Semi-Dry Pants & Tops: What temperature range are they good for?

Paddling conditions & locations,

  • Single digit wind speeds: Lakes & bays
  • 10+ mph wind: Small, protected lakes

Background: Goal for 2023, is to extend my paddling season, starting with late April / early May. In the past, would use a drysuit if water was below 50 degrees or cooler; 50 - ~65 degrees, fuzzy rubber (picture fleece-lined shirt & pants). 20-20 hindsight, fuzzy rubber was pushing it below 55 degrees.

Since my fuzzy rubber clothing doesn’t fit any more, and the drysuit probably doesn’t, googled cold water kayak clothing, and “Semi-Dry” clothing came up. Not good enough for November nor’easters, but should extend the season for mid-spring & fall foliage paddling.

Key question is how long will you be in the water? How long to get to dry land?

Dry suits or dry tops/[ants are mean tot keep dry, but don’t themselves do a lot toward keeping one warm. They allow you to put layers below (fleece, wool, polypro, etc. - preferably not cotton) that will keep you warm. They dry wear will help against wind chill.

If you need all new gear, a less expensive option for extending the season is a wet suit. Generally farmer john/jane style, and use a paddling jacket (or dry top) for wind protection. Generally considered ok for water temps somewhere into the 50s (exactly where depends on on how wearer handles cold).

Key question is how long will you be in the water? How long to get to dry land?
Preferably just long enough to get in & out of the water. But accidents happen (e.g. getting stuck on a submerged log), even in the calmest conditions. Realize that any cool/cold water apparel is only buying time to get to relative safety.

Have 17 winter kayak trips, so I’m no stranger to cold water. But as soon as the water chills, it has always been drysuit or fuzzy rubber.

Fuzzy rubber was never that comfortable, so thinking a wetsuit would be similar, and I really hate wearing a 1-pc anything. Priced a semi-dry top + pants, and it was over $400; reasonable to get a few extra trips per year.

Actually like the cold. Could never live south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Went swimming w. the sea lions in La Jolla Cove, north of San Diego, one May; no problems with the cold water.

Rewording my original question: How much less protection do semi-dry tops & pants offer, compared to a drysuit?

Hard to quantify exactly. 68°-60° I wear some tropos pants and a paddling jacket on safe trips in local bays. Below 60° it’s drysuit only. Not big on my wetsuit may use it a few times above 60°. More comfortable in the drysuit.

It is hard to answer. 2 piece means that when you swim, likely water will get in. There is a way to roll the material to mate them to reduce water ingress between top and bottom, but I don’t think it works all that well. So it will come down t your base layers and how well they insulate when wet. Basically the same as if you had a dry suit and busted a gasket or had a hole in it.


Sounds like neither of you have worn 2pc semi-dry apparel. Just went through my old trip reports again, and it’s inconclusive: There were trips where I wore 2pc fuzzy rubber w. water temps in the low 50’s wo. incident … but also going for a swim.

Here’s a thought: Since Kokatat manufactures the stuff, maybe reach to them & ask how much less protection semi-dry (vs. dry) 2pc offers compared to their drysuits.

Kokatat will never quantify anything like that it’s impossible to do.

Agreed. But still hoping that someone who uses (or has used) semi-dry 2pc apparel will chime in.

Speculating that if polled, most cold water paddlers use a drysuit and/or wetsuit.

Why would there be any difference in the temperature capability of a 1-piece drysuit and a 2-piece semi-dry? I thought that semi-dry just means neoprene vs latex neck gasket and a 2-piece is effectively a 1-piece when functioning properly. Seems like 2 piece semi-dry should be more than adequate for the OP’s planned usage.

Water ingress when swimming is the difference.

A 1 piece dry suit in good shape shouldn’t let any water in, even when swimming.

A semi-dry suit/paddling suit likely will let some water in at the neoprene neck gasket. A mated dry top with dry pants also likely will let some water in at the mating, unless it was done perfectly.

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He’s talking two piece suit.

I use a semi-drysuit for the entire cold season.
Very little water comes in.
I often insulate with a thin Vaikobi wetsuit which offers further protection.
Never had a problem.

I use a semi-drysuit for the entire cold season.

Is that a 1pc or 2pc? And how cold is water?

Even when I paddled with a drysuit, learned the hard way: “DO NOT paddle when I can get stuck in the ice.”

I had a one-piece, and my paddling partner had a two.
Temps into the 40’s.
I paddled a surfski and an Olympic sprint kayak, so when I’d fall in, I wouldn’t invert.
I did however test it by actually swimming and immersing myself and very little water entered.
A trickle at best


Temps into the 40’s.

Getting back to what @Peter-CA said, as long as the seals are secure, should be okay in case of an accidental swim. Obviously, cold weather gear for the feet, hands, & head are also needed.

Bottom Line: Sounds like 2pc semi-dry apparel is viable for 50+ degrees.

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50° only if you can get out of the water fast. Personally I wouldn’t even think of it.

A two piece system is as good as a one piece system if you get it rolled together properly. {weather dry or semi-dry …difference is the neck material} Just takes more care to get right. Most paddling jackets that have a vent-able neck, will only get a trickle in, when the neck is closed up and you roll…If correctly sized for you.

I have Kokatat whirlpool bibs, and long and short sleeve and dry and semi-dry tops to pair with…but I also have one piece.

The bibs are nice for camping in shoulder seasons. Can take off the top when on shore and still wade in for water etc. With a one piece you need to peel it down and tie the sleeves around your waist for camp work…or just change into camp clothes.

When building a dry or semi-dry system, a set of bibs allow buying a piece at a time instead of one big investment. It can also be paired with a short sleeve top so you have some protection for the sort of weather that calls for a wee bit.

If given the choice of having only one system , I would opt for the full dry suit … less fiddling to get a dry seal. But the other works and is sufficient for most situations.

{I am grouping the zip together two piece system that Kokatat makes with the one piece and not with bib and tops combinations FYI}

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Another nice thing about a bib combination is , with attached booties, there are no latex to malfunction. So if the neck gasket or the sleeve gaskets fail…just swap the top for another.

Also makes a nice “what if” carry, to mate with your paddling jacket if the weather changes while you are out and you wish you had brought a dry suit. {I paddle Lake Superior}