Under a dry suit... how to layer

I’ve been researching dry vs wet suits … learned a lot on this board! Man was I ignorant of the dangers of cold water! Up here in Boston\Cape Cod\Narragansett Bay the water temps don’t get much above 60 until the middle of June.

I’ve ordered an NRS Extreme dry suit. For a first “wicking” layer I bought a long sleeve and pants (MTF “Pepper Skins”). For a second layer bought light weight fleece by the same company (“Pepper Fleece” … equiv to Polartec 100). As an alternate warmer second layer I got top and bottom “super micro fleece” by EMS (told they equiv to Polartec 200).

Here’s my question: how tight fitting should all this be? The base layer is like spandex … conforms to my body. The “pepper fleece” is a close (but comfortable) fit. The EMS is a bit “looser”. Does this matter, or should it all be a tighter spandex-like fit to work?

As for layering, I’m thinking perhaps all three layers now - April perhaps as well, then maybe the base and EMS for May, then just the base for June. I know I have to try these layers out in the water, but does that sound like a reasonable starting point?

Also picked up NRS Seal Skinz gloves and Sea Hood.

Put it on then take a swim in the water
and see what works for you. A lot of people wil tell you something but that might be what works for them. I can handle cold much better than my wife thus we both dress differently. So take a trip to the water and try different combinations of layers and see what you like.

Dress For Water Temps, Not Air Temps
The swim idea is the right one - check out how the layers work in the water, 'cause that’s where they’ll save your life. Always a balance when you have cold water/warm air, but I’d rather be a little warm in the boat than cold in the water. On hot days here, with cold water temps, I’ll take an occasional dip to cool down - amazing how much cooling you can get by just getting our Kokatat SuperNova suits wet. In real cold water, give some serious thought to protecting your hands and head - I did one swim with neoprene gloves, loose fit, and discovered very quickly that getting water in 'em wasn’t a good idea - hands went stiff in a minute or less. We also use heavy neoprene dive hoods when the water’s bitterly cold.

under my dry suit/dry layers…i use IR’s thick skin union suit for most colder…and then their thin skin union suit shorty for most other times…then when it is late june and into july i will just wear a rashguard and shorts in Narragansett bay…above the cape it is a little cooler…

surfing: i will wear a splash jacket of some sort to quell evaporative cooling from the wind…

btw: where are you???if you want to paddling down here in RI let me know…


first layer is skin tight and light. 2nd layer can be light and slightly looser. If really cold, 2nd layer can be polartec 200. You want moisture to pass through first layer and away from your skin.

That’s how I approach it. Doesn’t matter if I am using seperate top and bottom, union suit, or FJ bibs.


sounds like you’re fine
I’ll echo the wade/swim test recommendation. Loose fitting mid layers aren’t much of an issue, especially after you wade in and burp the suit (pull the neck gasket away from your skin while squatting in water up to your chest). That pretty much sucks the entire suit tight against your body.

Controlled Burping…
People burp suits because if they only have a one sided roll, they are afraid of going over in the offside and not being able to get to the “onside.”

Fact is, if you find yourself cold in the winter, despite whatever your layering, you can gain a bit of warmth my letting some air into the drysuit. This also applies to drygloves.


Air in suit = G-o-o-d
…and more air in your suit will let you scull and static brace easier too. Keeps you warmer and almost acts like a PFD booster. But it does cut down on your ease of movement when in the water. All the air rises to its highest point which is usually your arms and you look like the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Air in drysuit
On a day with warmer air, the air in the drysuit will heat up and expand some anyway even if well burped. It does act a thermal barrier etc if you can handle the how the bouyancy affects things like getting under the boat to cross sides or wet re-entries, and unexpected body parts floating.

You may find that some materials which work well for other people as underlayers don’t work as well for you, and that it all varies a bit based on specific combinations of water and air temps. I have found that my best base layer in terms of continuing to wick for a long time for me is straight polypro when you are talking water temps from the 40’s up to about 55, and air resonably warmer than that. But you’ll find people on this board who have found that polypro is a pretty poor idea for them.

