Justification for Dry Suits

In transitioning to winter canoeing, there is talk of wool socks, watch caps, layering clothing, etc., but I don’t see a good discussion on dry suits for canoeing. For kayaks, they’re almost imperitive, but how many people spend $600-$800 for a dry suit for canoeing if their habit in winter is to stay within a few yards of shore. In winter, if my paddle is clear of the bottom, I figure I’m out far enough even in calm flat water, so where’s the justification for a huge investment in a dry suit. In 50-some odd years, I’ve been in the water once—the day I bought my first canoe. I’d like to hear some first hand opinions on how many people canoe in winter safely without dry suits, or how many have bought suits and are glad they did. Thanks.

I canoe less tensely if I know

– Last Updated: Nov-21-09 3:50 PM EST –

I wont be hypothermic immediately on immersion.

That makes me breathe easier and have better flexibility and oneness with the water.

The only thing that is open water in the winter is the ocean. I use a dry suit all year round there.

And the whitewater season is before lakes go ice free..so the water is cold as is lunch in the snow.
I have dumped in whitewater in March and sometimes the swim is longer than I want.

If you paddle meandering slow moving streams only and never have an accident a drysuit is not something you absolutely have to have. Carrying spare clothes and a fire source works.

But there are tons of different paddling experiences and environments in the winter.

It used to be that people canoeing in the Arctic did not use drysuits even if they were icebreaking in a northern lake in July but you see more and more presentations with people wearing drysuits as they become more widely avaialble at various pricepoints.

I also really like my drysuit for May camping when it is still snowing out with snow on the ground. (like the week after ice out)

I take it
you don’t paddle whitewater. Everybody I paddle with here in Connecticut from november to april is in a drysuit.

I bought Aarons and mine 4 years ago January after a close call going off an unknown to us 5’ drop, a place a couple paddlers and their rescuers (professional) perished at a few months earlier. Stupid of me not to be wearing one beforehand.20 minutes after donning mine for the first time, I was swimming in 37 degree water. First thought was “wow, this is awesome.” Paddling without fear in the winter is all the difference.


– Last Updated: Nov-21-09 5:59 PM EST –

ah' dun't much worry about de hypoothermia part me'self since ah' do mostly rivers an' got's a high toolerance fer cold... but ah' personally dun't want ta kick de bucket fro' a heart attack or dat thaar gaspin' reflextion thing after hittin' cold water sudden like. Ah's ain't no young buck anymore, Pilgrim...

An' ah' ain't no freakin' 'yaker either!

Me Kokatat be one o' de best thing's ah' bought (but ah' gets deez things at below wholesale cost.) :>)

Now, wat ah' likes ta do is ta go in fer a swim on every winter trip.

(Bubble butt syndrome)



More an' more folks in me club aar gittin' drysuits so as ta paddle up an' inta ice-in. We even have an annual "Swim With Your Drysuit Day" every year.



"Iffin' in icewater yer want ta play";
"A drysuit best be de way"

(Me'mentor o' de verse be P-Net's very own Pooet Lariat - CWDH)


"Fare Thee Well, Pilgrims;
May De Winds Bring Ye Good Tidings;
De Rivers Lead Yer Way;
An' May Ye keep Yer Scalp Another Day"

Dry suits
Wish I had one…

thistle, don’t know where

– Last Updated: Nov-21-09 5:52 PM EST –

you live/paddle.

I live and paddle canoes and kayaks from April to December in the North Country of New York right up on the Canadian border.

And wearing dry suits, like politics, are certainly local.

I paddled my PBW Rapidfire canoe today, and I was happy that I was wearing a Koktat Gortex dry suit.

Your paddling experiences/locations may, and likely will vary.

Hard to give more feedback without more info.

Justification is easy for me
I have been in the water during the winter.

1-10-1 Rule for cold water survival.
There is a rule that is good to know if you fall into cold water. It’s called the 1-10-1 Rule. Here it what it means:

1= When you fall into cold water you will breath fast and, or almost hyperventilate for 1 to 2 minutes. After that your breathing will go back to almost normal.

10= You will have 10 minutes where you can move your limbs in a meaningful way to get out of the water before you loose all feeling and the ability to move your limbs.

1= It takes 1 hour to become hypothermic.

