Wet suits/dry suits - help

I need to get outer clothing for paddling our kayaks in cooler (50-60 degree) water. The prices of dry suits is more than I can spend this year since I just dropped almost $4000 getting the equipment for my wife and me. I will be sticking fairly close to shore (within 15 minutes of geting out in case of tip-over) are there suggestions of alternatives? Wet suits would be ok since I can purchase them for 120 each. Thoughts?

For Extending The Season

– Last Updated: Apr-25-07 6:34 AM EST –

get a 4/3 (4 mm body and 3 mm limbs) or a 3/2 surfing wetsuit using the newer ultraflexible neoprene. The 4/3 is right for 50-60 water but may get hot (pour water on yourself to cool off). The 3/2 is also good IF (big "if") you have the skills to get back into your boat relatively quick if you capsize. Both can be extended a tad bit into the colder season with the addition of a drytop to slow down water infiltration in the neck area. This is where infiltration happens most with surfing wetsuit whereas the wrist and ankle areas are generally (should be) very snug in a good fitting suit.

There are some great sales right now on SierraTradingPost on BodyGlove and Oneil wetsuits. But, I would strongly recommend that you two go into a surf shop to try on wetsuits with a salesperson since I will just assume you know next to nothing about how the wetsuit should fit. Expect to spend $200-$250 for each wetsuit. Combined, still cheaper than a decent drysuit for one person.


here’s my thought
you’ve got car insurance, house insurance, health insurance…you dont want to pay for them but you do…if you really like paddling and know you are going to do it for a long time then go ahead and get a drysuit, consider it real life insurance…take out a loan if you have to.

Also look at the trops supernova, still money but even it can save your life…i’ve got a goretex meridian and prefer the trops…it is the suit you have on that counts.

Drysuit Definitely More Flexibility
and if you plan year round, that would be the route to go. If you know, you’re a 3 season paddler, then a wetsuit will be economical and, in my opinion, just as safe.


I own 4 wetsuits (different thickness), 2 drysuits and 4 drytops. I only use wetsuits these days, year round, since I am a waveskier. The seatbelt buckle of my waveski and the rocks/boulders where I surf can tear a drysuit which would be catastrophic in the winter. Thus, I favor wetsuits these days over drysuits.

I agree but…
Posted by: medicineman “you’ve got car insurance, house insurance, health insurance…you dont want to pay for them but you do…if you really like paddling and know you are going to do it for a long time then go ahead and get a drysuit, consider it real life insurance…take out a loan if you have to.

Also look at the trops supernova, still money but even it can save your life…i’ve got a goretex meridian and prefer the trops…it is the suit you have on that counts.”

I realize that this would be the way to go but next year not this year. I need something for a trip to Acadia in June this yesr - other than this trip I will not need anything until next year as most of my paddling will be in warmer water where the cool-down will be welcomed.

From one Yankee to another (MA native)

– Last Updated: Apr-25-07 7:44 AM EST –


NRS Farmer Bill (as opposed to Farmer John).

Farmer Bill is what I have... economical ($93!), and I love the suspender shoulder which is held firmly by velcro and snaps. Wanna pee? Unsnap and roll down. Easier to don and doff, esp when wet. Plus, this ability to snap at shoulderds saves the suit, less stretch and wear/tear than trying to wriggle out o a conventional wetsuit. Reinforced knees and butt. I use mine frequently.

Note: they tend to run small in size, so if on edge of sizing chart, buy next size up.


As Another Yankee…

– Last Updated: Apr-25-07 8:21 AM EST –

who goes out year round in rough water conditions, several pointers based on my experience - including swimming - with various types of immersion gear. The Farmer John/Bill NEEDS to be coupled with some sort of hydroskin or neo top AND a GOOD drytop over that. Otherwise, if you end up swimming with it, it offers much less protection than a full wetsuit. (Go find Jay Babina's article which talks about "wetsuit" though what he really is criticizing is FJ neo wear.) The arm and chest area will flush water like a sieve (as do the leg area of most farmer johns because of lousy fit). So, when all is said and done, you end with a slightly higher cost than with a good surfing wetsuit.

NRS still uses mostly old version of neoprene. Much heavier, less flexible and the source of the criticsm that neowear is not flexible enough for paddling. In my surfing wetsuits, I go 4-6 hours of sprinting and surfing through the breakzone and have never felt the neowear as being restrictive for me.

It is true that a full surfing wetsuit will not be as convenient for "rest stops." But the priority is not convenience (otherwise just wear shorts and tshirt!), it's about immersion PROTECTION. Farmer john/drytop combos work the best for those who have pretty much a reliable/combat roll and hardly every swim in most conditions.

