Recommendations - Wet/Dry Suite

Greetings. I’m a longtime forum lurker and a first time poster. I have gained a great deal of insight on the sport thanks to this crew. Thanks.

I was wondering if anyone could help me make a decision on what type of suite to purchase. I’ve only been paddling for one season and I don’t want to make a purchase that I will regret a couple of seasons down the line. I’m an admitted gear junkie (skiing, hiking, lacrosse) and I hate getting a season or two out of gear before I outgrow it skill wise.

I mostly paddle the Housatonic River in CT as well as other local CT lakes and ponds. I also have the good fortune of in-laws with a second home on the Cape. I have only paddled up there a couple of times. Mostly quiet areas like Town Cove and Pleasant Bay. Eventually I hope to get a little more daring on the Cape but I hope to build my skills before hitting rougher waters. Most of my paddling in CT is Spring, Summer, and Fall. The Cape would be Summer and early Fall.

So based on the areas and times of year I paddle would you recommend a wet or dry suite? Thickness (2.5, 3, +)? Style (farmer john, full sleeves)? Manufacturer?

as a fellow Ct. paddler
my drysuit season starts mid. october thru April.I primarily paddle ww. I think you’d be fine for your calm water paddling with a wetsuit, others here will have better input than mine re: wetsuits.Housatonic is a pretty warm river, I remember being pretty comfortable swimming in november in a shorty down by Gaylordsville, although I immediately bought drysuits on my return home. One of the things I like about drysuits is winter is my favorite paddling season here in the ct/ma/ny area. Winter is awesome for whitewater.

Water temps and paddle alone?

– Last Updated: Jun-02-08 1:50 PM EST –

These water temps right for those areas?
Spring - ocean water temps to the lower 50's, river temps could easily be colder depending
Fall - ocean still relatively warm but river temps start to fall into at least the low 50's then 40's depending on how long you stay on the water

Also do you paddle alone? That would increase the risk of something going wrong that could leave you in the water for a while.

a lot depends
on the time of year you’ll be paddling—early spring and late fall–In Maine that would be May and October, I would want a drysuit if possible—of course a lot also depends on your wallet—dry suits Run about $500—$800—farmer john style wetsuits $50–$150.

wet suit
If you go the wetsuit route go with a full we suit not an FJ. You can get a full 3mm with liner f or around $150.

Mostly solo, some group
I do paddle alone in CT. This season on the Cape I plan to take a few lessons so most of the paddles will be with a group. I might hit the CC bay a few times while the family chills on the beach.

Learn the seasonal water temps for the areas in which you’ll be paddling, then use this excellent resource to determine the appropriate clothing and gear:

As someone else mentioned, going solo, or in rougher conditions, or far from shore, require upping your safety margins, so plan for that too.

If you follow the path of most paddlers, you’ll gradually piece together warmer and drier clothing to forestall the purchase of an expensive full-blown drysuit; then you’ll become moderately dissatisfied with it and finally break down and buy a nice drysuit and never use your previous gear. Better and cheaper in the long run to simply invest in a good drysuit first.

Sure, you’ll want a wetsuit and probably some lighter HydroSkin-type tops and bottoms for those in-between and warmer days, but save the cost of dry-tops and -bottoms for buying a nice one-piece drysuit instead.

I also fail to see the wisdom of a ‘full’ wetsuit, as recommended above. Having worn such wetsuits when I SCUBA dived, I don’t know how one would be able to properly paddle a kayak. A Farmer John has cutaway arms with no sleeves and allows much better freedom of movement. If conditions warrant a warmer ensemble, switch to the drysuit for that day.

Good Luck!


but I always found it hard to paddle in a full wetsuit–tended to bind my arms, particularly with thick neoprene—some people, notably Sing, don’t seem to have that problem and are fans of full wetsuit paddling throughout the year. Me, I tend to go with a drysuit after it starts to get cold.

Good Advice
I do need to get a better handle on the seasonal water temps locally and at the Cape.

I’m starting to lean towards a farmer john and invest in the dry suit when/if I start paddling during the colder seasons in CT or in rougher waters off of the Cape.

Diving suit is not a Wetsuit for Paddlin
You will get a lot of advice from people who did not know what kind of wetsuit to buy and tried paddling in equipment that was not going to work. Modern Flexible wetsuits made for surfing work just fine for paddling. The only disadvantage is you will get hot in very warm weather if you are not getting wet.

yeah but you have warmer
waters than the coast of Maine–we reach 55 degrees here in August and July—I’ve paddled in water as cold as 30–34 degrees—wetsuit wouldn’t be enough for me, although there are surfers in Maine who wear them in the winter—I’m not that tough. Maybe fine where the original post lives though—Ct and NY are warmer than here in the winter.

