Wetsuit...how thick?

As much as I’d like to have a drysuit, they are way beyond what I can afford. So I’ve decided a wetsuit will have to do for Fall paddling.

My question: What thickness should I get?

Thanks.

Impossible to answer with this piddly amount of information.

@Sparky961 said:
Impossible to answer with this piddly amount of information.

SW Virginia. Air temps of no less than 50.

Does that help?

Water temp, type of boat, length of trip, distance from shore, skill level, group/solo… and there’s probably more I’m forgetting.

Give everyone a nice long narrative of what you want to do and the folks here can be much more helpful.

Water temps are the most important.

But even knowing the temperature is not enough. Are you very fat or very skinny? It makes a tremendous difference. When I had a BMI above 30, I could jump into ice water in just a pair of bathing shorts and feel comfortable* for several minutes. Now my BMI is 23, and I feel the cold much more. Not really looking forward to this season’s ice swimming.

So the best advice is: Test your rescues in the water temperature and equipment you want to use. Then you will find out if it works or not. And remember to test those rescues safely, with a backup plan if they don’t work.

(*: Well, “comfortable” is perhaps an exaggeration. I could suppress my desire to jump out of the water, screaming.)

I agree that more details would help narrow down suggestions. But I’ll “dump out the drawer” of my own experience with thermal paddling wear anyway and maybe some of it would be useful to you, at least in making your needs more specific for further discussion. Again, these are my personal usage schemes, developed over a few decades of dressing for conditions. Other people likely have different ones.

Used drysuits can be quite affordable. I have seen several for sale on various paddling forums in the past few months for under $300. I got my own Kokatat Goretex drysuit (worth $1200 new) used for $400.

I also have a couple of wetsuits, at least one of which I also bought used. The used one is a “3/4” (4 mm thickness in the body and thinner 3 mm in the sleeves and lower legs). It’s designed for surfing and is a fairly typical weight for such suits – quite comfortable but not ideal for paddling because it zips up the back so you are leaning against the zipper and also can’t vent it in the front as you can with a front zip.

Farmer John/Jane suits, the sleeveless ones with long legs that zip up the front, are more commonly used for kayaking and canoeing and are usually 3 mm. My personal opinion is that this is the best option for paddling and the most flexible. I have a 3 mm NRS Farmer Jane. I can wear a 1.5 mm NRS Hydroskin jacket over it in chilly conditions and then open and eventually remove the jacket as the day and/or water warms up. I also have the 1,5 mm Hydroskin pants that I can wear with the jacket in conditions where water is warmer than when I might use the Farmer Jane. I got every one of these pieces on sale at various times over the years.

There are also 0.5 mm stretchy neoprene tops and bottoms (Hydroskins are one example) that provide a little warmth but are more for protection against sunburn and abrasion in my opinion. They can be used for layering, like under shorts or a drysuit but are more like longjohns than they are useful for thermal protection on their own.

5 mm suits are warmer but substantially bulkier – more often used for SCUBA in cooler waters. They are not all that comfortable and once you get down to water temperatures under 65 anyway wind is likely to be an added factor and a drysuit is a safer option.

There are also 2/3 suits which are usually called “spring-suits”. I have a “shortie” version (sleeves above the elbows and legs above the knees) that works well for snorkeling in the Caribbean and paddling in fair weather where it is too cool for shorts and tee shirts. Even the “warm” 80 degree water in tropical areas can eventually make you feel chilled when you are immersed for a long time.

Though there are various articles and charts suggesting the best types of thermal protection based on water and air temperatures, they don’t all exactly agree. To some extent the choice is personal and people have variance in their metabolisms and level of cold and heat tolerance. For somebody starting out to build a wardrobe of thermal wear for paddling, I think a 3 mm front zip Farmer John is the most versatile core garment to start with,. If you find you need more insulation, adding a 1.5 mm or 2 mm longsleeved top or a Goretex dry top over it will add range.

