Gear questions for spring in New England

Depends on purpose
Divers or surfers don’t need to worry about rashes under the wet suit. They are not doing anything that creates the kind of friction of a paddler sitting in a kayak seat, or rotating around to paddle. And I’ll skip the details on why, but with some of those suits it could be counter productive.

Paddling vendors like NRS and Immersion Research and Stohlquist have made rash guard for long time. I suspect you have been reading about wet suits for other purposes than paddling.

My $.02

– Last Updated: Apr-03-14 9:07 PM EST –

I assume you are going to the NHAMC weekend school coming up in late April. Having attended a few of those in different roles, I believe you will find some with drysuits, but many if not most will be using farmer johns and may or may not have true drytops. Water temps may well be in the upper 30s to low 40s. Seriously. I know what is said about needing this or that, but most folks participate with modest gear and have never heard of problems from people getting into trouble due to swimming with inadequate immersion gear. I believe they make a point of not expecting folks to go out and buy a great deal of expensive gear to participate in the course or to go on the follow up paddles as well.

It is a great experience for people just getting started. You will enjoy it very much as they are good folks.

I did their whitewater course and trips with them. Also, volunteer coached three white water schools as payback.

Don’t go with farmer john and top for white water school. The flushthrough and the low water temps for the next couple of months will make a farmer john combo insufficient. You’ll need at least a 3/2 full wetsuit (around $150) and a semi drytop (around $100). Or, you can may go with a 4/3 wetsuit ($200 plus). On the river, you won’t be immersed long before the coaches get you to shore. Either of these two would be cheaper than a drysuit. The 3/2 and top will carry you closer to the summer if you drop the top as the water temps get warmer.


PS. Just went out yesterday for a two hour dawn patrol paddle surfing session yesterday. Water temp was 37 degrees. My 5/4/3 wetsuit was plenty warm but afforded more “leeway” for a longer solo swim if need be, since I was the only one out at the surf break. I would not recommend a $450 wetsuit tho’ for a casual/beginner paddler.

I am always…
commando under my wetsuits. I’ve tried using rashguards. Not sure what the benefit is. It just scrunches up in the wrong places for me. I use silicone grease in the appropriate places to prevent bad rashes that I am prone to from salt water and rubbing without silicone grease.


Glad to hear you are back in the surf

NHAMC is a great group
I took their class when I started WW paddling back in 2005. I’'d like to get up to NH a little more this spring to paddle with them. They have some good trips planned.

I ‘d say the that standard whitewater outfit around here for those not wearing a drysuit is :

Farmer John Wetsuit – I have the 3-mm, but 2-mm would be fine as well. Personally, I like the NRS-style with big openings at the arms for freedom of movement. I’ll usually wear a light polypro tee shirt underneath it for comfort. If it is really cold, I’ll replace the tee shirt with a thin neoprene layer like a .5-mm HydroSkin shirt.

Splash/Dry Top – drytop is obviously better if you have a roll, less important if you don’t. It cuts the wind and will hold in a lot of heat (at least until you get wet).

Neoprene socks and boots – being an open boater, it’s always my feet that get cold first. I’d get some neoprene socks to go with those neoprene boots. Your feet will still get cold, but they help.

Gloves – it seems that my yakker friends have less trouble keeping their feet warm, but are always complaining about cold hands. Most seem to go with the biggest gloves they can find. Being an open boater, my hands stay drier, and I get along fine with light .5-mm gloves.

Helmet and helmet liner – I’ve never found the need for a helmet liner. The helmet seems to keep my head plenty warm. Then again, I don’t have a roll, so my head rarely gets wet. It’s important to keep you head warm, so add the liner if you need it.

This was the crew last week on the Westfield River – lots of drysuits, but plenty of wetsuits as well:

Short video I did last year on cold water gear:

Everyone has their own opinions on what works best. In the end, you’ll figure out what works best for you through trial and error.

More thoughts
Later note after seeing other replies - my experience is with the basic Farmer Jane/John paddling wetsuit. I tended to get rashes on my seat and some around the armpits. If you go to a better wetsuit like other have mentioned, you are into something that will be more rash free.

But all of that said - you are going for a course, right? Your best idea may be to call them and ask to rent the stuff. It doesn’t sound like your personal use of the clothing is going to include a lot of 30 to 40 degree temperature water. If you buy clothing for this weekend, you could have stuff that you won’t want to use on a nice sunny day on a lake in summer.

The items you will never regret are a good splash or dry top (which one depends on your comfort with tight neck gaskets), three season paddling shoes and gloves, and a basic hood. The rest of it though - if you can experiment with the outfitter’s stuff you’ll have a better idea of what to get for yourself.

Neoprene is fine
I am using neoprene gear up in Alaska for paddling and rolling. Boardies here use neoprene as well and they are in the water a lot.

Good info! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for sharing the information. Yeah I’ve got most of what you mention, so I feel solid enough for starters. A good dry top would be nice. I may not be shopping in the right place though as there isn’t an ultra clear distinction between drop top and splash guard… and even the dry top looking(and priced!) gear doesn’t say dry in the description…

I should have enough to get going though I hope.

Can’t go wrong with NRS
You can usually tell the difference between a dry top an splash jacket by price – a drytop will be considerably more expensive than a splash jacket.

The drytop will have waterproof gaskets at the neck and wrist.

When properly mated with the spray skirt, a drytop will keep you dry during a roll. If you don’t have a roll, or blow the roll and come out of the boat, water will come in through the bottom just like with a splash jacket.

The splash jacket has neck and wrist enclosures that are not waterproof. They are often adjustable with Velcro.

A splash jacket will do just what it says – keep you dry when waves splash on you, which happenes often. It will also cut the wind and reduce evaporative cooling.

If you don’t have a roll, the splash jacket is fine. If you want to make the investment, a drytop would be great, but some people don’t like the tight gasket around the neck. There are also semidry tops which fall somewhere in the middle.

Good luck at the class, and hopefully I’ll see you on the river sometime.

Try not to overheat from the waist up…
One item you don’t want to skimp on is the drytop…get a very breatheable drytop with polypro or some good wicking underneath. Air temp can vary, so can wind, but there’s nothing worse than a non-breathing drytop…will make it icy cold whether it’s a cold wind or hot sun. Staying warm and dry up top will keep your core warm which then the wetsuit(below) will work fine.