Wetsuit Tops

Hi. I don’t know anything about paddling but I am hoping you all can help.

My brother and I do adventure races and did a Tough Mudder event a week ago. It was about 40 degrees outside and it is a 3-4 hour event with lots of water and mud. You are wet the entire time and some of the time we were required to swim.

We are looking at options to try to stay warmer fro another Tough Mudder in a couple of months. I did the race in UnderArmor tights and shirt with an insulated bike jersey over the top. I was warm enough until we were submerged in water. By the end of the race I was the coldest I have ever been. The other competitors and I were all nearly in convulsions from shivering at the end.

I’m wondering about a wetsuit top. I hear it is what kayakers (is that a word?) use. Would that be warm enough in water that cold? Would it allow enough flexibility to climb the walls, swim, run, etc? What weight would be best? Would it provide too much buoyancy for the part where we have to dive under things?

Thanks for any advice!

Anything’s better than what you used
If you’re worried about too much buoyancy, try a thin shirt such as 1 or 1.5mm neoprene. Long sleeves, NOT a vest. You lose a lot of heat at the armpits.

That still might not be warm enough, but you’re going to have to experiment some yourself. What you’re talking about isn’t paddling and may have different insulation needs. Plus, your own body composition will partly determine the buoyancy solution. If you’re very lean, you could wear thicker neoprene AND you’re more likely to need it.

Buy a higher-quality neoprene such as is used in boardsurfer’s wetsuits. That will have more stretch to it.

surfers’ wetsuit
A good quality surfing wetsuit, with long sleeves and the lower legs cut off could work for that. You can find a lot of them on Ebay, pretty cheap. It could also help to get a neoprene cap to wear under your bike helmet. Kind of looks like an old style swim cap or flyer’s hat but made of neoprene. Conserving heat loss from your head could help moderate the hypothermia you were experiencing at the end of the race.

Though I have to admit it strikes me as dangerously irresponsible for the race officials to allow a course condition which creates a hypothermia hazard for so many participants. That could be a deadly situation.

Double edged sword

– Last Updated: Nov-28-11 5:28 PM EST –

Wetsuit will keep you warmer in the water, but it retains body heat very efficiently so it can create problems. I had to run once in a full wetsuit a half a mile to pick up a competitors jersey and then back at a surf contest, after paddling out after that I was so overheated I started throwing up during the competition, so be careful.

I would check out a 2 mm top and 2 mm short bottoms. Should keep you not too hot and not too cold. Oneil makes a good set of the 2 mm top and bottoms that I use a lot surfing.

I like the hammer top:

and shorts ...


Tough Mudder
Nice job finishing that, there is a reason they are called “tough”. As far as your question-I can’t imagine running a 10 mile+ race wearing any kind of wetsuit top. Seems to me that anything you put on to deal with a few minutes of cold water is going to be way too much for the other 2-3 hours of racing. I’m sure you know that you always want to start a race like that dressed “cold”. If you are waiting for the gun at the start and you are comfortable (temp wise) then you are wearing too much to race in. I don’t mean this to sound demeaning or flip but to be honest I think you just might need to move faster and generate more heat during the race. Grandma used to say, “if you’re cold put a hat on.” But I think the saying that applies to intense, cold weather athletic events comes from the great American alpine climber Marc Twight who said, “if you’re cold move faster.”

Thank you for the ideas. I like the look of that O’Neill top. I was thinking of something like that. Do you think it has enough flexibility to raise your arms straight up when climbing walls, etc? I never really thought about a wetsuit bottom. I don’t think that would work when having to run 12+ miles. I am just trying to retain a little extra heat. I don’t need to be “warm”.

@pikabike- I am very lean and I am also a little old to be doing this. I was thinking about heavier weight but the downside would be buoyancy and maybe too much heat retention.

@willowleaf- I saw those neoprene hats and I am definitely getting one. I wore something similar for the race and it helped a lot but it did retain some water that I am sure the pure neoprene one would not. Also, to defend the event, they had warming huts and safety officials everywhere. There were almost 5000 entrants on the course at one time. It is a well run event. About 25% of the entrants don’t finish. I like the idea of using some technology to help beat the course along with a strong body and mind.

@seadart- I am assuming your experience running with the wetsuit top was in warmer weather? I am assuming our event in March will be 45 degrees F tops. Water temps will be in the same range except the dive in ice water. I did mention there was ice water, right? :slight_smile:

@jbernard- I did start the race cold. Most people were cold for the 2 hours leading up to the race. I waited till about 45 minutes before the start and took off my outer layer. I think that worked well for me. Then we were wet the rest of the time. One of my teammates helped me realize that moving faster helped. We did okay with that but some portions are in water to your waist and some are in knee deep mud so fast moving proved difficult at times.

