Wet/Drysuit for early spring season in WI

Forget about these ridiculous “temperature rules”; 100°,120°, etc. Once you are in the water the air temperature is irrelevant. Although long discredited these rules were proposed by ACA and unfortunately copied by the USCG and many other organizations. Once in print, people are resistant to change. You would think that the ACA would know better being located if Fredericksburg, VA, not far from the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay, with its large surface area and relative average depth warms and cools very rapidly. In the Spring especially, water temperatures still in the 40s and air temperatures in the 80s are not uncommon. Multiple deaths occur every year in the shoulder seasons due to cold water immersion often combined with not wearing a PFD.

Our Club requires cold water gear starting at 60°F in protected waters and higher water temperatures depending on conditions.

How a person reacts to cold water can vary considerably. Temperatures are deceiving. Air at 60° is reasonably comfortable. Water at 60° feels pretty cold to me and tolerable for a fairly short time.

I used to wear a wetsuit down to about 50°, but since I bought a drysuit I don’t wear a wet suit anymore. I find a drysuit more comfortable and versatile. It’s very expensive, but considering many of the top brands have a lifetime warranty, the financial pain fades over time

A wetsuit is more affordable in the shoulder seasons, but bear in mind that a wetsuit by itself is really designed to be comfortable when one is in the water. Out of the water they can be very hot when exercising and not very warm when in the wind on a cool breezy day. You will want some wind and thermal protection when out of the water that you can put on and take off.

Ultimately I have to find out what my temperature tolerance is. People in Russia meet at frozen lakes, cut through the 2’ of ice and swim in the water with just speedos. I wouldn’t be one of them for sure. I recall swimming in the Baltic Sea at 60°F, and it wasn’t fun, but OK in just speedos. So my hope is with at least some layers I can do a few minutes safely.

So I’ll start with the Hydroskin and socks and see what date I feel OK being in the water and if I can get back on the iSUP OK. Maybe the year after I upgrade to warmer gear depending on how much I value the ability to start the season even sooner.

As for peeing: that has to happen on the boat since going on land wouldn’t be convenient or private at all. And jumping into the water to do that would only be possible or convenient in warm weather. Even in warm water I wouldn’t want to fight with plants and algae at many of the locations beyond the absolute necessary. My plan here is to never fall into the water when the water is cold. This suit is just for the off-chance of falling in to save my life, not to willingly go into the water. I realize the suite will be sweaty etc. and needs to be washed after use. But I prefer not to pee inside, although that would be warm :-). I came across some diving forums and adding a relief zipper with glue actually is a thing there. Some custom-manufacturers also add them for a fee. IMHO, that really should be more common on a full suit.

Relief zippers are a pretty common request in a drysuit. As probably the majority of wetsuits are used for scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, etc. where you are in the water a lot of the times, relief zippers are not common. However, I would pay for one for use with a kayak or SUP.

I just watched the PaddleTV video last night and he clearly recommends the zippers as well.
There just don’t seem to be any wet-suits with one already included.

As mentioned above, wetsuits are mainly used by scuba drivers and it is common to just pee into the wetsuit, hence no need for a relief-zipper.

When diving, one is surrounded by water. So whatever runs out, will be gone. I also assume some new water will go through the suit every once a while.

But kayaking isn’t under water. I’ll sit on my seat and that will be full of pee or I will sit on a liter of pee inside my suit. Everyone’s comfort level is different… but I prefer to pee outside whatever I wear :slight_smile:

pee zippers are a nice addition to a drysuit. Most of my paddling trips are day trips that only last a few hours. So I frequently pee before I put on the suit and wait until I take it off. Even with a pee zipper, if you’re wearing bunny fleece, you will have another zipper to access. Under that fleece I usually wear a fine wicking layer so peeing is a bit complicated, thus I tend to wait until the end of the trip. Sometimes it is just as easy to unzip the main zipper and peel the suit and under layers down to pee. You don’t need a pee zipper to do that but if you can get to your equipment then the pee zipper could be the ticket.

