*Swim* temperatures & gear

-- Last Updated: Feb-18-08 7:13 AM EST --

Between buying a new boat and having saved for a new paddle I'm nearly tapped out, financially. I'm also anxious to get back out on the water but don't have any immersion gear for colder water. I have enough extra saved plus REI gift cards to get SOMETHING - I'm just not sure exactly what. I live in the Washington DC area. The water temps on the Potomac don't get up into the 50s until late March or early April ... and not into the 60s until late April or early May. I remember having read somewhere that I should be wearing, at a minimum, a wetsuit (3mm) and dry top (plus insulating layers) if I'm out 50-60 degree water and a shorty wetsuit and semi-dry top or splash gear if the water's 60-70 degrees. I don't have enough cash for a dry suit but I can probably swing a shorty and I already have splash gear so I suppose I'll have to wait until sometime in April to get back on the water.

So ... what's my point? At REI I can pick up NRS' Little John shorty wetsuit (3mm) for about $75 and they have a Kokatat Tropos Re-Action Jacket on sale for about $125 ... and then I'm broke, even after using the gift cards. Does a combination like this make sense for water temps in the high 50s to low 60s? Does it make sense to buy a Kokotat jacket like the Re-Action and then pair it up later this year with a pair of dry pants so I can stay out on the water even longer?

You guys and gals have always been so helpful and seem to be full of good ideas and advice ... I'm counting on you again!

Okay ... more info. I'm about 5'10" and weigh about 165 so not a whole lot of body fat. I'll be on flatwater - rivers, lakes. I have no intention (yet) of going out when there's any ice even if I could find ice on the water around here! I'm pretty confident in my self-rescue capabilities. I can do a cowboy self-rescue and can do a paddle float re-entry in under three minutes. So, I don't think I'd be in the water for very long. Years ago I lived in Orlando and was lucky enough to have a pool. In the *winter* the pool temps would go into the 50s but I would stop going swimming once the temp got below 60. At that temperature the water was COLD but not so bad that I felt badly chilled. A couple of quick laps would warm me enough to take any discomfort away BUT I had to keep moving.

lots of variables
you have to find out what works for you. Are you planning on doing serious ww, paddling mostly in shallow slow rivers, or are you making 2 mile crossings dodging icebergs? Have you spent any time swimming in water temps like those you describe? How much body fat do you have? Do you get cold easily? Do you wear gloves and a hood? Are you wearing warm boots?

Do you paddle at an athletic pace or do you noodle around? Are you with a group or solo? What is the air temp? How long will the exposure to the water be? Aweful lot of variables.

Many people on this board will tell you they wear a drysuit in anything less than 60 degrees water and others will tell you they prefer wearing a 4/3 wetsuit in sub 40 degree water. individual tolerance seems to vary widely.

Nobody can tell you you will be fine in the outfit you decribe nor could they say you won’t be. Sounds like a reasonable base outfit for short swims in 50-60 degree water provided you can get warm afterwards. Would be a bad choice if you had to spend more than a couple minutes in the water.

A shorty and a good paddle jacket are great items to start with. Just pick those warmer spring days with better weather at first if you think you might end up in the water.

Whatever you end up buying make sure you take an oppurtunity to get wet wearing those clothes on under various conditions to get a feel for how cold water affects you. That way it wont be a shock when an unplanned event occurs. You will quickly learn your personal thresholds.

Reasonable for short Swims
water above 55 F.

I use a 3/2 wetsuit for surfing (being in the water a lot) down to 55 F. The farmer johns don’t cut it if you are going to be constantly immersed. 3/2 full suit probably too warm for paddling in washington in april air temps. Invest slowly next year get yourself a 4/3 wet suit on sale for about $120 an extend your season down to water into the high 40s and cool air temps.

Understandable excitement
but a shorty isn’t likely to cut it with water temps below 50F & the drytop won’t do much good at all if you are swimming. (it is only meant to keep you dry as long as you stay in the boat)

Look around I’m willing to bet there is a club and pool sessions somewhere until things warm up. 6 feet under there is no way to enjoy your new gear.

A fair drysuit now is only $500. “Only” is a matter of perspective but if you must paddle, that’s what credit is for. [grin]

Shorty westsuit and dry top will work
BUT, you gotta pick your days and conditions. I’d stay off of water colder than 50 degrees unless you know that any swim is likely to be very short and that you’ll be within a short (half hour?) paddle of warmth. Pick a warm day, not a cool, windy, cloudy or rainy day. I wouldn’t suggest this clothing option for whitewater over Class I or any long-distance open water crossings.

But if you use some common sense, I bet you’ll find a lot of days that can get you out on some easy but interesting water this spring without a really egregious risk to life and limb. Like ScottB said, it is a good start.

FYI, I’m 5’6, 150 lbs, use a full length farmer john wetsuit (2 or 3mm) with a layer or two of fleece/polypro and a nylon paddle jacket in air temps of 40 degrees & up, in conditions taht are well within my particular skill level, and I’m usually pretty comfy.


Drysuit is most versatile, but…
it’s the most expensive.

It’s what I use for really cold water, but last year I found that a full 3/2mm wetsuit was OK for cool water and warm air, for short or intermittent periods in the water. Your body is different so take all our individual replies with a grain of salt.

Sierra Trading Post sells Camaro and Body Glove wetsuits at reasonable prices all the time. I got the Body Glove 3/2mm full suit for $120, about 2/3 the regular price.

The catch with wetsuits is that their fit is more critical than with baggy drysuits. If they’re easy to put on and take off, they’re not snug enough (this applies to the full suits; shorties are relatively easy to don and doff).

Recent swim
I recently went into the water by accident. I was wearing an NRS Rodeo pant, Kokatat lycra top, fleece, neoprene socks, a pair of rain pants, and a pfd. I was comfortable in 57 degree water, was able to reenter my kayak, and then paddle in windy conditions for about an hour.

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