Wet/Drysuit for early spring season in WI

I’m in Madison, WI area and like to start next year early when air is warm, but Water may be cold. I will use an iSUP that I paddle standing, but also sitting with kayak paddle. I envision to have time starting end of April or early May.

I’ve been trying to find historic lake temps, but only found some going back to June this year indicating they are around 25°C in summer, and 10°C now.

I realize the danger is a) being in the cold water. But it should be easy to climb back on an iSUP. And b) being on the boat with wet clothes. It may be possible to change into dry clothes, though. But it would be nicer to just wear clothes (i.e. dry/wet suit) that take care of that keep and me automatically warmer.

  • at what water temps do I need wet or dry suit?
  • Does anyone have a good source for historic water temps in Madison, WI that also includes a spring season?
  • Assuming air could be warmish, and paddling can be exhausting, what type of suit would not make me sweat?
  • what sort of rating or type should I look at for the above conditions? We talk only short time in water and not arctic temps.

The only local stores here are REI (they have nothing actually in the store, online only) and Rutabaga (but their website doesn’t show if they actually have anything they show). So I likely need to order something. It looks like wet-suits are much cheaper (duh!). since this is just to extend my season by a month or so, I don’t want to spend excessive money. My hope is some cheaper stuff from Amazon will do :slight_smile:

If someone could point me at what type of suit I need, I can narrow it down more.

here is an old school video of dry suit vs waders, but still holds true. I use a dry top with stocking foot waders, like in this video, and feel comfortable in it. Just make sure you get a good wading belt.

As for wetsuit, it only works if you’re in the water. if you’re out of the water and wet, you’ll actually feel colder.

the typical water air temp is the 120 rule, if the water and air is over 120° F, it’s safe without drysuit/waders. But I can’t answer when that typically is in your waters.

Only temp that matters is the water.

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This is a dangerous assumption. You quickly lose dexterity in cold water, and whatever caused you to fall off your board might make it quite difficult to get back on. Taking chances in cold water is literally deadly. Get a good quality dry suit. Since you won’t be using it in a kayak, you can get a simpler style. You don’t have to get Goretex but it’s of course more comfortable than some options. My opinion is that you can do without the drop seat (unless you poop frequently!) but a relief zipper is very nice to have. Personally, I wouldn’t buy anything but Kokatat or IR, but there are probably other good manufacturers out there. Consider how much your life is worth to you and your loved ones.

I start wearing a dry suit when the water temps are in the low-to-mid-60’s F, sometimes higher than that depending on the air temps. (ETA: I also have all manner of wetsuits for earlier in Fall and later in Spring). I once became hypothermic on a beautiful Fall day when the air temps were in the 70’s (I don’t recall the exact water temp, but it was higher than I felt should concern me). My friend had to help me change into dry clothes and then use his body heat to help me recover. We were many miles from home, and it was dicey for a while.

Today the air and water were both high 50’s F and it was sunny. I wore lightweight wool long underwear under my dry suit and was exerting myself. I was super comfortable, and more importantly, safe. I always get in the water before I paddle to make sure I’m dressed appropriately.

Try Lake Monster.

Lake Monona, WI water temperature, information and forecast (lakemonster.com)

Multi-year temperature graph near the bottom of the page shows April-May in the mid 40s to lower 50s.

As far as what you should wear… you need to read through this site:

National Center for Cold Water Safety

The what is cold water page states: 60-50F (15-10C) Very Dangerous/Immediately Life-threatening

I think the 120 rule is very misleading. If the air temperature is 70 and the water temperature is 50, for a total of 120 the water is as stated above Immediately Life-threatening

I am no expert on this subject, but many on this site are and I am sure will be able to help decide what clothing choices make the most sense.


Go to the lake now and take the temperature. Then sit or squat in it slowly up to your neck in the shallows. See how it feels to you after 10 minutes even.

I was dragging my hand in water 63.5°F the other day thinking :scream::flushed: if my whole body was in it.

Thanks all. So it looks like beginning of May we look at 55°F and end of May at 70°F. I also like to add I wear a PFD and am more skinny (not really, but 175# at 5’11") and wouldn’t count on fat to keep me warm. And I probably would avoid days without sun or with cold air. I know water temps are more stable from day to day, but a sunny warm air day should help once back on the iSUP.

Looking at this table it looks like a 4/3 full suit + boots should be OK. I’m assuming here the time in the water will be short. Easy to climb on iSUP, easier than regulars kayak and I wouldn’t go out on a windy day on our calm lakes.