So i think it is kind of a hassle to pee in either a drysuit or wetsuit. Relief zipper in a drysuit helps a little bit but still not necessarily easy depending upon under layers.

Another nice feature in a drysuit is a built in tunnel for a skirt. Definitely keeps boat drier. You can get much of the same benefit as a tunnel by simply taking an oversized splash top over the drysuit and sprayskirt.

So why do I recommend these cheap semi drys? I find them more comfortable (no latex neck or wrist gaskets, and less prone to total failure (gaskets ripping out). I don’t disagree that full drysuits are drier. If your immersion times are long (far from shore) or conditions extreme then the full drysuit is the way to go.

Often the conversation is centered around an op who says I don’t want to spend much money but want protection. I think the semi drys that are marketed as drysuits for sailing, kiteboarding, and windsurfing will work for many. They often have no pee zipper or tunnels but are still functional.

yesterday, before leaving the house to run the cherry (richwood wv) I get a text, “Can I borrow a splashtop. I ordered a drysuit but it hasn’t come in yet”. I throw in a couple of the extra semi drys - a large and xl (not knowing what is going fit better) and some extra fleece. Now, not only is my paddling companion going to be more comfortable, but my own safety has improved as well. Should I end up being the one to be rescued, I now have a rescuer who is properly dressed to assist me.

Then there is the whole front or rear zip discussion. I prefer rear zip but it does require help. I have a hard time getting front zip suits to fit over my shoulders. I have to go from a large to an xl in a front zip. As a result the suit is too long and becomes baggy but I can get it on and off myself.

If cost is a big concern be sure a visit your local thrift stores regularly. If you go frequently enough you can get the staff to tell you what days they put fresh merchandise out. I got a brand new semi-dry top for $20. Splash jackets and pants for $4 to $10.

Past experience tells me I pee frequently (and drink accordingly). Maybe in cooler weather less, bust still need to pee. the Parks I launch from have bathrooms, but often they are closed during winter and may not be open at the time i plan to go out. they often also are not private enough so I can’t just go into the bushes. It happened before that I arrived at a park, had no opportunity to pee and had to inflate my boat etc. to go out to do that. Even if i didn’t need to pee… I find it a fallacy to not plan for it or I will end up with a somewhat uncomfortable situation.

The temps I plan to go out will be so that I normally would wear shorts and T-shirt. So 70°F-80°F and sunny. I really don’t think a dry-suit will work for that comfortably. I realize air temp doesn’t matter when I’m in the water. but it matters when I get back on my craft. Water temps will be 55+ °F. If it feels too cold at the beach, i may not go out before water is at 60°F or so. At least for next year. Maybe in the future i will go lower. But this is just to extend my season by a few weeks. not real winter boating. This being an iSUP I hope not to spend ton of time in the water. And I don’t need skirt attachments on an iSUP :slight_smile:

Money always matters, even after winning the lottery. But I really want something that will feel relatively comfortable while boating. Relying on used items seems a far stretch when looking for something specific. If it isn’t comfortable I either don’t go out at all, or don’t wear it all the time. So a comfortable imperfect solution can be safer than the safest dry-suit that I won’t wear. Again, I rather wait a week for warmer temps to go out than to suffer.

Right now I’m looking for good deals on the short hydroskin shirt and pants. Maybe later I add the long version and socks. that way i get to feel how it feels to be in the water and for 2023 I will maybe upgrade or not.

Just to offer an alternative perspective, in many ways a good dry suit can be much more versatile than a wet suit or combination of wet suit pieces for the following reasons.

A decent dry suit is basically like a waterproof shell jacket, that is, it is some form of unlined and uninsulated nylon with some type of waterproof membrane. These suits come in a variety of thicknesses, basically depending on the level of abrasion and abuse they can withstand. The thinner suits are fine for casual paddling and thus are very light weight and breathe well. They are also more comfortable and less restrictive than a 3mm wet suit. These dry suits are similar to a very light weight windbreaker jacket. Because these suits are so light weight, they do not trap much heat and can actually be more comfortable than even a 2mm wet suit when the air is warm.

