Wet suit or dry suit???

As we’re getting into colder paddling conditions in the Great Lakes, I’m debating if I should get a dry suit or a wet suit or a combo of wet suit and dry top to prevent hypothermia.

I’ve never capsized even in somewhat rough conditions

and I am not interested in going out and dodging ice flows this winter (my season ends usually ends around November).

I’m just put off by how much drysuits costs ($500.00-$1,000). Some of the cheaper floatation suits a cheaper but look like you’d sweat buckets.

Advice appreciate!

You MUST wear one or the other if paddling in colder waters. Having never previously capsized is irrelevant.

Most people who can afford it prefer a drysuit, but a wetsuit works fine too. Typically paddlers will use a farmer john wetsuit, paddling jacket, and fleece insulation (if necessary) initially. Then if they’re still into paddling a few years down the road, they splurge for a drysuit.

There are good deals on now for drysuits - end of season clearance.

It’s possible to find a farmer john wetsuit for around $100 and a paddling jacket for around $100.

How to end up with too much wet wearo
Spend a couple of seasons trying to avoid a drysuit if you live in the northern half where winter water temps hit 40 degrees.


If you think you could ultimately afford it and you live in the Great Lakes area, you might as well get more serious about it now. Of course, you can wait and pile up enough neoprene to outfit half your neighborhood…

I Got Lucky

– Last Updated: Oct-06-11 4:58 AM EST –

NRS was discontinuing a model (full drysuit) and they were blowin' 'em out the door CHEAP. Once you go dry you never want to go back. In mild weather I will do a dry jacket and Hydroskin bottoms. Personally, I'd rather not go paddling if I have to wear a neoprene top. Clammy and constrictive.

some ideas
As you noticed, the dry wear is quite expensive :slight_smile:

Some companies, say Kokatat, sell dry tops and dry bottoms that can be combined into one “dry suit”

Paddling suits are cheaper that drysuits, something worth considering.

Whatever you decide to acquire, I would encourage you to develop solid self rescue skills and practice them in attire of your choice, of course in conditions that you would like to paddle.

BTW, David Johnson of http://www.paddlinginstructor.com/ is an excellent coach.

And, this event http://www.georgianbaystormgathering.com/ is quite close to Toronto

North Carolina
Here in North Carolina our water get into the fourties. Many get buy with a splash top and neoprene bottoms. It is not the ideal outfit for swimming. Canoers paddle in the same cold water and shore sneak the rivers with extra cloths in a dry bag and plenty of snacks.

I am not recommending what will work for you. I am just telling you what I see others use.

I am recommending that you take a brief swim after each paddle after you’ve loaded the boat back on the rack and pre heated the car. You’ll quikly learn if you are dressed well for the water.

A good self rescue takes a couple of minutes and if you are dressed poorly you will not have that much working time in cold water.

Just a couple of minutes is all it takes to rescue yourself or not.

Atleast try to swim every month you paddle and get a really good hood!

Get busy livin or …
I’m facing the same decision. Fork out the dry suit cash or continue buying neoprene. I’m working on big piles of the stuff. It’s neat to own, but I don’t need it. I need a solid reliable roll and a dry suit.

Gotta get serious. The water temp is dropping and I don’t want to run away from Lake Michigan this winter.

But I also don’t want to become personally acquainted with the more frigid aspects of a lake created by glaciers.

Things to Think About

– Last Updated: Oct-05-11 10:23 PM EST –

Neoprene suits are problematic for me for several reasons.

Firstly, once they're wet, they're wet - and if there's wind, wet neo and wind equals big-time chilling. Even heating up water that's penetrated the neo uses body heat...

Secondly, the ability to layer under a drysuit makes it far more versatile. Warmish water, light layers - colder water, more and heavier layers.

Then there's convenience and comfort. I like being able to step into the suit, zip it up, burp it and be done. Comfortwise, there's no comparison - no tightness, no chafing, no misery of getting back into a wet or damp suit.

