Wetsuit -- what kind for Spring start

-- Last Updated: Feb-23-04 11:50 AM EST --

I'm suffering from a chronic case of cabin fever right now, so I'm looking at my options for an early start to the paddling season, and would like some feedback on the best kind of wetsuit to get? I live in Massachusetts and paddle slow rivers, lakes, ponds, etc, paddle a Perception Acadia (very stable) and use a sprayskirt to keep the paddle drips away.

Knowing that an extended dip in the water could be fatal even in March and April (cold air and water temps), I know enough to stay close to shore during these months to avoid an extended swim. So, how much wetsuit do I need so I don't become a "statistic" if I happen to capsize my kayak during those months? Is a Farmer John OK, or a Farmer John shortie enough? Neoprene hood or not? What suit thickness -- 3mm, 5mm?

I’ll start off
and let everyone else take a whack at me. I’d get a good weight Farmer John, some polypro shirts, like underwear tops, and a good set of booties. You can top it off with a dry top or spray top and a wool/polypro cap for your head. Neoprene gloves will help your hands. Then you wear your regular PFD. I used similar wear when racing beach catatmarans in Michigan’s early and late seasons. The goal, as you know, is to stay upright. If you don’t, this setup will buy you the time to make things right again. I’d be just as conservative in going out as you now are.

Thanks for the suggestions. It will be interesting to see if/how anyone else responds to this. I want to make sure I make the right choice before I need to “test” it!

Don’t Know Your Water Temps

– Last Updated: Feb-23-04 12:55 PM EST –

My 3mm farmer John and Mysetrioso top is good down to about 50 degrees for 5-10 minutes. Colder water or longer emersions times will require more protection.

Also make sure you have some warm water booties. Cramps in your feet can be real bad at just the wrong time.

Spring Temps
can be so variable around here…

If you have a hot spell, the inland waters can warm up pretty quickly. A cold wet spring… I think my Freshman year in college, '75, we had a major snow storm in late May. Well, that would keep the water temps down!

Another factor is what waters are you paddling and how far out from shore.

If it were me, I would go with a 3mm farmer john and add on additional fuzzy rubber or neo top layers. My first season I was practicing rolls and self rescue well into November. The water temp was just a tad bit sub 50. I know I lasted maybe 15-20 minutes before I gave up and went to shore to warm up.


What is best is …
A dry suit and dry boots with polypro underwear inside and a neoprene hood. That is also the most expensive way to go. Lesser arrangements are probably ok but entail more risk. That decision is up to you. Personally I compromise a bit. When the water is sub 50 and the air temp is cool I wear a farmer john, polypro under the john, a dry top, neoprene boots, and neoprene hood. Others I know wear less but I don’t recommend it. Get Pogies for your hands.

Check This Out

This site has a lot of great reading about cold water paddling. Then go out and buy a dry suit.


Sorry… They’re "Marketing…"
Rapidstyle Fuzzy Rubber. I have fuzzy rubber. For me, it’s good only from 65 degree and up. The site jumps from fuzzy rubber wear (with drytop) right to drysuit. Seems to me, 3 mm neo fits in there in some category of 50-65 degrees. Again, it depends on where one is paddling, skills level and conditions.

While I like Fuzzy Rubber/Rapidstyle, the stuff is pretty expensive, especially when compared to insulating value against 3 mm neo. I’d spend money on 3 mm before Fuzzy Rubber. (In fact, that’s what I did. Fuzzy Rubber is like niche luxury for me.)



Sounds Right
I took a dump in water temp of low fifties with 3mm neoprene with poly pro under and fleece and paddling jacket over, and except for the cold shock (Atlantic Tours describes some serious risks associated with cold shock on their site) I was fine for the under 5 minutes that I was immersed. In NYC, I think the water temp is still in the low 40’s at best, so a dry suit is probably still the way to go from what I’ve read. I haven’t dumped at this temperature with neoprene yet (don’t want to) to say from real experience.


