What to wear SUP on Lake Michigan

I live in Chicago and I’m thinking about going out on Lake Michigan on a SUP when the weather gets warmer. I need some advice on what to wear. I was thinking of wearing a 3mm farmer jane wetsuit with a long-sleeve thin rash guard and my pfd, and adding a fleece jacket if it’s cooler. But now that I’m checking into typical water temps, I’m not so sure, especially because I need to plan on being in the water with a SUP. Do I need 3mm neoprene on my shoulders and arms, too?

You need a wind break type cover
Neoprene is not much good once you are up in the air after it has gotten wet, unless you sink for the really fancy surfing suits with those layers built in. The typical paddling Farmer John does not have that kind of protection.

How much you need to protect is individual. In my case, I have gotten mildly hypothermic just from my wet lower body being exposed to a sudden chilly wind on a relatively warm day. Like 68 degrees. Some I know would be OK with a wet lower torso as long as they had a wind break type cover for arms and chest.

Unfortunately, the only way to know for sure is to pick a somewhat chilly day, take a swim in the neoprene and hang out in some breeze to see if you get chilled. Try this near shore in case you have my response, sudden teeth chattering and a pressing need to run to the car to get out of the wet gear before things get worse.

ditch the fleece
if it ( or maybe when if you are SUP ing) gets wet its a sodden heavy mess that unless form fitting gives you no insulation

You might consider a long sleeve Hydroskin shirt and a paddling jacket.

One combination
Kokatat Surfskin Pants

Kokatat Suncore LS Shirt

Windbreaker or go quite snazzy/comfy Kokatat X-Jacket

Other combinations exist.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY



+1 HydroSkin
Lake Michigan water stays colder much longer into the summer than expected.

I’ll second the recommendation for a long-sleeved HydroSkin shirt/top under your Farmer Jane. If you don’t know, HydroSkin is a 0.5 mm neoprene material much like your wetsuit but much thinner and more flexible/comfortable. http://www.nrs.com/category/2617/women/hydroskin

But unlike a fleece, the form-fitting HydroSkin will keep your torso and arms MUCH warmer in wind or in case of a capsize. Remember, your arms and extremities are one of the first things to lose body heat and dexterity, which you’ll need in order to self-rescue or aid in a rescue by a buddy.

A good top will also preserve crucial core temp.

Paddle safe!

Jeffrey Lee


Ditto the Kokatat Surfskin pants
They’re awesome for wet and windy. Mine proved their value while paddling a surfski last summer: I was wet, but not cold.

Your air temp is a lot warmer down there than up here on northern Lake Michigan, but your winds are crazy.

BTW, you can order the Surfskins from Marshall at The River Connection. That’s what I did and he got the sizing perfect.

Thank you
Thank you for the information. I thought a wet suit would keep me warm when wet. Is that just when you’re in the water?

I’ve paddled a lot in a canoe and a little bit in a kayak, but never on Lake Michigan or in water as cold as the lake. I get a little wet when paddling in a boat, but I expect to be very wet paddling a SUP. I experience Chicago’s wind every day, so I know that very well.

I’m starting to think this adventure is not a good idea for me without a dry suit. I just remembered I’ve seen sailors going out on the lake in the summer wearing dry suits. And the only time I ever want to swim in the lake is when it’s been 100 degrees for a week and I can’t cool off.

Well, IMO…
I wouldn’t do those water temps and wind without a dry suit. I also have managed to get mildly hypothermic at 68 degrees air temps when a summer blow came up and my lower body was exposed in a Farmer Jane. With a drytop and a few extra neo layers up top. So I know I cannot take risks with even chilly water.

And yeah, typical paddling wet suits work great to keep you warm when you are in the water. Up in the air is a different story once they are wet. Now again, if you sink for the fancier surfing outfits they do have better insulation over your core and usually some kind of wind blocking capability. They are also a bunch more expensive than the typical paddling Farmer John or Jane. By the time you get to that price, you may want to go up a bit more into something like an NRS dry suit that tends to come in cheaper than the Kokatat suits and is perfectly respectable.

You have great resources in Chicago:


Might be worthwhile to check them out.

Wet suit is fine for SUP on Lake Mi
4/3 Surf suit will work when the water warms up to 52F, 3/2 when it warms up to 57. I use a 2mm top when the water is above 63. You have more to worry about on an SUP in wind than chilling from the wind. Front panel of most surf suits are wind resistant. Find some other SUP paddlers the first 10 or so times you go out.

Second That!!!
Try remounting a surfski in rough freezing water wearing a water soaked fleece jacket when you’re tired.

I like the idea of separates
in an area such as yours. Yes the water and air are very cold now. Water will remain that way for awhile, but in August you’ll see air temps in the 90s and water temps approaching the 70s. So it’s good to have a mix of separates with which to mix and match for the conditions. This time of year it might be a dry top and dry pants. Later on you may replace the dry pants with a dry top and shorty john. In midsummer you may just go with a shorty john and rashguard ( as much to control sunburn as to control warmth).