Missing An Important Point About Wetsuits

I made a similar comment in another post today so, I decided to address this directly for those who’ve never used a wetsuit. Wetsuits are intended to be used in water. Underwater, there is no evaporative cooling so you stay warm (assuming proper fit, thickness and time in water). In air, a wet wetsuit constantly cools you (assuming an open cell neoprene that absorbs water). A wetsuit is actually a better choice for a hot day than a cool one. Spend a day on the water in a wet wetsuit and you will probably go hypothermic.

1 Like

You make a good point about wet suits, but your alternative suggestion in the other thread (a windbreaker) was about the worst possible option available. If the problem is evaporative cooling, which it mostly is in air, then in cold conditions you are still likely to be warmer in a wet wetsuit than with a wet windbreaker on. A wet wetsuit still has insulating properties, though not as good as dry lofted insulation under a dry suit. A fleece pullover on top of a damp wet suit is quite warm indeed and you still have some thermal protection for unintended swims. When kayaking you need to consider both the air and water. The water is usually the more important factor because of how quickly and effectively heat is removed by conduction.

Wet suits were never designed to be the best choice for kayaking, despite many people taking this cheaper option early on. For the average kayaker they are better than no immersion protection but not as good as a dry suit.

1 Like

Some good reading for the OP:


I’ve spent many days on the water in a wet wetsuit. In a sea kayak, with a skirt and lifejacket, there’s really not much exposure of the wetsuit to the air. The reassuring thing about a wetsuit is that it can sustain damage and remain effective. A drysuit is kind of like a car tire. So I’ve never been too down on wetsuits, even though I also have a drysuit. Spending time out of your boat on shore, while a worthwhile part of many adventures, is usually not the critical life and death moment. A properly fitted (and properly fitted is the part that seems a majority of kayakers wearing wetsuits get completely wrong - it needs to be skin tight, and it will feel at least somewhat restrictive) wetsuit can add a huge degree of survival time. A wetsuit provides a lot of insulation even if you stay dry all day. The more active your endeavor, the more you’ll feel it. I see a value in the post with regard to considering what your paddling day looks like…figuring how much time I will be po-dunkin around on shore, and then preparing accordingly. If you’re in a wet wetsuit, then it’s likely quite good that you have one on. Just control the exposure to evaporative cooling if you start to feel cool on shore.

For the past several years most decent quality full wetsuits have front panels coated with a material that sheds surface water and blocks wind, so your core is not really experiencing any more “evaporative cooling” than you would experience in a dry suit. My last suit like this cost $120 on spring clearance. You can spend a lot more on a crappy drysuit and not be safe in rough water conditions.

Evaporative cooling? Yes quite a bit. But pfd, skirt and gloves I often get sleeves wet for cooling.

On those out of the boat I use a spray jacket or a cag. I recently paddled ona chilly day in Alabama with the cag. on.

@Old_Yakker said:
Spend a day on the water in a wet wetsuit and you will probably go hypothermic.

Spent many days on the water in a wetsuit, and never got hypothermic.


These debates about wetsuits often are about the old farmer Jane or John rather than a lot of what is actually out there in fancier wet suits.

These details matter. While they don’t work well for me compared to dry wear, as seadart says above, there are fancier ones that have wind blocking and thermal layers. Whether these would work for paddling as well as boarding is a matter of individual preference, but credit needs to be given where it is due.

The other thing is having a good windblocking top rather than a cheapo shell. As the temps drop this matters more.

Conditions matter…

1 Like

I don’t bother with wetsuits anymore. I go from nothing to a progressively layered drysuit. Since a drysuit on it’s own offers zero thermal insulation you can layer up in small steps that would suit the conditions. A lightly layered drysuit can easily less warm than a modest 3 mm wetsuit.
My main reason for abandoning wetsuits is how disruptive it is for my posture in a surfski. But I quickly realized that there is basically no need for a wetsuit at all.

OP brings up a valid point. But evap cooling of a wetsuit can be addressed by wearing a wind protection layer over it. I used to always carry a windbreaker and a pair of splash pants when I was in a wetsuit which worked ok. I often carry a windbreaker during the “nothing” season. In summer a wet synthetic shirt can evap cool you successfully.

1 Like

When I used to play in the surf we used to soak wetsuit in hot water before putting it on

There are a couple of serious errors in this paragraph:

  • Wetsuits are NOT warmer in water than out of it. Water conducts heat 25 times faster than air does. Even with evaporative cooling of the surface, you still lose more heat if you’re in water, assuming that the water is the same temp or colder than the air (though it’s still likely even if the water is somewhat warmer than the air, but still below body temp).

  • Nobody makes wetsuits with open cell foam; that’s what sponges are made from. The insulating value of a wetsuit comes from the gas bubbles trapped in the closed cell neoprene. If you’re paddling while wearing open-cell foam - if such a garment even exists - it’s no wonder that you’re cold.

If you’re concerned about evaporative cooling, get a skin-out wetsuit, as water runs right off of them, thus no evaporative cooling. It’s the fabric on the outside of most wetsuits that absorbs water and increases evaporative cooling. The downside of a skin-out wetsuit is that it’s less durable.


I like wetsuits. If you get too hot you can get in the water. They work.

You can do the same thing with a dry suit. If you know how to roll, you can cool off by doing that in just a dry top. For that matter, a deep high brace or balance brace will accomplish the same thing. I’ve used all three techniques at various times.


Important Point About Wetsuits : Next Up … Peeing in Wetsuits - Confessions

1 Like

No confession really necessary here, I actually sit on an exercise ball in the shower to practice peeing while sitting and paddling. There’s no stopping on race day…:

1 Like

I’m a diver. Got into kayaking so I could expand the areas where I could spearfish. SOT kayak, 5mm farmerjohn w/hooded jacket
2-4 hours on/in the water. Air temperatures 55 - 70. Water temperatures 55 - 62. Works fine but not really comfortable in the shoulders when paddling.

Prefer dry suit for my sit inside

A dry wetsuit is warmer than a wet wetsuit.

However, a wet snug wetsuit underwater is still much warmer than wet bare skin or street clothes. Any water seeping in will feel cold briefly, but a tight suit will minimize the volume of incoming cold water.

One big caveat for kayakers, though: Do not wear a wetsuit whose entire outside is the raw neoprene rubber (no fabric). It’s great for blocking wind, yes. It will also stick to minicell seats and gelcoat seats. Basically, unless your seat is fabric-covered, rubbery outer surface hinders rolling and anything that involves some butt or leg shifting on the seat.

Another thing to expect is that in bright sun on even slightly warm days, that total windblock in all black gets HOT. Hotter than regular neoprene with fabric on both sides.

Guilty. I drink a lot of water and am on the water for an average 5-6 hours at a time…and that is why I don’t use a drysuit.