Under a Drysuit

Which is a better baselayer under a drysuit for kayaking in the northeast; something like Under Armour’s Coldgear top and bottom set or a 1 piece fleece unionsuit (Polartec).

Personal choice
I like 2 pieces my wife likes the one piece. The reason I like two pieces is that you can go with a warmer or cooler top piece or bottom as needed. With one piece you are stuck with just that. We also use a wicking layer under what ever we wear.

use a wicking layer under what ever
I also always start with a wicking layer and build from there.

A union suit is grand if you are going to get wet – e.g. roll. No two piece underlayer eliminates the ‘gap’ like a union suit. I own two - an NRS and a Polartec from MEC.

However, in recent winters, I have gone back to separates because of the flexibility to adjust and change sweat soaked tops etc…

Don’t forget to wear good (warm wicking) socks under your booties.

Not one "best"
Some materials work better for people than others, without trying a few you might not know which ones are best for you. For example anything with silk in it is a bad idea for me because it gets just plain soggy, but some people swear by them. For me the best seems to be something very wicking then a fleece layer.

As to one piece or two, I have both but tend to use two pieces more than the one piece. Part of it is as above, I more often need a second layer on my torso than my legs. But again, a lot of people we paddle with use the one pieces all the time.


– Last Updated: Jan-21-09 10:34 AM EST –

I've considered the one piece to reduce bulk and cold spots until I realized . . that the number one way I maintain comfort in cold season paddling, is to change my perspired top layer during a mid-paddle lunch or snack break. It feels great for the paddle home! That top layer even if a wicking non-cotton layer still feels uncomfy once moist. Both layers for me are typically Patognia Capilene, Polartec Powerdry, Powerstretch, or similar. One thing I've noticed-the available Union suits use the original Polartec 100 which is a much older fabric and while is probably still great, lacks the higher tech wicking design of Powerdry or the odor inhibitors of newer Capilene.

I don't know the answer to the frequent debate if all synthetics are equally effective: budget synthetic layers from Walmart, Target, etc. Big box brands like Under Armour, Northface, etc. or the high end stuff like Patagonia. My preference of the high-end stuff is based more on higher quality stitching, design, and manufacture leading to longer life.

Forgot to mention

– Last Updated: Jan-21-09 1:28 PM EST –

As it gets colder, there'll be a point where the clothes I have to wear for immersion are guaranteed to create a sweating issue if you want to paddle hard. At this point one option is to underdress for immersion, and the other is to carry a spare drybag of clothing that you know you will be changing into at a mid-paddle break. (and some kind of thing to change under if needed) I usually go for the latter because there's not much I hate more than being chilled as I get older, and if my paddling is restricted to the occasional trip out in really cold temps it's not like I am in prime paddling condition anyway. But I paddle with some who go the other way.

Fleece is better
I have a Palm Stikine drysuit. I wear fleece layers under my drysuit (in North Carolina). I use the IR Unionsuit, with the Thickskin fleece top and fleece capri pants underneath. Keeps me toasty all winter. TIP: fleece next to the skin is best instead of polyester or neoprene.

I’ve changed my tune on this…
…I was a fan of Patgonia’s Capilene for years (especially silkweight), but I’ve converted to the very lightweight merino wool pieces from Smartwool and, especially, from Icebreaker (which seems to last longer than Smartwool.) It is just much more comfortable, not as clammy and doesn’t stink nearly as fast as the Patagonia stuff. I sweat a lot, so it is given a real test every time I’m out. Not cheap, but great stuff. Tops and bottoms, and it comes in different weights (though you can easily layer two pieces for added warmth.)

I prefer the 2 piece
because if I have to make a deposit out in the woods it is much more convenient and less prone to make a mess than dealing with a one piece. Not trying to be gross or anything but you gotta think about these things.