Warm weather/Cold Water clothing

We recently purchased breathable drysuits for paddling in the cold New England waters, which are working out great. However with summer around the corner (air temps 80-95, water temps 60-65) we are thinking of buying wetsuits. Any suggestions in regards to shorties, farmer johns, thickness, etc… What would be our best option?


3 mil FJ and semi dry top

– Last Updated: May-22-04 9:27 PM EST –

You should have a 3Mil Farmer John/Jane, and a Dry or Semi-dry top. In the Spring/Early Summer these are great items to have. In the heat of the Summer, I wear Mysterioso, I have both Shorts and long Pants, as well as Long sleeve and short sleeve top.

For the air temps
you describe, I’d die in a 3mm neoprene anything.

Hydroskin, Mystery, Mysterioso, and fuzzy rubber are all good torso thermal insulation. I usually wear or have available a short sleeved semi-dry top for air temps in the eighties.

I just received a short john Chill Cheater from Reed Ltd in the UK and will be trying it out tomorrow. I’ve worn it around the house for a few hours and the fit is excellent as expected with a custom tailored garment.

I’ll report back after I paddle it and swim it.

Pleasant waters.


You Can Die In 3 MM
in the New England waters because of hypothermia. The skill factor kicks – how long does it take to get yourself or somebody else back in the boat.

Couple of years ago, we were playing rescues in Boston Harbor in August. I think volunteered to play rescuee twice. Then I “dogged” it. I was in 3 mm farmer john and fuzzy rubber top. I was freezing my butt off in the water. Minimal cold tolerance, I have.

These days, I wear fuzzy rubber johns, thermax t shirt and a semi drytop (breathable) when I go out in warmer months. But, I don’t expect to come of my boat usually. If the conditions are a little more interesting than flat or minor chops, I wear more just in case and rely on sculling and rolling to cool off.


Once the water temps hit 60
I am down to a hydroskin farmer john. Actually I have not even been wearing that lately as I hate being too hot and have been canoeing really close to shore with really limited exposure.

For my ocean travels, I am still in a drysuit for a couple more weeks than I am into a 3mm Farmer John. Right now the water is still hovering at or close to 50 on the coast. If I am doing long crossings I am in my drysuit. If I am playing close to shore I wear my wetsuit. Mainly because I dont like wearing my drysuit when the air temps get into the 60’s or higher like they are now. I tend to overheat real easy and I have a pretty high tolerance for cold water when I compare my experiences with that of others. A big belly can be a good thing.

Which is worse?
Thanks for the valuable information. If 3mm neoprene is uncomfortable in hot weather would it be better if we stayed with our breathable drysuits, because like you said Sing the water is freezing here. Here is our situation, we paddle a tandem, we only know the downward part of a roll ;-), we have practiced self rescues and t-rescues, and we are confident about getting back in quickly on flat water and small chop (heavy chop we wouldn’t be out on). Should we wear a drysuit year round for safety? We’d rather be hot than dead. Have you heard of other paddlers wearing drysuits in July/August?

Bet hot than dead?
You could search some accident reports and find that dieing of hypothermia while wearing a wetsuit is awfully rare. Thing is to be reasonably prepared for what you are doing. I suppose erring on the side of caution is a good thing but wearing a drysuit when it is 70 and sunny out doesnt sound like much fun to me personally. I would rather stay home.

I’, a bit confused,
about the water temp being discussed now. Is it ‘freezing’ or 60-65F? Not trying to be a smartass, but I paddle in actual freezing waters every winter and their is most definitely a difference!

The waters I paddle in the summer are typically around 65F. In air temps of 80-95, median of 87 F, I could not even consider 3mm neoprene on a pleasure paddle.

Like Sing mentioned, it really is going to depend on how quickly you can re-enter or swim ashore. In such conditions, recovery skills are easily as important as one’s attire.

When practicing rescue skills in 87 F air temps and 65 degree water, I wear 3mm neoprene as I’m in the water most of the time. I could certainly not do a day long paddle dressed in such a manner.

Do you paddle solo or in groups? This will also have an impact upon your attire under cold water/hot air temp conditions. Solo paddlers generally have to dress for more catastrophic scenarios with longer immersions times unless their roll and/or re-entry skills are without flaw.

When I paddle for pleasure and the temps are 87 air/65 water, I’ll be wearing a short john of the Hydroskin genre over a set of Under Armor-type top and bottom, a short sleeved semi-dry top, neoprene shoes, double poly liner socks. In my vest pocket there is a Mystery hood and a pair of Hydroskin gloves.

