Just picked up a 2MM full wetsuit cause it was $40 brand new with tags still on. I live in MN & mostly run WW rivers. So, I’ve read about what water temp you can handle with different thickness wetsuits, But those guides are for extended exposure. When I do swim, I can usually get to shore in under 5 minutes. So the question is, could I handle colder water temps with a 2MM suit since I can get out of the water fast?? Or is the problem getting cold AFTER I’m out of the water. In other words is air temp the issue & not water temp with a quick swim ?
A Wet Wetsuit and Cold Wind…
…is BIG trouble. I’d want to be really, really close to shelter, warmth and dry clothes before I’d trust my life to that setup.
You lose heat 25 times faster
in water than air with the same temperature. But you won’t be toasty in a wet wetsuit in the wind on shore. You have to have a layer that blocks wind.
go and float for 10 mins in a local pond and see how your arms work after that. It’s sounds dumb but it’s a good way to test what you need to wear.
A NRS or kokatat thin neoprene hood makes a world of difference.
I wear a 3mm wet suit and dry top in the PNW with 50F water and air but I have a roll. If I do come out of my boat I’m back in under a minute. If you are counting on swimming to shore, I would dress for the water temp.
function as well as float
testing is great. Make sure you can function too such as grasp, swim and have a clear mind to look at your surroundings and make good decisions.
Getting hypothermic in a wet wetsuit standing on shore is why I went dry. Lucky I wasn’t alone.
2 mm not a lot of protection
I use a 2 mm long sleeve top and 2 mm short bottoms for waveski surfing where I am constantly in the water exposed. It works well down to 60 F water temps. I have a friend from South Africa who uses this set up all winter long here but that just means water temps in the low 50s. I think he is nuts. It will protect you for a brief swim in water down to about 50 F, but I would not use it for anything colder, and you would be pushing your luck in low 50 F water. A wet suit will keep you warmer than people are claiming in wind, but it’s not something you are going to use much except in late spring, early fall in Minnesota or for summer on the Great Lakes.
+1 on the last two…
I often wear a 3/2mm farmer with a fleece shirt and dry top surfing and rock gardening. This is toasty to the point I need to roll to cool off even on cool Ca. days, but taking a break on the beach I freeze my butt. It’s not so much about staying dry as getting the right heat exchange for paddling and swimming.
All the best, t.george
I was given a formula
by a friend that has worked for me in personal expenience ( after controlled exposure experiments)
Water temp + air temp over 120 deg= regular clothing for comfort.
100 to 120 = 3mm wet suit wool hat
80 to 100 = 7mm wet suit/dry suit wool hat
under 80 = dry suit with protective head gear
This formula is in no way scientific or proven to be safe, hypothermia is deceptive and dangerous. Every person reacts differently to cold water.
Always practice self rescue with your cold gear as it does effect mobility and floatation under a controlled situation before it becomes an emergency situation.
Yup, that’s what I do, just jump in.
I wear a 3mm Farmer John with a 2mm neo jacket. I can function in icy water for a few minutes. The hardest parts are the beginning and the end. I use extra long safety lines which I grab soon as I hit the water, then head for a place to stand. Pull the boat in and take it from there.
You are apt to do $10,000 worth of shivering in the $40 wetsuit.
Cold weather kayaking is serious.
Dry suits are expensive, but even the best one, used over a ten year period is a great investment in comfort and safety.
5 minutes is quite possibly eternity
in winter water.
Evaporative Cooling and Material
If the outside of your suit is slick rubber you will stay much warmer in the air. A suit with an outer skin of fabric will hold moisture and will freeze you in the air. The fabric is for abrasive resistance and that is why it is on the inside of the suit. Without it you would not be able to get it on. Fabric on the outside helps the suit slide over objects without the rubber grabbing. Most dive wetsuit have fabric on both sides because they are not exposed to the air. Windsurf suits have a slick rubber outer to shed water. It makes a tremendous difference.
I would suggest a small reflective space blanket that you can stuff somewhere for emergencies. If you are caught on shore after a swim it will help warm you up quick.
The shock of cold water can make things go bad quick so be careful. It is not the time to take chances.
Once upon a time …
… there was no such thing as drysuits for paddlers. Yet tens of thousands of paddlers in northern climes successfully paddled in wetsuits plus additional clothing, even in the toughest whitewater.
