Canadian Canoe Routes

Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit...
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Author:  pblanc [ April 2nd, 2013, 1:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

MartinG wrote:
Thanks all.
Mattt wrote:
Its possible that I could fall on a portage and hit my head on a rock, but I'm not going to wear a helmet while portageing.

That is a good point Mattt!

pblanc wrote:
For the conditions you describe I would either just go with wool/synthetics and a wind barrier (splash pants and jacket) or a dry suit. A wetsuit would not make that much difference for the brief amount of time you were in the water and you would surely be cold when you got out.

Thank for the input Pblanc. What you describe is exacty the approach I use. If the wetsuit does not make much difference for the brief amount of time that you are in the water then I agree, what is the point. I was hoping to find something that would help me to overcome the initial shock in the very unlikely event of a dump and allow me enough time to collect my gear and get to shore and change. Say 15-20 minutes at the outside. You are suggesting in this sort of circumstance a wetsuit would offer no significant advantage over the typical wool/synthetic/wind barrier approach?

Before reading that I had all but decide the paddler specific Farmer John Wetsuit was the way to go. This is after talking to several people who run rivers in April. (Napanee, Salmon, Moira rivers). The response was, “we’ve dumped in cold water many times and the wetsuit does an adequate job of keeping your core protected”. If a wetsuit does indeed provide significant core protection I would probably get one as a little added insurance for mid-winter day paddles and early spring trips.

The one linked earlier from MEC has ankle zips and full length two way zip in the front. Good for venting and pee breaks. Easier to get on or off than a dry suit. Also unlikely to get damaged by crawling/climbing under and over bowdowns on a portage. I would wear it with a thin fitted wool base layer top underneath, zip front fleece, and quick dry pants (plus rain/wind gear as required).

Your comment and experience are appreciated I will give this some more consideration.


If you anticipate spending as much as 15-20 minutes in frigid water then a wetsuit would help. In my experience, a wet suit does little to ameliorate the initial cold shock accompanied by immersion in very cold water. By very cold, I am talking water temps in the mid 30s Fahrenheit, or lower. After a few minutes immersion, you would be warmer with a wet suit than without.

But a wetsuit does not prevent contact of frigid water with your skin, it just prolongs the exchange rate. If you wore high quality synthetics with a good quality waterproof splash jacket and pants, preferably ones with velcro gusseted wrists, ankles and neck, it would reduce the cold water exchange rate nearly as much.

To my way of thinking, a wet suit in the conditions you describe is just a long run for a very short slide. With the wrong wet suit you will be significantly uncomfortable out of the water all to give yourself modest protection in the unlikely event you fall in.

If you do choose a wet suit a Farmer John (bib top with long legs) is a good choice. These have much less tendency to chafe under the arms or restrict shoulder mobility. They can sometimes be uncomfortable for kneeling if the neoprene bunches behind the knee. Some of the better ones have a nylon patch behind the knee for that reason. I have also seen people cut a window in the neoprene behind the knee.

Another wet suit option would be a "shorty" (bib top with short legs). These provide some core protection without being to uncomfortable.

Author:  Paddle Power [ April 2nd, 2013, 1:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

This is a valuable discussion.
Many paddles like the fussy rubber type of garments that others have mentioned. As suggested, a vest and shorts combination protects the body's core.
A wet suit will aid flotation and float you high, which should help self-rescue back into a canoe.
Kokatat makes a paddling (not dry) suit, with a non-latex neck (comfortable and easy to get on and off). You may wish to look into it.
I'm not a fan of the drysuit top and pant combo outfits. If you need a dry suit a full suit is an excellent product.
I've portaged through the thickest bush in my drysuit many times with no issues or simple & cheap repairs. I continue to bypass rapids or falls on rivers without portages -- bush carries.

It is most important to dress for the water. Even more so if you are travelling solo!

Author:  gearslayer [ April 2nd, 2013, 6:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

i have a drysuit. I use it. Thats why i bought it, to keep me dry

Author:  Splake [ April 2nd, 2013, 7:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I've used wetsuits for diving and windsurfing. From that experience, I've decided that the Farmer John is a pore choice for warmth as it provides significant exposure to the body core. My diving suit is a 2 piece Farmer John overall piece and then a top with full sleeves and short legs. If I use just one piece, it's always the top with the full sleeves.

For our spring trips, I insist that everyone have a full change of clothes with the exception of their outer shell. The risk mitigation in that is that we can get the person into dry clothes as soon as we get to shore, if necessary. I'm also happy to say that the only dunkings that have happened in 10 years or so of spring trips have either involved getting in and out of a rented Prospector from shore, or from fishing from shore.

I'm not knocking a dry suit, but the cost is prohibitive.

Author:  Peter K. [ April 2nd, 2013, 7:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I have used all the mentioned systems at one time or another. I love my drysuit. I'm in it from March to June and back in it again in October. If I have to walk a set, I do. I've never put a hole in it portaging -- although I'm not blazing trails in the bush.

My wife hates the latex gaskets and uses a paddling jacket with neoprene neck and wrists teamed with a pair of Gore-tex pants with feet. If she swims, she will take in a bit of water, but nothing serious. While lacking a bit of comfort, this sort of arrangement will definitely keep you safe.

