Help getting started with drysuit layering

I am hoping to go paddling on the weekend in my new Gore-tex Meridian that is currently in the mail. Since I never used drysuits before I’d appreciate if someone would review the specific conditions and clothing options. I do understand the layering basics just dont know how much is to much and how little is too little.
So, specifics:
Water and air temps are both going to be around 50 F.
Hereis what i have available

  1. A couple of polyester long sleeved sports shirts. One of them is Under Armor.
  2. A few fleece tops ranging from thin to thick. All 100% polyester.
  3. A sweater that’s 50% merino wool and 50% acrylic. It’s reasonably thin but i know that its very warm.
  4. Under Armor polyester underware type pants.
  5. A pair of thermal underpants. 25% merino wool, 25% cotton and 50% polyester. Not sure if that amount of cotton disqualifies them. Perhaps as a second layer? They are warm though.
  6. Merino wool socks.
  7. Thin polyester workout pants.
  8. Polyester hiking socks.
  9. Polyester sports type underware.

So, given this pile of stuff, what would be a decent starting point? I’d rather make do with what I have for now since with the suit purchase my toy budget well into red :slight_smile: I could probably pick up a pair of thicker polyester pants from walmart but thats it.

Thanks, much appreciated.

A couple of articles that you might find helpful:

From the Cold Water Safety site:

What do you have for your hands? That’s my weakest link: cold hands.

Thanks. Yes, i understand what these articles are saying. I was hoping more for a good initial guess so i don’t have to change the layers after a swim test.

Hands - 3mm neoprene gloves.

Might I suggest you spend some time swimming first? Wearing a dry suit takes some getting used to. You’ll definitely want to purge the air before you get in the water, and then you’re going to find it’s something like swimming in a garbage bag - though not quite as unpleasant as it sounds.

If you understand the rationale behind layering, that’s really all you need to know. Start out with a very light wicking layer plus a slightly heavier insulating layer, synthetic or wool. You’ll likely find that you’re too hot above water, but if you swim test for more than a few minutes (15+, or until you get cold) you’ll start to see why you have that immersion protection gear on.

You’ll need to work on your reentries with the dry suit as well. Your mobility will be restricted, especially when it’s still new and crisp. The point, after all, is not to stay in the water with your drysuit on. It’s to add a comfortable amount of time to get you back into your boat.

So to reiterate, maybe plan a day of 75% swimming and 25% near shore paddling. Don’t just head out into the sunset trusting that your new drysuit will make you invincible. :wink:

@SpaceSputnik said:
Thanks. Yes, i understand what these articles are saying. I was hoping more for a good initial guess so i don’t have to change the layers after a swim test.

Hands - 3mm neoprene gloves.

Warmth is subjective and BMI makes a difference. My BMI is 18 and while I’m comfortable wearing just Mysterioso leggings (fleece lined), I wear three top layers. It took a while to get the combination right for cold air and cold water. Thick SmartWool socks on my feet and thin SmartWool gloves under my neo Glacier Gloves. And a wool hat.

Sparky made some good suggestions. You need to experiment. If you get too warm, just dribble some cold water down your neck.

Fleece and a merino wool blend are good; they wick water but retain heat. A merino/poly shirt is always my first layer.

I don’t need gloves unless it’s real cold water below 40* or hands getting wet and wind over 15 mph. Usually finger less Warmer brand gloves. Don’t walk in the water and purge all the air out up to your neck so you look vacuum packed. You need some air to keep you insulated when in the water. I purge out what I can on the dock by squatting and leaning forward just pull the neck gasket a tad and the air will rush out. I an 6’ 225 lb. Me personally I would wear thin poly type Under Armour shorts, then thin poly tight leggings, then a Kokatat Polar-tec bunny suit See what you have to translate to that. Socks I would use wool hiking socks but not super heavy ones. Chota neo shoes or boots. I also would wear a thicker long sleeve kokatat paddling top under layer on top of a kokatat thin merino wool long sleeve top Kokatat wool-core. As stated above everyone is different. Take into consideration where you are paddling and the risks you up against. How long could you be in the water how long until help would arrive. How are your rescue skills? How fast can you paddle to shore if weather changes? Also I wear a kokatat full balaclava that covers my neck below water temps of 55*. Trial and error try to keep mental notes or keep a written record on wind and water temps. Even when the water is windy and cold I hate gloves so I wear pogies I have seals neo and Kokatat thin tropos pogies. I do keep thicker neo gloves on my deck in case I end up in the water longer than I want to be. Also my suit ( Expedition I think) has the hood on it. Water below 55* cell phone in a dry-pac and two VHF hand held radios one on my vest and one on the deck. I am usually alone all winter paddling. I’d rather be a bit hot than to cold especially in the water. Try your suit in the water floating for 20-30 minutes you do feel the coolness coming in. Wax and rinse zippers well especially if in salter water like me. I usually hose myself off when wearing it then again on a scuba suit heavy plastic hanger. Store it in proper place. I use the hanger and loosely lift legs up with zippers opened,. Read the Kokatat care manual. Enjoy and as Sparky said “Don’t just head out into the sunset trusting that your new drysuit will make you invincible.” They kokatat rep kinda of made me you feel you could float for days in it in comfort in 37* water. Not so true water really strips the heat away. I do have the neo Glacier Gloves but never used them more than a few minutes to try them. Don’t walk on the booties with no shoes on.