The list below is sort of my approximate personal range by water temp and topside conditions. To put it in perspective – I am female, average weight (BMI of 26), have a pretty conservative metabolism and am not much bothered by cold. Except on the warmest days, I wear 5 mm neoprene hard soled booties on my feet. Also, 99% of the time I am either in a sit inside kayak or a canoe. You need more cool water protection on your lower body if you paddle a sit on top with the wetter ride that creates :

water over 80 degrees: polyester or Smartwool sportswear over a one piece bathing suit
75 to 80 degrees: 2/3 mm shortie spring suit or 0.5 mm Hydroskins (long sleeve top and bottom). Dry top in the hatch, just in case.
70 to 75 degrees: 3 mm Farmer Jane (dry top added on windy days)
65 to 70 degrees: 3/4 mm full length wetsuit (dry top added on windy days)
60 to 65 degrees: Farmer Jane plus 1.5 mm Hydroskin jacket (dry top added on windy days)
60 to 55 degrees: dry suit with 0.5 hydroskins underneath
under 55 degrees: drysuit with fleece “bunny suit” underneath
under 45 degrees: stay home

Here’s a guide from O’neill wetsuits.

Personally, I think its recommendations are generally ok for the warmer end of each range specified, but near the colder end, IMO, their recommendation would leave you cold and I personally would go with the next thicker suit for warmth.
the pacific around me is ~65° and I am comfortable in a 4/3 full wetsuit. I figure it could get a few degrees colder before I switch over to my drysuit.

Like willow says, your body fay has a large effect on your personal perception of the coldness of water and resistance to cold. I am athletic with very little body fat and get cold rather quickly in cold water.

As other people mention, if you’re close to help, civilization, and rescue, a somewhat thinner suit is ok. If you need to survive for hours in cold water, a thicker suit should be chosen.

ALso, as willow says, I got my Kokatat goretex suit for $250, so a used drysuit is affordable. Also Mythic Drysuits are available for as cheap as $250 new.

This is an informative video, though the guy with no protection is a Champ and the woman who bails early with plenty of protection is a wuss. the guy lasts 15mins in freezing cold water. hes a badass (but also had a rescue crew literally standing around him)

I picked up a semi-drysuit on clearance for around $280. I usually wear a thin wetsuit on underneath it and/or wool layers. Works perfectly. Have literally gone swimming with it as well as routinely jump in during the coldest months. The caveat: wouldn’t be the best for lot’s of rolling, surf zones or going a good distance offshore in really cold water.

I know they’re a lot of money, but quality drysuits last a really long time if you take care of them. They are more versatile for different weather conditions, and generally give better mobility. Having used both, I don’t think there’s any comparison.

I still use a shorty wet suit sometimes in the spring when the air is warm and the water still chilly. But since solidifying some reliable rolling skills I wear my drysuit in much warmer conditions than I used to, and just roll frequently to moderate my temperature.

@Sparky961 said:
I know they’re a lot of money, but quality drysuits last a really long time if you take care of them. They are more versatile for different weather conditions, and generally give better mobility. Having used both, I don’t think there’s any comparison.

I still use a shorty wet suit sometimes in the spring when the air is warm and the water still chilly. But since solidifying some reliable rolling skills I wear my drysuit in much warmer conditions than I used to, and just roll frequently to moderate my temperature.

So, having skills and/or skilled partners really extend your range of options. Middle of this week, I went surfing (solo surfing as usual) in my long boat with a 2 mm full wetsuit, under a drytop and a pfd. it was 40 degrees air and 53 degrees water (which according to the generic charts, I would be “pushing the safety limits”). But, as I expected, I was sweating like crazy sprinting in and out of the surf zone. And, of course, bracing and lots of inadvertent rolling happened. Enough so to cool me off. I never came close to coming out of my boat (the rolls felt more effortless in the long boat than with my waveski). If i did, it would not have been a long swim back to shore. If I were further out, I am pretty sure I would have been able to do a re-entry and roll and/or a paddlefloat re-entry in under 15 minutes. Certainly within the timeframe before I would have been physically incapacitated by hypothermia.