That said, there are other factors that influence the 10 minutes. Things such as the type of cloths you have on. If they are too bulky it makes it harder to swim to get to safety in the 10 minute window. This should go without saying but wearing a properly fitting lifejacket is another factor that makes it easier to swim to safety.

Kayak vs canoe
"For kayaks, they’re almost imperitive"

I don’t know where you got THAT idea!

I don’t own a dry suite and I paddle my kayak in winter in the same kind of water you do in canoe. For the same reason you don’t see the need, nor do I.

But if I ever choose to paddle further away from shore, I’d get one. It’s an extra degree of freedom the drysuit provides. I agree you don’t NEED it as long as you’re happy to stay within a limited paddling environment.

I suppose since canoe paddlers don’t really paddle the kind of challanging water kayakers do, there’s not much motivation for dry suit.

Dun’t know about dat…

– Last Updated: Nov-21-09 6:35 PM EST –



"Fare Thee Well, Pilgrims;
May De Winds Bring Ye Good Tidings;
De Rivers Lead Yer Way;
An' May Ye keep Yer Scalp Another Day"

Being older than drysuits, I paddled
some class 1-2+ ww rivers at morning starting temperatures of 12-13 degrees F. Was I safe? I don’t know, but no meteorites pierced my canoe.

Nuff said.

– Last Updated: Nov-21-09 6:48 PM EST –

Pretty simple really.

But, if you're not in a hurry, there's no reason to spend $600-$800 for what the OP is talking about. You can get away for $300 if you shop hard, don't mind considering used if necessary, are a tad lucky, and don't need to keep up with the Jones'.

Once Won $20 Bet With

– Last Updated: Nov-21-09 9:03 PM EST –

a person at the Cranberry Lake Village swimming beach in late April - water temps likely less than 40 degrees Fahreheit at the time.

He felt "I was over-dressed for the conditions".

My response was: "You sit in your paddling clothes in the water up to your neck, and I'll sit in the water in my Gortex dry suit up to my neck - and who says "Uncle" first loses the bet."

He lost the bet; we drank up the $20 at the Cranberry Lake Lodge bar; and he later bought a dry suit.

Come on up to the NY North Country and conduct the same experiment for yourself - at the moment, the water temps are higher than in late April, and Cranberry Lake is not frozen over just yet.

1-10-1 close…
one minute to gain control of yourself and your breathing

10 minutes of effective manual dexterity to do something to save yourself before you loose the ability to do so

one hour before unconsciousness and the point of no return.

all approximates depending on many factors of course, but a great mnemonic learning tool. hypothermia will have set in long before an hour has passed, knowing that hypothermia has many stages.

That river must have been moving

– Last Updated: Nov-21-09 9:40 PM EST –

at a pretty fast pace not to have frozen up at "12-13 degrees F".

No disputing the facts of your post, rather just curious about the hydrokinics of the river you have described.

Or are you reporting "air" temperatures of "12-13 degrees F"?

England and the US are separated
"England and the US are separated by a common language."

If you diagram the sentence, I believe the 12 degree modifier refers to the morning, not the river.

Then again, I could be wrong^_^

Have fun on the river,


In 1 minute you will quit gasping, in 10 minutes in cold water you could be hypothermic. In 1 hour you could be dead. Don’t kid yourself. Even if you get out of the cold water in 3 minutes, the cold air will kill you.

Thank you all. I appreciate the input. Paddlingfan and MikeT especially make good points, and others elaborated on them. The expense is a big pill to swallow, but like a PFD, to be safe, I guess there are no short cuts. If I was in company with others, I might go without the suit, but since all my canoeing is solo, the suit is the only good chance at being self-sufficient.

Look for a good used one or a rare sale
I found one for my husband a few years ago: $400 for a Kokatat Gore-tex drysuit, including a thick pile union suit to use as insulation. Perfect condition. He loves it.

I’ve also seen a new Kokatat Gore-tex drysuit on sale at REI one time for about the same price–it was a mega-large size.

Coated nylon will feel like a sauna. Go breathable.

here - brand new for less than 500
Here is a brand new one for less than 500


At the simplest level (if you discount the gaskets that keep you dry) a drysuit is just a shell that keeps away the rain and wind. I mean you need a wind jacket and wind pants in the winter… so why not leave those at home and wear your drysuit? Add insulation underneath depending on how much warmer you want to be.

On the other end of the complexity scale - it’s a lifesaver.