Wetsuit Questions

I’ve yet to set rump in boat, but that starts this weekend with a 2-day training class in the Denver metro area. Last weekend I got my first wetsuit, a “farmer john” style, plus I have a gasket-type goretex overcoat (I don’t know what the exact terminology is) at the advice (more like insistence) of the local kayak shop. I’m going to get wet and cold, apparently.

On the website for the classes it says to bring the wetsuit and synthetic long underwear. I’m assuming by that they mean polypropelene thinsulate kind of stuff that I wear when I’m mountain biking (They’re not open yet so I can’t call for clarification).

Generally, do you wear stuff under a wetsuit? The thing is hard enough to get on as it is! Mine is a farmer john style (think ‘overalls’, or bib-style) so I knew I could wear a shirt under it. I just didn’t know if I should. Now I’m wondering about that.

The idea of a wetsuit is that it’s going to get wet, water will get through, but your body will warm the water between your skin & the wetsuit & you’ll be warm. So you’ll be wet, but warm. So if you put anything on underneath be prepared for it to get wet. The dry top will help keep splashes off of you (hence the “dry”), but won’t help if you end up in the water. A dry bag with a dry set of clothes to change into afterwards would also be a good idea.

Beware the limits respect the water
Conside checking out Jay Babina’s article on the limits of Farmer John wet suits for us kayakers. Divers understand how a tight fitting wetsuit that prevents water intrusion exchange limits getting hypothermic. Unfortunately kayakers without this background don’t. Farmer John’s are only about 30% as effective without an upper torso thin neo garment covering the neck and armpits.

What is your water temperature there? If below 50 you may be underdressed for both cold shock and hypothermia with repeat immersions, and if there is wind. The gore jacket is most useful when in the wind and when get out of the kakay, as wet suit in the wind has a flash freeze effect.

Here is the article, knowledge equal power and respect for the water.


I wear a light synthetic long-sleeved undershirt when I wear my farmer john & drytop. It decreases the sticky/clammy feel of bare skin against neoprene or waterprooof fabric.

More Qs
So it sounds like I should invest also in a wetsuit jacket to go over the farmer john. Is that reasonable (money isn’t going to be a big obstacle when safety is concerned)?

I’m still not really certain about the thermal underwear - it sounds from the linked article that this is helpful in adding pressure to the inside of the wetsuit, thus preventing water exchange, and thus keeping the water that gets in warm.

One issue with wetsuits is rash if the skin is unprotected, hence the rash guard tops you’ll see. Many people have found that something like polypro or fleece, both of which as I recall retain some ability to help keep you warm when wet, works as well under a wetsuit. As above, it is the job of the wetsuit to trap water and retain your body’s warmth in that thin layer of water.

I would suggest bottoms as well - I have found that if you really spend a while sitting in a wet wetsuit, portions of your posterior may also be prone to something like the start of a rash. Or conversely, if you stay dry and start sweating a lot under it.

The one situation in which a damp wetsuit fails miserably at keeping you warm is in a cool breeze. The shell the shop recommended works to help block heat loss from that cause.

Finally, at water temps under 50 degrees, or near it, many people find that they are just too cold in anything short of a dry suit. If the water is anywhere below 55 and you tend to get chill easily, you may want to be conservative and avoid doing things that are likely to make you swim until near the end of the session.

My standard set-up is…
For water that is cold enough for my Farmer John, I wear it as follows.

I have thin Polyester underwear, and a thin long sleeve polyester T-Shirt I put on first. I also have thin Polyester socks I put on at this time too. Then the Farmer John wet suit goes on next over top of these. The key is “thin”, and Polyester, or Polypropylene. DO NOT WEAR COTTON on the water, especially under a wet suit. You want thin polyester, so the thin layer of water that gets in can be warmed by your body, to keep you warm.

Over the wet suit I wear a Semi-Dry top. This is added protection for my upper torso. Then I wear calf high Chota Mucklucks to keep my feet dry when getting in and out of my Kayak. This set up gives reasonable protection when the water is just too cool to go without protection.

