When to use my drysuit?

I am kayaking the Detroit River this Saturday and anticipate air temps starting at 35 and going up to 45 degrees. Water temps will be appx. 49 degrees. We will do 12 to 15 miles at a good clip. My question is do I use my hydroskin short sleeve and a 3mm farmer john with my paddle top, or use poly long underwear and a light fleece with my drysuit? My rolls are God awful, but assisted and unassisted rescues are pretty good. I am leaning towards the drysuit as I always use more caution when uncertain, but I don’t want to burn up either. 6’3" 250 (porky) and no stranger to open water or cold water. Any opinions would be appreciated.

Dry suit
Why take chances?


this is something you should know
and not require advice from people who don’t know you or the situation as the consequences are entirely yours. I hope this doesn’t come across as harsh but this is the time to get some experience and get wet in your outfit before hand.

I could imagine any number of possible clothing combinations given your mass and heat generating capabilities,but I could also imagine all kinds of scenarios two hours into the effort that the choice of neoprene or drysuit alone won’t address.

I’d make sure to have back up gloves and headgear no matter what you choose to wear.

what to wear
It is not too harsh. I am looking for what people choose to use and why. Some general advice or tips from people who at one point asked themselves the same question. I can imagine that most paddlers use some general guidelines and I realize they do not apply to everyone and each event. Thanks for your opinion.

No brainer
Dry suit.

I don’t know of a paddling temperature where a hydroskin and farmer john is more comfortable than a dry suit. For roll practice in hot (> 80 F) air and warm (> ~60 F) water I like neo. For hot air and paddling I’ll either wear a dry suit and rotary cool or at the most hydroskin - depending on water temperature and conditions. For cooler air I’m nearly always in my dry suit.

For the conditions you describe I’d be in drysuit and fleece. I admit I tend to dress on the warm side but that is well below my range to consider anything else.

drysuit :slight_smile: ; hydroskin :frowning:
You know your body so go with what works for you? In those conditions I would be in a drysuit without a doubt.

I find hydroskin to be better than cotton but worse than just about everything else. Again, that is just me so go with what works for you.

Dry Suit
Whenever water temps are below 60F I tend towards my dry suit. Water temp below 50F,a dry suit is a must.

I wear a wicking layer and then an insulating layer under my dry suit. The nature of the insulating layer varies according to conditions.

C’mon that’s not that cold

– Last Updated: Nov-09-07 11:01 AM EST –

In those conditions unless you are going swimming several times I wear an NRS short sleeve dry top, a bathing suit and no shoes. With it going to 45 and you said you'd be paddling at a good clip you'll stay warm. The water below Lake Lanier's Dam is 48 degrees year round and I usually have to go swimming and get someone who flipped on the class II. It the temp stays below 35 I wear gloves, a long sleeve dry top, Warmer pants and Warmer boots.

I agree with the above who said that you need to learn these things by trial and error. 10 paddlers will give 10 different answers. Whatever you decide on take something warmer along...better safe than sorry.

BTW I don't own a dry suit and I've paddled in 23 degree temps but it warmed up to 28. My wet gloves failed me and my fingers froze for 6.5 hours...damn gloves.

You'll love this.
When paddling if I start to cool off I put my PFD on.

Have fun & stay warm

Paddlin' on

Ways to decide
If you think you might end up getting wet, even as a remote possibility, the dry suit will take away some concerns about how you’d handle it in those temps and allow you to just paddle. Many (me included) would argue for that as being enough by itself.

As to sweaty stinky layers underneath - the colder the temps get and the harder you work and the sunnier the day is - the more likely it is that you’ll be peeling off sweaty layers underneath at the end of the paddle. It’s not a big deal or a reason to skip the suit. Put something that wicks really well for you as the layer next to your skin and make sure you air the suit out at the end of the paddle.

Good point above - cold water on your face or on your hands can be a huge problem as the water temps hit those balmy 40’s and below. For winter temps, I have a couple of thicker (5mm) Henderson diving hoods, and I usually also put in Doc’s Plugs, the vented ones, for the paddle. Cold water in the ears is very disorienting, and over time will cause ear problems in most people anyway. For the hands, we use diving dry gloves made of neoprene with a waterproof barrier. They are meant to mate with a diving drysuit, but work fine without that and are a lot easier to get on and off than Nordic Blues.

Most important advice - the colder it gets, the more critical it is to get out into the water and immerse your head for a moment or so before paddling. The dry suit makes this fairly easy as the temps drop down, hydroskin layers will make it a pretty unattractive idea.

In these temps I wouldn’t think twice about the drysuit, you’re not going to be too hot inside it. Wear a fleece or synthetics layer underneath. You might also wear a hat.

