Canadian Canoe Routes

Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit...
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Author:  VA paddler [ March 2nd, 2020, 11:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

Ok, so Virginia and West Virginia winter whitewater paddling doesn't rival a Superior crossing, but we've had plenty of long swims in cold, cold water... My crew has always chosen to go with the farmer john wetsuit with various layers below and above. My combo is silk long johns and wool socks below the 2.5mm NRS farmer john and boundry boots. If it's really cold and windy, I use merino long johns. Then a thin synthetic layer above. Then a ragwool sweater. Then a splash jacket. Merino balaclava under the helmet. Neoprene gloves or mittens - the mittens are warmer, but you lose dexterity with your paddle. If the day warms up, you can strip a layer off. If you dunk and its windy, you will be cold after you're out. But you will live. If it's not windy, just paddling again will probably warm you up. I usually keep my wool sweater packed in a drybag and only break it out after a swim, so it's dry when I put it on. A buddy recently upgraded to the 2.5mm, fleece-lined farmer john, and loves it.

I find the wetsuits hold up really well. I'm still using the same one I got in 2005. After rougher trips I always think it doesn't have much life left in it, but then I always figure I can get one more trip out of it, and it's still going. I have gained and lost 20 pounds repeatedly over those years, and my size fluctuations never affected its comfort. I find it easy to swim in, paddle in, portage in, eat pizza in after a trip - whatever. The biggest down side in my opinion is cold nights on overnight trips. Crawling into a frozen wetsuit in the morning just sucks. To prevent this, once off, I usually turn it inside out if its wet, run a clothesline over the fire, and try to dry it out without melting it. Then, balancing its condition and nighttime weather, at bedtime I lay it btwn my sleeping bag and thermarest or even in my bag, to keep it warmish.
The other down side is that they will trap the salt from your sweat and by day four or five of a strenuous trip they can leave you pretty itchy - especially along your spine where you can't reach to scratch. I find an easy solution to this is to pour a bailer or two of river water down your back under the wetsuit to flush it out. That can be chilly, but if you're already wet, its momentary.

I also just can't see dropping a grand on a drysuit. But I'm cheap. Each to their own. Good luck!

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