nova which is about half the price of a gore tex dry suit. The plunge neoprene top does let in a little water, but it’s minor especially if you intend to keep your head above water, which any good PFD should allow you to do. This year I’m rolling a lot more, primarily for practice but in cold water as well. The NRS Mystery hood over the neo neck keeps more of the water out but it’s not completely dry. Still up to 10 rolls in 50 degree water just dampens up my polar-tec liner and I’m still comfortable. Would I go out in 40 degree water with 30 degree air and heavy seas and wind? No, but neither would I venture forth in those conditions with a dry suit either.

that doesn’t speak to the issue
Yes, some kayakers are gearheads. But there is also equipment that’s inherent if you paddle on large or Great) lakes or oceans especially in fall, winter and spring.

Look at the list provided by nermal. Add the cost of the wetsuit, splash pants and paddle top. If you do you find you’re approaching the cost of a dry suit.

Someone said this in another thread, but it’s been one of my happiest purchases. I resisted because of cost but you know what? When I crossed the bridge from recreational kayaking to sea kayaking I was similarly resistant to sea kayak costs.

me too

– Last Updated: Jan-08-08 12:52 PM EST –

and I wouldn't paddle in the wintertime without the dry suit--or did I say that already? I think I did say that--certainly said I didnt feel comfortable in just the fj and the paddle jacket in the winter. That is fine if you are always in your boat but if you fall out or even just roll in December up here(Maine) you want more protection--or at least I do which explains the purchase of an NRS drysuit last march.--before that my paddling was limited to may--oct with a few brave forays in nov and march(just for the bragging rights)---and I stand by my statement---most of us are gearheads.

"Farmer John $130

Semi-Dry Paddle top (non-gore-tex) $160

Splash Pants $80

Neoprene Mukluks $90

Expedition weight base layers $100"

If you work at it, I think it would not be too hard to get a cheaper Farmer John.

Why do you need splash pants when you have a wet suit? (This seems redundant to me.)

One should be able to use the base layers you already have (for other sports). So, this is not an “extra” cost.

I suppose the idea here is layers for your torso (since I have no idea how you’d use them on your legs with the wetsuit.


I think there are better alternatives to the SuperNova: Stholquist Body Pod and the NRS suits.

odd man out
sing, our resident year-round New England waveski surfer, prefers full one-piece wetsuits. His rationale is that he’s got a reasonable chance of hitting something that could tear the suit, he’s not out for more than a couple of hours at a time, and he knows he’s going to get wet anyway. Plus, that’s what all the “boardies” are wearing. Modern surfing wetsuits are much more flexible and comfortable than most of the farmer johns being sold to paddlers. I picked up a full wetsuit last year for whitewater use and was impressed with how much more flexible it was than my old one.

I still think my drysuit is more comfortable, but the wetsuit has its place.

Farmer John
A different opinion…


More than just the $$
I read about John Turk’s dry suit experiences a while back and it didn’t make dry suits sound very trustworthy. On his expedition with another person both of their dry suits developed serious problems. Both of the zipper systems failed and as he said at that point “they were like wearing an anchor”. He believes that wet suits are more dependable.

which NRS do you have?

if you’re anything like me
you’ll probably buy a wetsuit + splash pants + dry top first to save money. Then you’ll buy a drysuit and discover you wasted perfectly good money on a wetsuit + splash pants + dry top.

Take the plunge. You’ll never regret it and save big bucks in the long run.

NRS drysuit
Is the Extreme Relief drysuit—normally runs $595 but just saw it for sale on the NRS site for around $474—I got it for $336 because the guy I guide for sells them. Not quite the kokitat but still good—breathable(well as much as anyof them are) and does keep me dry when I roll or go in.

is it a farmer john

– Last Updated: Jan-08-08 3:58 PM EST –

style or does it have sleeves----I used to have a full wetsuit I used for WW but didn't really like it for touring---arms constricted the paddling range---ok for WW or Surfing but for paddling distances got to be a drag.

Full 3/2
Not warm enough for winter, but very little arm restriction. I’d like to try a thicker one.

Why not a bib?
I wear a Kokatat Gore Tex bib with feet and pee zipper which I really prefer to a dry suit. When rolled together with a dry top it is reliably dry and significantly easier to put on and take off by without gettig assistance on the zipper. It also allows me the flexibility of having a dry top when conditions don’t call for the full dry suit.

Just me, but seems that it would be a better option for most people. More economical than a dry suit, easier to put on, just as comfortable…