Sock question

I’m just getting in to kayaking and last Sunday on a trip I noticed some people had thin wool socks with their water shoes.

Can I use my Wigwam thick wool hiking socks? Or should I get thin wool or even neoprene.

I don’t plan on being on the water in winter, but would like to extend the season both fall and spring.


short and long answer
Yes, you can wear them. I wear them while paddlign in winter. But they’re inside my drysuit booties.

I’d think if you had neo booties you could wear the socks under them. Your feet might get hot, or might not, each person is different.

Thick wool socks…
To extend my paddling season until the water freezes over, I picked up a pack of Carhartt Liner Socks and a pack of Dickie’s Thermal Wool socks. I layer them up with the wool socks over the liner socks and then my water shoes. The liner socks wick moisture away from your feet as they perspire, and the wool socks add the insulation. Now, none of these will keep my feet dry if I have to step in the water, but luckily, with my current paddling style (strictly recreational), I never have a need to step in the water. However, I did pick up a pair of waterproof overboots on Amazon if/when the need for water protection arises. I’ve tried them out a couple times, and they work very well. The only issue is that they don’t breathe. So, my socks get a little damp with perspiration/condensation after a few hours of paddling.

Neoprene booties…

– Last Updated: Oct-22-14 11:35 AM EST –

Wouldn't wearing anything under neo booties pretty much negate the advantage of neoprene? I thought the way neo worked is that it has to be tight and directly against your skin in order to form that thin layer of water between your skin and the neo that your body warms and uses as an insulation layer. If you put anything under neo, wouldn't it prevent that from happening? Or am I misunderstanding how neo works as an insulation layer?

I wear thick wool socks with water shoes
For water temps in the low 50’s. Works quite well for Dec/Jan paddling around here. My foot stays comfortably warm even if it gets wet at the boat launch. I can’t find Neo booties in my size and I already have water shoes and hiking socks anyway.

Follow up question
What about socks and flip flops while running errands on Saturday?

Socks and sandals…
is always a good look no matter the activity!

A little bit off subject, but I’m too new to have paddling comments, only questions. Love da wool. We hit the good will / 2nd hand stores to buy wool sweaters to use on the farm during winter. No over-coat, just sweaters. No movement restrictions and with heavy weight silk turtle-neck long johns, very toasty indeed. Buy the sweaters larger than needed and shrink to fit. As wool felts, it makes for a tighter weave and blocks wind better. If really cold, then two sweaters with felted one on outside. Just my opinion.

I thought so too
But then I purchased a pair of NeoSport Wetsuits XSPAN 5mm socks. Put on a a pair of medium Smartwool socks under the neoprene socks and was pleasantly surprised to discover that neither my feet nor the Smartwools were even damp. Have been using them for a month, standing in about ankle deep water to enter/exit. The bottom of my pants get wet but nothing else. Go figure. Maybe the thickness has something to do with it?

not with my feet

– Last Updated: Oct-22-14 12:22 PM EST –

I know this sounds strange, but I wear sandals to keep my feet cool.

Last winter I made the mistake of paddling with those foot-warmers inside my wool socks inside my drysuit. I think there was about 8 oz of foot sweat in each bootie when I was done. And a soggy foot warmer.

semi-dry suit
with booties is comfortable late fall. Neoprene is on the cool side. For many too cool tending to hypothermic reactions.

When temps are cool nothing like warmth.

I take cold showers every day. But temps in south Florida allow this.

I have a selection of socks lately used with Teva sandals. I would use polyester tennis pro socks for the water if I didn’t have neo socks. Question: how would socks fit under neo socks ?

The poly socks are something like very thick cotton white gym socks.

Around the grounds, acrylic/nylon/polyester thick looped gym socks. Great ! Great in the kayak but too water absorbant for wading then paddling.

Both types allow sleeping with wet feet but again in warm weather.

