Drysuit or hydroskins

I’ll be paddling Lake Michigan off of Chicago where the water is 61 at the shore and 53 at the off shore crib. I’m trying to decide if I should wear hydroskins or stick with my goretex drysuit with 100-weight polypro underneath? I paddled an inland lake with hydroskins a few weeks ago in an intermediate class where we did a lot of rescues without any problems, but on the big lake? My intro to kayaking instructor said that he often wear’s his drysuit year round on lake MI. Is this a good idea or will I be too hot in the drysuit. What do you think? At what water temp to you make the switch?

Hydroskin not for 53 F water
If you spend much time in the water below 60 F, you are going to get cold pretty quickly. I use them here for touring when the water is about 55-57 but only in places where I know I would not be in the water very long. I use wetsuits for colder water which would be a drag in Michigan in the summer.

Depends Really On Individual Factors
like how well can you roll and/or perform self/assisted rescue skills to diminish time in the water on a swim. Also, how well do you tolerate lower water temps?

Once the water hits 50 degrees I switch to 3mm farmer john, rash guard and drytop but I rarely come out of the boat and, if I do, I can do a reentry and roll in under a minute. I have low tolerance to go water. I have practice self rescues in 50 degree water with a 3mm farmer john and hydroskin top and paddle jacket. I lasted about 15 minutes before I started to feel the shakes a bit. So my window is about 20 minutes, maybe, to get myself out of the water and squared away. I mostly paddle alone. Obviously, if you have good partners, you would be in the water for a lot shorter duration.

When in doubt, go with the conservative approach. Wear the drysuit and cool off by wetting your drysuit periodically. Easy if you know how to roll and scull. If not, just splash water on yourself, or use a partners bow to lower yourself into the water and come back up.


hydroskin to drysuit is like shifting
from first to third. it’a a big jump. I would have something in the middle. A lot depends on weather, anticipated conditions, worst 1/100 conditions, company (some company lessens risk, some company raises risk) etc. Me, I’d be an my wetsuit and a drytop at least. What is an off shore crib? Will you be going there? A big difference between 53 and 61, like life and death on a two (1?)hour swim in hydroskin for some folks.

These are great answers
These are really great answers from experienced people giving you non dogmatic real world advice! Of course someone with higher fat % who has not encountered hypothermia and its sneaky way it robs you of judgment before you realize how much danger you are in might write in here and say, hell man, hydroskins are all you need, go for it dude.

Don’t. Cooling water are only a few inches away. Don’t over heat, get wet!



– Last Updated: Jun-17-05 8:43 AM EST –

I switch between hydroskins (shorts, long pants, long sleeve, vest) and drysuit depending on the event. I don't own anything in between. I always have a spare change of clothes with me in a dry bag. I also have plenty of fat content, so I tend to stay fairly warm. Two weeks ago in a training course I spent a good deal of time in 55 degree water in hydroskins without a problem - air temp was near 80 degrees and I was in shallow water near shore all day. On the second day of training we went out for a tour of the lake. I wore my drysuit for that. Again, air temps were near 80 degrees, but I rolled several times (one unintentional) and practiced some self rescues, so I stayed quite comfortable. What's under the drysuit is important. Heavy fleece may be too much, but just a rash guard and poly pro may be too little if you cannot get back in your boat quickly. It's a delicate balance between your skill level (self rescue), whom you are paddling with and their skill level (assisted rescues), comfort and safety. You need to dress for immersion in the 53 degree water, but you will need to decide how long you might be immersed and how tolerant you are to cold water.

Safety & comfort
A Gore-Tex dry suit can be more comfortable than Hydroskin.

I’m loving my dry suit for anytime I’m likely to be wet. I tend to think that waters under 60, and especially under 55 just about require a drysuit.

But then again, I don’t have a bomb proof roll…

i wouldn’t wear my drysuit
in the dead of summer on lake michigan.

But I tend not to swim anymore.

I was out last week in a bathing suit. But that is my willingness to take risk.

How is your roll, how are you with adverse situations? do you have a weather radio?

Thank’s to all of you for your advice…
and I really appreciate you guidance on this. To answer some of your questions I don’t have a roll, but plan on taking my first class next month at the Door County Sea Kayaking Symposium. Can’t wait! I’ve practiced self rescues, t-rescues, etc. on an inland lake and am quite proficient, but never on Lake Michigan. I’ll be paddling with our instructor and a group of us who have just finished the intermediate class and we may be practicing rescues.

As I said the temperature on the shore is 61 and the off shore crib is 53. Chicago has a series of what they call “cribs” which are used to intake water from the lake for the city and suburbs (http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/300035.html). They are in 35 feet of water and about two miles out. I know we won’t be paddling out that far but how do I know how far out I need to be before the temperature drops to this level? Therefore taking your suggestions, considering my experience, or lack of it, in my opinion it pays to be conservative and go with the drysuit. If I get hot, I’ll practice a rescue and get wet.