Cost - well, all my recent purchases have been of used or deeply discounted drysuits. Got two Reed ChillCheaters which I really like for $250 and $200 respectively, and a new Stohlquist B-Pod for $350 - the neck seal was too tight, and Stohlquist, another great company to deal with, replaced that free of charge. I've spent maybe $200 on the Reeds, both of which needed factory seam work (nice folks, btw). Still, three good suits, about $1000...I also have about $500 retail in neo, which was purchased before we got drysuits, and hasn't been used in years...

Worth checking the Kayak Academy site - they often have good deals on used suits, and have earned a very solid rep here on the board - and your local sources of info - on-line paddling groups, local classifieds, etc.

If it's feasible, take the suit for a swim - that saved me $200 on the asking price of one of my ChillCheaters, when the chest seam leak showed clearly on my dark undershirt! Replacing neck and wrist seals isn't hard, but make sure the fabric itself is in good shape - no signs of leakage thru it, or delamination. Again, the Kayak Academy website has a lot of useful info...

If you get a dry suit, don’t waste any money paying the “brand tax” on GoreTex. Event Fabric has been shown to have much higher breathability in US Army Lab tests.

In fact we switched from Goretex to Event fabric patches on some military barometric systems were I work, and now condensation can be removed much more quickly.

eVent vs. Gore-Tex
Try to find waterproofness data on eVent. There’s none on their site and I haven’t been able to find anything online, either. Breathability is great, but I’m more concerned with keep cold water OUT of my dry suit.

There doesn’t appear to be any warranty on it. Again, there’s nothing on their site, which is the obvious place for it.

Durability data is sketchy, too.

It seems their only claim to fame is that they’re more breathable than some other fabrics. Big deal, so is cotton, but it would make a lousy dry suit. :wink:

In contrast:

Gore-Tex is GUARANTEED to be waterproof. Gore sets rigid standards for garments made with their fabric and tests every design to make sure it’s waterproof.

Gore-Tex has a LIFETIME warranty on the fabric. I’ve had three Gore-Tex garments - including a dry suit - replaced under warranty, all of which were at least 9 years old at the time of replacement. Cost to me? ZERO for the garments and just a few bucks to ship them back. Unless you wear holes in it or tear it, a Gore-Tex garment is a lifetime purchase.

Gore-Tex has a proven track record of durability and continual improvement. Today’s Gore-Tex is amazingly light, waterproof, breathable and tough.

Considering that eVent isn’t much cheaper than Gore-Tex, where’s the value? With no warranty and no waterproofness data, it makes me wonder what they’re hiding?

Whatever you can swim in in conditions
you paddle in. You can buy used as well, check craigslist, ebay and pnet classifieds. I strongly suggest you swim in your gear before ever paddle. It gets you acclimated and lets you know of problems.

I’ve tried others and I’ve heard this about EVent as well. My recommendation is to suck up the “brand tax” and go with Kakatat. There is a reason they are the best and it’s not just Goretex (although there is no warranty like the Goretex warranty).

I’m near Cleveland (lucky me)…
…and worked through the same situation that you are in… splash top, dry top, wet suit…

…but this past spring the cold weather just wouldn’t let up and I couldn’t stand the idea of another spring in my thinnish wet suit. I bought the Kokatat Gore-Tex paddle suit (with the neo neck for comfort).

Wish that I had done that in the first place. The comfort factor is just so much better. And by layering, the suit has an excellent temp range.

However with the neo neck I do take in a small amount of water when working on rolling. After about 25 to 30 rolls my shirt starts getting pretty wet in the front. A latex neck gasket would probably resolve that but I love the neo neck for comfort.

A couple of my best kayaking has been on rainy days while wearing my paddle suit.

So I’d suggest that you skip the intermediate steps that so many of us have taken and just go straight to a dry suit. And make that a good one, since it is life insurance.

