Wet Suit for 45 Fahrenheit Kayaking?

Hi everyone.

My story is that it is January and I live in a house within easy walking distance to lake access and I also have access to a kayak, paddle, and life preserver (not mine). The catch is that I have to move on May 1.

My plan is to buy a wet suit for 45F water. Then on March 1 will measure the water temperature. Once the water temperature is 45F and the air is 45F, I am planning to put on the wet suit and go kayaking. The wetsuit is in case I fall in. My goal is to never go into the water, except for launching my kayak when my feet will be in the water.

Could someone critique my plan? I have read on forums that although a wet suit will keep you a nice temperature in the water, it will make you cook outside the water, especially if you are exercising a lot. Maybe I should wait until the water temperature is 45F and the air is 35F? I have also read that wetsuits don’t keep you warm unless there is water between you and the wetsuit, so maybe I would get cold from the 45F air?

I realize that wetsuits are expensive and I may never use it again, but I have decided that this is what I want to do. I also realize that the water might be a safe temperature in April, but I don’t want to wait. Thanks.

Not a good plan for me personally. I wouldn’t even consider it. Below 60°F water temp minimum I’m in a drysuit. Wetsuit your looking at is? Thickness is?
Your feet protection is?
Your head protection?
Your hand protection is?

You need a entire protection package.

I never planned on a lot of things in life but they happen. Don’t have100% proper gear ride a bike or something else till waters 60°.

If you asking this question you are not ready for cold water but it is great you did ask. Lot’s of online info available familiarize yourself with it all. If you want to get old life is constantly a risk assessment process. You cross a road you’re doing risk assessment.

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Too little information provided.

Where are you geographically? Direct sunlight after getting dunked and upright again in too-cold water for your attire is less dangerous than doing so under gray skies. The sun has a big effect on how quickly you regain heat.

What boat are you using, and are you familiar with it? It sounds like all your gear is borrowed and unknown.

Most importantly, if you do capsize, how quickly can you rescue yourself (I assume you don’t have a roll), or CAN you rescue yourself?

What will you wear besides a wetsuit? Winter booties, winter gloves, winter hood if the wetsuit is not a full hooded one?

Then there is the question of your personal cold tolerance, an extremely individual factor. Nobody here can know that.

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I wouldn’t consider wearing anything other than a dry suit in those conditions. An additional plus of a dry suit - beyond the basics of comfort, convenience and protection - is that you can use it in a broader range of conditions, both warmer and colder. All you need to do is adjust your underlayers to suit the conditions.

That said, you don’t say where you live or if you’re going to be moving to a place where you intend to keep paddling in cold conditions. If this is only going to be a short-term thing (it sounds like a few weeks at most, from your description), your best bet is to just stay off the water and not spend your money on either a wetsuit or drysuit. Depending on your location, the water could still be dangerously cold through April.



That bit about needing “a layer of water between your skin and the suit” is BS. Any water that comes in from capsizing will make your body lose heat trying to maintain itself at 97+ degrees.

I know from years of experience wearing wetsuits, including immersive practice in them, that they are warmer when dry. The suit should fit tightly enough that water intrusion is minimal. There WILL be some intrusion—just don’t fit the suit loose enough that the intrusion is a flushthrough.

A general answer would be you need a full wet suit, probably 5mm with a hood and gloves for those conditions. We used to raft the Truckee River every spring when the water was 40-45 degrees sometimes in the snow. People took swims in those conditions and did okay in the cold water in wet suits. . While rafting we could usually get them back in the boat in a couple of minutes. Kayaking may have you in the water much longer.

Describe your experience with self rescue in cold water conditions. Best to paddle with partners and stay somewhere near shore.

Once the water temperature drops below 50 degrees F it is starting to get pretty cold. As ppine said, so long as you can get out of the water reasonably quickly, you will probably be OK. That might mean staying quite close to the shore of the lake.

A wetsuit merely reduces the circulation of water between it and the skin. Water conducts heat away from the skin much more efficiently than air does. Your body will still lose heat to the water contained in the wet suit but it will be much less than if the cold water were flowing unrestricted right over your skin.

Keep in mind that a swimmer in cold water on a lake or smaller river seldom actually dies of hypothermia. They die as a result of cold-induced disability. Some folks can survive a surprisingly long time in 45 degree F water even without a wet suit. But even a strong swimmer can become functionally disabled in a much shorter length of time. With immersion hypothermia vasconstriction of the arteries feeding the extremities happens pretty quickly as the body tries to minimize peripheral heat loss and preserve core temperature. This can make your arms and legs weak to nearly useless within not much more than a few minutes depending on water temperature. Consider this if you plan to paddle alone.

