OK, One More Time-Wet or Drysuits

…and why.

I have been reading for quite a while about which is best. I live in the midwest and am looking for something to wear for warmth. Most of my paddling is in Ohio, but would like to be able to hit Lakes Superior and Huron during the summer months.

I am looking for the best bang for the buck, but don’t want to freeze. I can roll some, but am not reliable at it yet. I’d hate to have to count on rolling in a pinch.

I don’t want to make the investment until I am comfortable with my final decision.


one more time

– Last Updated: Apr-13-04 2:30 PM EST –

how cold is the water you want to paddle in? If below 50 I absolutely recommed a dry suit. I demand it of my partners if the temps are 50 or lower, and ther is even a ripple. I'd rather lose a friend to my safety standards than lose one to the water temp. ARe you doing committed white water, a class 3 park an play spot, long crossings on your beloved great lakes or shore hugging.

To paddle year round in New england you better have both. If only one suit in new england, make it a goretex dry suit and drink a lot of water the day before and the day of your paddle. Use rolling or bow dips to cool.

OH, as to why: to keep you alive if you are immersed! To give you the time to get back into your boat(at minimum). To enable you to swim in or give you the time for a VHF radio initiated rescue to succeed. How long would that take?

Dry is warmer, but when you have 70 degree air and 50 degree water temps (or a worse spread with the air higher) it is hard to dress warmly enough for immersion and cooly enough to paddle. Grabbing a friends bow for a dip, or rolling to cool is a partial solution.

What was that
Rule of thumb about combining the air and water temps?

And as for my earlier question “Why?”, I meant why dry over wet?, not why do you need one at all…


Agreed, But
I agree with Peter. If it is colder than 50 you absolutely need more than a 3mm wetsuit.

BUT, big BUT, it is really pushing the limits of a 3mm wetsuit at 50 degrees. A wetsuit might not be enough for some folks in 50 degree water. You would need to try it and see.

I like dry
Here’s my take - wet suits, the way I see it, actually use water for at least some of their insulation. That’s great if you’re staying underwater (like diving). If you’re rolling though, for instance, you get wet, and then the water begins to evaporate out of the suit. Last time I checked, evaporation is a cooling process.

Additionaly, I find dry suits much more comfortable (especially breathable ones, if you can afford them). They are also easier to take on and off, at least for me. The neck gaskets are a pain, but they otherwise aren’t bad.

I went up to the GLSKC symposium(midsummer) in Grand Marais a couple of times, and a wetsuit was marginal for me. Fine for a quick dunk, but for prolonged exposure – like a rescue class – I got cold.

An end to the rule of air + water temps

– Last Updated: Apr-14-04 2:27 AM EST –

at least for me. My rule is simple, at optimum I would like to be functional after one hour of immersion. At minimum about 15 minutes. The only reasonings to go to the mimimum are the necessity to do so to avoid heat exhaustion in hot air temps, strong and proven companions, totally benign conditions. 10 minutes in a farmer john and a paddling jacket in 50 degree water will make you believe in drysuits regardless of cost.

The bad, evil, lethal, ect... old rule was simple air plus water temp over 100 (120?) = no drysuit required. Nice way to die in 50 degree water on a seventy degree day! I've seen something else that said multiply the water temp by 2 and go for about 150 or better, but all that is BS. You must be able to survive and be functional after immersion, and for more than a minute. Way more that a minute. Enough to swim to shore or live until you are rescued after a radio call. If in a remote area you must be able to survive after you get to shore.

Or subscribe to the roll or die ethic. My freezer is still empty, but we lost two paddlers in the northeast this weekend. one knew what she was risking, one did not.

Dress for immersion, rotocool if you can, grab a bow if you cannot. Carry a hood at all times, at least a fuzzy rubber one.

For those of you who have paddled with me, I have gone out underinsulated before, but my last "thrice out of the boat in one day" rough water trip completed my religious conversion. Without a paddlefloat or my buddies to hold my boat upright while I chowed to stoke the furnace I would have lived, but that would have required an epic struggle. A couple more pounds of polartec would have obviated the trouble.

Next post I'll tell you how I really feel ;-).

I am with you 'cuda
Just laying out the minimum in that post, not the optimum.

Depends on where you paddle
I paddled for three seasons, year round in WV with a 3 mm farmer john wetsuit and a paddle jacket. Paddled New Years day when the temp was near 0F. Key is I new the limits of the suit and didn’t paddle further than I could swim to shore and always kept a complete change of synthetic and wool clothing just in case. And it is possible to be warm in 50F water in this setup. April one year we had a late snowmelt and the Elk river was just over 40 F and air temp was probably 50. Following the paddle I beached the boat and climbed in the water. Ten minutes later I walked out of the water comfortable as can be.

Now I’m in Michigan and realize for the Great Lakes this getup wouldn’t work so now I’m in a drysuit. But for the lower midwest my opinion is the wetsuit is a workable solution, just be aware of the limits.


