Wetsuits versus Drysuits

This past summer my wife and I bought a cottage in New Brunswick. The lake that we are on is large and often doesn’t warm up until late June or early July (e.g. we saw water temperatures of just over 50 F in late June). Next spring I’d like to get out on the lake earlier and be able to stay out on it longer in the fall. While I’ve kayaked for years, I’ve never used a wetsuit or drysuit. Any thoughts on one versus the other as well as recommendations? Thanks in advance. Doug

Alot Of Factors To Consider…
the water conditions, you and your wife’s skill level, how early and late into the season, just the lake or ocean as well (NB surrounded by ocean with very cold water), etc.

Here’s a link to read. Read it with specific thought given to your situation:



sing’s link is a good reference
With the limited amount of details given, I would say that 51 degrees could potentially be fine with a wetsuit, dry top/paddling top, hood, and a strong roll. If you don’t have a strong roll, I would recommend a drysuit of some sort.

more info
If you’re as accomplished as it sounds, you may be considering a calm day vs. gusty winds, shallow water paddles vs. offshore and deeper water, etc.

Dry wear

– Last Updated: Dec-21-04 3:51 PM EST –

I wore a wetsuit for years, and the first time I rolled with a drytop -- and came up dry -- it seemed like a minor miracle.

Breatheable dry gear can be very comfortable. I've worn mine well into the summer -- it's great for fishing from the kayak on rainy days!

Here is the “rub”

– Last Updated: Dec-21-04 4:01 PM EST –

The article by Jay, a kayak builder gives a personal and non dogmatic outlook on the Fallacy of the Farmer John to prevent death from cold shock and hypothermia. Consider reading it to give you a basis to evaluate what the folks are saying here to you.


Using that information, you can choose between the lower expense of wearing a complete wet suit, that is a farmer john, top and hood to cover groin, armpits, neck, head, anything less is iffy on 50 degree water.

Drysuits are way more expensive but significantly safer, more comfortable and more adjustable if it is gore-tex material. Aslo may be easier i.e., less confining since not really OK to just use a
farmer john and dry top. Such an arrangement result in potential cold shock as water enters under the top.

I grudgingly at first used a dry top and a dry bottom, hated the leaking water and ankle gaskets, went to a wet suit, hated the bulk needed when adding the armpit and neck gear, finally have an eBay Kokatat Dry Suit, happy happy, for me only of course. Read on you will find your way, just be aware of cold shock as well as hypothermia!

try before you buy
There are people who hate the neck gasket on a drysuit so much they cannot wear it. And the gaskets really squeeze your wrists, maybe cutting off circulation to your hands. The best people often xc ski in winter and paddle when it warms. If a drysuit leaks, it is worse than nothing and you could be quite dead. Wetsuits are simpler but you get the clammy feel. I do not feel my goretex kokatat drysuit is able to let my body really breathe. I hate the feeling and suspect many buy them but it is so much hassle that you should do some winter hiking or walking or gym memebership. If one part of your body is cold then you will not really enjoy thr hour to get ready and then wash everything and put all that stuff away. Maybe we are not intended to paddle in cold water.

Pretty Close To My Personal Exprience
The article is pretty close to my personal exprience.

Winter ocean temps in NORCAL are about 50-52 degrees. I got knocked off my surfing SOT in February, and spent about 10-15 minutes getting badly worked before I could remount. I think I was pushing the limits of the 3mm farmer john and mysterioso top. My helmet offered a little added warmth for my head. By the time I did remount I was shivering. I had to catch one more wave because I did not want to end the session on a wipeout.

BTW: This was a very controled situtation. I had an instructor with me, it was a private one on one lesson. I declined his offer of help. I could also have simply swam to shore, but choose not to.

With all respect dav e

– Last Updated: Dec-24-04 8:53 PM EST –

Unless you have protruding tendons, trimming the gasket (after some stretching around a form not much bigger than the neck), should result in good comfort in the neck gasket. And should not compromise the suit.

Like wearing a business suit it's not as comfy as blue jeans. Like a business suit, it the right situation it is a requirement. And one gets used to it.

