Wetsuit for warm weather, cold water?

Typical northern Michigan weather will take hold. Which means who knows. Maybe it will be 60 and raining. That would help the hotness. I also remember a few years back when the water in lake Michigan was I’m upper seventies as far north as traverse city. And folks there told me that people were swimming for fun on superior. This seems like you are in a situation of bad chooces, so just pick one and live with it, or not.

Ryan L.

Slippery Slope
Sing, you’re taking the argument to the extreme along a slippery slope. When, in fact, you know what I’m saying. Stop being internety.

I agree with you, but this thread is addressing someone who lacks the judgment to make those decisions. If they had the judgment, they wouldn’t have asked.

I paddle Lake Superior
All summer long and when it gets to the warmest part of the summer I wear Hydroskin long sleeve top and shorts when I’m going out for an afternoon paddle. As soon as I get on the water I roll and the cool water flushes through the top and keeps me nice and cool. This isn’t something I would want to swim in for a long period of time but it gives me some thermal protection from the cooler water, keeps me cool from the heat and most importantly it keeps me from being eaten alive by the flies. Like others have said, if you can’t roll you can dunk yourself by holding on to the bow of the other persons boat. If your taking a trip on Lake Superior you’ll definitely want immersion clothes that will protect you if conditions go bad.

Actually, I Do Know…

– Last Updated: Jul-09-11 8:15 PM EST –

I have interacted with folks with similar (very cautious) approach like yours earlier on who would tell me I "shouldn't do this, shouldn't do that..." I followed that approach earlier on but found increasingly that it felt overly cautious and stifling. It's not that they are wrong, it's just that it doesn't fit how I approach things, how I learn, how I develop my own skills and judgment.

If I had followed their judgement/approach, I would be home all winter and not be surf paddling 'cause I don't use a drysuit (I preferred wetsuits based on my experience after using drysuits) or have two partners to go out with me at each session. I certainly would not have never tried and succeeded in learning to roll on my own in the fall while testing my own immersion gear in chilly lake water. According to them, I should have waited to get pool lessions under someone coach's watchful eye and expert advice. I certainly would/should not have tried to improve my roll and bracing skills by surfing increasingly more challenging ocean waves/conditions whenever possible, even when no-one else wanted to go.

Sure. I am taking a risk at a level I am comfortable with. Just like the well known, higly skilled expeditioners and/or white water folks who feel comfortable at much harder conditions/venues who succeed or die by their choices. With the latter, it's often a case of shit happens for them as can for anyone who chooses to step out the door.

Not saying you are wrong. The OP should certainly consider your position. And, if they have any doubts whatsoever (and haven't done their homework and practices, aren't in great physical/mental shape), then I would encourage to them to do as exactly as you recommend (even though I know I personally would not have).


"people overestimate their abilities"

I agree
I agree with what you’re saying. You have the experience as do I with cold water paddling, so we make our choices based on our experience and the risks we’re willing to take. Someone that doesn’t have the experience has a much harder time judging the actual risks of cold water, so they should dress conservatively until they gain experience.

I don’t think recommending a farmer-john-style wetsuit worn with a hydroskin top and having a drytop as backup is a stifling choice. That’s exactly what I recommended early in the thread that they take for paddling on Lake Superior in the Apostles. That’ll have them covered for long swims during the time of year that they’re going.

I understand; all valid points.
Nope, we haven’t practiced rescues in cold water, nor do we know how to roll. However we are both comfortable in open water, strong swimmers, and have taken a couple of week-long trips in our kayaks (Isle Royale last summer) and have never had any issues with safety. As such, we are looking to improve our skills and venture into some more advanced areas. We live a block from Lake Michigan and paddle there at least weekly. We have owned our kayaks for a few years and are ready to add to our investment in gear for our next adventure.

I started this post because I want to be prepared, and I guarantee we will be more prepared than many of the paddlers who venture out on Lake Superior. I’ve got a few weeks before our trip, and once we have our wetsuits we’ll head out to practice our rescues on Lake Michigan (which is still pretty damn cold). Might even try to figure out how to roll.

