Wetsuit vs. Drysuit vs. Semi (newer gear)

So after reading the fall/winter advice thread I searched under “wetsuit drysuit” and it looks like the latest topic was actually 2012. I thought, surely there must be some innovations since then?

Looking for the most cost-effective way to continue paddling into early winter and start-up again at ice-out. Flat streams, trips of 3 hours or less, civilization nearby, minimal immersion times likely. Packing a full change of clothes/emergency kit/firemaking tools in a dry bag as well.

What would you wear? I think the $1,000 suits obviously look like the “best” but I would really like to stay under $500. Maybe 7mm neoprene plus outer shells?

(I do own some ice fishing flotation suits, but they aren’t for immersion, they’re for sitting on the ice for long periods and short-term emergencies.)

a “Paddling Suit” is what I use for those conditions. Mine is about 5 years old but this is a current example:

It does leak a little at the neck gasket so not for applications where you will be spending time with your head & neck well under water.

I did buy a full dry suit this year for when I will likely be upside down wearing a kayak. I use the paddling suit more often when canoeing.


I don’t get conditions any where near ice -only air and water temps down to about 50 (maybe a touch lower for air).

Over the years I have collected a full selection of gear - dry suits, paddling suit, 3 mm farmer john, 2 mm shorty john, plus paddling jackets, dry tops, .5 mm shirts, etc. Of all of, the most common item I would wear is a paddling suit. Works when it isn’t that cold,yet can be layered up a lot for colder weather.

The one caveat is how well you neck fills your neoprene gasket. My neck fills it up well, such that I don’t get much water in should I roll or swim. This same large neck means that a standard dry suit isn’t that comfortable for me unless I trim the gasket or it has time to stretch.

And I prefer the punch through neo neck gaskets over the ones with a velcro flap. The velcro flaps in theory let you adjust the tightness, but I never found them as good as the punch through.

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“minimal immersion times likely.”

Above is the key to it all in my opinion

Likely means not guaranteed to me.

I had a kokatat suit Expedition I cared for well. After 9-10 years I saw a tape seam lifting and contacted kokatat for repairs. I guessed they would repair it under warranty. They said ship it we will inspect it. Short number if days later they contacted me. They then explained they were sending me a new dry suit under warranty.

I know it’s hard at times to swallow prices of things. So I paid near 1200 bucks then used the item for 12 years. So far it’s cost is 100 per year with many more years to come. The price of a meal for two in a decent restaurant on Long Island for two is 100 no alcoholic or tip.

I wouldn’t go mountain climbing with cheap rope I would want the best. I was out last week in 59° water dragging my hand while gliding. OMG I thought imagine my entire body in that even for a few minutes.

So I bet I could get 500 minimum for the suit used ir even 400 what is my cost now per year? Then add it total comfort while paddling. I go out with 30° F air and water in the high 30’s. Not really safe here unprotected till June.

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I always end up tossing a comment into this question.

A semi drysuit is a fantastic way to save money on cold water protective gear, but you have to be sure you will not be going beyond it’s capabilities. If you’re not, I would 100% stay with a semi.

  • will you be paddling a sit on top, canoe, surfski or racing kayak? —if so, get a semi

  • will you be in calm waters, mostly close to shore?–get a semi drysuit

I would only get a full drysuit if I were paddling a sit inside kayak with plans to routinely go a fair distance off the coast and routinely practiced rolls in cold water.

Only a small amount of water will trickle through the neoprene gasket on a semi, and only that will happen if you are fully submerging the gasket UNDER the water.
Now, if you are wearing a pfd, you will likely not be going beyond this immersion point on the gasket, even in turbulent water. I have sidestroked in mine and no water got through.

One more hack you can use with the money you save, for added protection and also versatility for the not-so-cold months, you can get a light wetsuit that you can wear underneath your drysuit. Even if you did get water through the gasket, or worse yet, had a hole in the drysuit, the wetsuit would utilize the water to actually insulate the body with warmth.

Try it for yourself, you’ll be glad you did and were able to save the $. I got mine several years ago on clearance for around $270 and it has served me very well. I usually paddle 3-5 days a week throughout the coldest months of the year.

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I’ve found for your parameters you can have Dry without the premium. Stohlquist has some remaining EZ drysuits ($500) which have a smooth skin neoprene turtle neck like gasket. Highly breathable, well built straight forward suit. Precisely the reason I try to keep them in stock at my Store.