In the past, I would have been in fleece, drysuit, and PFD. I would have also been totally drenched from sweat (so much for making a lie of the "dry"suit concept). If I didn’t wear sufficient layers under drysuit, then I would not be as sweaty and drenched. But, the trade-off would be that I cut my window of time to safely to do re-entry (but likely well within my skills portal).

Again, what I am getting at is the the window of safety is hugely contingent not only on a person’s physical characteristics, but on the paddling venue, the partners and their skilled levels. So the “right” choice in immersion protection is really hard question to answer for someone other than oneself (provided one is self awared).

sing

Yup, completely agree with your above comments, @sing. Hence my initial (and perhaps a bit curt) response to the question

There are just so many variables in the equation. If I couldn’t roll proficiently, I’d often be sweating to death in my drysuit, despite the ice and snow around me when I paddle in the winter.

Half priced brand new drysuit, about the same cost as a nicer wetsuit:
http://www.rivermiles.com/forum/YaBB.pl?num=1538343678

How does the NRS Hydroskin stuff, compare with a real wet suits? Been looking at both, as a bridge between shorts and my drysuit.

Hydroskin, for me, is summer or pool wear. I use it to keep me more from getting sunburn than for immersion protection.

sing

0.5 mm Hydroskin is for sun protection, but the 1.5 mm is decently. warm and easier to layer than thicker neoprenes.

I paddle in the waters of Mine in the summer. A thinner category of hydroskin (last I looked there were two weights) is often my top when paddling near shore to watch osprey diving for their dinner and the drysuit would be overkill. But I am talking very non-challenging paddles because even in July the water is usually in the high 50’s.

…hydroskin for summer…

hmm, well down here in northern FL, hydroskin is great for winter.
my ‘daily stretch’ paddles are pre-dawn, so a bit cooler temps (and no sun).
Winter (predawn) is typically higher 40’s, some warm spells, some cold spells.
All things being equal (wind, waves, tidestream direction), for me, my formula is:
anorak +
60s = 2 light polypros
50s = 3 (usually 1 light + 1 mid)
40s = 4 (1mid + .5hydroskin or 2 light)
For me, a .5hydroskin is equivilant to a mid or 2 light polypro shirts
If I’m going to be getting wet, I’ll use the hydroskin.
note: I’m of slight build, some may prefer less, and I don’t ‘push it’, so don’t build up a sweat

Medawgone: the 1,5 Hydroskin has a “fuzzy” interior that I find more comfortable than a wet suit, You do get damp inside of it, either from water flushing in or sweat, but I don’t find it as uncomfortable on my skin as the conventional neo wetsuits I have due to the texture and stretchiness. The only drawback I have found to it is that it takes a long time to dry out after you have worn and rinsed it. I went to a 4 day kayak camp and was glad that I brought both the long pants and jacket and the Farmer Jane (all 1.5 Hydroskin) because it took 2 days hung in the cabin to get the garments dry , even turned inside out and I could rotate them. Yeah, I know I could have just put them on wet, but since we did a lot of early morning standing around on shore for lectures and instruction I preferred starting with a reasonably dry layer.

There are wetsuit makers who use a more comfortable brushed surface stretchier material – Henderson is one that comes to mind. What I like about the NRS products is that the designs are paddler-centered and it does make a difference. Though I find my standard back-zip, padded knees surfer wet suit is great for canoeing, it is not that ergonomic for kayaking,

VC…I have a Kokatat Drysuit for sale for only $350…it is the GMER model. Gortex. It is in very good condition. Hate to admit it but I can’t fit into it anymore and need to size up. The Drysuit is a size Large. Text me: 518-796-6289 or pitmartin@roadrunner.com …if interested…

@pitmartin said:
VC…I have a Kokatat Drysuit for sale for only $350…it is the GMER model. Gortex. It is in very good condition. Hate to admit it but I can’t fit into it anymore and need to size up. The Drysuit is a size Large. Text me: 518-796-6289 or pitmartin@roadrunner.com …if interested…

It kills me to pass that up, but a large would be too big for me :frowning: Thanks for the offer though!