Thanks for all the great responses!
Can’t wait to take a swim!

My drysuit is supposed to arrive next week, so I’ll have a chance to try some of the layers out and see what feels best.

Rob, I’m in Mass … near Franklin. Wished I lived nearer to the ocean. Last year I tried to get to the bay once a week during the summer … usually East Greenwich (Sandy Point … past Goddard Park). I’ve also gone to URI’s bay campus about a half dozen times… rounded Whale rock once (Bonnet Shores). Tried narrow river in Narragansett twice. That was about my limit (skill wise). I’m a beginner … I’ve never rolled over unintentionally (so far)… but I need to be more confident in self resuces before I’ll feel comfortable in bigger swells and fast currents like the Narrows and Whale Rock. When I’ve been in some of these conditions, I’m saying “hey this is fun and I can do it”, but then there’s that little voice that says “but what happens if I roll over out here …”.

bit of an generalization, eh?

– Last Updated: Mar-31-06 10:02 AM EST –

You're usually more even handed than that, or perhaps that offside fear thing is more common in sea kayaking. Personally, I prefer no air in my suit because I'm a WW open boater, and swimming just goes with the territory. Towing a canoe to an eddy gets pretty interesting if your sleeves are all puffed up like raft tubes.

You do have a good point about air as insulation, though.

“Even Handed…”

– Last Updated: Mar-31-06 10:32 AM EST –

didn't know I wasn't being that. I have been at launches where sea kayakers were told to burp their suit just in case.

I was surfing with someone on a really cold day and left air in the suit for insulation. He paddled up with concern on his face and said I should burp my suit or I may have a problem with rolling. I thanked him and told him I left air in on purpose and that I was confident of my roll on either side.

Once on the water I don't bother with my suit. However, if my hands start getting cold, I do break the seal on the nordic blues to let air in. It really makes a difference, tho' the trade-off is the "feel" through the gloves is affected. However, cold numbed hands mean no feel at all.

Actually, now I curious... Why do you feel the need to burp the suit even in a swimming situation?


Hey sing I will tell you why to get air
out of your suit. I was paddling last spring in what I would guess was 1-2 degree fahrenheit water . I decided in my (new to me) expedition dry suit to roll. I feel quite comfortable in my roll on both sides and had rolled a good few times in the ocean at this time but never in a dry suit. When I hit the water in my setup postion I stayed on the surface of the water. I then did a little hip flick to get under and found myself stuck under my kayak. The air in my suit was keeping me pushed up to the deck of my kayak. I did another hip flick and got out of the situtation. It certainly proved to me that it can be a real different feel and totally scary when you cannot perform the roll as you would usually. I make sure now that I do a little squat now while holding my kneck gasket open to squeeze alot of the water out of my suit. All that being said I have practiced with air in my suit now and its not that difficult to roll with air in your suit just very differernt and unless you have practiced it or you are as skilled as I am sure you are Sing…people may have problems with it.

burping for swimming
I played around with the suit in still water before using it on the river and found that, without at least some burping, the arms puffed up enough to provide significant resistance to moving my arms when my lower body was submerged. I could still swim, but it would tire me out quickly trying to do a fast crawl stroke more than a few feet with the sleeves inflated.

You Actually Swim…
I actually don’t. I point my feet downs stream and try to use my arms to guide me towards shore. Of course, if there is a big drop coming up, that would be an impetus to move like heck.

On a beach break, I do something similar. I tend to float sides ways and kick while hanging on to my paddle and looking backwards for the next breaker. I tend to more body surf my way in than swim.

I’ll have to try the swimming with some air in the suit just see what it feels like.


aggressive swim 'school’
I’m of the aggressive swim school of thought, for the most part. Once I spot a safe haven, I swim like hell to get there. Though if it’s a stupid flip in a safe drop, I’ll just keep my feet up and steer with the hand holding my paddle until things calm down.

I can see where swimming would be mostly wasted energy in the surf.

Dude you are near the ocean!!! I’m next
to Springfield to you are near it compared to me.