Anyway, thanks again for the suggestions.

Here is an example of part of the course: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyoVAIwJYGg

Remember it was 40 degrees, we were already wet and the wind was blowing 15-20 mph.

Maybe two layers for the swim
How about a thin (1mm) neoprene shirt for use the whole time, with a triathlete’s swim/bike shorts (unpadded, quick-drying), such as Tyr’s shorts on your lower body. They are thin and sleek and will fit under under a 2mm shorty wetsuit (zip in front or back) that you add on for the swim. Then unzip and strip off the wetsuit for the other events.

Keeping your groin and upper legs warm is more important than you might think. I didn’t think my female lower body needed neoprene bottoms in cold weather, so recently I went out for a short paddle using fuzzy rubber long pants. (No rolling or other capsizing.) Next time I used neoprene. Huge difference in insulation. The fuzzy rubber, when wet, felt COLD. The neoprene did not.


– Last Updated: Nov-29-11 2:50 PM EST –

I know afew folks who did this race recently and I've been meaning to ask them about the in and out of water coldness in Oct! I paddle in a full wet suit and I think it's 2/3 weight (which is considered a spring suit). Even if I don't swim, I am still always wet in it. In Sept, I was on a trip and it was sunny, but breezy and cool. I got hot by lunch stop and removed the semi dry top I had over top of the ensemble. I was too warm, but after I removed the top and got back on the trip, I could feel the cold breeze rushing through the wet neoprene. I was chilled. I was always told that neoprene only works when it's wet. I will go further and say...it only works when you are submerged. I couldn't imagine running in that suit, either. I also have a top/shorts of the .5mm hydroskin which I will wear alone in the summer and under my full suit this time of the year. When I first got it, I wore it in the indoor pool over the winter and was chilled when I was in my boat on top of the water. When you are in and out of water, that's what's worse. It's better than no protection at all....and I'm sure it's different when you are sweating from the run, but to get submerged and then be hanging around in the air....brrrr. I second the neoprene cap. I just ordered one to wear under my helmet as a christmas gift from 'santa'. :) Another thing you might like and I recently bought these....are neoprene socks...they are the same thin .5mm neoprene like the hydroskin (NRS brand calls it that...other brands call it something else). I added them under my wet suit booties for added warmth and so far so good! I was out over the weekend and my feet were wet and toasty! Whatever you do...do not wear cotton items!

TYR Hurricane Freak of Nature Wetsuit
Go check out TYR’s website for their Hurricane Freak of Nature Wetsuit. Might be exactly what you need and w/o the bulk, etc. You can even register it too.

more info
Running experience was in a full suit ( one piece 3/2 full on surfing suit. Air temp was ~ 45 F water 50F.

I like Pikabikes idea of going with a very thin top. There is a product called Mystery that is quite thin neoprene, also a company called Murray’s in Carpenteria CA has an online store where they sell 1 mm tops. My friend surfs in 45 F water in it, but he is from South Africa and a little bit mental.

The 2 mm Oneil top has plenty of flex, but I can’t imagine running 10 miles in it. It would be good for diving into 45 degree water and ice water though.

0.5 mm

RipCurl makes the thin top
It’s a super-stretchy thin neoprene, pretty sure it is 1mm thick. They call the material “E3” neoprene, I think. Reasonable price.

I bought mine from REI.

I don’t recommend neoprene. It does restrict movement and can cause a rash if you’re moving a lot.

I’d use a rashguard or chillguard. The ones made for paddling are made so there’s no restriction in the shoulder movements.

A rashguard is skin tight and acts like a second skin. It makes a big difference taking the chill off when you’re wet.

A chillguard is just a bit thicker with more insulation.


try NRS hydroskin

It’s super thin neoprene but pretty warm. They make a vest which would probably be sufficient to keep your core temp up. They also sell shorts which are like neoprene bike shorts. A full suit or any sort of real wet suit is going to be way too hot.

Try a breathable dry top

Lighter is Better
I did the Tri-State TM in NJ the past two years and i believe the lighter the top the better. You want something that will dry quickly as opposed to insulating. (and hope for a sunny day!!) As i am sure you know whatever you wear will take a beating that day so i wouldn’t put too much money into your outfit! Good luck in your next Mudder!!