Sorry, if I am coming on strong here but we're talking newbies in Arcadia, ME, in June... Anyone who paddles ocean in this area knows that the water is still very chilly and quickly life threatening for someone not appropriately dressed for a swim.


For What It’s Worth…
…here’s our experience.

For our first few years kayaking, we took the “…we’ll stay close to shore and be careful, and always carry dry clothes” approach -worked OK, but we never felt really comfortable out on the water.

Then we decided to get wet suits - White’s farmer johns - and we had those for a few years -notice I said "had, not “used”, because we found them less than ideal - hot in the boat, a nuisance to don and take off, and prone to major flushing with any significant movement in the water. So we tended to fudge whether we “…really need them today” etc., and they got very little use. They are also, we found, dangerously cold when wet and exposed to any wind.

So finally, two seasons ago, we got drysuits - or semi-dry suits, to be accurate - the Kokatat SuperNovas. They’ve proven to be a major improvement in both thermal protection and useability. We didn’t feel we needed a full drysuit, since we’re really alongshore paddlers, and then there was the question of cost - the SuperNova is about 1/2 the price of a full featured GoreTex Kokatat. So far, we’re happy with our decision - just wish we had made it when we spent money on the White’s.

One final note - we’re great believers in carrying a full change of warm clothes in a drybag - ours are right up there with our PFDs as essential pieces of safety equipment.

Dive shop
Don’t hesitate to look at a dive shop for a wet suit. the new stuff is very streatchie and not like the stuff of a few years ago.

I am saving for a dry suit ( I think the most comfotable way to go ) but for the past year have been using a 4/6 farmer john bottom and top and have no problem with it, in or out of the water, I did purchase a light wieght top from NRS for summer use.

If you shop around you can get one reasonable.

And even later when you get a dry suit, I think there might be times you would still use the wet suit, rock gardens, times when you might want to do a lot of snorkeling or swiming.


Another option
is a used non-breathable (coated nylon) drysuit. I’ve picked them up on eBay for ~$50-$75, needing some/all gaskets replaced. It costs about $100 per suit for all new gaskets and latex booties if you repair it yourself. You would also need some repair tools that are reusable - probably another $75. You also could have a repair shop do the work for a little bit more.

You will sweat in these suits in warmer air temps, but if you are only using them a few times it may be a less expensive life insurance policy, on par with a wetsuit, once repaired. Email me if you want more info.


Our water temps are similar
but our air temps are usually much warmer. Winter paddling means 50-55 deg water in Southern California, but the air is usually around50 degrees or higher.

In these situations a FJ works well IF coupled with other layers of clothing, ie, a neoprene or hydroskin shirt, neoprene booties, a neoprene hood, and a dry top.

Dressed like this we find rolling to be “refreshing”, without it, it’s ice cream headache time.

One caveat, it is imperative that the neoprene fit correctly. If it is loose, you are nothing more than a flow through tea bag.

I just went through the
whole “wetsuit-vs.-drysuit” and “what-can-I-afford” debate.

I realize you’ve already pretty much decided that a drysuit is out of your price range, but I would HIGHLY suggest - as have others - that you first look for some used drysuits on Craigslist, Ebay, or maybe from some outfitters who sell their rental suits at the end of the season. Here in the Pacific NW, drysuits can be had for a decent price, depending on your size. If you’re small-to-medium sized, I hate you (:)) because you can pretty much pick and choose between decent used Kokatats, B-pods, etc.

This place has new Stohlquist drysuits for $290.00:


Remember that a 50-60 degree AIR temp is going to mean pretty darn cold water, and being in water that cold for as long as 15 minutes could spell big trouble. Even if you’re only planning a single trip, I’d definitely try my hardest to get the proper gear before you settle on something else.

Wetsuit always useful, & Maine

– Last Updated: Apr-25-07 1:10 PM EST –

It's a spare/backup to the drysuit, in the case of the Tropos suit it's a viable underlayer since the neoprene neck will decidedly leak in the case of a swim for me, no matter what I do. If you later decide to mess around with mild WW it's something that you can wear and won't catastrophically tear if it gets a rip. It wouldn't be my first stop for paddling wear knowing what I know now, but when I started I wasn't wet most of the time. It changes your point of view.

I rather like Sing's suggestion tho' - for the moderate amount more money you can get a wetsuit that'll be a much more robust alternative for a lifetime. And with a Farmer Jane/John you still have to get a rashguard top for chafing anyay - a single higher end wetsuit isn't that much more if you add that in and is altogether easier.

If you were planning on being in Acadia in July or August, there might be an argument that a fuller wetsuit would be hot. That is not an argument for June in Downeast Maine. Unless it's a really nice June, you can expect damp, sprinkles, fog and generally cool temps with the water probably closer to 52 than 59. (We've often been in Maine for the latter half of June.)