I would go for it absolutely but it all depends how hard core the user is.

i hate drysuits
I have both a drysuit and a wetsuit. I had the wetsuit first. I do not like the drysuit. In my experience both are as warm when I’ve been in cold water (less than 50 degrees). I cannot stand the gasket around my throat and wrists. I cannot see how people can stand paddling in them most of the year. They are so uncomfortable.

I use
a wetsuit and I have a dry top. I’ve not swum in either (knock on wood) for a long time. The drysuit (my top is not gortex) will be damp from sweat, even if its is goretex a wool or polypro insulating under garment will be needed. A wetsuit will also have you sweating up a storm, even if you aren’t working hard. thus bringing on a chill if you stop working hard. How often do you plan on going out and what is your budget. A fair wetsuit may cost as little as $100, a drytop maybe $250 to well over $700 for a full goretex dry suit.

I like my farmer John/thermax top and drytop combo the best. If I were only dealing with 50 water temp, or even a little less, that’s the combo I prefer. To me it’s preferable to the struggle of getting a drysuit on/off.

The issues for the orginal poster is how big is his lake, how are his skills to get back into a boat if capsized rather quickly, how far either way into the season does he want to extend. And, does he have any intention whatsoever for ocean paddling?

Frankly, if I were strictly surf and white water and inland paddling, I would stick with farmer john and drytop combo. It’s cheaper and, in my opinion, more comfortable for me. If I were paddling in SoCal, I would be in heaven.


Popular topic

Search the archive here for “wetsuit” or “drysuit” and you’ll find a lot of discussion on this topic.

is your drysuit a goretex model?

Different by person
It may be best for anyone who faces this dilema to employ the similar steps to finding a kayak - try out stuff if possible. I did a considerable amount of swimming down to the water being 52 degrees thsi year because I finally started getting a roll towards the end of this season. So - as my percentages were pretty flaky I swam a good bit.

My own experience was that a wetsuit, with thin rash guard and a NRS mystery top underneath and a good Stohlquist drytop failed to stop me from shivering under the following conditions:

(1) 10 mph and up wind once I got out of the boat. Once I had to change into alternate paddling clothes before I could even get my boat taken care of because the shivering started so quickly, and air temp was in the 60’s.

(2) Air temps in the 50’s with no sun.

But I know someone who would have been too hot under the same conditions. Go figure.

My husband and I have gone to drysuits (Kokotat Goretex), partly because at the end of a paddle you can just zip out of them into regular clothes and go have a beer. Being dry is huge at that point. And mostly because we figure once things get below 60 degrees we’ll be in them a lot, and our ocean paddling is mid-coast Maine in June/July. As to clothing underneath - it’s the same stuff you’d have for going out in winter in the northeast anyway.

The latex gaskets take some getting used to, and work better for men if they do a good shave and remember the talcum powder. But once you are used to them you don’t even notice it.


Thanks for Assistance
Thanks to all for the advice provided. Based on what I’ve heard, I’m going to look into the MEC drysuits. Doug

Trim the seals
There is absolutely no reason to put up with neck seals that choke you or wrist seals that cut off the circulation to your hands. Dry suit seals should be comfortable. If a drop or two of water sneaks past them, it’s no big deal.

As I said to Dave, trim the seals

– Last Updated: Dec-22-04 12:15 PM EST –

Dry suit seals are tight so that they'll be small enough for anyone that can fit into the suit. Most people find that they need to trim them to fit. It's easy to do and it turns an unbearble garment into one that's completely comfortable.

Put some talc on the inside of the seals and they'll slip on like magic, too.

I am usually pretty damp (not soaking wet) in my goretex drysuit after a good session. I still have to change cause I don’t like the funkiness.


Another option
I tried out some Kokatat dry bibs mated with my IR semi-drytop (neoprene neck, latex wrist gaskets). The top is 2 years old and has seen a lot of use. I spent 15 minutes swimming in Lake Tahoe. Air and water temps in low 30s. I was not too cold. My torso was a bit wet but the legs stayed dry. Even when wet I was not cold. I got the bibs so I could have a spare suit. The 2 month old latex gasket on my drysuit ripped when I was removing my suit.