See you on the water,
Marshall Seddon
The River Connection, Inc.
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I purchased a Stohlquist Amp last year for about $600 and I love it. It is a full dry suit and I have tested it by jumping into my local lake. I was completely dry. A semi-dry suit is probably all you need, but the Amp is not much more expensive, is a full dry suit and is quite robust (much beefier than my wife’s semi dry suit).

Good luck with your shopping.


Well, after reviewing all the options, and the sizing, I went with the Crewsaver Atacama, which is on sale for $360. We shall see. Sizing was tough for me. Short, short legs, but larger chest than some brands accommodate. (That’s if their charts are correct).

What is it made of?

A 3-layer breathable fabric? https://crewsaver.com/uk/products/16167/AtacamaSportDrysuit

Congrats on your find. Hope it works out.

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So it looks like the OP has made a decision so maybe I can piggyback on this thread. I was also looking at the Atacama as well as some other “inexpensive” options. The Kokatat Endurance Gortex semi dry looks like a great option. I have had several phone conversations with them and realize they are also sales people but they do seem like an impressive company. This suit retails for 890 verses a few options sub 500 like the Atacama that look like a decent product.
Price is always a factor but sometimes a premium is worth it. Just looking for different opinions.

The Atacama arrived and appears to be well-built and to fit as advertised, which is always refreshing, as someone who is 5-7, 170 with a 29-inch inseam and 41-inch chest can be a tough fit. I have not had the time to test it out, but with the included fleece undersuit, it is very warm. Cuffs for neck and arms are very tight. The wrists are not uncomfortably tight, but the neck was when it first arrived. Putting a football in the neck hole seems to have helped with that enough to make it comfortable.

For underneath the dry or semi drysuit I find a one piece fleece union suit for $100-150 is definitely worth it. I have an Immersion Research one with a stretchy neck so there are no zippers to snag. I pair it with a pile vest or jacket depending on how cold it is. Even in 40 degree water I haven’t felt the need for a second layer on the legs but I do paddle in protected areas close to shore, not out in exposed conditions.

Problem with neoprene under a drysuit is it gets wet quickly and will not dry out very fast. Everything under a drysuit gets wet. Also neoprene stinks after awhile while fleece is easy to wash multiple times.

– Andrew

If you have a true drysuit there is no reason to wear a wetsuit under it. Wetsuits don’t breathe at all and you will probably end up drenched in sweat if you overheat even a little. The proper thermal layer to wear under a drysuit is a wicking material like wool or synthetics like polypro. You will be much more comfortable. This is especially true if the drysuit is breathable like Gore-tex.

Unless you are planning on being in relatively warm water for a long time, like standing in the water teaching a class, you will need some form of thermal protection under a drysuit. A drysuit has all of the insulating properties of a shower curtain.

Never use cotton. It holds water and sweat and loses its insulating properties.

You should test your drysuit for leaks before setting out.


I have a semi drysuit–
Latex wrists and feet with a neoprene neck.

The wetsuit I have is very thin and functions almost like wool.
I sometimes layer with synthetics and wool but I find the light wetsuit works excellent.
I actually sweat less than when in layers.

I can see where a wetsuit would give wind protection, but isn’t your body wet when you take it off?

not too bad. A little bit of wetness will add to the insulating effect of the wetsuit anyway. I was noticing that when I layered I would get far more sweat soaked than the other way around.
I think the key may be the thinness of the material.

Another bonus is simplicity:
Instead of putting on garment after garment I only have two pieces to keep up with.
I’d often paddle at lunchtime from work and didn’t have a lot of time to change in and out of paddle gear.

Also helps with laundry.

I generally paddled 3-5 days a week throughout winter and the amount of laundry I would need to do if I layered would be mountainous.

Get the Kokatat swift entry dry suit Hydrus 3.0 . It’s $670 and will keep you totally dry and you’ll have peace of mind. I’ve been down this road years ago when I was on the fence. Ended up buying semi dry top , pants etc… and basically wasted time and money.

I can’t even begin to think of having a wet suit under a dry suit. You’ll sweat in the wetsuit more than a bunny suit. I wear a thin layer of poly or wool below the kokatat bunny suit. If cold / windy enough I wear few more heavier kokatat shirts on my core.

Easier for me to wash poly layers and :rabbit: suit than a wetsuit.