Paddle wear for early spring

Thanks to a birthday, I have come into enough money for a farmer John/dry top combo. I’d like to start paddling yesterday (in Connecticut) and was wondering what anybody thinks about this option. I don’t have the money for a top notch dry suit, and am hoping to get more “three season” use out of the combo.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

I am aware that a farmer john is NOT recommended for cold weather paddling.


was just reading this
a couple days ago… your neck of the woods

my view
I’ve always thought that a drytop is only fine if you have a reliable roll no matter what the water temps. If you have to exit your kayak in 35 to 45 degree water, water would immediately enter under your drytop and basically only the farmer john would provide insulation. If this is all I could afford and want to paddle now, I would stay close to the shoreline and not paddle alone.

Spring Wear
Here in VA it doesn’t really get crazy cold. So I wear a Farmer John even during the winter months. I wear the Farmer John with the NRS Hydroskin shirt underneath and a splash jacket (w/ neck & sleeve closures) over it. Gloves & knee-high boots as well. In CT you may want to go with the NRS Mystery shirt rather than the Hydroskin for added warmth. Also, I always carry a spare set of clothes in a dry bag so that I have warm clothing to change into should the need arise.

In CT I would definitely opt for a dry suit in the winter months, but for the Spring when the water warms a little a Farmer John should be adequate.

37 degrees
If that link is correct, that your water temps are currently 37, I wouldn’t personally be comfortable paddling without a drysuit, gloves and hood.

I’m guessing a farmer john and drytop with some long-sleeved fuzzy rubber or similar is probably good for later spring and fall paddling in your area, but all that might run you $300-400 if you can’t find it used.

On the other hand, I’ll bet you can find a drysuit used for about $400. They seem to be easier to find used than some of that other stuff. If not get the other stuff, but be prepared to wait until water temps are in the mid 40s.

Thank you Sapien
Excellent info.

The wetsuit will certainly
buy you some extra time, but would not be enough for an extended swim. The drytop does little for you once you swim. In 40 degree water you might have an hour or so to get to shore and start warming up, so you don’t have to hug the bank, but you do need a plan.

You also need to think about your extremities as lighting a fire can be next t impossible if your hands are frozen.


An hour?
Hardly, in 40 degree water you would loose dexterity in 10-15 minutes, after that you would have little or no chance of getting to shore un assisted. You need to be able to re enter within 5 or 6 minutes to have a reasonable degree of safety.


Without a wetsuit, you have (on average) about 30 minutes in 40 degree water before exhaustion or unconsciousness.

Most paddling wetsuits are in the 3mm range, so I’m guessing it would provide enough insulation to add about 30 minutes to that timeline. This is not a lot of time, but with proper preparation and a good plan, it could make a difference.

Some people are completely disabled by the initial shock, so you really do need to test your gear in a safe environment (with help and warmth nearby) to see how your body reacts to the shock and the cold. By the same token, a drysuit without proper layering can give a false sense of security.


Before exhaustion or unconsciousness,
maybe, but you have much less time than that, maybe 10 minutes, before your hands, legs and arms are no longer functional. If your legs and arms don’t work you won’t be able to either get back in your boat or swim to shore.

I always have a plan…
before I head out, whether alone or with others. Backpack full of stuff always left in the vehicle. I would have top and bottom hydro type layers under farmer john, certainly for top, and PFD. Probably also a goretex rain pants and jacket combo over layers, just in case. This winter I successfully executed a few rolls during pool sessions and am reasonably confident that I can either roll or re-enter within a reasonable amount of time. Without a dry suit, I would not venture too far from safety, and would not head into open water at all. Mostly lakes/rivers that I am familiar with. No pushing the boundaries when I’m not prepared for full battle. Always working with limitations in mind. Thanks to all for the advice/info.


Another option
You might consider the new Kokatat Tempest drypants with booties mated to a drytop with a tunnel - you can pick up an Action jacket for not too much - the whole outfit might be $400 or so, much less than a drysuit. Personally I would look for a used drysuit first.

Paddle wear for early spring
Once you get a drysuit I suspect that you will wear it more than you expect to. I wore mine last spring until I only needed a splash top. It was more comfortable than a farmer john wetsuit and I don’t have to adjust my outfitting. I just adjust the fleece I wear underneath.

A drysuit with booties is much easier to get in & out of than a drytop/drypant combo. And with a drytop/drypant combo I do end up with some water in my pantlegs.

You can find drysuits for less money if you look around. Sierra trading post often has them, NRS has them onsale sometimes. REI outlet is another option.

Or these:

I use a Farmer John 3mm wetsuit with
a 2mm neo jacket. I’ve been in ice cold water and it’s okay for about 15 min. The more I move, the faster I get cold. The problem is that Neo leaks where the gloves and booties come together. If it wasn’t for the leaks, I would be okay longer.

I tried a one-piece neo Farmer John that was a lot better. I could have stayed much longer than 15 min.

The jacket alone was over $100.

Farmer john is not really good,
A one peice is much better and will give you a lot more time. I wore one for a few years until I bought my dry suit, it will work but a dry suit is much better.

To recap - cold water immersion has two risks - cold shock and hypothermia due to extended immersion. There might also be quite a bit of disorientation if a lot of really cold water enters your ears. And, of course, there accomplishing anything when your mitts are very cold will be very hard.

Anyways, try rescuing yourself somewhere within security zone - close to shore, while being in company of people qualified to perform a rescue or, at least, give a cup of warm drink afterwards.

I would get a used drysuit
My advice - like most of the others - is get a used drysuit. A breathable drysuit is much more comfortable than a farmer john/drytop combo (which gets hot fast), and much safer when water temperatures are cool. A used drysuit will be in same total price range as a farmer john plus drytop.

Not even close to adequate
In spring in New England, the only thing that will protect you adequately is a dry suit with appropriate under layers. If you doubt this, do a simple test: Walk into the water with your farmer John and dry top on and see what it feels like. I guarantee that you won’t like the result!

OTOH, with a dry suit, it’s not unpleasant. While teaching rescues, I’ve spent 20-30 minutes in 40 degree water before I felt a real need to get out of the water, into my boat and get warmed up.

Realistically, it’s usually late May in New England before the water is warm enough to skip the dry suit. If you’re going to paddle in the spring, fall or winter, you may as well invest in a good dry suit, as you will be wearing it a lot. I consider mine to be the best investment I’ve made in paddling clothing.

Thanks bmach. You going to the
paddle show in NJ next weekend?

Rolling in cold water

– Last Updated: Mar-13-09 8:49 AM EST –

There are paddlers who can be reliably expected to hold it together for a roll when the water is down around 40 degrees F. The WW guys often, or folks who have been rolling so long and in so many conditions that their body wouldn't know what else to do.

But expecting to pull off a roll in that kind of cold water based on some pool successes is highly optimistic. Maybe if you paddle with an ice cap or similar on your head and something like diving dry gloves, but you probably don't have the latter, and no one can paddle comfortably with the first.

You should figure on likely falling back to the a paddle float in current water temps. But it's easy enough to check whether the water is warm enough for your clothing yet. Go sit in the water where it is about waist high for 20 minutes and see if you can manage paddle float and perimeter rigging etc. I suspect that you'll find it's a little too cold yet for the clothing you have.

As you continue paddling, look at things like scuba diving dry gloves, dry boots and hoods for cold weather paddling. (after the dry suit) They work as well or better in terms of feel as many of the really cold water paddling stuff and are no more expensive, sometimes cheaper.