Consider boat modifications,too…
…to make it easier to upright your boat quicker if you go in. I am in the process of adding airbags to the bow of my Sundance, and am looking at dry bags for behind the seat. These should reduce the amount of water going into the cockpit. (See the “Can I make my rec kayak safer” thread a few weeks back.) The boat has a stern bulkhead to keep water out of that end, maybe yours does too. I am also looking at a paddle float and bungee rigging behind the seat, although some say you can get back in the Sundance without a paddle float.

That in-between stuff is hard to figure
I agree that fuzzy rubber just isn’t all that warm and have been looking at options for those in-between temps.

The drysuit works great in a wide range of temps because the insulation is adjustable but I would like to reserve its use for cold-water kayak camping trips, rolling practice in spring/fall, and winter paddling. At $700-plus for a Goretex drysuit, it makes sense to use the cheaper neoprene and/or fuzzy rubber for times where a drysuit is not essential. This translates to cool (but not frigid) water temps on daytrips where one can just rinse and hang up the rubber at home to begin its slow drying process.

I like the “Steamer” wetsuit made by NRS because it has long sleeves and legs but am not sure if it will fit me. The Mystery top I borrowed from a friend was fairly warm but there is no Mystery Farmer John/Jane made at all, let alone with sleeved top. (I don’t like the large armholes and neck holes because they let too much water in.)

Forget the wetsuit…
…you need a dry suit. Water temps around here (I’m in southern NH) are only in the 40’s right through April and often into May, with March temps starting in the 30’s. A wetsuit isn’t going to cut it, especially not the farmer John that many people recommend. You’re bright enough to have recognized the dangers of cold water, which puts you way ahead of most newbies. Kudos to you! Now go out and get a waterproof/breathable dry suit and be done with it. Yes, they’re expensive compared to a wetsuit, but they work. A wetsuit won’t.

If you have any doubts about the ineffectiveness of a wetsuit in these temps, borrow one and wade out into the water you intend to paddle. You’ll find out REALLY quickly whether you’re adequately protected or not.

Just To Clarify…
I did not recommend a 3mm farmer John and Mysterioso top. I just noted that it is only good down to about 50 degrees…

It all depends on the definition of “early” maybe he wants to save some big bucks and just wait until the water temp hits about 50…

My Preference Is…

– Last Updated: Feb-24-04 2:49 PM EST –

is for a drysuit. But I also have wetsuits and see a niche for them.

Also, after seeing I don't know how many surfers and whitewater guys in neo all through the year.... I am not making any blanket statements. These folks know where they are paddling and have the skills (way more than I have) to take care of themselves. Pretty simple for them. Not as easy for a beginner or novice.


I wasn’t pointing to anyone specific
Farmer Johns are the most common recommendation when it comes to wetsuits.

The differences with surfing and WW
Both activities put the paddler close to shore (especially WW), so the likelihood of lengthy exposure is less.

Surfers typically wear FULL wetsuits, not the farmer Johns that are commmon among paddlers.

Mysterioso or Mystery?
Do you mean the NRS Mystery top? Mysterioso’s tops are pretty summer-weight stuff, either nylon-Lycra (bike skinsuit stuff) or microfleece-lined nylon-Lycra.

The Mystery fabric is much, much thicker and warmer. Also really heavy.

It may be appropriate for where and when DougieJ paddles.

Most of the surfyakkers and ww folks layer with neo FJ as the main garment on which to add.


I Know, Just Wanted To Add Caveat
I was not concerned by your comment, but anytime someone recommends a farmer john they should be careful about recognizing the limitations. They are just not enough protection for some areas that have ocean water temps below 50 degrees.

It is also personal. I have acclimatized myself to being in the water here over many years. Some folks get cold here in the summer in a farmer john.

I am talking about the Mysterioso top, but I am used to being in the water here. It may not be enough for some folks.