This wil be my first winter kayaking. I have an inflatable SeaEagle FT385.
In the interest of safety, I am thinking of a full wetsuit - arms & legs.
(1) Any thoughts on use of full wetsuit vs restricted movement while paddling?
(2) Wetsuit thickness: For water temp of 45-55 deg in Jan, should I go with a 5/4 or 4/3 wetsuit? Will there be that much change between the two sizes in terms of warmth in case of a dip?
(3) I am also concerned that on somewhat warmer days with air temp in 50’s, a 5/4 full wetsuit may be too warm. Thoughts?
Wet suits are not that restrictive. You can wear a suit of long under wear to reduce chaffing. The heavier wetsuits are ideal for winter, but a lighter one is more versatile. Either will work. How far are going to be from shore? For salt water paddling or big lakes where you might be making crossings, go with the heavier wet suit.
A 3/4 is pretty versatile (I have one, a surfer style from Exel) and quite comfortable. You can wear Goretex pants and windproof top over it to extend comfort down another few degrees. A Farmer John/Jane is even more versatile because you can add a neoprene or Hydroskin zip jacket over it to increase warmth but be able to vent or remove it as the day or water warms.
Temperatures in the mid to upper 40s are really into drysuit territory, but you can probably get away with the heavier suit. Wet suits are not that restrictive, but more so than a drysuit. Then again they are far cheaper. If chafing is a concern, I’d wear a full body Lycra suit rather than cotton or even polyester under a wet suit…Wet suits should be snug to the body to work correctly and not hold water when you are out of it. Lycra or a rash guard will also make it easier to put a wet suit on and take it off…
Be aware that wet suits are not all that warm once you stop paddling and especially if you stop on a beach for a break. I’d bring along something to put on over it like a fleece jacket.
I’ve got a 4/3 and a 3/2 that I use on the SE NC coast. I only use the 4/3 in the coldest weather here, and find I have used the 3/2 more. I wear beat up old paddle pants and a paddle jacket over the top often times.
A nice flexible suit like ONeil technobutter material makes a real noticable difference.
A size or two too big will feel more comfortable 100% of the time you didn’t actually need a wetsuit, and will be too ineffective 100% of the time you are swimming in the cold water. A thinner suit with more flexible materials that you size and wear appropriately skin tight will be more effective than a thicker suit that you’re unwilling to wear appropriately sized, so you go too loose. The O’Neill Hyperfreak suits with Technobutter 3 I think are the most comfortable and flexible on the market right now, and will make a huge difference in how long you have to remain functional even in the coldest swims. They’re the top end flexible material without going to the most expensive suits. They’re not cheap, but for me, well worth the extra $.
To echo at least one previous comment, you might want to consider a dry or semi-dry suit. While they are more expensive, they are also more versatile.
Also, here is something I had to learn the hard way. Last winter while wearing a 3mm farmer john plus neoprene rashguard and jacket, I took an unplanned swim in lake water that was likely in the low to mid 40 degree range. The initial cold shock was truly shocking. Only later did I come to understand that with any wet suit, when you first hit the water, you get the actual cold of the water. It takes a few minutes for the suit to trap that water against your skin and then for your body heat to provide some warmth. Fortunately, I was close to shore because the shock of the cold and a bit of panic made it too hard for me to get back into my kayak. I did get to shore and my partner towed my kayak over to me. By that time I had warmed up enough to stop shivering and was able to get back in the boat and paddle home. All in all this was not a fun experience.
That weekend, I went out and bought a dry suit. To test it, I put on a light to medium layer of fleece pants and pullover top, then the dry suit and neoprene booties. With that outfit, I jumped into the same lake. It was a completely different and all together more pleasant experience. I was not cold at any point. I could feel the cold of the water on my hands, but my legs, chest and all other body parts were comfortable. It was also a surreal feeling. I sensed I was floating in water, but at the same time, I was completely dry. I spent a few minutes bobbing around and then swam over to the boat ramp and walked out of the lake like the creature from the black lagoon ;-).
Wearing the dry suit has given me much greater confidence and peace of mind for winter paddling. The dry suit is also more versatile since it is the equivalent of a waterproof shell with very little insulation. Thus, you can wear anything ranging from thick fleece or wool for really cold weather, all the way to no insulation. With no insulation, the suit is comfortable even in air temperatures up to the low 60s which is great for spring paddling when the water is still cold.
Hope this helps and good luck choosing you cold weather gear.
I second the Psychofreak Technobutter suits. I have a PF in Technobutter 2 (the last version) and my 3/2 is warmer than my old 4/3. The TB neoprene is basically waterproof and even when the pacific is at its coldest in march at ~55* I can hardly tell I went in the water.
Cape fear is right, its worth paying the extra bucks for top of the line neoprene. I found mine on Craigs for 66% off too.
45* is pretty cold for a westuit though. at that temp I’d be in a drysuit. 55 is comfortable in a wetsuit. 5/4 is pretty thick. If you need more insulation than a 4/3 id go with a drysuit.