The farmer john wet suit teamed with a fleece and paddling jacket on top will also keep you safe if you dump -- just not at a very high comfort level. You will gasp when you go into +2C water, but you won't go hypothermic. If wind chill is a problem, a pair of nylon pants generally will solve it. I paddled this way for years before I finally bit the bullet and bought a dry suit.

I would think the wetsuit is acceptable for cold weather flatwater trips that don't involve major open water crossings. After that, it's really all a question of money and comfort.

Author:  rab [ April 2nd, 2013, 7:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I've paddled out west in April and May and gone for many swims in glacial water with farmer John wetsuit and paddling jacket - also wore a wind proof pair of pants to stay warmer on land. Paddling jacket with neoprene and velcro gaskets really help keep your core dry. While the initial shock is always unpleasant I stayed warm enough for several hours of playing in the rapids. Cool hands were more of an issue.
After one season of that outfit I purchased a full drysuit - likely in 1998. I paddle a lot the first 3-4 seasons (30-50 times per season) with the dry suit and since then likely only used it 5 -10 times a year. The suit still works well. It keeps me dry, though has a few pin hole leaks in the feet.

The dry suit is way more comfortable then the wetsuit, if you are too hot, jump in the water or splash some water on the back of your neck. If you can afford it got for the dry suit. But for what you describe a proper fitting wetsuit with a paddling jacket would work also.


Author:  ice-breaker [ April 3rd, 2013, 8:24 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

If you are paddling whitewater during cold seasons, even if you do not swim, your lower body will definitely be splashed by cold water. In that case, you do not want to be wearing a wet suit without some type of splash pants over top and reasonably waterproof shoes/booties. Otherwise, the wet suit will be wet, and you will be cold, all day.

Author:  Jonathan Kelly [ February 21st, 2020, 2:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I spend a good amount of time paddling Superior and I need to improve my cold water immersion system. In particular, I'm planning a trip in August that includes a 2.5km open water crossing. Water is still plenty cold then of course.

My partner is wise and she insists that we need to be prepared for the worst. But I'm really not keen on spending $1000+ on each of us for a dry suit. Especially because I only want to wear it as needed in situations when it could be life-saving. Otherwise, I'm okay with being wet and cold.

I'm 6'4", 193lbs, with a 34" waist so basically nothing off the shelf would fit me properly and I would need to pay for customizing too.

So, I'm leaning toward the Farmer John style wetsuit: ... hn-Wetsuit
Good price ($130), reasonable insulation for the core, reasonable comfort while paddling, excellent reviews.

Let's say, worst case scenario, we capsize in the middle of the 2.5km crossing. In your opinion, would this suit be sufficient (along with other top layers), to allow us to swim over 1km in cold water if we had to? Obviously not comfortably, but would it allow one to endure and survive the swim?

I'm not looking for something to wear all the time, just an insurance policy. I've used a wet suit once for a quick ice-out swim and a dry suit never, so I just don't know.

Author:  Brad Thomas [ February 21st, 2020, 3:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

Jonathan, I don't know about the efficacy of the wetsuit on Superior, but I wanted to say that you might consider purchasing a two-piece wetsuit if you can find it.

The one you linked looks A LOT better than many single-piece ones that have a zipper on the back. Those things are awful if you need to get them off to pee, and just awful getting off in general. (And frankly they're awful getting on if solo; the long strap attached to the rear zipper doesn't do anything for me.) I made the mistake of buying one of the rear-zip ones once-upon-a-time.

Another good thing about a two-piece suit (if you can find one) is that you might find yourself wearing just the vest/upper part of it other times when the water is maybe-too-cold and you want to be safe, but the water isn't likely-so-cold that you need the pants on.

Author:  ameaney [ February 21st, 2020, 3:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I found this article interesting: ... r-canoeing

Author:  Peter K. [ February 21st, 2020, 3:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I practically live in my drysuit, but if you have a reasonable resistance to cold a farmer john with a good base layer on top plus a windproof paddling jacket will certainly keep you alive in August.

Author:  Jonathan Kelly [ February 24th, 2020, 3:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

Thanks a lot guys.

Great point Brad, I'll probably go for the two-piece option now that you mention that. Would be nice to just wear the pants for something like shoulder season wading, for instance. And I feel like with my unusual sizing, a two-piece system would be easier to fit into than a one-piece.

ameany, those SealSkinz mitts and socks look very interesting.

Appreciate that reassurance Peter. We'll try going for a swim in them in August before trying anything too bold to see how it feels, but it's nice to know this isn't an reasonable plan for safety.

Author:  Splake [ February 26th, 2020, 7:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I've been considering the Ocean Rodeo suits. The Heat is a budget option and I got some good feedback to consider the Soul or Ignite last year but at under $800 the Heat is worth considering. Probably still more than a good wetsuit, but I'm convinced that the dry suit is a much better paddling option.

Author:  Sam82 [ February 27th, 2020, 3:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I just purchased an Ocean Rodeo Ignite. I haven’t used it yet this year but will this spring.

Author:  cheryl [ March 1st, 2020, 10:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

A lot of good information here: ... 20&t=47251

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