If planning on early spring or late fall paddling under temps 65 and lower consider a semi-dry suit with booties.

A properly fitted wetsuit
should be tight to prevent cold water from flushing in and out of the suit. Since water conducts heat, keeping the cold water out will help keep you warm. It is the neoprene that provides the insulation, not the water. Obviously, the best way to keep water away from your body is a drysuit.

There have been lively debates on whether to wear layers underneath the neoprene. Personally I find it more comfortable to wear a rashguard layer underneath my wetsuit, others go commando. It’s really personal preference.

Neoprene shoes/socks provide great insulation, but will fill with water if the top goes underwater. I always wear wool socks under my Boundary Boots since I am unlikely to get water in those, and it keeps my feet nice and warm. For low cut shoes or socks I’ll usually skip the wool socks because I hate sloshing around with soggy feet.

The common misconception is…
…that somehow having a layer of water between neoprene and one’s skin provides extra warmth. This is absolutely false! Neoprene is warmest when it’s kept dry. Water transports heat from your body 25 times faster than air, so moisture is a disadvantage, period.

Neoprene will provide insulation DESPITE being wet, because of the gas bubbles trapped in the material. However, if it’s so loose fitting that water readily flushes through, that insulation is lost.

Wool under neo booties good

– Last Updated: Oct-23-14 10:35 AM EST –

Agree with one above, soggy feet where the water is cold also get cold more easily than you think. And full out wool has a curious quality, it retains a significant amount of its thermal qualities even when wet. It also may itch and weighs a ton, hence the move to other materials for much of the body. But I find neither of these to be an issue on my feet under neo booties.

Also, remember that people are now talking about water temps into the 40's in the northeast, in the inland lakes and rivers where the chillier nights have a faster effect than in the ocean. Personally that is where neoprene fails me, and many I know. Once you shoot past the 50's a lot of people find dry wear is the only way to stay warm.

All that said, I just rechecked to see if my memory was correct and spotted two things which suggest you should not go nuts buying a lot of cold weather stuff quite yet - just enough to get by. And paddle conservatively this fall. The first is that you are paddling out of Chicago - where a dry suit is in peoples' future if they stay at it long enough in a kayak. The other is that you are just getting your feet wet, so to speak, with kayaking.

Yes, there are are people who extend their kayaking season in chillier weather with neoprene paddle wear. Some of them are from the west coast with water that stays in the 50's and some have far more resistance to cold than the skinnier old farts I paddle with. But I bet if you did a straw pole of how paddlers in your area go into colder weather, you would find most hands in the aira for a dry suit.

The cost of accumulating many layers of neoprene can add up to the coast of a decent breathable dry suit. I know, I've done it. Less than one with a full replacement warranty, but same as a used suit that will keep you fairly dry and comfortable while you are making up your mind about the other.

I would also suggest that you hook up with a group in your area and get some pool sessions on basic rescues and bracing, prep for rolling, over the winter. It should be possible in Chicago. Tell your wife that you are doing this in lieu of spending lots of money on boats and gear, so that you don't get to early summer and realize you should have gotten something else. It is not easy to explain just how wet kayaking can be until you are in the water trying to get back into a skinny boat. A heated pool is a much more pleasant way to find out than outside in the early spring.

It is a common misconception…
BECAUSE every website I’ve visited trying to learn about and understand all the different options for cold-weather kayaking gear explain that as how neoprene works!

Everywhere I go to read up on how neoprene works explains it as thus:

  1. Neoprene is a closed-cell foam insulator.
  2. Neoprene clothing should be tight-fitting and worn directly against the skin.
  3. Neoprene keeps you warm by trapping a very thin layer of water between the neoprene and your skin.
  4. Once the neoprene is wet and has trapped this thin layer of water, it prevents any more (cold) water from circulating in/out of the suit.
  5. Your body heat will warm this thin layer of water that is trapped against your skin, and this thin layer of water and the neoprene will help insulate you from the cold.