Am I on the right path so far? if so:

  • what to look for in wet suit that will be comfortable while paddling?
  • will the wet suit once wet be OK to wear on the air and dry? I assume there are different features and options that will make them work better.
  • the table shows 2/1 wetsuits for >65°F. Since I don’t necessarily know every day’s water temp and like to avoid buying multiple wet suits… can a thicker one be used or will that be uncomfortably hot when paddling?
  • would a suit without sleeves work considering the expected short time in the water? what about separate pant/top combos? I’m hoping for better air-comfort.
  • Does the sizing usually work out OK when ordering online? Local stores typically have nothing actually available for fitting.
  • Why are they mostly black? That seems to be a horrible idea assuming the air is warm and it likely is sunny (black absorbs the heat). and in the water the black wouldn’t add heat (if the sun even shines). a lighter color would be better. Am I missing some advantage of black? I would think a bright color and some orange or other alarming colors would also work better for boats not running over me.

Many of the responses here seem to be from kayakers, which is slightly different need than a SUP person. My suggestion isn’t as strict as what you have heard before.

Assuming you are proficient at quickly getting back on to your board (and you are wearing a decent leash, so won’t get separated from your board), there would be less risk than if you fell out of a kayak (which is usually a slower process to get back on, so kayakers usually need more thermal protection to protect them for the extended time swimming). Not no risk, but less risk.

A wet wetsuit doesn’t do much to help you when it is out of the water and exposed to wind. The solution for that would be to have a paddle jacket and/or paddle pants over the wetsuit.

When I am SUPing in water that is 55 or above, I would choose between:

  • 2 mm shorty farmer john
  • .5 mm hydoskin shirt
  • no wetsuit but have clothing (like fleece pr polypro) that would keep me warm if wet

Add some sort of paddle jacket or wind breaker if windy (though I generally avoid winds when I can).

Colder water temperatures and I would be in a paddling suit or dry suit.

Thanks, those are good points. And wearing something thinner may be more comfortable in the warmer air. More comfort is a safety feature as well since that makes it more likely to actually wear it. If it is not comfortable when paddling, I may be tempted to take them off.

Yes, I was planning to use the leash. I also will have a large drybag to take dry clothes with me. So if I get desperate, I could change. Obviously this trick only works for the first time i fall off. For now I also will have a kayak seat on my iSUP. So if conditions are bad, I would sit and paddle with less chance of falling.

  • Are there specific types of material that work better for sweating (or not sweating) in the air? My regular clothes are all wicking and they are great no matter how hot it is.
  • Assuming I go for the thinner 2mm + dry clothes, is short sleeved OK? I assume we mainly talk about core temperature. Or do my limbs fail as well when cold?
  • is a hood recommended? A cold head could make me unconscious.
  • Can a wet suit keep me warm in the air if I put some other clothes over it? I realize they get wet on the inside. but do they dry on the outside so I can put regulars clothes over them to keep warm? Or do I need to change them? I’m mainly talking about air temperature above 65°F.

Edit: I’m starting an amazon wishlist for pants, socks, hood, gloves, and top. Is there nay sense in picking different thicknesses for each type? Or should I just get the same thickness for all items? I’m inclined to get some inexpenive 2mm stuff for now and see in spring how that goes.

Running off or Peter-CA’s comments and the assumption that you can either remount the board or get to shore in a couple of minutes, you might want to start with a couple of layers of Hydroskin and an inexpensive splash top for wind protection. Consider long pants, a vest ,and a long sleeve top in Hydroskin. You can use wicking or smart wool under layers.

Back in the day (30 years ago or so) running OC-1 & OC-2 on Eastern Class II & III Pool - Drop whitewater rivers I was fairly comfortable, as were most of everyone else on the trips, in a Farmer John wet suit, Polypro undershirt, A fleece top, and a splash jacket. Swims were expected and usually short. I remember more that once wringing out the fleece after dumping the water our of the canoe & practicing my language skills.


I think the hydroskin idea is great since that seems to be comfortable and is most likely to be worn even when the air is a bit warmer. I see my local REI has some of the NRS hydroskin actually on site, but only the 0.5mm.

It looks like NRS calls it hydroskin for 0.5mm, 1mm, and 1.5mm. which one would I look at for top and bottoms? I have no idea how much warmer each 0.5mm feels.

This guy seems to recommend the 0.5mm hydroskin for a combined 110°F and in his example he uses 47°F as water temperature. Assuming my water always will be 55+°F and air temperature will be 70°F, would a short sleeve be an option? To me it would make some sense to get the 0.5mm in short version, and the 1.5mm in long sleeve version. But somehow I would like to start with one set only and see how it goes. I’m OK paying the NRS prices as long as I know it will be good. but i like to avoid buying a set I won’t use because it is too warm or cold.

Would you still recommend a hood and socks for my conditions? there doesn’t seem to be a hydroskin option for the NRS hood and socks.