Dressed in this manner, I can swim in 65 waters for 20 minutes or so without difficulty. (20 minutes in the water is a long time) As I have several ways to get back in my boat, I am comfortable with this. Lacking those skills would make for a different scenario.

If the weather takes a turn for the worse and air temps drop while I’m paddling, I play closer to shore to reduce immersion time in the event of an accidental capsize and failure to re-enter/roll.

I also have a pack of emergency equipment with me at all times that includes dry clothing. My vehicle is usually many miles from where I capsize!

There are many things to consider when dressing for a paddle. Too many variables that preclude a sweeping recommendation that will address all scenarios even when temperature considerations are static.

As always, one must test their own paddle attire under intended circumstances as personal tolerances certainly differ.

Go for a swim and see what your metabolism tells you.

Take care.


Neoprene gloves
Hi Holmes,

Your suggestions makes sense to us. But regarding the word “freezing” we did not mean the point at which water changes its state… Go to any beach here in New England and you will only find kids in the water during the summer. This despite the air temperature is close to 100F. Why? The water is unpleasant to most adults. We like to call it freezing water. But you are right, circumavigating Iceland in the month of February is being in freezing water too. The point of this post was to find out what garment would give us best protection during the summer months. Another things is that we have noticed that the first thing that comes off during a paddle wearing our GoreTex drysuits is our neoprene gloves… Not that we would take the drysiuts off when being on the water, but the gloves seems to warm up quite a bit compared to the GoreTex fabric. And the idea of having the whole body in a “neoprene glove” seems like a challange to say the least.

Right about now…

– Last Updated: May-23-04 8:00 PM EST –

the temperature of the water off the southwestern Maine coast is 10 degrees Celsius (about 50F). The air temperature has been ranging during the days from 60F to 80F. Just down in Massachusetts, the water temperatures are almost always higher, particulary so, since the Gulf Stream actually bends in to the coast below Cape Cod. Maine sees colder water almost all year round, due to the Labrador current swinging south and partly into the Gulf of Maine, cutting off the warm Gulf Stream 100 miles or so out to sea.

That being said, kayakers here are often tempted to dress for the warm air temperatures, not the water. I went out with a small group two days ago, and I was the only person wearing a 3mm farmer John and a dry top. Yes, I was damned hot too! When I paddle alone (almost always it seems) I stick relatively close to shore, especially when there's an off-shore breeze and an ebb tide. We seem to have some steep beaches here, which accounts for lots of dumping high surf, so I am always watching for escape routes should I face the worst case scenarios. I stopped wearing my dry suit about the first of May, and unless the water temps climb into the mid sixties (as they sometimes do in July and August for a few days), I'll keep wearing the 3mm farmer john, and maybe vary the dry top with something more comfortable.


I understand your
terminology now. I didn’t want to be promoting lightweight skins for use in frigid waters! I’m not familiar with the NE coastal conditions.

In my opinion, the conditions you describe present us kayakers the most difficult scenario in which to dress appropriately, that is, for immersion. Your premise regarding the discomfort of 3mm neo reflects my experience in those kinds of air temps.

I am truly hoping the Chill Cheater fabric performs well. Reed Ltd claims it will pass 1.5 pts of vapour over a 24 hour period. Thermally, it is probably very close to the NRS Hydroskin products.

I was not able to test it today as hoped since the air temps never made it out of the lower 60s. I am impressed with the fit and comfort of the garment. More comfortable than my Hydroskin stuff.

If the Chill Cheater really does breath a bit and equals the Hydroskin products in thermal protection, I’ll certainly be ordering more pieces.

I’ll post my results as soon as I have pertinent data to convey.

Take care.


Drysuit more comfortable
You’ll be hot regardless whether you’re wearing drysuit or wetsuit in 80-85 degrees, but a Gore-tex drysuit will be more comfortable. I have used it for rolling practice in the same air-water temps you mentioned. It does get hot but not as steamy as fuzzy rubber or neoprene.

If you are paddling in calm water near shore, I think the drysuit is overkill for 60-something water and 80-something air, but you did not mention specifics of paddling location other than in New England. It sounds like you want to err on the side of safety, so I vote for the drysuit.

My solution

– Last Updated: May-24-04 8:45 AM EST –

Goretex drysuit till water hits at mimimum 54 higher temps necessary on my (fairly low number) of) surfing trips Polartec aquashell wetsuit and drytop when water temp is mmid fifties to mid sixties. (Almost as warm as three mm and much more comfy) lose the top when a bit warmer, and go in (yes this is true) lightweight supples shorts and a shirt for sun in august and september when water temperature is well above 60.

