Quick decision on under layers

I need to make a quick decision on under layers for my dry suit for a paddle next Monday.

48 F water, 50 F air, 30 mph wind. Yaquina Bay. With a group of at least 4, experienced paddlers. Rescue practice, then some paddling.

In the lakes and bays, staying close to shore, 45–50 F water, 32-40 F air, max of 15 mph wind, I’ve been using the following under my dry suit.

One layer of polypro pants. Legs are chilly if in the water.

Two poly pro shirts. One 50/50 cotton/polyester sweatshirt. The sweatshirt was a recent addition for rolling in 45 F lake water. Worked great! Minimum perspiring though.

For the trip I’m thinking of just adding a 50/50 cotton polyester sweat pants, since I’ll be in the water during rescue practice.

My concern is what the 50/50 sweat suit will be like if perspiring later during a paddle in 50 F air, then if unintended prolonged submerge due to 30 mph wind.

I’ve read the back posts recommending Icebreaker, SmartWool, Ibex, or similar merino wool products. I fully intend to go there, but was hoping to put it off until next year when I’m down to my final weight, and have time to do better research on exactly what I want to buy.

If I was to buy wool for next Monday, I’d probably get a medium weight pants and shirt, to replace the 50/50 sweat pants and shirt, and put it over the poly pro. Then later replace the polypro with thin wool base layer. I might have to settle for whatever I can find at REI. http://tinyurl.com/2bt2xc They do have SmartWool midweight of $65 each.

Thoughts? Risks with the 50/50 sweat suit?

Paul S.

maybe rescue practice after the paddle?
You’ll get lots of opinions on the best layering systems. I’ve found wool to work the best as a base layer. But why not enjoy a nice energetic paddle and then practice rescues close to the take out and the end of the day?


And skip the cotton
You’ll hear that often on this board. Lyn

You can never go wrong
by leaving the cotton at home.


50/50 is better than 100% cotton,
right? :wink:

Paul S.

Go for fleece
200 wt microfleece, or some good lofting 200 wt regular, rather than the smartwool. Will wick better and still be more functional when sweated up than any wool in my experience, layers nicely over polypro by keeping you feeling reasonably warm when the poly layer has been good and sweated up. No cotton - it’ll get wet and cold and not nice.

And bring a drybag of at least one change of underlayers anyway - at those temps you can’t be carrying too many options.

For feet, I think alpaca wool socks beat smartwool any day.

Is the glass
half empty or half full?

Having just bought a drysuit I do not have experience, but I would guess that any cotton is going to retain moisture and slow the transport process (assuming that the suit has permeable material.


You know the answer to the 50/50 comment already. I appreciate you trying to get your weight down before buying but it would be nice to read your posts for a long time.

Spend some money on a “bunny suit” or equivalent. You can always sell it on ebay afterwards and you have the freedom of going out with less worry than you do now with cotton.


OK, OK, fine!

– Last Updated: Mar-10-07 8:09 AM EST –

I’ll leave the cotton at home.

I’m thinking stay on the cheapo, stinky route for now. Might as well finish out the wardrobe based on the polypro base layer. I don’t think I can find good wool overnight anyway.

Here’s what I’m looking at. It needs to have enough thickness for good insulation under the DS. I’ll have to look at it, assuming it’s in stock.


By the way, the forecast calls for less wind now. I'm sort of disappointed. I was looking forward to the experience.

Paul S.

There is a lesson here.
I wouldn’t blame you if you brought this point up, so I’ll bring it up myself.

One of the pitfalls of procrastinating on buying appropriate gear is that you can get sucked into a trip that you’re unprepared for.

Of course, there’s always the discipline of saying no to the trip, too. (I said no to this exact same location 2 months ago because of an increase in wind, and not feeling ready.)

I do wish I’d worked out good under layers earlier, so that I wouldn’t be scrambling now.

Paul S.

inexpensive options are available

First, any cheap fleece will work better than your 50/50 sweats. Too late for Campmor but they are having sale after sale.

Remember that whatever you buy that you don’t like or is too big can always do double duty later and live in a dry bag as spare clothes for you or whomever else needs it. Bigger is good in that case - fits anyone.

Secondly, under a drysuit, your 50/50 sweats will probably just get you damp and chilled. I get that way sometimes if I overexert in my drysuit and then stop paddling for a break (with polypro and fleece). Too much moisture in the suit will cool you off although it probably won’t kill you.

Don’t forget a cag to put over everything on the break. If it’s windy, you may need something.


After 20 years of distance touring I’ve gone through many a Capilene top, and I now use mostly wool. The wool keeps me warmer when i stop and I wear it dry while setting up camp etc. Capilene left me chilled to the core on so many Alaskan gigs that I’d immediately take it off. It didn’t get dry. So, from the perspective of someone who’s paddled a lot of miles in cold wet climates I’d encourage you to try the wool.

That’s all I wear under my top when kayak surfing. Nature has some things figured out eh…

more on wool
I second (or third? fourth?) the positive opinions on wool.

In my experience, the synthetic wicking fabrics just don’t do as well under a dry suit as they do when exposed to the air. The relative humidity close to your body is very high in a drysuit (even in a breathable one), and the ability of the synthetics to wick away moisture and keep you dry is limited by the breathability of your drysuit. This is especially true underneath your PFD, where the breathability is essentially zero.

I imagine the same would apply to your lower half confined to a sealed cockpit beneath a spray skirt- the relative humidity in there is probably pretty high.

But wool will absorb some moisture and still keep you warm. I often felt clammy with synthetics under my drysuit. With wool, I am much more comfortable. For me, wool also feels comfortable over a wider temperature range than the synthetics I’ve used (polypro and capilene).