    Is this NOT how neoprene works? Isn’t that why once neoprene gets wet you have to keep it wet in order to stay warm?


– Last Updated: Oct-23-14 12:34 PM EST –

A neoprene wetsuit provides warming for both reasons - the air trapped in the neoprene bubbles and the thin water layer.

Once your body has warmed the tiny volume of water next to the skin, it stays warm because it is insulated from the surrounding cold water by the neoprene/gas bubble layer. If the suit is too loose, the volume of water is too great and may even convect away the body, taking your thermal energy with it. So a wetsuit should be close-fitting.

It's true that a wetsuit would still work well if the water was not next to the skin, the insulation of the wetsuit would be enough. But it works well enough with the thin water layer that there isn't much effort put into making them waterproof. The tight fit replaces the need to be waterproof.

On the other hand, a drysuit keeps the water away from the skin, but the waterproof material has no inherent insulating qualities. So you have to wear insulation under a drysuit in cold conditions.

The statement that water transports heat X times faster than air is true, but only if the water is free to circulate away from the heat source, carrying the thermal energy away with it.

BNystrom is corrrect

– Last Updated: Oct-23-14 12:42 PM EST –

Water does nothing to improve the insulating qualities in this case. It's physically impossible for the explanation that's typically given for this insulating process to be true. I've never worn a wetsuit in the sorts of conditions where this would matter (I use a dry suit), but when wearing neoprene gloves I've found that they keep my hands much warmer when they are not wet than when wet. If you really have noticed that you must keep your wetsuit wet to "stay warm", I'd guess there might be one or two explanations for the "feeling" (not the reality) of that sensation. First, if the water hasn't been there long (suit is freshly dunked), it might easily be warmer than the air, or warmer than water that's been there long enough to be cooled. Also, a large quantity of unchilled (so far) water will provide a heat sink that buffers the immediate chilling effect of evaporative cooling at the surface of the material. Note that this isn't permanent protection from that method of cooling, but slowing the process down would make it feel as such.

I agree
I’m not disputing Brian’s contention that dry neoprene is going to help you feel warmer than wet neoprene. Pretty much anything kept dry is going to feel warmer than anything that has taken a dunk.

My confusion is with his statement that it is a misconception that neoprene insulates you by trapping a thin layer of water that is kept warm by your body heat and preventing additional water from flushing in/out. I thought that was the whole design element of neoprene; how it’s supposed to work. Why else is it called a “wet suit”?

When you do a Google search on the phrase “How does neoprene keep you warm?”, every search result explains it as I stated in my previous post.

I’m not trying to start a big debate on how neoprene works. I just think there may be an apples/oranges comparison going on with Brian’s statement. I agree that neoprene will feel warmer if it stays dry vs. if it gets wet. What I was getting at is the details of how neoprene helps keep you warm when it IS wet.

I think in that case, …
… what they are probably saying is that trapped water will insulate better than water which can easily travel around beneath the suit. If you can’t keep the water out, you can at least minimize heat loss by preventing the water from moving around, and since that can only be done by minimizing the space it can occupy, that has the added benefit of reducing the water volume too.

I don’t think the presence of water is considered desirable, only unavoidable. Someone posted here once that the very best custom-fitted diving wetsuits keep a person warmer than standard wetsuits by keeping them “almost” dry, just because they fit extremely well. Maybe someone here with direct experience with such suits would know more.

Heating packets differ
I suspect what you used is the disposable type that contains powder in a porous bag. That kind seems to generate moisture even when it’s placed in a totally breathable item, such as a knit mitten. I hate them.

Another type of heating packet, reusable, looks like clear gel inside a waterproof plastic bag with a dime-sized metal disk inside. You squash the thing and the metal reacts with the gel, giving off warmth. To reuse it, you boil the packet. These things can get really hot and you wouldn’t want it directly on your skin. But they don’t “sweat” like the disposables do.