Dry Suit vs. Famer John

I need some advice about warm air/cold water temps with these 2 options. I have an upcoming trip on Lake Superior, with anticipated air temps in 70s, but water in the 40s. We’re doing a conservative itinerary,( close to shore, many landing spots, will not venture out if greater than 3 foot seas, etc), but I still dress for immersion. I am confident that either of these options will adequately protect me in the event of an unplanned swim. I love the dry suit when the air is also cool. It is “breathable”, but we all know how misleading that term is in practice when things heat up.

Question: will I stay cooler while paddling with a John or the dry suit? Is the John a portable sauna, or is it fairly comfortable in warm air? I’ve never paddled with one before in these conditions. I appreciate any insight.


I’d Go Dry…

– Last Updated: Sep-14-05 1:33 PM EST –

I've used both under similar conditions (warm air, cold water). The wet suit tends to 'damp out' a bit after a few hours - enough so that a cool breeze will bring on a chill after activity stops. I also found the tight fit of the wet suit uncomfortable from the get-go, and it doesn't get any better for me as the day goes on.
The semi-dry suit we use now (SuperNova) is, for me, far more comfortable - I've used it on hot days (25C), with little or no sweating - did have to have the occasional dip to cool things down.
BTW - I'm the original 'frosty-cat' around the water - hate being cold, hate being wet. So the dry suit is always my choice - haven't used the farmer johns since we got the SNs. Note also that we aren't 'high performance' paddlers - we tend to take things easy, which probably helps with the possibility of overheating in the suits.

You can modify its warmth by using different thicknesses/numbers of wicking layers underneath. On land, if a suddenly increased cold wind makes you chilled, “reverse burp” the suit and add a bit of air inside. It adds insulation. Don’t do this while on the water, as Michelin Man effect while immersed will hinder your roll or re-entry.

I used a full-length neoprene wetsuit while paddling a rented SOT in Baja last January. Air temp in the 70s and water temp mid-60s. It was hot and CLAMMY while paddling, yet was not warm enough to keep me from getting chilled after 15 minutes of snorkeling. The drysuit has a vastly wider comfort range, and staying dry is an added plus.

If you get hot…
Drop over off of someone’s bow and dunk a bit of your upper body in the water. That’ll balance whatever heat buildup in the drysuit.

There’s no comparison in protection…
…or comfort. A breathable dry suit is superior in both regards. In neoprene, you stew in your own juices and have little ability to regulate your temerature. Insulation in a dry suit can be customized for the conditions and you can dunk yourself or roll to cool off if need be, without jeopardizing your protection.

Internet vs real world does it
Since we come back to this old saw time and again here, it may be more helpful for folks who wish to know to test out swimming 300 yards in wind and waves in say 50 degree water with drysuit vs wet suit, especially farmer john and jane that are only 30% as efficient as a diver’s wet suit configuration. If they are fine after that and don’t paddle far from shore, in colder water, or on days with off shore breeze, then by all means go with a wet suit, one with neck, armpit, and head protection. But if not…

Water Temps
What makes the water so cold? Doesn’t it heat up during the summer? I’d think the water would be in the 50’s.

Also there’s the question what type of boat you’ll have. With a SOT capsizing doesn’t usually mean full emersion. I’ve capsized in water that was in the high 40s to lower 50s wearing a bib and paddling jacket without getting soaked. That’s because I entered the water butt first and was wearing a good PFD. Because re-entry was so quick I didn’t have time to get too cold. Being in a SOT I could cool down by putting my legs in the water or by splashing water on my jacket. Thus I never got cold or warm. When taking a break it was easier to shed the jacket than a dry top. Then I’d fold the bib down to let my upper body breathe.

Another thing is to remember your head controls head loss more than the rest of your body. Wearing a hat will warm you more than you think and removing it will cool you down as well.

Certain Applications Where The Wetsuit
is more appropriate in moderate temp waters.

I was actually surprised that I find my full Body Glove wetsuit very comfortable. I am wet but warm when surfing. In my drysuit, I am very damp and warm when surfing. Come sub 50 water temp, I’ll be back in my drysuit for more protection but not necessarily for greater comfort.

I have sat out in the break for 6 hours straight. No on-shore bathroom breaks needed. That’s pretty cool (or warm really)… :wink:


neoprene is so binding, especially for men in the ah, you know.

It depends on where on Lake Superior…
I paddled the Pukaskwa Coast, eastern Lake Superior about a month ago and the water temps were very moderate for Lake Superior, in the 60s. This web site will give surface temps: http://www.coastwatch.msu.edu/twosuperiors.html

Dry Suit for water temps in the 40s
With water in the 40s I think a dry suit is necessary.

A good dry suit is also far more comfortable than a wet suit.

if we ever paddle together…
I’ll have to remember never to roll around you when you’re in your wetsuit on your waveski.

The dry suit wins.
Thanks for the advice. With the John, I worry about the pinching and binding issues, not to mention the sweating and stewing. Lake Superior is like a big ol’ freshwater fridge. Some of the shallow bays, such as around the Apostles, warm up to the 70s, but on the MN North Shore it stays damned cold. I leave tomorrow; wish me luck.