I’ve been present for hundreds of wetsuit swims in whitewater, and I’ve never personally experienced anyone dying of hypothermia or even being seriously affected by it. Of course, everyone was wearing something in addition to the rubber in cold weather.
Some people would wear poly underwear under the wetsuit. I was always theoretically conflicted about that tactic. Namely, how does that affect the warming of the water layer between the skin and the rubber?
Others, including me, preferred to wear the poly on the outside of the wetsuit. Paddlers usually had poly tops of two different thicknesses. Thicker poly should be considered for a 2mm wetsuit in cold weather. Over that, most would wear a windproof paddling jacket and, perhaps, paddling pants.
As even further insurance, many of us would carry a towel and and extra set of poly garb in a dry bag. Taking off drenched poly, putting on dry poly over the wet wetsuit, and then putting back your windproof paddling jacket always sufficiently warmed up swimmers on any day there was liquid water. If it’s too cold for that garb, the fresh water will be frozen.
Ocean paddling in winter presents additional risks, so none of my comments or experiences relate to that.
a kokatat storm cagoule is a great option for windy days. they are big enough to go over a pfd and everything and make taking a beach break in the wind much warmer.
A 2mm suit is way ahead of no suit. A 3mm would probably be a little better. What months do you paddle in and what is the water temp? We used to raft the Truckee R a lot with water temps in the 40s. Even a quick swim in a full wetsuit of 3mm made people pretty cold. Usually the air temp in say April was not that warm maybe 45-50 degrees F. Maybe you could add a vest or shorts over the 2mm suit.
I have worked with, as in at a job and saw all the photos and heard the stories, of people who did WW before dry suits. This is when the WW boats were two-piece fiberglass bullets that some guy made up from molds in their garage and tended to be held together with a lot of duct tape. The guys wore what they could find in wet suits but it wasn’t much, but every one of them I know of used a layer of wool. Not the synthetic stuff you see now.
One of the interesting things about real wool is that it still can keep you warm when wet. I had occasion to test this out, by accident, when I was outdoors, got caught is a soaking thunderstorm and got well into hypothermia. Not having any brains, one of the charming aspects of advancing hypothermia, I did the nearest thing. That was to climb into a big old heavy never-would-use-it-now all wool Boy Scout sleeping bag. I was pretty wasted when I woke up but I was still around to notice it. The old time WW folks I know relied on that feature. It is cold in the northeast when the non-dam water is running, go back far enough and the controlled release stuff wasn’t around either.
One note re wind and wet suits - the problem I had with that was in the typical paddling wet suit that people get because they are relatively cheap. As mentioned in one post in this thread somewhere, the surfing suits tend to have a layer that protects from wind. They also cost a good bit more - a really good one starts coming in around the price of a gently used dry suit. So it becomes a closer call on what to get - basically, which garment are you likely to get a longer time of being happy with? In Florida, or in areas off of California where temperatures are kind enough to not drop near freezing (water and air), there is a lot of wiggle room. At sub-40 degree water or air temps in the 20’s, there is less margin.
is wearing a wetsuit while paddling, specially winter paddling, they just dont mix well. Cant regulate body temp, uncomfortable, first you will sweat your arse off, then you will freeze, and if you do swim, you will be wet and cold for the rest of your trip, im sorry but those things are just not meant for paddling.
oh boy, that should fire everyone up, i can hear it now, wet suit this, wet suit that.
come on over to the good side of the lake for a paddle sometime, anytime, leave the wet suit at home...
I have a 2mm shirt and pants
If I wear dry pants or even a splash top over it while surfing or paddling hard I get over heated. If I take a break onshore I cool down quickly and need to break out the splash gear.
I wear poly thermals under the wet suit and it works well and reduces chafe
I’m comfortable with this get up down to combined temperatures of about 100. I cannot imagine wanting to go outside on purpose when the combined temperature is below 80, but on occasion I paddle very flat water and shore sneak in water in the 40’s with air ranging to the low 40’s and warming through the day.
Not all 2mm neoprene is the same nor are all suits made the same and people have different levels of insulation and cold tolerance.
I went to the UP of Michigan this summer and you would not believe the water that tiny little children can swim in all afternoon.
Formulas are nearly useless
In the spring around her, the water can be 40 degrees or less on days when the air temp is in 70 or more. Using that formula, you’d be dangerously under-dressed in the event of a swim. That’s why I consider spring to be the most dangerous time of the year for paddlers; warm air lulls them into thinking that they can paddle in T-shirts and shorts, but the water is cold enough to kill.