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Wetsuits And Drysuits: Need To Know

Wetsuits And Drysuits: Need To Know

Unlike skiing, which requires a certain amount of snowfall, kayaking is something that you can enjoy all year round (assuming that you have a body of water that doesn’t completely ice over in the winter months). No matter what the weather is doing, or how warm or cold it might be, with the right equipment you can easily head out and enjoy a day on the water.

When the temperature dips, staying warm is of particular importance. You will need to invest in either a wetsuit or a drysuit depending on the conditions. If you are new to the sport, you might think that they are similar items of clothing but they are actually designed to do a specific job in different temperatures of water.

They are an important piece of clothing – if you have ever been out kayaking in cold weather before, you will know just how cold things can get. Falling into the water can cause cold shock, which can make the body freeze and prevent you from being able to swim to safety or climb back into the kayak. And staying in the cold water can lead to hypothermia, which can result in death. A wetsuit or drysuit will help to regulate your body temperature and keep you warm should you fall into the water; significantly reducing the dangers of cold shock and hypothermia.

If you are unsure of which one to choose, we have taken an in-depth look at both items; examining the positive and negative aspects that each offers to help you make your decision.

Wetsuits – What are they?

Typically, a normal wetsuit will be made of a material known as neoprene, which is a stretchy piece of fabric that helps to hold a very thin layer of water against your skin. Your skin will then heat this water to your regular body temperature, creating an additional thermal layer around your body and preventing a loss of heat.

You would want to use a wetsuit when you are out kayaking when the air temperature is warm, but the water temperature is particularly cold. This is because wetsuits are semi-permeable, so although you want to protect your core temperature when in the water, you might want to let your body breathe and cool down while paddling.

Neoprene is the material of choice for wetsuits as it does not restrict your movement. To work as effectively as it is designed to, the suit will need to fit quite snuggly to your body. If it is too large then the trapped layer of water will be too much for your body to heat up, but if it is too small then you could restrict blood flow and movement; both options leaving your body feeling colder.

Wetsuits come in a range of different thickness, designed for different temperature water. A thicker suit is made of more neoprene and typically the thickness ranges from 0.5mm for warm water up to 6/5mm for very cold water. The numbers separated by the slash indicate the thickness around the torso, legs and (in the case of three numbers) the arms. The reason for the different thickness levels is because you want a thicker layer on your torso to maintain core heat, and a thinner layer on your arms and legs to increase ease of movement.

What styles of wetsuit are available?

Depending on the time of year and the temperature of the water, you have a range of different wetsuit styles available to you. These include:

Full Wetsuit

This is a one-piece suit that covers your entire torso, legs, and arms – ending at your wrists and ankles.

Spring Suit

Typically used in warmer conditions, Spring Suits cover your torso, upper arms, and upper legs.

Long John

Long John suits are a common choice for triathletes, with full coverage of your legs and torso but with no arm coverage; providing maximum flexibility.

Short John

A Short John suit is similar to the Long John, but instead only provides coverage for the torso and upper legs.

Separate Piece

Sometimes you might only want to cover your upper torso or legs, so there are also one-piece tops and bottoms available for kayakers.


In addition to the suit, kayakers are also able to take advantage of a number of accessories made from the same wetsuit material. These typically include hats, gloves, and boots, which combined can provide full coverage.

Any disadvantages of a wetsuit?

Wetsuits do a fantastic job keeping the body warm and flexible. The only negative aspect of them would be the fact they can be tough to get on and off when they are wet or damp! Although not a negative, they are really only suitable for water that is 45 degrees and warmer – so if you are entering colder water you will need more specialist equipment such as a dry suit.

Drysuits – What are they?

A drysuit is exactly as it sounds, a special piece of clothing that is designed to keep the wearer completely dry. Typically, a drysuit is made from completely waterproof nylon and vulcanized rubber material and features gaskets at the neck, wrists, and ankles to ensure it is fully sealed.

Unlike wetsuits, which are designed to be an insulator, dry suits are not so you will need to wear thermal layers and warm clothing underneath them to keep your body temperature up. They are also more restrictive than a wetsuit, but they are able to protect you in much colder temperatures, so it is a worthwhile compromise to make if you are heading out into very cold water.

Choosing the right base layers is vital to helping you keep warm when heading out for a day on the water. You will want to invest in clothing that has high-wicking ability, as this helps to keep sweat away and ensure that your body remains warm and dry.

When purchasing a drysuit, you should think about how you will be using it and what you will require. You will potentially be in the suit for many hours and getting in and out can be quite cumbersome so think about the position of zippers to allow you to take a toilet break and also think about the number of pockets you will require on the suit.

What styles of Dry Suit are available?

When it comes to the overall style of a Dry Suit, the look remains similar no matter the material used to construct it. In terms of Dry Suit, there are two types:

Membrane Suits

These suits are created with multiple thin layers of laminated material and provides the wearer with no thermal protection. They are incredibly quick drying and very easy to clean which makes them a popular choice for kayakers as well as being more versatile. They offer the wearer quite a lot of movement and are also capable of lasting for a number of years.

Neoprene Dry Suits

Although made from the same material as a wetsuit, these Dry Suits are able to keep the wearer completely dry. These suits are made from highly compressed neoprene that ensures they are fully waterproof – although they are heavier than Membrane suits. Neoprene suits do offer more insulation though as they are designed to increase streamlining when swimming in the water, so are not necessarily the best choice for Kayakers.


In addition to the suits, you can also purchase fully waterproof socks, booties and gloves to keep your feet and hands completely dry. Alongside this, you can also purchase additional seals or gaskets to keep your neck and wrists fully enclosed.

Any disadvantages of a Dry Suit?

Drysuits are designed for use in very cold water so they can be quite uncomfortable to wear in hot and sunny weather as they are likely to make you sweat. They can be quite expensive to repair, so regular maintenance is advised – and when compared to wetsuits they are a little more restrictive.

So which suit should you choose?

When it comes to deciding whether you should opt for a dry suit or a wetsuit, it really depends on personal circumstances. Any experienced kayaker will tell you that it is a case of using the right suit at the right time and unless you live in a very warm climate all year round, a wetsuit will not protect you in the depths of winter.

Wetsuits are fantastic in the spring, summer, and fall but if you want to be able to enjoy a day on the water in those truly crisp winter days, then a drysuit will ensure you are able to kayak all year round.

Kayak On!

Westsuit and Drysuits


I was first introduced to kayaking as a teenager when I joined a competitive canoe club. It was instant love. But when I went off to school and then got a job, adult responsibilities got in the way. Now approaching retirement, I've rekindled my kayak romance. My husband and I love to throw the kayaks on the trailer and head out on adventures. Maybe you'll join us?!

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