Also note that if you get hot while paddling in any type of protective gear, you can always dip various body parts in the cold water to cool off. This works well for wet and dry suits.

The advantage of the light weight dry suit is that you can choose the layers under it to suit the conditions. If the air is warm and the water in the mid to high 50 degree range, you can likely get away with shorts and a tee shirt or light weight long pants. The whole advantage of the dry suit is that it keeps the cold water off your body and prevents that cold water from leaching away your body heat.

For colder water days, you can wear fleece pants and tops and stay very warm. I will briefly share my personal experience on this point to illustrate. When kayaking on a small lake in December, I took an unintended swim while wearing a farmer john 3/2 wet suit over a 0.5mm wet suit long sleeve top. The water was in the mid 40 degree range. One of the problems with a wet suit is you immediately feel the full force of the cold water and then you slowly warm up as your body heats the water trapped between the suit and your skin. I was truly shocked by the instant and intense cold. Even wearing a PFD, I struggled a bit swimming the 20 yards to shore and then felt very cold paddling back to the dock once back in my kayak. Overall, it was a totally miserable experience.

That same week, I purchased a dry suit. I put on light fleece pants and a light fleece top under the dry suit and literally jumped into that same lake to test the dry suit. I never felt less than fully warm and comfortable despite hanging out in the water far longer than I had in my wet suit. Since that time, I have never looked back and far prefer wearing my dry suit to my wet suit.

As an aside, for flat water kayaking and paddle boarding, you don’t even need a full dry suit. You can get a semi-dry suit that does not have a latex neck gasket. That is what my wife uses. So long as you use a good PDF, your neck won’t submerge for more than a few seconds, so no significant amount of water will enter the suit. Among other things, semi-dry suits are cheaper and more comfortable that full dry suits.

Also, as noted, almost all dry and semi-dry suits have relief zippers and there are women specific designs.

Unfortunately, dry and semi-dry suits are more expensive than wet suits, but the added level of safety, versatility and comfort justify the expense.

Good luck and stay safe.

1 Like

Thanks for the perspective. And you bring up a good point about the wetsuit being initially cold since the water layer that enters needs to be warmed up first. that would e especially important for me since I only will be in the water for a minute or so. so I wouldn’t really take advantage of that. This also makes me think that for the first minute, the thickness of a wet suit matters less. Or odes the water that creates the fil in a wet suit get in slowly (let’s say minutes?)

Would it be a better policy to use a short wet suit when water is above say 65°F, and a semi-dry suit when water is under that? Basically skip the thicker and longer wet-suits?

Google gives me semi-dry suits in the $500+ range. An example this NRS model. what features would i look for considering air will be warmer? and is there some science to why the zipper is horizontal? I’m sure it has to do with water-sealing. But I wonder how peeing while sitting works (asking for a friend).

Maybe I still start out next year with the short wet-suit and see how it goes. Even if that limits me to warmer water. And in future years I may go to the next lower temps and try a semi-dry suit.

I think the pee zipper is horizontal so that the zipper is not bent while sitting.

If you are asking for a female about sitting and peeing, tell her to get a funnel to use for peeing

. That’s what I do and I stand up just like a man. Men usually don’t sit. Yes, it means you have to get out of your kayak or at least have someone hold it so you can get up.

It’s the reflex to breathe when you hit cold water that is the killer. Before you even think of getting back on or in whatever you are paddling. So how fast you get back out of the water may not always be the answer. We just watched a great presentation by this organization at our local kayaking Zoom meeting. If you can’t get in the water prior to paddling and be comfortable for a few minutes, you are not dressed properly. National Center for Cold Water Safety - What is Cold Water?