I’d suggest starting with 1.5 material. I have no idea about footwear for SUPs. From a canoe & kayak view I’d use booties but feet are pretty expendable so somewhat it depends on your circulation and appreciation of discomfort. Heck, a pair of wool socks & worn out tennies work. A full hood is probably over kill for any conditions that you SHOULD be going out in. A wool cap is fine & keep a neo beanie or a helmet liner in your PFD.

As one of the more consistent user of a wetsuit for paddling, I’ll share this older thread from 2018 regarding wetsuits.

My caveate about immersion gear is always to relate it back to the skills/attributes of the specific paddler, the particular venue/conditions, and the expected time to self or assisted rescue. Two weeks ago, with water temp in the low 60’s, I did long boat surfing with a 2mm surfing wetsuit coupled with a semi-drytop. If I were in my waveski (and fully exposed to the water), I would probably be in 3/2 wetsuit without a top. Between 55-60, I would be in 4/3 wetsuit for the waveski. This weekend, with water temp at mid 50s, I expect to be in a 3/2 with a semi drytop for a longboat. The thing is that I sprint a lot and sweat a lot. I have rolling skills and can do that to cool as needed. If I were on a SUP and can perform a relatively fast remount, I personally would go with either a 4/3, or with 3/2 (with access to splash top) for 55 plus water temperature. Again, it is highly dependent on the level of exertion you put into your SUPping and the level of self rescue skills.

You can find a decent, very flexible 4/3 wetsuit from Wetsuit Warehouse for under $200:



Thanks. I then start with the long 1.5 hydroskin top and pants. Once it gets too warm for that, I will add the 0.5 short top and pants.

In summer I used some cheap water shoes for my IK. That was more to have something to walk in to the shore and to give me some protection in case I step on something under water. They don’t do anything for temperature or wetness. So I guess I will want to wear something and on an iSUP I assume more water will get on my feet just from paddling or occasional wave. So i will buy some of those wetsuit socks as well. I actually just started paddling this June and next year will be my first iSUP use. And with the supply line issues, I needed to theorize now to buy ahead of time.

Thanks, for all the advice. I learned a lot and feel will be well prepared.

You pay premium price for hydroskin (NRS) and these don’t offer much thermal protection. For 55-60 degree water, I would not go lower than 2 mm wetsuit, and only if you know you can get back onto your SUP real quick.



Ok. Sorry, read through your original post and the link to an inland lake, not a GL. I think of Great Lakes as akin to oceans where challenging conditons can develop. With an inland lake, I think you have more leeway and ability get off the water and out of conditions quicker, provided you don’t lose your leash connection.


here’s what I’d go with

be sure to check out the sizing chart, particularly the chest size

Thanks for the responses. Another wrinkle and issue with the full-suits is, that they don’t seem to have a relief zipper. On my IK I (male) used a bottle to pee and envision some similar procedure in a somewhat private area. It looks like all the full wet suits don’t have any sort of zipper. How do people pee?

That kind of drives me towards a solution with separate pants and top. I realize that leaves more room for cold water to enter.

I also have the option to move my anticipated start of the season from beginning to mid-May when water is closer 60°F and air will be 70°F-80°F. I have other land-based hobbies I can do when conditions aren’t great. And I think whatever solution I come up with, I will try to at a swimming beach to see how it feels before I go out with my iSUP.

Our waters are calm and I wouldn’t go out on a cold or windy day. So I wouldn’t be in the water for too long (hopefully). I’m actually more concerned that whatever I use will be too warm when paddling. That is where i think the hydroskin could work well. Maybe in future years i will be more brave and add thicker or even dry-suits.

I have another idea. Could I wear the 0.5mm short hydroskin and wear the longer 1.5mm hydroskin over it? That way I can take off layers, but at least end up wearing some wet suit when it gets warm. Or are they too tight to put them on top of each other?

I have the .5 mm top and long bottoms. I also have the 1.5 long bottoms. Truthfully, I don’t wear these for paddling except in the summers for minimum water temp protection and full sun protection. It’s really weird but I actually can’t differentiate the thermal protection of the .5 from the 1.5 m. The most used context I have for the hydroskin bottoms is for wet wading while flyfishing trout steams when water temps are 55 and over and the air temp is higher.

If you want to add thermal protection to your hydroskin against wind while on the board, you simply bring along cheapo nylon windbreaker and wind pants. Again, in immersion, the external nylon cover will add NO thermal protection.

Regarding how to pee in a wetsuit – just do it. For waveskiers, surfers and SUPers, you can simply jump in the water and let a little water in to flush through. Or, you can pour a little bit of (warm) bottom water through the neck to flush through. I find this much more convenient than when I used to use a drysuit, when I had to paddle to shore and find a “private place” (hard on popular beaches, or along shoreline privately owned) to relieve myself.