This all being said, I just broke down and bought a Kokatat Super Nova Semi Dry suit at www.moosejaw.com. They have them on sale for 10% off list, with free shipping! This model has the sewn on waterproof socks, latex wrist gaskets, and relief zipper. It is just like a Dry Suit, except it doesn’t have a latex neck gasket. it has neoprene. It is great for touring paddling, where severe conditions don’t exist. (No White water, or freezing temp waters) But it is only 1/2 the price of a Dry Suit! :slight_smile:

A wet suit doesn’t breathe, and when the water is cool, and the air is warm, I sweat terribly in mine. I am looking forward to next fall when I can use this new Semi-Dry suit. I am really inpressed with it so far. I just wanted to bring this “option” to your attention.

Happy Paddling!

I would talk to one of the instructors
Most likely, the instructors have given the course before at this time of year and can tell you what keeps most students comfortable. My body doesn’t tolerate cold well, and I have found that feeling cold at class is distracting, causing me to stop doing a drill that involves getting wet sooner than I’d like. You’ll get a lot more from the class if you are comfortable.


rain/wind pants
If you wear a farmer John wetsuit with a polypro shirt and a drytop (I think that’s what you are describing). You might want to consider bringing/wearing a pair of rain or wind pants. If you are in an open boat or out of a decked boat evaporative cooling can be a problem in a wetsuit. The drytop will prevent that for your uppers and the pants for your lowers.

The folks running your class should make sure you are safe but you will have to make sure you are comfortable.

A Mysterioso long sleeve top goes well with Farmer John.

Most wetsuit jackets are too stiff for comfortable paddling. I think that article is pointing out that you need a jacket to get the full thermal benefit of a wetsuit. I’s not saying that a full wetsuit is ideal for paddling.

The best additional wrmth bang-for-your-buck would be a hood. I find that neoprene ones block my hearing too much, but a “fuzzy rubber” hood is comfortable, fits in a PFD pocket, and makes a big difference.

I’ve found that cheap unlined lycra shorts make good underwear under a wetsuit – you’re not sitting on any seams or binding.

second that emotion
yes and the hydroskin or other fuzzy rubber tops also. water under 50 and warmer but overcast and windy too. yes you are right the better the fit of the whole system the less exchange the warmer and safer. fuzzy top is not too restrictive and prevents the exchange.

Beware thinking the semi or dry top will prevent water exchange, it may slow it down but allot moves back and forth. OK for above 50 where cold shock and hypothermia less dramatic (takes longer, still a real danger!).

I wear
I have an NRS Ultra Farmer John, it already has a fuzzy inside. I wear underarmor briefs so just to have a layer of protetion between mini me and the suit. After all you never know when “one” might squeeze by.

Jason S.


In europe (and they post anywhere I believe…) there is a wetsuit manufacturer in Italy called Elios (www.eliossub.com or somethign like that).

They can make you pretty much whatever you want.

I use their tailor made wetsuits for freediving. The joy of a tailor made suit is that it fits properly and is therefore alot warmer (with regards to neoprene thickness and traditional off the peg scuba suits).

So you can get away with a thinner suit (therefore more flexible = good for paddling ?) for the same warmth.

For example here in Guernsey I use a 5mm suit for an hour and a half in winter with water of 7C to 9C.

When the water gets above 12C then it feels warm and I can stay in for over 3 hours (freediving and moving slowly snorkelling - ie not much body heat generated).

Above 12C I move to a 3mm suit.

Elios also make ‘chicles’ which are sleeveless tops. I would imagine that a 3mm tailor made pair of high waist trousers (not farmer johns - too much restriction with the arms maybe ?) combined with a 3mm or less chicle might be ideal ?

Just my opinion :slight_smile:

They come in different inner and outer materials and different neoprenes - very very configuarble - email them for advice or let me know and I can bore you with the details of yamamoto vs heiwa neoprene… kanoko vs nylon … etc etc