Oh, and by the way… you will capsize and it will probably be when you least expect it :slight_smile:

breathability differences are overrated
If you are exerting the suit will not keep up with your sweat. I don’t think switching to another “more breathable but still waterproof” material will make much of a difference.

Focus on waterproof.

plan to paddle in the spring?
Fall paddling, you can probably get away with a farmer john and drytop, and still be safe. But spring time is the real drysuit weather. It’s warm enough that wearing tons of neoprene is unreasonable and uncomfortable, but the water temperature is much colder than in the fall. Around here folks get dead more often in May, because the water is still 40 degrees or so, and they really aren’t dressed for it.

If you can manage to front the money for a Gore Tex Kokatat suit, I think that’s going to be cheapest in the long run. Other suits may not hold up as well, and generally don’t have the same warranty support as Gore Tex and Kokatat. Many many folks (myself included) have had their suits replaced by Kokatat at no cost, because Kokatat found some minor delamination or something.

Wet Suit? Dry Suit?
I personally own a Farmer John Ultra wet suit and it works fine for 50F waters, but I have been told that I could paddle year round with it by long time paddlers. I personally will not paddle after November or whenever the first snow flake hits the ground, but I have heard many others mention of spring being the coldest time to paddle.

I would go with what everyone else has said and get a dry suit.

A wet suit can be a pain to estimate how warm it will keep you at what water temps. Mine supposedly can go as low as 40F, but I personally would not risk it. On top of that, wet suits at certain thicknesses may be too warm for some people in cold weather or too cold for others, so you have the subjectivity of warmth. I also never really heard of anyone who would take a wet suit over a dry suit either, so that is something else that you might want to keep in mind as well.

Either way, I wish you the best of luck!

Wet vs Dry
If you purchase the most expensive dry suit (about $1000), and get 10 years use out of it, the cost will be about $100 per year to be comfortable.

Those not using a drysuit commonly spend more than $100 a year on the latest addition to their cold water clothing in an attempt to be comfortable.

A week or so after the new year, do a wet exit and spend some time in the water dressed in whatever clothing you normally wear. I can spend about 25 minutes in the water before I start getting cold. Try that with a wet suit.

worth its price come spring
I agree with the poster dry suit truely shines in spring!

In fall, the air is cold so wearing neoprene doesn’t feel too bad at all. It even keeps you warm against the chilly air.

But come spring, when the air is warm but water still freezing cold, the thought of these un-breathable rubber layer called wet suit is most unthinkable! Worth yet, once you work up a bit of a sweat, it felt clammy and sticky. You almost want to capsize just to get rid of that sticky sweaty feeling inside of you!

Bogus Obfuscations

– Last Updated: Oct-06-11 1:44 AM EST –

To suggest that eVent is not waterproof is really silly because, like I said, its been tested for use in military applications. As an aside, its also used in civil aviation barometric pressure sensors. So if you really believe what you say, be very, very nervous when you get on a plane.

Durability is another obfuscation. eVent and goretex are membrane layers embedded in fabrics ranging from drysuits, to hiking wear, and to shoes. It is the outside fabrics that determine durability.

The warranty argument is bogus too. If you buy an expensive piece of gear with eVent or Goretex, the manufacturer will guarantee the product for the useful life. In fact, you can find plenty of people on the internet who have reported problems trying to get Gore-Tex stuff replaced (from Gore-Tex)

You have to use special cleaning solutions with Goretex, but eVent only requires detergent free soap. In fact, a few ounces of fabric softener will completely ruin a Goretex garment. I doubt they will replace the garment because you did not follow their instructions.

Finally, breathability arguments are not overated, because if breathability was not important, everyone would be paddling in a laminated rubber dry suit.

I would rather have a breathable garment for 9 years then be wet for 9 years.

Dry suit
Suck it up. Buy the dry suit. You won’t regret it but you could very well regret going with the wet suit if you have an out of boat experience in really cold water.

The main reason to start with a wet suit is to have something to lend a friend after you buy your dry suit.