Neoprene is a pretty good insulator depending on thickness. You can wear as many layers over a wet suit as you need to keep you warm if you find the wet suit is not enough.

Personally, I can’t say your plan is a good idea, although it may work. But if I were you I would plan to put on the wet suit, and with dry clothes, a towel, and your vehicle nearby, go ahead and jump in the water for a few minutes and see how you feel.

When I was younger we used have power boats and enjoyed water skiing and wakeboarding. We were gung ho about it and usually started around April 1. We wore wet suits and everyone did fine. We learned that a long john was not fine. We learned that 2.5 mm was not fine.

I bought a ski boat once from a guy that lived in Truckee a cold spot. He insisted that I try the boat out in February. We went out to Pyramid Lake the outlet for Lake Tahoe. The air was around 50 but the water was below 40 degrees F. He put on a new type wetsuit over his track suit. I pulled him around the Lake, he got back in the boat and his clothes were still dry. No problem he said. I think it was 5 mm. I bought the boat a refurbished Ski Centurion from about 1982 with a Ford 351 inboard.

And if you’re separated from a kayak it’s an entire different scenario. Boat spins around and picks you up. Little exposure.

When I kayak I want to be physically and mentally comfortable to enjoy it.

Not sure what the skill level and the lake conditions are for the OPer. Newbie? Big wind and waves? Deep and paddling far from land? Versus veteran paddler, flat water, knee/waist deep, stay close enough to shore to get to land in 30 seconds. Makes a big difference, right?
In my situation the second scenario holds. I go out in sweats, light jacket, gloves, PFD and baseball cap and take a dry change of warm clothes and hat. Unless there is a wind I frequently peel off the jacket to avoid sweating. When it’s below freezing or iced up all the way across its back to the rowing machine.

I think you are way too lackadaisical about cold water.
Next time you think about paddling, stand in the water about thigh or waist deep for one minute and tell us about it.

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Everything about what you’ve explained you want to do suggest that you have little or no experience of kayaking and zero knowledge of the dangers of cold water. Air temp of 45F and water at 45F is extremely dangerous, to the point of being potentially deadly, for someone who lacks skills, the right gear and experience and training. Stating you “don’t intend” to fall in is naive and foolish. You’ll be damp and chilled even if you don’t fall in – mid forties is one of the most dangerous temperatures for hypothermia.

And in any water you need to be prepared in case you capsize and in water that cold you will be quickly unable to help yourself due to cold shock and even gasp reflex causing you to inhale water. A standard wetsuit is only 3 or 4 mm (I have one of each myself) and only useful for thermal protection down to about 60F, and falling into 60 degree water wearing one can still take your breath away. For 45F you would need a 5mm INCLUDING hood, gloves and booties. That’s a pretty costly and bulky piece of kit. Most kayakers at those temps go with a full dry suit (also including insulated booties, gloves and full hood). My drysuit cost $1000 and few new ones are under $700.

Plus you seem to be indicating you intend to go out alone and at a time of year that there will likely be few people out there around you. What do you know about this lake? Have you kayaked on it before? Is it deep or large enough to be windy and have possible large waves? Are we talking about a 10 acre dam empoundment in a sheltered valley or one of the Great Lakes inland seas? Really not enough information to assess your plan.

I have to ask, what is the urgency of having to get out on this particular lake before you move? It doesn’t seem like a well-considered idea to me. I’m sure there will be other chances for you to kayak in the future if you drop this plan. Maybe not at that particular lake but unless you are moving to a desert, I would think you would have alternatives. And it may be a better plan to make sure you survive to paddle those other lakes rather than drown in the one nearby now.

E-mailed a description of just such an adventure a year ago… cost me a Tracfone but I like the upgrade.

Yesterday was pretty much as nice as it gets here in February. The sun was out for the first time in 2 weeks and temps were in the 40s. Perfect day to go kayaking; I even ran across another kayaker and two canoes on the trip. I paddled up stream from our back yard past the beaver devastation area and did the usual pit stop at a x country ski warmup station in the Metropark.

Blocks of ice floating in the river weren’t melting very fast.

This winter I’ve always been stopped by trees that have fallen all the way across the river when I paddle upstream. Either the water is too high to get under something or too low to go over or around something (there’s a lot of flood plane detours available). I’m not willing to get out of the boat in the mud when its this cold. Well, yesterday the levels were mamma bear just right; I was able to go to Canoe Camp #1 in Island Lake. 10+ miles according to my dearly departed phone’s tracking app…

Unfortunately, I was pretty lazy. I have a waterproof cell phone case but I didn’t use it. After all, I haven’t dumped a kayak in something like 40 years. The first tree that blocks me going upstream is about 5 miles up. A fallen tree with a tip-up (where the tree roots pull the ground up into a disk about 10 feet high) on the flood plane side features an 8 inch trunk a couple of feet off the water going all the way to the right bank, which rises steeply about 5 feet out of the river. Going upstream I was able to paddle around it thru the tip-up’s hole on the left by following just the right twisty-turny route thru the timber, bushes and trunks that decorate floodplains. But I was looking at it and thinking “gee, the water is low enough that I could probably duck under that trunk on the right bank on the way back.”