Thanks guys. Very helpful.
I am thinking of just driving down to the lake on the day before a paddle just for a swim and clothing test. Not taking the boat with me at all so there is no temptation to paddle.

Best overall advice is to keep your most wicking layer next to your skin. If you need to add more warmth, put it over that.
I generally find I can go lighter on the layer on my legs, since even if I do swim the legs are back under my skirt right after.

You may have to experiment to figure out what material works best for you. It is not one size fits all. My husband did well with a silk blend next to his skin, others I know can put a mix of wicking synthetics with wool mixed in next to their skin. I can’t do either, I have to have purely synthetic there like polypro or fancy fleece. These options that work for others end up being either a soggy cold mess or a soggy cold and itchy mess on me.

I always have a neo hood around my neck if it is dry suit weather, just leave it down unless I need it, and I wear gloves pretty much year round.

Do try on the dry suit at home first to test the gaskets. Not everyone likes the gaskets as they come - they can be too tight. If slightly too tight, you can stretch them over something and leave them stretched for a while (in your case, might just be overnight). if way too tight, you may need to trim a ring or two off.

The basic saying is “dress for immersion”, but that is to get people to think about the basics. Once you bought in on this (which you did when you got the dry suit), you may want to consider the extension to it - “dress so you could survive immersion for longer than it would take to get rescued”. The challenge is that if you dress to be comfortable immersed long term, chances are you will be too warm when paddling (especially if you are paddling for exercise). So you can dial back your clothing some to where if you do get separated from your boat and are floating, you have enough thermal protection to survive for much longer than it would take to get rescued. In my area, a rescue would come in 1-2 hours, so I dress at a level where I think I would survive 4-6 hours. That means I am comfortable for 10-20 minutes, then starting to get chilled, and so on. Long enough to have plenty of time to try to self rescue. The last 2-3 hours would likely be where I am incapacitated, as blood won;t be going to extremities. Of course, this all assumes you have a reliable way to call for help. or that you could use the useful time to swim to shore (so you are close to shore).

For 50 degree water and 50 degree air, I would wear hiking socks, some sort of running tights (probably decently thick, maybe fleece lined), 2 layers on top of long sleeve polypro or similar (not lightweight). Definitely have a neoprene hoody which I could add or take off for minor temperature adjustments as day progresses.

Thanks Peter.
I think i am good for now. I bought some nice fleece pants that i plan to put over a long polyester underpants. For the top i have a polyester under shirt and a couple of light merino wool tops. Also some fleece tops that i can play with.
For the head i am thinking a paddling cap rather than a neoprene hood. I have one, its very uncomfortable and does funny things with my beard.

Merino wool hiking socks too.
For the feet protection the plan to use crappy oversized sneakers I have.

In terms of calling for rescue, in Toronto harbour I am never too far from shore so swimming is probably the best bet. Theres always a cell phone too, mine is a waterproof model (however i still carry it in a dry pouch).

Cap will not protect your head and neck in cold water. Think of waves slapping your face and neck.

Just got some nice Smart Wool hiking socks on eBay 7 ea. 64 percent wool. Saw thinner ones at REI for over 20. They were 16 percent wool.

@PaddleDog52 said:
Cap will not protect your head and neck in cold water.

Ok. Should i stick with the hood then. It one of those things that overlap to the sboulders. The neck is a bit loose but the head is tight (remember Seinfield: “Your head is too big for your body”). How well will it work?

@PaddleDog52 said:
Just got some nice Smart Wool hiking socks on eBay 7 ea. 64 percent wool. Saw thinner ones at REI for over 20. They were 16 percent wool.

I got 85% merino wool ones off Amazon for 17 Canadian.
is what I wear.

@PaddleDog52 said:
is what I wear.

That looks much comfier than the neoprene hood I have.

I couldn’t get link to work. Marshall at river connection may have them.

I found it…But haven’t found a canadian retailer that carries them yet.

@PaddleDog52 said:
Cap will not protect your head and neck in cold water. Think of waves slapping your face and neck.

I do use wool or synthetic caps from time to time. Perhaps not as good when being splashed with water as neoprene, but still better than nothing. Definitely could work.