I definitely plan to go in the water by a beach first to see how whatever I buy feels in the water.

micsta: I’m male and use an old bicycle water bottle that I empty into the lake. Ideally I don’t add a funnel to the bottle since it already is an awkward exercise under a towel (for privacy, but I do that far away from people) while I try to look like nothing is going on :slight_smile:

I found some more information on wet-suits and the seams and think seam design will be important. Midway down there is the description of overlock, flatlock and GBS seams. It seems a tighter seal will work better for the initial few minutes (my important ones since after some minutes i plan to be back on he iSUP) since less water will flow in that my body has to warm up.

I also found some “Farmer John” wetsuits with full zipper. That way I can pee :-). The only problem I see they “only” have the flatlock seams. Does anyone know of a Famer John that has the better Glued Blind Stitch seams AND a full zipper? All the wetsuits with front-sipper and GBS, don’t have a full zipper (not relief zipper). Ideally from a place that allows hassle-free returns since i may have sizing issues.

If I have a Farmer John suit I can add a long jacket, and boots as needed to give me some layering option. I was thinking of adding a semi-dry suit. But that may be later in addition to above wet-suit. So finding a good Farmer John with good seams and full-front zipper would be a good starting point for me.

I don;t think seam type makes much difference for what we are doing., The initial water entering the wet suit when you go in comes from the edges, not through the seams. A not well waterproofed seam would only slowly allow water in.

Thanks. That helps me widen the options.

I re-read the NRS Farmer John suits description and saw they actually use “Glued & blind-stitched” seams.
For 3mm they have a regular Farmer John for $150 and an “Ultra John” version of the same for $190. The only difference I can see is the Ultra uses Graphene and the description says: “Graphene, a graphite-based interior fabric, provides next-level against-the-skin comfort. This quick-drying and wicking fabric layer also provides added insulation.”
Does anyone have experience with that graphene option? If it is wicking and more comfortable, I totally spend the extra $. I’m of the opinion safety gear is only safe when it is comfortable - because uncomfortable gear may not be worn at the critical time.

So I got the L-size of the NRS 2.0 shorty wetsuit. According to their sizing the L is right my size. I’m 5’11", 175#. I try it on and the problem is it is very wide by my arm-pits chest area. Maybe this is an issue with all farmer-john sleeveless types. But the cold water would come right to my nipples. I think that would cool my core and heart too much . Maybe the same type with a 1/4 sleeve would be better. It is also loose on the back of my thighs and it was easy to get in and out. I also assume it stretches with some use. So I return it and wonder if I should try the M-size. but that is too small according to their table. My fear is an M will be too tight and I won’t know before use in spring/summer (after return period).

I also question if a sleeveless wetsuit is the right type since there is a good chance of water reaching my chest. Much easier to seal around my arms then the whole arm pit area.

Or am I misunderstanding this Farmer-John type and they should be used with a wetsuit jacket over it? I had planned using this one in warmer water and add more wetsuit layers if i venture out into colder water. and i bought this one first since it was the cheapest (compared to long-sleeve style) and wanted to first see how the sizing works out. Glad I did not order my whole wardrobe at once.

I did like it has the full-front zipper (for easy entry, and peeing even if I didn’t try that :slight_smile:

Maybe I will venture out in some cheaper amazon brands first to get a year experience in and figure out the sizing. But I really hoped I could skip the “cheap” part and go right to quality. but fit seems to be a bigger issue.

The closest, to what I think is better, I found is this with 1/4 sleeves and the weird diagonal front zipper. Most other ones with front-zipper have the zipper only go to the belly button, which isn’t good enough for peeing. Really, the NRS if it had 1/4 sleeve would be ideal. Maybe I try this over the summer. I hope it will feel comfortable. when paddling.

I had a shorty wetsuit, but I bought it for scuba diving in the Florida Keys when I would be in 70°F water for about an hour at a time. It would probably be sufficient to prevent cold shock in water temperatures down to about 50°F, but would not be sufficient for anything other than a short period of immersion below about 55°. With your arms and legs exposed you start to lose the use of your muscles in as little as 10 minutes in 45° degree water, in my experience, especially your hands.

Of course, different people have more or less tolerance to cold water. I would suggest swim testing your gear in the water you plan on going out in to judge its effectiveness.