Take it from a surfer

– Last Updated: Jun-02-08 2:24 PM EST –

I'll defer to seadart's advice for his locale, as I do not paddle/surf in the ocean, and I haven't looked at newer surfing wear.

CJG, it sounds like your paddling environment is more similar to my own here in the upper Great Lakes region: much greater temperature swings in both water and air than those experienced in seadart's sunny San Diego. Your inland lakes and streams probably experience water-temperature variations ranging from 80F in late summer to frozen solid in January, and everything in between.

One advantage to augmenting a Farmer John wetsuit with mid- or heavy-weight HydroSkin long- or short-sleeve tops is the varying temperature protection offered. By mixing and matching pieces, you can more easily adapt to these changing seasons and temps.

Good Luck!


Wetsuit vs. farmer john
The surfers are not wearing farmer johns. They are wearing wetsuits with full sleeves. You can’t paddle in a wetsuit with sleeves unless is so thin it won’t give you adequate protection. The other thing is that most of the cold water that the average paddler is in is in the spring. Many CT paddlers were in paddling April on. So the drysuit is not just for winter but for the early spring when cold shock is still a reality. Most of the paddlers I usually paddle with in CT just switched over from drysuits to drytops with Hydroskins. Paddling alone or with a group is also a strong factor on how carefully you often dress.

"You can’t paddle in a wetsuit with sleeves unless is so thin it won’t give you adequate protection."

Waveskiers and surf kayakers paddle all winter long in icy conditions using wetsuits. I can’t believe the experts who post when they have never really checked the facts with people who use equipment that they are unfamiliar with. Modern surfing wetsuits are made with flexible stretchy neoprene that works down to below 32 F water temps and very cold air temps. I know people who surf in the artic in the winter in wetsuits. Believe it or not you need more freedom of movement in the arms to paddle a surfboard out through breaking waves than you need to paddle a seakayak.

I may live in “Sunny San Diego” but that is not the only place I paddle. I have used drysuits and wetsuits and for a lot of uses wetsuits are better, and for most uses more cost effective. Puncture a drysuit and you are dead. Not true of a wetsuit.

My Experience

– Last Updated: Jun-03-08 4:22 PM EST –

I started off dealing with cool water with a Hydroskin top and bottom. I hated the top. It felt clammy and restrictive. The bottom didn't bother me. I wound up selling the top on ebay and using an NRS dry jacket with the Hydroskin bottom. That combination works well for medium cold conditions. For very cold water a full drysuit is the thing. Chota light mukluks are great for the feet if you don't have to walk a long way.

Oh yeah, if you want to do some rolling in the cold water go to a dive shop and get a dive hood.

What thickness?
I’d like to hear about your wetsuit. Full body suit? With or without farmer john. What water temps? I know people do it. But I tried divers wetsuits with a farmer john and my arms were ready to fall off in an hour. Are you using a uni-suit? I’m a diver on the E. Coast and I know how much it takes to get protection in 40 degree or colder water.

I certainly don’t want to mis-lead anyone. Surfers often use wetsuits because they are surfing and not paddling. I don’t know one person or have seen one or read about one who is actually paddling with a wet suit with arms in the winter on the E. Coast.

neither have I—with the water temp hovering around 32 I guess I would want the dry suit with polar underwear. But I won’t disrespect those who disagree–after all it’s their butt that’s going to be cold, not mine—

BTW I used to feel that a wetsuit, farmer John style and a paddle jacket were enough in late March early April in the Gulf of Maine—I changed my mind after I got the dry suit—Guess I was whistling in the dark before or maybe now feel that the price should be justified?? lol–anyway there is a distinct measure of psychological comfort with the dry suit in winter paddling that I never had with the wetsuit. And I’ve actually been swimming in April with the dry suit(on purpose just to check it out.) Works fine—I would reccommend the models with attached booties–they are a lot less hassle then the ankle gaskets.

Cape Cod
I can see now I should have chosen

my in-laws with more care

I Paddle Surf…
4-6 hours at a time throughout winter nor’easters with a 6/5/4 (6 mil body, 5 mill arms, 4 mil legs) wetsuit, with air temps down to the teens and water temps down below 35.

I find my winter wetsuit more amenable to my type of paddling then my two drysuits. With the wetsuit, if I get too hot, I can roll and cool off. With the drysuits, once I get wet from sweat, which I always do, I get chilled and can’t seem to recover well from that.

Also, a beginning board surfer, I can attest to board surfers needing a fuller range of motion from the arms and shoulders then kayakers.