Neoprene hoods and hearing issues

After reading Brian’s post about a close call that was exacerbated by the neoprene-hooded lead paddlers inability to hear the air horn, I wondered about using a small block of foam to lift the hood off one side of the face to allow just enough open air to the ear canal to be able to hear. I know, a sudden dunk might cause problems, but I think the risk is balanced out by not being deaf to your partners.

Any thoughts on this? I’ve read of paddlers who use a ring on their neck gaskets to cool off while paddling, which seems like a bad plan (though great for lunch breaks). That was a sobering story, though everyone ended up OK.



– Last Updated: Jan-12-05 7:29 AM EST –

I would not compromise the immersion gear. For sure, a good thick neo hood will impede sound. But if folks stay aware of their partners and don't stray too far, it ain't an issue. Using basic hand/paddle signals also help, but only if the partners stay within reasonable distances and are conditioned to check what's going on at periodically. (Part of why I actually don't like paddling with large groups, especially when it strings out, is that I actually get a sore neck from rubbernecking too much.)

My thought about that neck "ring" in the drysuit is that it's a really "iffy" thing to do at best. Most folks don't plan on capsizing. It happens. If it happens with a ring in the neck gasket, the drysuit becomes absolutely useless. Learn a roll or use a partner's bow to get a dip to cool off. That's better than whatever cooling one thinks is possible by sticking in a ring in the neck gasket.

There is an underlying issue here: equipment vs skills/judgement.


compromising a primary function of a survival item for a secondary need is wrong, wrong, wrong.

I found that for sub 45 water that NO water can get into my ear canal that’s not warmed up or I’m screwed. Check into the various stretchy hoods like rapidstyle survival hood or the equivalent then beef it up with heavy lycra linters/thin balaclava. I’m sure there are fine fitting neoprene hoods but most of the time folks don’t want to be that totally insulated if they’re not immersed.

I found that the neoprene semi hoods/caps with ear covering chin straps don’t keep the water out in the first few seconds of immersion,it’ll get warmed up but the first few seconds are straight cold water. If I’m wet in waves and pumping heat then a leaky hood is ok because there’s a constant presence of warm water around my ears.

Using a fuzzyrubber hood and heavy lycro hood liner or equivalent I can have a good fit that will eventually wick water into the ear canal but it’s slow and the thin hoods keep a constant contact when twisting head around. It’s NOT as insulating as 3-5mm hoods for constant immersion/diving but perfectly acceptable for bobbing around with your head out of the water and repeated rolls.

You can hear through it and pull it back off your head but leave it on your neck.

I agree
with the neck ring (unless on lunch break) but I paddled the other day with someone with a hood on and while I’m not normally talkative while paddling, I found it irritating to have to stop every time we wanted to chat so he could pull is hood back (esp. since we were paddling against a strong ebb).

A friend was rolling the other day and on his second roll he got a bit of cold water in his ear. He must have had his hood on wrong, because this was the first time it happened. The effect was impressive, especially to him and while he rolled up on pure muscle memory, it took him a few minutes to recover. Fortunately it was at the end of the trip and we were at the pier, but it was a good lesson for him.

This discussion and the originating post has been great, thanks.


My fuzzy rubber hood has a cluster of small holes around the ear area, and it still seems to help with the initial shock of cold water hitting my ear. If you don’t mind possibly ruining a hood, I’d try that approach – many tiny holes will allow less water exchange than one big gap. Get a hollow punch – maybe 1/16" or 1/8" – add a few holes, and test it.

An alternative without compromise.
One of the people I was paddling with that day made a simple modification to one of his hoods to improve his hearing. He cut nickel-sized holes over each ear canal, then glued coated nylon patches on the inside of the hood. It’s still completely sealed, but the thin nylon doesn’t block sound as much as 3mm neoprene does.

IMO, neck rings are just plain dangerous

– Last Updated: Jan-13-05 10:53 AM EST –

If you need to cool off, there's a wealth of free coolant under your boat. Roll, scull on your back, hang off a friend's bow or dunk your wrists in the water if necessary, but NEVER compromise the integrity of your dry suit! Capsizes happen when you least expect it - even to experienced paddlers - and the last thing you'll think to do when that dreaded "Oh shit!" moment occurs is to reach for your neck ring. The first time you get a flood of 40 degree water into your dry suit will be the last time you wear a neck ring.

