Isle Royale paddling--drysuit or wetsuit

-- Last Updated: Jun-06-07 9:27 PM EST --

I got into an argument with a friend who has paddled in New Zealand and Alaska, where people seem to wear rain gear rather than wetsuits or drysuits. Anyway, he and some friends are paddling for a week at Isle Royale (Lake Superior coast line, not interior lakes), and he wasn't planning on wearing a wetsuit or drysuit. I told him he was crazy. I paddle in the much warmer waters of the south shore of Lake SUperior, and still all of us wear wetsuits during the summer (and drysuits right now). He thinks I'm being ridiculous, but he did say he'd think about hydroskin.

So: those of you who paddle the coast of Isle Royale in August, what do you wear? Does anyone sane go out just in a summer clothes, with no wetsuits? Any good scary links I could send him to persuade him that a wetsuit, at least, is a good idea?

wetsuit or drysuit
I’ll be interested inthe replies. I’m planning on paddling the Apostle Islands later this summer. I assumed a drysuit would be necessary, can you say more about wetsuits on the south shore.

If I were solo, I would be in a drysuit.

If I were with one or two paddlers of questionable skills, I would probably be in a drysuit.

If I were with two or more people who I have worked with in the past and I know to have solid recovery skills, then I would leave my drysuit behind.

Depending on where one is any particular day, (sheltered bay or open water) conditions can vary greatly and would be a factor

Air temps can get well into the 70’s (F) mid- summer at Isle Royale. Rotary cooling over and over again in a loaded boat is not a very good use of energy and adds more risk than not wearing a drysuit.

An added benefit to the drysuit would be protection from the black flies and the skeeters.

Hi–I spend from May until Labor Day paddling in the Apostles (and working too, more or less). A few people wear dry suits in the spring (ie, May and June, when the air is warmer but the water is still cold. We all should wear drysuits on crossings during May and June). Almost no one wears dry suits in July and August, but nearly everyone wears wetsuits, or at least hydroskins. This may not be completely sensible, but it’s what most people do around here. All the outfitters give their clients wetsuits to wear.


– Last Updated: Jun-06-07 10:23 PM EST –

Like anything, it depends - mainly on the things listed above (Hi Russ). I have paddled in the Slate Islands and several times in the Apostles, but never (yet) at Isle Royale. I wouldn't consider paddling without one or the other. I've always used a wetsuit, but then always been with people who were skilled so that if I did go into the water, I'd be able to get out quickly.

Here's one example of what conditions can be like - Labor Day weekend a couple of years ago in the Apostles. Clear and sunny, temperature in the mid 80's and a bit of offshore wind. Since the offshore wind was blowing the warm surface water away and welling up the cold water not heated by the sun, the water temperature was 46 degrees... Would you want to be in this without even a wetsuit?

no drysuit
i’ve paddled most of the remotest sections of Superior, much in a canoe, and have only worn my drysuit, (the entire time) when going solo, just after ice out in April.

the rest of my trips have been in sun protection clothing, with neoprene shorts on to protect the boys, when sitting in the cold water, with breathable paddling jackets and pants for bad weather days.

on wilderness trips, plan to paddle conservatively, be smart, and stay out of the water. paddle with highly skilled people, appropriate to the target risk of the group.

have fun!

here’s something:

check it again in Aug. Temps will have risen perhaps 10-15 degrees.

I think anyone paddling Lake Superior near Isle Royale without at least a wetsuit is taking a serious risk. I was backpacking on the island in aug. and water temps were in the 40s.

Apostles 2
On the other hand, during a four-day trip in the Apostles last July, we found surface water temperatures in the low 70s (!), and air temps of about 80. Only at the insistence of our trip leader did we wear wetsuits, and everyone sweltered while paddling under those conditions.

To be fair, this is only a confirmation of Superior’s renowned fickle nature, and a changing wind might very quickly blow all that bath water somewhere else, and surface temps could drop quickly.

First, be sure you actually KNOW the current water temps, either from very recent satellite imagery or your own scattered samplings (open water, not protected shallow bays). Then, if not actually wearing a wetsuit or drysuit while paddling, at least keep it handy so you can put ashore and don it should the weather take a turn and stir things up.

unless you’re on the NW shore
Where if conditions change you cannot land.

True enough
Just one more of the many factors a paddler must take into consideration when determining the safety of any given trip …

Have you been out on Lake MI in your neck of the woods? Wondering what the the water temps are over there…

Still a little chilly
Looks like it’s about 52F around Milwaukee, where we usually paddle on Lake Michigan:

We haven’t made it there yet this season, but we hope to take some beginner-to-intermediate paddlers there when the water warms up a bit. With rare easterly winds, there is a nice surfing beach on the north end of the city, and big offshore waves and clapotis off the seawalls and breakwaters on the southern shore of the city.

The Milwaukee Sea Kayakers can offer more specific info, and would likely invite you on one of their weekly outings on the Lake:

Are you in lower Michigan or da UP, eh?

lower p
I was over on the west side of the state and the water was balmy. I have to wonder about the coastwatch site but I’m sure they probably don’t get a lot of readings along the shoreline.

great site!
What a cool site! I’m about to go out paddling off Cornucopia, wher e the water is between 35 and 45 today (air is 48–so much for our warm front supposedly coming in). Drysuit time. Have fun paddling!

you too
Have fun yourself.

Keep in mind the shoreline is always a bit warmer (don’t let the cold temp readings scare you off!)

Good website for Great Lakes -

– Last Updated: Jun-07-07 3:31 PM EST –

the NOAA site for wave, wind, current, water temp, and ice cover forecasting:

Also, as others have implied, don't count on the water being warmer later in the summer. Cold pockets move around the lakes all season long.


Apostles are warmer
The Apostles are usually 10+degrees warmer that the waters around Isle Royale. I was just there last month and had to test my drysuit/insulation system while trying to retreive a part of my Feathercraft tubing that ‘made a break for it’ over the side of the dock. I was prepared for that dunk and still could barely control the gasp reflex. Damn near had to call for a rescue without even leaving the dock! I’ve been there during the summer months too, and the water temp isnt much better.

I agree with you, your friend is nuts. Ask him to demonstrate how well his paddle clothing system works in an unheated pool or bathtub iced down to 48 degrees or so…see how long he lasts. That’s really the only way to prove to some people that they’re wrong…other than saying “I told you so” at their funeral.

thats cool
you can download a KML file for google earth with temps.