Dry suit or Splash top?

For winter paddling, I’ve been debating on whether to purchase a full dry suit ($$$) or go with a splash top, pants and some sort of insulated liner. I live in a part of the country that generally has mild winters although ice and snow aren’t unheard of. What are some of the pros and cons of each option?

I’ve got a splash top
It hasn’t done a whole lot to keep me dry. It is wonderful for keeping the breeze off once I get wet, so I don’t get AS cold AS fast.

I’m thinking dry pants and a semi-dry top. I will not be in a situation that will call for a roll, and I am very careful to pick floats well below my skill level and expect to stay people side up. Still, given those, the splash top hasn’t done quite enough.

There are some options between full dry suit and just a splash top. Somewhere in there is probably what you want.

  • Big D

I recently went through this process and decided that a wetsuit (NRS Farmer John) plus a light, windproof outer layer was a good compromise for flatwater paddling around here. And it might be useful on the cold water creeks and rivers in the warmer months (Hiawassee, Elk, Sipsey, etc).

I don’t expect to go in the drink, but I want to buy myself some time if I do, especially with water temps under 50 degrees.

A drysuit can be too much on a sunny winter day in the 50s and there’s nothing much you can do other than pulling it off. You start working up a sweat and they will keep all the heat and moisture in. With enough layering I can even work up a pretty decent sweat when it’s down in the 30s.

My thought process is that with temps in the 40s and 50s I’ll wear the wetsuit and very light outer layer. If I decided to go out in colder weather, I’ll add more insulating layers. When I start o heat up, I can remove layers or just splash myself a bit to cool off.

The upside of the drysuit is that you can actually stay dry, but I can stand a little wet as long as I’m not cold. The splash tops look nice, but there are cheap outer layers that can do that just as well.

Just my 2 cents.


Wetsuits also
are much less expensive. Especially used on Craisglist.

No question
Dry suit.

I own a drysuit, wetsuit, tons of hydroskin, mystery skin, a good splash jacket and IMO drysuit is the way to go.

I wear my drysuit almost all the time from September through May and sometime in the other months. For me the goretex drysuit has the widest range of temperature comfort. It allows me to paddle days I wouldn’t consider if I was wearing anything else.

A wet suit and/or splash jacket will offer some protection and hopefully keep you alive if you are out of your boat. Not nearly as much as a drysuit though. But importantly, after you get wet, you will be a lot more comfortable in a drysuit.

Get the booties. There’s nothing like having dry feet at the end of a paddle.

Drysuit $$$ ?
I have paddled (ice conditions) with everything from wetsuit, fleece, drysuit, etc.

Buy the best Goretex drysuit you can afford.

Regarding $$$: A top of the line drysuit costs $1000. A ten year life span is quite normal. Is top of the line comfort worth $100 a year? Without the drysuit, you’ll probably spend $100 per year trying new ideas for keeping warm.

It can vary

– Last Updated: Nov-23-08 8:47 PM EST –

Obviously upstate NY is usually going to be thought of a dry suit climate more than the south, and that is my perspective. But if you are quick and take other than a medium, you can score some quite decent dry suits on EBay for relatively cheap dollars. A friend showed up at today's paddle with a Kokatat Goretex FER suit (booties but no overskirt) tha he'd gotten for $350, with the tags still on it. Purchased but never used from what could be told.

I don't know what your paddling goals are, but one thing unmentioned here is that if you want to do wet work like practicing rolling etc, the dry suit (with hood, good gloves and ear plugs) extends your season quite significantly over anything less than wet suit with a good high quality dry top.

Also, winter comfort is very subjective. You really can't reliably tell by others' experience what will work for you. I know I have to dress more warmly than my paddling companions to stay comfortable when the temps start hitting the low 40's with wind, even on a sunny day.

I am also finding that my toes are a problem, even with all of the rest of me being toasty warm and my feet well protected, the GoreTex booties of a dry suit in the winter are not optional.

It's uncomfortable as heck, but a cautious swim in 40-odd degree water may be worth it to gauge your clothing needs.

Thanks for everyone’s input.

Kokatat Whirlpool Bib
I don’t know why more people don’t go with a bib instead of a dry suit. I have used one for years. I have a gore tex bib with a pee zipper and booties, and think that it is way better than a dry suit. When mated with a dry top it is dry and warm. You also get the versatility of having two pieces with you so it is possible to take the bib off and switch to just the dry top if the paddling conditions are calm and you get hot. Often you only need a dry suit for a short part of the day. It is easy to get the two together for a dry fit – more comfortable than putting on a dry suit.