Also - there are some things that you may not be aware of about paddling there but please think about them and plan around these issues. And really consider going out with a tour group as much as possible.

First of all, always staying "near shore" is not a realistic idea for newbies unless you find areas that are protected from big waves at all phases of the tide, and stay in them. At certain points in that 11 ft tide, what was a relatively calm headland of a bay at 10AM can be impassible without going well out from the shore to get around significant refracting waves against rocks by 1PM. You should absolutely print out tide charts before you go - you can google tide charts and Bar Harbor and find them.

If you get caught in one of these situations, make it a lunch stop, pull out a tarp and consider waiting it out to the next slack tide. Or take a healthy walk. I suspect that if you stay to the western and northen side of the island, you can reduce this risk a bit, but spend some time online and check it out.

Be aware that the wind will reliably ramp up and be more so late morning(oops - had misttyped afternoon)/early afternoon. So you can't estimate things reliably by how it feels at 9AM.

Finally the fog - we have found dense dripping off your nose fog to be more likely in June than in July. A fog bank you can barely see on the horizon can be on you and diminishing your visibility to 10 feet within 25 minutes. If that happens when you are more like 50 ft from shore trying to dodge refracting waves or big rocky areas, you have a problem.

In sum - I would strongly suggest that you do research ahead of time to find well protected areas, contact someplace like Aquaterra Adventures to find out about what tours are available that you could join, and seriously consider doing a lot of your paddling on Long Pond in the middle of the island. At leaast until you have some rescue and overall paddling skills under your belts.

All good advise
I appreciate everyone’s input as it all makes sense to me. I am seriously considering sticking to the lakes unless my wife and I get to take rescue lessons as well as sea kayaking techniques prior to our trip. I am more concerned for her as she seems a bit unsure of herself. At least I have done WW in the OC2 division which does give me a sense of balance and appreciation of the dangers. I understand that even the lakes rarely exceed 55 degrees which means 10 to 15 minutes to loosing dexterity (without protective clothing). I would like to try Long Pond however.

Can you rescue each other?
50 degree water is not a cold shock killer but cold enough. Since you have a built in partner, take some lessons and learn to rescue each other and put one another back into the boat after a capsize. The ability to do that plays an important part in your decision about your clothing and your paddling adventures. If you cannot put one another back into the boat, then your options on clothing are greatly reduced. In 50 - 60 degree water you could paddle in a sweatshirt if you just went into small intercoastal streams. However, you could die in the center of a lake if you can’t get back into the boat and out of the water.

Eventually you will learn skills and you can get more expensive clothing as that progresses.

I hate to recommend a wetsuit farmer john because I find them so hot and uncomfortable. But I guess you could do that if you think you will be paddling far from shore in cold water at this stage. They shrink so don’t get it too tight.

A note on fit
If you end up getting a wet suit, fit is important. It works by traping a thing layer of water, too loose and it traps too much water to work well. Getting one too tight causes chaffing in all the wrong places.

You know it’s right if the material still has stretch when it’s on. No stretch means it’s too tight. If you CALL NRS on the phone they will be a great help to you.

Training First
Ok, I made reservations for a full day of training (includes rescue techniques). This, I feel, is the most important thing to do to protect both of us. I will then see what they recommend for water in the mid 50s. I will try to be frugal (not cheap) however. Many thanks


If they don’t show it to you and your wife is having trouble with the usual paddle-float self-rescue, see if the Rolly-Polly entrance works for your wife. Hook the outside heel over the edge of the boat and roll right into the cockpit - no need to worry about the upper body strength thing.

She’ll just have to really commit to laying across the front of your boat for you to get in.

How far out are you going?
If you’re an eighth of a mile from land a hydroskin suit will probably work. I have both the NRS 3mm wetsuit (Grizley Bill) and the 1.5 Hydroskin (Grizley Bill)and I have to tell ya, I get a ton of usage out of that hydroskin…I can use it creeking or for mid winter paddles that are close enough to the shore and it seems to keep me warm without being overheated…and it allows freedom of movement.

Drysuits are a must if you’re going to be out there (mile from land etc.)but as I’ve yet to find one that fits my 18.5 neck size and my (much thinner) wallet I go with the wetsuit and hydroskins.

Along the Shore

– Last Updated: Apr-26-07 2:15 PM EST –

I plan on hugging the shore within 1/5th to 1/8th of a mile as my wife is too new to paddling to go out any further. Next year I am hoping that we can go out further. For this year I am only concerned for the 3rd week in June in Bar Harbor area since the water temp is in the mid 50s.