The person who capsized that day never saw it coming and I nearly went over once myself (I was saved only by the buoyancy of my cedar GP). The conditions were not even remotely rough (just a 1'-3' gently rolling swell), but the nature of waves is such that you never know when something unexpected will give you a shove at just the wrong moment.

neoprene in air
neoprene is not an ideal insulator in the air with cold wind blowing. It works but if 99% of the time you’re in the air and 1% is immersed and it works best while immersed why not get something that works best for that 99% time and can work adequately for that 1% time? If that 1% time is beyond the insulation capabilities of layered thin hoods then HAVE a full hood available and screw the conversations. Otherwise you’ll use a marginal neoprene cap with easily exposed ears for hearing that’ll screw you over big time when upside down.

I was helping an ACA instructors workshop, IDW/ICE where a student was being filmed on basic strokes and finishing it off with three rolls, two from set-up and one non-setup. He was an experienced whitewater paddler, VERY fit, 235lbs and capable of putting out a lot of heat. The water was sheltered and flat with slight breeze ,47degree water 48 degree air. I offered to toss him a cap or hood…“no, I’m fine”…all three rolls were fine,then he tried a hand roll to show off. He came up part way then fell over,tried again then over and wet-exited. So his bare head was exposed six times in about two minutes with the last three times lasting about 10 seconds total. With his head immersed for less than 20 seconds over a few minutes time he was walking like a drunk at shore for five,wobbly for 15 and didn’t quite warm up for the rest of the day. And he had paddled cold whitewater but had never sat around floating in calm conditions with his furnace on low and experienced repeated immersion of his head.

He said it was an education.

Effective Immersion Hood

– Last Updated: Jan-13-05 3:33 PM EST –

surf tested. This one has smooth finish neo exterior and microfleece lining. Not much evaporative cooling at at all. 5 mm thick, cinch the face gasket, tuck the neck bib into the drysuit's outer protective collar for the neck gasket, and you're good to go for hours. (Did three hours this past sunday and 2 hours this morning with no breaks). It's a Hyperflex Henderson Surf Hood:

I wouldn't use it for just paddling around, unless it's a sub 30 degree day. For constant splashing and periodic immersion, this hood is the best I've come across. This hood is very comfortable and I love the visor to keep sun and spray off of the glasses. (Okay, the latter is tough in the surf zone.)

Oh, forget the conversation, unless you right next to each other. (I personally don't do much conversation when I paddle anyway, mostly leaving that for the break.)


Ear risks.
I think people paddling in cold water should generally wear earplugs due to the risk of cold-water-induced vertigo. I remember as a medical student squirting cold water into comatose patients’ ears to test their level of coma–it causes a reflex vertigo that’s visible in the patient’s sudden back-and-forth eye movements. There was a case report a few years ago of a skilled paddler in Connecticut who capsized and nearly died after a cold-water vertigo episode. He was lucky to be found washed up on the beach.

Of course, I’m deaf, so plugging my ears doesn’t disable me any more than I already am. For non-deaf people, I like Brian’s friend’s solution, as long as no water can enter the ear canal. Alternatively, you can start every trip by dunking your head, so the cold water won’t surprise you, and continue to roll frequently,

But then you face another concern, that cold water in the ear canal causes the growth of osteomas, i.e. “surfer’s ear.” These bony overgrowths can eventually restrict the ear canal. Even though I’ve used earplugs religiously, 10 years of winter paddling and rolling has still narrowed my ear canals. I now use custom-made ear molds instead of regular ear plugs.


Ear plugs AND hole cut in hood
I’m one of those people that gets dizzy when cold water enters my ears. like you, I’ve gotten in the habit of wearing ear plugs (doc’s) whenever I kayak. In the winter I also wear a fuzzy rubber hood. I took a pair of scissors to the ear area of the hood. Water gets into the hood while rolling but it’s no big deal (local river temps are low 40’s) This solution has worked OK. It’s still hard to hear, but it’s an OK compromise.