40 degree water for tenminutes
in a paddle jacket an a 3mm farmer john wetsuit in comfort is highly unusual. Folks should definitely test their immersion protection before they get tested.

My personal rule of thumb is
water temps of 55 or less = drysuit. This is my personal limitation arrived at through experimentation and measuring water temps with a thermometer - no guesswork.

This past winter I upgraded from a non-breathable suit to a Kokatat Goretex with socks. I cannot say enough good about this setup.

Here in Wyoming it is not uncommon to have 75-80F days with water temps in the low 40s. Even the Goretex gets warm in thiese air temps but I’m not willing to sacrifice my immersion protection. Dipping one’s hat helps as do occasional rolls. In shallow water, simply scull for support to cool off. If you’re near shore, you can hop out and saturate your wet shoes which helps also. A large cotton bandana tucked under a bungie can be soaked when needed and draped about the neck. Such conditions obviously call for a moderate cadence to minimise overheating.

Again, seriously consider a breathable drysuit even if it requires financial sacrifice in other areas. You won’t be sorry.

Pleasant waters to ya.


As a new convert to dry suits I have to say I think it was the best thing I’ve ever purchased for my kayaking. It expands the range for me personally to year round paddling here in the Carolinas. I spent a little extra and went with the Kokatat Dura (Gore-Tex) and have paddled a handful of times in it, both on slow moving rivers (didn’t get wet) and surf kayaking (definitely got wet). Coupled with a layer of fleece underneath I was very comfortable in mid-50 degree ocean water for hours at a time. I was paddling my new surf SOT so I was wet a LOT and not a drop got in and I was comfortable inside the suit (65 degree day).

Some people could probably get away with a wet-suit on a 55/65 water/air day but for me it’s all about comfort and it felt great out there.

I also waded into our community pool in February wearing the dry-suit and I’d estimate the water in there was in the low 40’s…floated around for awhile and was very comfortable. Hands got numb pretty quick though…which is important to remember.

Anyway, as you can tell, I like my dry-suit and I’ll wear it windsurfing too…until the water temps get high enough for me to switch to my regular 3mm wet-suit and then to my shorty. :slight_smile:

Good luck…


I see a pair of nordic blues
in your future. Or atlas 415’s with wrist gaskets glued on, (same thing and a bit cheaper). Os systems makes wrist gaskets in sizes,perhaps all should do so.

If you wear neoprene gloves get thin polypro liners, they vastly reduce finger pruning. Nothing beats dry hands though.

Next Question…
OK folks, thanks for the input. I can see a drysuit in my budget requests. I did some looking on the Internet and my next question is do I get a one-piece or a dry top & dry pants? If I go with a one-piece, is a relief zipper worth the extra bucks? I’m definitely leaning towards the Goretex, too.

Relief Zipper… Ah…
Gotta Go! Gotta Go! Ooooh… much better. :slight_smile:

Goretex is the tops but other breathables are catching up.

One piece over drytop/drybottom. The latter requires care in mating and still leaks in long swim.

Booties worth the additional price in the colder season. Saves you from having to get mukluks (heavy duty, long neo boots. I haven’t worn my Chotas since installing booties on my drysuit. Very convenient since I also need to fit into tight white water boats and my skin on frame. Very hard with heavy boots.


common misconception
Wetsuits insulate best when dry. When in the water, they keep you warm dispite being wet by keeping the water that has entered the suit trapped . The less water, the warmer.


1- vs 2-piece
I own a 2-piece DS. The seam hasn’t leaked on me yet, but I’m very cautious in cold water and haven’t been swimming for more than 20 minutes yet. If you go with a 2-piece, a relief zipper is mandatory - donning & removing a 2-piece takes time. The seam placement is important - it’s possible to interfere with the backband if it’s rolled too low. If you get non-breathable pants, as I have, you’ll find that the condensation inside cools you off significantly when you swim. A 2-piece will work, but when I hit the lottery, my first purchase will be a gore-tex 1-piece suit with booties and relief zipper. Good luck!

no numbers
losing function isn’t by the numbers

I’ll be tryin’ out my new drysuit
for the first time later today. Kokatat Gore w/ booties & zipper. 'Til now I’ve been using a NRS wetsuit, but I wanna paddle when air & water are cold. Minnesota cold. EVERYBODY I spoke with before buying the suit said “get the zipper”. Considering my coffee intake, I think they were probably right.

Booties seem like they’ll be worth it too. I bought some cheap water sock things to go over the booties to protect 'em from rocks and things. Had to buy one size larger to accomodate the extra bulk of the gore tex though.

Do you find the Nordic
Blues to be a better ‘dry’ glove than the Sealskin gloves?

I’ve had good luck with the Sealskins but they lack the watertight wrist congress that I assume the Nordics provide.