So on the way back I took the short cut under the trunk. My height estimation was wrong. My head scraped the trunk, peeling off my hat, and then my shoulders hit and I pinned against the trunk with the current behind me and my face planted on the foredeck. I spent about one second thinking how badly I just screwed up before I was standing in shahockingly cold waist deep ice water, soaked from head to foot, next to the overturned kayak. Grabbed my glasses, hat, loose stuff from the cockpit and paddle, stowed wet things under the deck lashings so I could get my hands back, and walked the boat to a spot about 20 feet down stream where a tree and bushes would keep it from going sideways. Because of the bulkheads the cockpit only had a few inches of water in it and I was able to lift it up and empty it. That’s when the shivers set in.

The day hatch compartment had my hooded fleece and gloves, dry. I took off the PFD and pulled out the fleece, at which point I apparently lost a glove, and put the PFD back on over that. Managed to get back in without any further mistakes and started paddling as hard as I could the 5 miles back home. After five minutes the shivers stopped and I decided I was going to make it after all. Prior to that I was feeling pretty exhausted but somehow I was now full of energy. For some reason I was thinking “how interesting that I’m reacting this way”. Adrenaline.

By the time I got home my shirt was dry (polyester!) but my feet and legs were not. And I had been pretty brutal on my hands on the race home, I’m counting four blisters. Permanent damage is my lost glove and my $100 Tracfone. I’ve ordered a new one, a Galaxy S7 which is supposed to be waterproof.

Slept really well last night! Weather is nice again today, maybe I’ll go for a bike ride.

flirting with disaster.

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Not enough for me, by a lot. But the only way to find out for sure is to take a swim.

to the original questioner, but piggy backed here.

I had a lot of cold water wet suit experience. I wore a neoprene tuilik over the the farmer johh wetsuit. Had a NRS thermal LS shirt of some kind.
It was fine to get a little wet because I was only 150 yards from the car, I was specifically rolling the kayak.

If I chose to go distance I kept dry as possible and only rolled for fun before takeout.

You mentioned you have access to a kayak. I will assume you have paddled before and can
gauge what is safe for you. Go have fun. If you have never paddled before, stay out of cold water in a kayak

Peace Jeff

addnm. Dry Suit has been the go to for years, what an invention.

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The main variable here is your experience. I dont quite understand the first paragraph of your post. Are you saying you are not a current kayaker but can borrow a friend’s until you move in May?

If you are inexperienced, 45 degree water is a horrible place to learn. As others have said early spring water, alone, with limited skills is asking for trouble. Even if you mean well, ‘you dont know what you dont know’ which can be dangerous with cold water

If you are moderately experienced (paddling a couple years) or paddle with a group of highly experienced people, you could be ok in a wetsuit.

When I lived in MN and did early spring training we only had on street clothes and a dry bag with a change, or some of the surfskiiers wore thin neoprene, but we were in a group, on small-ish slow moving rivers (less than 50 yards wide), and all highly experienced. Take away any one of those 3 conditions and you’re flirting with disaster.

So yes, you could probably wear a 5mm or 5/4mm wetsuit with hood and be reasonably safe, but you still need to mitigate risk in other ways like staying close to shore, staying close to civilization, avoiding moving water, paddling with other people, leaving a float plan, having a way to send and SOS, having a thermos of warm water with you, etc.

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I’m entirely fine with you doing that. I wouldn’t do it in a million years!

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This thread is a bit old now, but I’d like to share this website with lots of great information on the risks of paddling in cold water. National Center for Cold Water Safety
When I was looking at paddling in cold water I called customer service at NRS and they were super helpful.

If you are discerning about where you paddle and wear a really good pfd, learn to brace up, or have a kayak that is virtually self-righting and maybe 20 years of experience, yeah, there is no reason why a full wetsuit won’t work. If all those criteria are met, there is very little chance that you will get soaked if you do somehow tip your boat.

There is always that freak occasion that you never counted on that might get you soaked, but there is every bit as much chance that something could go wrong even if you have the driest of dry-suits on…

Until you get a lot of spearience, it might be best to wait for warmer weather, but even then a finely honed judgement is a good thing to take along.