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wetsuit vs drysuit

03/07/11 #10215

Hey everyone. Im new to this group. I paddle a surfski in minnesota. I'm wondering what experience people have out there as far as what type of wetsuit, or drysuit, works for paddling a ski. Typical conditions here when the fall storms make good waves are air and water both around 50F. Waves here are all steep wind generated, and frequent swims are likely. Obviously the tradeoff is dressing for the work out (I like to go hard) vs dressing for anything more than transient immersion. We paddle in groups with PFDs, leashes, radios, so there is an element of safety there. Are triathalon suits tough enough? Are surf suits flexible enough? What is too warm? I've been leary of drysuits because of fear of catastrophic failure, but its not like its totally out of the question.

Thanks in advance!

PS. I lived in bellingham 2000 - 2002


Reivers Dustin
03/07/11 #10217

Many of us here have extended our zone by wearing drysuits - including me. But I'm finding I can't go race hard in a drysuit. I'm a little older (as LB so gleefully posted) and notice poorer heat management. I can handle cold better, but overdressing shuts down my game.

One of our most qualified crash test dummies swears he'll never wear a drysuit. His point is that you can't swim very well and that closes a major safety window. The fates have given this guy such a strong self rescue resume it's wise to take his counsel seriously.

Some of our younger set can race effectively in drysuits. Even so, I think each has to find that tipping point on the wind/temp gauge that flips them either way. With this qualifier: the drysuit will give away less heat in the water. So if you dump, it will move that tipping point upward.

There are some important factors: fitment is really critical. I didn't do a good enough job of selecting my suit and it bugs me. Take some care here if you are in the market. Get the built in booties. How you dress underneath makes a tremendous difference. Burp the suit often if you are too hot (the steamy air stays trapped). Don't burp it if you have nasty gas. These suit things are finicky: grease treat the zippers regularly, clean = lasts longer, drying salt breaks down the fabric. Gaskets break down - theres a guy in town here that does great repairs.

I tend to reserve my drysuit for really rough conditions or really cold. Air temps below 35 w/ strong wind. If no wind, then air temps below 30 and no sun. Otherwise neoprene pants and windbreaker top. I can't handle neoprene above the waist - meltdown and no way to get rotation.

And no way am I outing my crash test buddy. Everyone here paid their dues learning to paddle and I'm not ready to quit learning from any of you.


Larry <lbussing@…>
03/08/11 #10220

Reivers has good advice, but I like the drysuit for anything below 40 deg. I like it best for the cold water shock, there is none, so it gets you back on the boat faster and warmer once up. But I take exception to RD's comment that they loose less heat in the water. Without the insulation underneath, they will loose heat faster. Also, be caucious of the thinking that you are safer in groups. If you are in surfski's, unless the conditions are fairly moderate, their's or your help is very limited except to radio for help

Larry B

Jeff Hegedus <jhegedus@…>
03/08/11 #10222

I would find 50F air/50F water rather warm for a drysuit, but if I had low mojo, conditions were big, I was going solo, it was dark, Neptune was in a mood, or I just felt like having a safety margin, I sometimes put my drysuit on. Its a tool that you should have, and should learn how to use. You can't go race pace in a drysuit, but its not always about race pace. Regarding drysuit 'catastrophic failure,' they're pretty tough, and this is not something that I worry about.

Reivers Dustin
03/08/11 #10223

I've wondered about those triathlete suits. The shop here (TrainerTri) has some superflex versions. I've discussed with the proprietor but there isn't much knowledge about use of these suits for paddle-sports. I think Dean and MG have found farmer-johns that they like.

As with drysuits, the upper level quality makes a lot of difference in useablility. In my normal life I'm pretty stingy and buy cheap crap a lot. But most of my paddlegear is high dollar. On the water you can't McGuyver your way out of busted gear very well.


Michael Gregory
03/08/11 #10224

Yes, ProMotion makes several styles of wetsuits - Triathlon, Kiteboard, Paddle, Surfing, etc. I've been using their gear for decades. Check out their web site. The paddle suit is a farmer-john style and allows good rotation. ProMotion is located in Hood River OR and I guess they have decent testing grounds there in the Gorge. Price is good - much less expensive than a dry suit. These guys do great repairs. So, expect the suit to last years with reasonable care. Pair it up with a Neoprene top and bye-bye cold shock!

lori & beau whitehead
03/08/11 #10225

I've been using a ProMotion tri-wetsuit for my bay-crossing downwinders for a few years. It is a full suit but with incredibly flexible shoulders and arms. I usually “go for a swim” i.e: fall-in an average of 4-6 times crossing from Marine Park to Locust on big days and have never felt cold. Actually, it's usually pretty refreshing to flush out the suit with some cold water, even in mid-winter.