Looking for people with more experience than me to help me make and informed decision. Very much appreciate the knowledge and comments in this thread.

Have not thought about dry suits
but will look into it… Thanks.

Cold Water and Conditions
The big issue is, really, the cold water and the paddling conditions you will experience.

California paddling is all cold water despite the fact that the outdoor temperature is, if not hot, quite warm. If you are going to spend any appreciable time in the water, a wet or drysuit is a must.

I’ve done multi-day canoe/kayak river trips with boy scouts where I fully expected to spend a certain amount of time in 50-55F water each day rescuing gear, boats, and boys. The wetsuit made it possible for me to stay in the water when others were already back in their boats or waiting on shore.

If these are the conditions in which you’ll be paddling a 3mm farmer john is probably a necessity (any thicker than this and your mobility will be affected). Shorties don’t cut it, sadly, if you are going to spend any significant time in the water because you will lose too much heat through the legs. One has to do a lot of practice rolling to keep cool enough in these conditions, by the way.

I’ve also paddled the coast, mostly Monterey Bay, where the waters are 52-55, depending upon location and been with groups which were unlikely to spend any time in the water and found myself sweltering in the wetsuit (which I wear anyway, so more roll practice for me, yay).

Lakes here (summer-october) may have warm surface water (top 5 feet or so that may reach the low 80’s) and very cold water below the thermocline. Wetsuits are generally not needed unless you wish to dive below that thermocline, which is unlikely for boat rescues. I generally were a swimsuit/shorts and a shirt for sun protection and still get too hot and have to roll. I’m not all that fond of lakes, but most Ca. lakes are man-made and are quite sterile and unattractive.


If you live on Lake Michigan anyway,
really worth it to consider going to dry suits earlier rather than later. It really does extend your season. If you can rent a couple for this trip, it’d give you a chance to see how you like them. Just remember to burp them before launching, lest you end up looking like the Michelin Man.

MEC Fusion
I am really liking the two piece fusion wetsuits that MEC is offering now. Instead of the one piece farmer john I bought a seperate neoprene vest and long neo shorts. Much more versatile for those warm weather days.

FJ w/hydroskin top
And a drytop makes perfect sense in this combo. The only other approach is a drysuit. You may want to start with a drysuit and add the other stuff as budget allows. By then you may have a better grasp with which to make these decisions. Until then I’d err on the side of caution otherwise - heed the weather reports and local knowledge. The apostles can get hairy very quickly.

Thats good

I’m glad you are both comfortable in the water and good swimmers. I have a friend pushing 60 who regularly kayaks to the Apostles, and she lacks most of the kayak safety skills I think people should have for that kind of paddling. But she is extremely fit and capable, a strong paddler who would leave most men of any age eating her dust, and an experienced navigator and whitewater canoeist. Most importantly she has good judgment, and will not paddle when waves kick up more than a couple feet. If you have good judgment and know your limitations and abilities, you can compensate for other shortcomings. Plan for at least one or two weather days per week, so you dont have to rush into something over your head. And learning to roll is an excellent idea! As is the drysuit.

try 'em out
I’ll add (at the risk of being pedantic)–try out your rescues with your new gear before your trip! Buy Farmer Johns, head for a safe spot with a lee shore, and practice all your different rescues–solo, assisted, etc. You might be amazed at what you’ve forgotten since you last taken a course or practiced rescues with someone.

Going to a drysuit early on?
Bouncing off of Celia’s advice to Lake Michiganers (below), what do you (and anyone else who wishes to chime in) think about going to a drysuit sooner rather than later for the California coast? I’m new to the sport, and considering my options.

As you say, the coastal waters here are quite cold, yet the air temperatures are often mild or warm.

As a heavier person who gets hot easily (5’10", 230 lbs), I have to wonder if neoprene wetsuits are even that much of an option for me. =[

Do those fancy Gore-Tex dry suits ‘breathe’ much at all, or is it just a different Circle of Hell, sweltering-wise?