I paddle massachusetts waters mostly. I have a decent one sided (non breaking surf) roll. I paddle with others for 90% of my time on the ocean. I am well padded. I have a history of lots of (non kayaking)swim time, and my abilities to swim for moderately long times in very cold water has been noticed by others.

Here is a proposed soulution for you, travel with friends, dress for immersion, and, if hot, either roll to cool or bow dip, like an eskimo bow rescue but the dip and rise are both done in contact with the bow. I have yet to see anybody in a drysuit in massachusetts waters in july or august.

Bottom lines: always dress for immersion, get a hydration pack and drink, (drink a gallon of water and make sure your diet has proper salt on the day before your trip), and check out NSPN for a safety minded, generous group of folks who paddle in Massachusetts waters.

No doubt NH (where scott B lives) is colder, longer.

Maine waters are colder yet and a drysuit is even more important there.

South shore waters in massachusetts, (e.g. buzzards bay) is wetsuitable for me right now, with a moderate to easy forecast, with good skills and good company. Water temps in mid fifties. I would not even dream of wetsuiting it in maine right now, and was in my drysuit yesterday in Massachusettts waters.

here is a link to help with water temps:


For a slightly different approach take a look at Mysterioso NyloPrene. Very good combination for current temps. now in the NE. As it really warms up I’ve been really pleased with the sun protection (without a spf 50 bottle of goop) of the Mysterioso Rash Guards. Also the prints are attractive.

See you on the water,



Maybe I am not reading this carefully
enough??? If the water is 60-65, and the air is 80-90, I would not be terribly worried about immersion gear and hypothermia unless I was aticipating paddling offshore a considerable distance, in conditions that might dump me and make it difficult to get back in my boat. I would be seriously worried about over heating if too much immersion gear was worn with these temps.

I would wear some sort of rash guard, maybe my white long sleeve one for UV protection, or my titanium and rash guard top for a little extra insulation on the core, along with fuzzy rubber or mysterioso shorts, just in case I found myself in the water longer than expected. I would make it a point to stay well hydrated.

I was recently in 85+ air temps, with water that was reported to be 64 degrees, and I thought it felt refreshing to practice reentries and rescues:) We are all used to chilly water here in NorCal, and we thought the temp was about 70. However, when checking recorded temps for that day, I discovered it was about the 65 predicted. I think it felt warm because the air was unseasonably warm that day as well.

BTW, I am easily chilled and take the risk of hypothermia seriously, and am careful to dress for the water when I paddle.

same here
I spent all weekend paddling in shorts and a short sleeve rash guard in 80+ degree weather and 62 degree water. We practiced rolling, various rescues, and in water sculling. The water was too warm to cool our beers, but just right to cool us off when we wanted. I had my wetsuit with me, but left it at the campsite.


Go Swimming!

– Last Updated: May-24-04 2:08 PM EST –

The only way to really know what you need is to go swimming for a while and see. Indiviual tolerances vary greatly.

Pacific water temps off NORCAL never reach 60 degress, even in summer.

Water temps of 60-65 degrees is skinning dipping water to me for about 30 minutes. On the trip Pam reffered to I was in the water for about 20 minutes in just my swimming trunks, and I could have stayed for much longer, but tolerances vary greatly.

Hypothermia is a function of shock and total emersion time. You need something that will protect againt the intital schock, but a wet suit will not work forever. You can can hypothermia in any water colder than your body temp.

I got my worst case of hypothermia on a double dive day in the Florida Keys. The water temp was 75 degrees and I did not wear a wetsuit. After two one-hour dives in total emersion I was shivering.

Every time I dive it seems to get colder the deeper I go, sometimes in very dramatic and defined layers.

Maybe it was way colder than 75 at ? feet.

Look at Chillcheaters instead of wetsuit

it’s worth a look. I can’t speak for others but I don’t like wet neoprene.


Until the weather gets really warm…
…your drysuits will be more comfortable than wetsuits. In hot weather, wetsuits are hot. Insulation is insulation. The difference is that a breathable dry suit will keep you drier. I don’t know where the misconception that neoprene is cooler in hot weather came from, but it simply isn’t true.

I’ve worn my drysuit in weather in the 70’s with light underlayers and it wasn’t uncomfortable as long as I rolled or sculled to cool myself off periodically. I can’t imagine that I would have been any more comfortable wrapped in non breathable rubber (neoprene). When the water temps get warm enough, I go right from the dry suit to Hydrofleece, sometimes supplementing it with a long sleeve or short sleeve dry top, depending on the conditions.