On calmer days I've been using the NRS Rodeo pants (2 mil) coupled with a sleeveless surf top made by O'niell that is 2 mil. No restrictions for paddle motion and not too warm…

Beau Whitehead

03/08/11 #10227

For the last couple of years I've worn a triathlon shirt, a DeSoto T1 First Wave Pullover (2mm), mostly for prone paddleboarding, but also for a little kayaking. I combine it with NRS Rodeo Pants (2mm) and surfing boots (8mm - warm feet are the best!). I've taken plenty of swims in air and water both in the low 40's, and this outfit has been great. You barely get wet in high quality neoprene gear, and there is very little restriction. I get too warm if it's up in the 50's and or quite sunny.

Yamamoto #39 rubber, used in the DeSoto shirt, is the stuff you want. It's incredibly flexible and warm. It seems durable, only showing a little potential weakness in the wrists. Contact with something sharp might cut it fairly easily, though. Leave the box cutter at home.

Otherwise, I've worn a 4mm/3mm surfing wetsuit for colder conditions, and it's almost always too warm. With modern high quality wetsuits you barely wet. I've been thinking that a 3/2 might offer a very wide range of applications, but haven't tried it yet.


Michael Gregory
03/08/11 #10228

The Desoto gear is bomb, for sure. Don, the 3/2 suits seem to be warm enough for our NW winter ski use. However, the triathlon or swimming full-suits still aren't flexible enough, in the upper body, for paddling. I've found the two piece neoprene suits are more paddler friendly.

lori & beau whitehead
03/08/11 #10229

Dumb question Mike (most of mine are) and I'm not a two-blade paddler, but how can a suit designed for a swim stroke (full-arm and shoulder movement) not be flexible enough? Is it the core/torso area that is not flexible for the twist of the kayak stroke?
Just curious…

Beau Whitehead

Michael Gregory
03/08/11 #10231

Beau, there are guys paddling in neoprene full wetsuits that are not bothered. So, take my opinion with caution. The good newer swim wetsuits have decent shoulder movement, but when ya sit and scrunch forward in a paddling position there is a bit too much resistance in the torso, for me. Arm paddlers that lean back might be ok, maybe. The Desoto suits are two-piece - bottom with suspenders and top with full zipper down the front –all top-notch Yamamoto neoprene. Nice stuff.
My cold weather kit includes: NRS neoprene socks, Cabela Gore-tex socks, and NRS Rodeo socks as the outer layer. Poly rash guard. ProMotion paddle suit. Finally, a NRS Mystery top. Add the prices for all this gear up and it's less than half the price of a dry suit. More bouyant too!
When is last time you've seen a surfer in a dry suit?


lori & beau whitehead
03/08/11 #10232

Makes sense Mike, thanks… yeah, surfing and dry suits don't mix. I've spent hours in the Straits & Whidbey in a 4/3 suit and been just fine… but a 4/3 would melt me if I wasn't submerged, i.e: racing.

Beau Whitehead

03/09/11 #10246

First of all thank you so much to everyone who chimed in with their 2 cents. Its is really helpful. I am still a bit confused about what's going to suit me best (opps i made a pun) but I think that's just because there is no single thing that works for everyone.

At this point, I'm going to get a wetsuit instead of a dry suit. I think I'll get a 3/2 surf suit, or those NRS rodeo pants and a 2mm jacket like Don suggested, for better rotation.

Another thought - does anybody have any experience with the urethane coated fleece garments, like the promotion evo tops?

There's still 2 - 3 week of xc skiing here and then it'll be a while before lakes thaw and then a few more before they warm up into the 40s, so i've got a little time yet…


03/09/11 #10247

I meant promotion “EXO”

Erik Borgnes
03/09/11 #10250

With regards to fleece with urethane coating: I've been using a very thin fleece top with rubberized coating on the torso (old MEC top) and that has worked well in temps below about 40, but if you go that route, get it loose in the torso. The tighter hydroskin tops, neoprene tops, etc tend to continually “ride up” and get annoying while you paddle. You don't need the urethane coating on the arms.


03/09/11 #10252

You may also want to try out Chill Cheaters. Thin rubberized paddling tops and pants. I have a pair of their pants that work wonderfully. My paddling partner was wearing the long sleeve top this this past Sunday and loves it for cold water paddling. Allows for good rotation. Deep Cove Sells them

Having said that, I used a dry suit this past Sunday. If you paddle alone, or expect to swim a lot, you can't beat a dry suit. Yes you over heat, but that makes the swimming less of a shock and more of a relief. I plan to keep wearing it for a while as Molokai gets closer.



wetsuits_vs_drysuits_2011.txt · Last modified: 2020/09/16 21:50 (external edit)