The Detroit River looks to be pretty calm on Saturday and the sun is supposed to be out.

LeeG makes a great suggestion: is there any way you can safely get into the water with your gear on to judge for yourself how it’ll feel if you do go over?

Where are you putting in, by the way? I’ve paddled the river from time to time on weekend trips down there.

you’ve never paddled the detroit river,

– Last Updated: Nov-09-07 9:05 AM EST –


It's vast, it's deep, it's cold, it's busy, and there are spots where there's just no way to get out. As you said, I would take leeG's advice but personally a drysuit works for me in even warmer conditions.

But I'm weird that way. I don't even notice my PFD or spray skirt any more.

two reasons to wear drysuit
First, imagine what it would be like to be in the water for 10-15 minutes. With air and water temps in that range, you’d be very cold very quickly and would have more and more trouble with, say, a paddle float reentry. Second, neoprene is OK when you’re in the water, but when you get out evaporative cooling is a major issue. That’ll be true to some extent for the drysuit as well, but nothing like neo. Even worse if it is windy.

I generally give up on hydroskin (or fuzzy rubber) and switch to my drysuit (no 3mm neo here) when the water temps get below mid-fifties and the air temps go below 50. Less risk, more comfort and, IMO, less hassle to put on and take off.


– Last Updated: Nov-09-07 9:59 AM EST –

There are surf kayakers in these forums who prefer neo in even colder conditions. I suspect a dry top or spray jacket over the wetsuit can help in wind.

Sing, kwikle, what do you guys wear?

Not an expert
But I would not experiment with cold water on a trip. Take your gear to a local lake this fall and practice in shallow water. Practice doing self rescues and see what temperatures you can comfortably tolerate in your neo and or drysuit.

Heed the other cold water paddlers.

That water is cold with currents you don’t even realize til you are underwater. Are you a strong swimmer?

Drysuit buys you much more time if you need it, esp since in some stretches there is no place to bail out straight to shore.

What stretch are you paddling?

I’ve never
paddled the Detroit River either but I guided a couple this summer who did and they told me all about it—very wide, very deep and can get awfully rough—

this isn’t like the rivers where GK usually paddles where if you fall out of your boat you are only a few feet from shore and often times can get to the bank without getting your knees wet.

If the water is 49 degrees and the air in the 30s you are running the risk of severe hypthermia if you are in the water for a prolonged period—

a wet suit will stave off the hypothermia for a while but eventually you will succumb—the drysuit will keep you warmer longer assuming proper underclothing–wool and/or fleece—why take the chance—the damn thing is expensive so you might as well use it now that you have it. Have fun

when it is cold

head and hands
I’ll leave the core for you to figure out. The reason why I mention back-up for head/hands is that if you ever do find yourself in the water or up a creek with frozen fingers it’s awfully hard to do some things let alone warm them back up again. I don’t do much freezing cold paddling but for awhile I put a spare set of neoprene gloves under the pfd against my chest. Inside the kayak were some nice warm mitts and pile hood in a small dry bag so that at shore I would have emergency coverings.

Sometimes a person takes of a glove quickly to do something and put the glove back on,operating a radio or zipping a zipper. If that glove gets lost and it’s your ONLY glove you’re SOL.

I have been paddling for three years now and used to windsurf and scuba dive in the winter. My old drysuit for windsurfing is not suitable for kayaking so I bought a Stohlquist White Water drysuit from REI. Spinal issues have kept me away from windsurfing and hockey, but kayaking does not seem to be a problem yet. I paddle at night in Lake St. Clair with some guys I have met through the sport and they have taught me alot. I just thought I would try this forum for some additional insight and to meet new people. I have paddled over 250 miles in the last two or so months, most of it in bigger wind/wave, or at night. Dialing in on the right outerwear will be mostly trial and error, I just thought I would try to speed the knowledge gathering by asking for some opinions on clothing. We will probably paddle from Seven Mile to the bottom of Belle Isle and back. 7-8 miles down and 7-8 back, the third 1/4 against a good current. My friend and I did it last week at night, but a shorter route around Peche Island that totaled 11.2 miles at 4.7 mph moving average. I will pack a good assortment of clothing and hope I won’t slow my friends down with a clothing change. I would rather be a little cold than hot, but not a lot of cold because we all know what that can lead to. I have held off from using my drysuit, but it sounds like most people here feel that is not necessary. I agree and will make the change tomorrow. We chose this route for its proximity to shore, rather than an open water crossing to Canada and down the river. I have been playing in lake St. Clair and its two rivers for over 40 years and have seen the best and the worst they can offer. I assure you that I have nothing but respect for the water and all that goes with it. If anyone has any more little tips or helpful hints on clothing, please pass them along. Thanks!

Ah that was good.