It’s about the Benjamins

pure and simple. If I had the money, a drysuit would be the only option. It’s just not fun if I’m out there worried about freezing to death or being uncomfortable, plus, I can’t roll. I’m just now at the point I can roll with some proficiency and paddling without doing it isn’t as fun.

I sent my idea to several vendors and a few manufacturers and really hope someone picks up on it.

My idea is to sell them by layaway. Have a promotion in January, put 20% down, then 75 bucks a month until September and you have a drysuit when you need it. Works for K-Mart and it is coming back in style. I cannot justify putting it on a CC.

Surely this could do something for their production goals and may even help out on inventory taxes.

separates offer the maximum in flexibility. I personally use a Kokotat Goretex dry top with a double tunnel. On the bottom I use a skin coated neoprene paddling pants. The skin coat allows the top to grip well. I used this system successfully in my BCU 3Star assessment a few years back on Lake Superior where I spent more time in the water than in the boat.

You can never go wrong having a quality dry top in your clothing inventory.

dressing for the weather
This past weekend I had the same problem. I live on the coast of NC, it’s usually warm enough through the winter to just layer up and paddle. Not this past weekend. Temps were below freezing and windy. I showed up that morning and everyone was either in wetsuits, drysuits, or a combo dry top with wetsuit type bottoms. I decided to be safe and not paddle, really hard to do when everyone leaves you at the shore. Went home and ordered myself a wetsuit on the internet. Try looking at places like www.sierratradingpost.com , they have a lot of wetsuits and some splash tops on sale.


– Last Updated: Nov-24-08 10:59 AM EST –

While days like yesterday are dry suit days no matter how you slice it - water in the low 40's if that, air in the mid 40's and a headwind - I am finally getting to where I can see using a two piece system in more forgiving water temps. I tend to roll up these days in most environments.

I have two good drytops, but am still on the hunt for an acceptably cheapo sale on a good bottom hopefully with socks.

I helped a woman into her Whirlpool bib system earlier in October at a paddling thing. The one thing that put me off about the system was that there was no way that she (or I) could see that she would have been able to manage it by herself. Granted she was on the heavier side, but there were several places where she couldn't see for herself well enough to get the material rolled correctly.

It worked quite well for her (she was in a beginning rolling class) once in the water. But the entry part was rough. Have you found that solo assembly is something you figure out over time?

Check with your local independently owned shop - there are some that are doing layaways.


seems to have the best selection and fit of neoprene products. Don’t try and cheap out, these are Life Tools we’re talking about. Good gear will give you many years of service.

BTW Beaufort/Swansboro are my favorite places to vacation. I’ll be there next April.

I have been using kokatat gore bibs /dry top for years. The “waterproofness” (word?) is dictated by the how well the user mates the dry top to the bib and then secures it by using a full neo spray skirt over it, and also on burping the suit. If your 2 piece system is full of air and you go swimming, it cab work is way out through the rolled material. Not a big deal when you can walk into the water to burp the suit (and discover if you are properly insulated in the process), but if you have a dumping surf break, not so great.

Going the rogue drytop + custom gore bibs was not a cheap option, but it allows me a versatility I like (drytop + wetsuit on warm days, drytop + bibs for all the others)

NRS neoprene
Based on what I’ve seen, NRS neoprene gear is nowhere near the current state-of-art in terms of flexibility and comfort. Look at what’s being sold to surfers. There are folks who surf the New England coast all winter in wetsuits.

Dive Shops
will have a great assortment of the the most flexible new neoprenes on the market. I agree with the statement about NRS but then I am only talking about paddling pants. I have no range of motion issues with the NRS products.

Dry suits work in a WIDE range of temps
I don’t know where you got the idea that dry suits don’t work above 50 degrees, but that’s just plain wrong. One of the biggest advantages of dry suits is that you can vary the insulation underneath to suit whatever temps you’re in. The suit itself is nothing but a waterproof/windproof barrier and has little insulating value, it’s what you wear under it that determines how warm it is. I’ve worn a dry suit in temps in the 70’s comfortably, as long as the surrounding water was cooler (which is why I wore it in the first place). I’ve also worn it in 20 degree air and 30 degree water (salt water, of course), conditions that no wetsuit that you can actually paddle in could handle.

Dry suit
With a high-quality dry suit, a wide range of temperatures are comfortable. You can vary the amount of air in your suit. If you squeeze all the air out by wading out in the water and loosening your neck gasket, the drysuit will do a great job letting out excess hear. If you leave air in, that air will warm up, which can be good in cooler or cold conditions. You can also vary how much you wear underneath, from nothing up to pile jacket and pants.