Solid logic
You’ve asked all the right questions and come to what I consider a reasonable and prudent conclusion.

While some may paddle in very cold water with little more that a bathing suit, this is similar to solo climbers that climb difficult sections (certain death in the case of a fall) without ropes. While certainly possible and maybe even safe given their skill level, it’s certainly not for the general public.

I don’t criticise those that chose to take risks as long as they are cognizant of and prepared to accept the potential consequences.



Nice to learn what a crib is
So is that the surface temp two miles out. 20 feet of depth in that water will make a big difference. I would consult with the instructor as well.

Yep, your right…
that’s the surface temp 2 miles out. What a difference in temp as the water get deeper.

Love that drysuit
Because I am spending at least once a week purposely advancing my skills (so getting wet) and trying to do pop at least one roll and do some other challenging balance move at the end of each paddle (getting wet again), I’ve been living in my drysuit up to temps where others are just in light summer synthetics. I just wear a pair of lightweight shorts and a SS capilene under it rather than the normal insulation. (an somehting light on the feet too - the Goretex booties itch if there is no barrier).

I’m being looked at oddly, but at the end of the paddle all I have to do is zip out, change my t-shirt, put on sandals and head to the after-paddle gathering.

If I need to cool off I roll or try to do a really deep scull. (which gives me a chance to roll)

In sum, if dry appeals you may want to stay in that drysuit well into the summer. Last I knew, even the air temps right over Lake Michigan can stay somewhat cool much of the year.

Drysuit for sure
All of the answers here are valid. Think of the drysuit as an insurance policy. Yes, it is expensive compared with Hydroskin or nothing at all but when you need it you really need it!

As a healthcare professional, I’ll tell you that different people react differently to cold water immersion. Body fat, overall fitness, concurrent injury are all as important as water temperature. 65 degree water is cool, even if the air temperature is warmer. My wife and I chose to err on the side of caution, recognizing that we may never need the full features of our Kokotat suits but we wanted the protection becuase you rarely receive a warning when something goes wrong.

We paddled just a week ago in our suits. Water temp was approaching 60 and we knew if we had a mishap that it could be bad. We did not overheat because we paced ourselves. We could always cool off by rotary cooling or simply splashing water on ourselves.

Look at it this way. If you were going to go parachuting you’d want the best darn chute, right?

good move.

Has anone ever used a Dive Suit
for paddling? I own a DUI dry suit that I ise for scuba. Could that be used for Kyaking as well?

Surface at the crib?
Try to find out where the temperature reading at the crib is really taken. Thirty-five feet is pretty deep, I bet the surface water temperature will be much higher.

If in doubt, the drysuit is the more conservative choice, and if the air temperature is high might actually be more comfortable than hydroskin.

At the risk of getting flammed, I’ve gone out with air temps in the 70s and water temp in the low 60s with drysuit with only a rash guard top and bottom underneath.

what risk of being flamed?
Given those water and air temperatures that seems perfectly appropriate to me depending on how much time you spend in the water. I go out on Lake Michigan (low to mid 50s) in a swimming suit, a shorty dry top, and a rash guard but I know the odds of me swimming is slim. It’s all about calculated risks and your skills versus the environment you will be in.

Right Now…

– Last Updated: Jun-30-05 11:18 AM EST –

with air temps in the 80's and above and water temps in the mid 50's, I've feel pretty comfortable with my shorty hydroskin FJ, rashguard and shortie drytop. It feels great in the surf. Breaking waves are auto cool off.

I think if I were headed out into the harbor, I go conservative and don a 2 mm farmer john in place of the shorty FJ.

The key again is that one is unlikely to swim and, if one does, that one can do a quick reentery and roll.


Dry Suit
I’ve been living in mine at water temps in the 60’s and air temps in the 70’s, because I want to stay dry and I have either been out specifically to practice or will try a couple of rolls etc at the end of a regular paddle. For warmer temps, I’ve just taken to wearing jogging shorts and a breathable short sleeve jogging or bike top underneath it, a pr of polypro sock liners in the booties because without some layer between the DWR and the shell I itch. I sweat some in the top, but all I have to do is roll or hip snap off of someone’s bow a few times and I’m OK. Try to scull fully over and I even get to swim.

My drysuit is breathable, a GoreTex Expedition, but a couple of folks in the group have the Kokotat drysuit made of the Tropos material and have found that to be comfy too. Best part, at the end of the paddle the mosquitos have very limited real estate that they can get at while you are loading up your boat.

I suspect that as time goes on and more boomers spring for drysuits, you’ll see more people wearing them into warmer temps. For major trips, even in warmer temps neoprene is still a safer idea, and the stinkiest sweat in a drysuit is still a lot easier to get rid of than that lovely scent of wet neoprene.