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Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit...
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Author:  MartinG [ April 1st, 2013, 8:11 am ]
Post subject:  Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit...

In Southern Ontario it looks like we are having a more "normal" spring this year. The ice has been reported as still over a foot thick on some Algonquin lakes. I plan to head up to Algonquin on the first weekend in May. I will probably head out somewhere in Frontenac County in a couple of weeks. Both of these trips will be flat water trips. I dress in wool and synthetics. I have a complete change of clothes in a dry bag directly in front of me in the canoe. I stay close to shore and get off the water if it gets rough.

This year I'm considering the idea of getting "proper" clothing in case of an unintended submersion. The options priced high to low seem to be Drysuit, dry top and bottom, wetsuit. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? What strategies do others employ to manage an unintended submersion in freezing cold waters?

Author:  ice-breaker [ April 1st, 2013, 8:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I use a Level 6 dry top / dry pants combination, both of really good quality materials. Biggest issue I have is that during a swim there will be some water getting up under the bottom of the dry top and into the pants. Usually it is not much, just enough to make you a bit uncomfortable, but sometimes it can be more and you slosh a bit. Because the dry pants have built in socks, any water that gets in cannot be drained easily (you gotta take your pants off and up-end them). If you can roll the tunnels from the top and bottom together before finishing the closure on your gear, it may help to reduce the likelihood of leaks during a swim. In hindsight, I would not have chosen the dry top / dry pants combination, but would instead have chosen a dry suit.

dave

Author:  littleredcanoe [ April 1st, 2013, 8:41 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I cannot imagine portaging in my drysuit. It's an expensive piece of gear and I would not want to snag it. I use it for open seas like Superior where the water is cold. Its a PITA to get on and off and I can't imagine getting in and out of it repeatedly in a day.

Wetsuits can be uncomfortable to paddle in. Sometimes you cannot tell its uncomfortable and chafing till you start to paddle.

The third approach is what you are doing. And it works OK if you are with others( you did not specify) and close to shore. If you do dunk, and your PFD is on top of all your other clothing, others can assist you back to shore or in.

Your fingers will lose dexterity first; good insulating gloves like Glacier Gloves are useful. And heat loss from your head is important. Wear a hat.

You have not mentioned another option. We often wear just Hydroskins in cold weather paddling where shore is near. They are made by NRS. They are comfortable to paddle in and do not lead to overheating.

http://www.nrsweb.com/shop/product_list.asp?deptid=942

Whatever you wear, make sure its not to baggy to prevent you swimming with it.

Algonquin Outfitters posted on FB that ice out is going to be late perhaps mid May. AF joke?

http://www.algonquinpark.on.ca/news/ice-out.php

Over 60 cm ice on some lakes. Thats about two feet, not one.

Author:  Rick Reid [ April 1st, 2013, 9:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I have over my paddling time used all three systems. I have discarded only one from my personal use, the wet suit. They all work to a degree, you have to choose the compromise of course.
Wet suits keep you warm by trapping a thin layer of water between the skin and inside surface of the wet suit that the body warms up. To be effective they need to be form fitting. Works well while in the water and not strenuously swimming kicking legs and stroking arms. Once out of the water this thin layer of warmed water drains out mostly. The neoprene is not a particularly good insulator on its own. The tight fit also means that your muscle must constantly work against the constricting material and can thus be tiring for some over time. However, wet suits do work with limits as noted above and are the least expensive option.

The dry top/bottom combination will not likely be completely successful in keeping you dry in long or harsh swim conditions. This combination though is quite likely to keep you alive even in the worst of accidental swim conditions. Damp you may be, but able to survive. Paired with that immediately available change of clothes or next to body warming layer that you identified as your normal safety practice, you may have the best overall solution at the best price point for all conditions. An added advantage of this combination is the flexibility of removing the top as prudent risk management allows for throughout the full range of paddling season conditions.

The dry suit I reserve for the harshest of early spring and late winter white water paddling sessions where I know that the potential is highest for me to swim under the worst conditions of water and water/air temperatures. In late spring and early fall I tend to lean towards the flexibility provided by dry top/pant combo.

Any system will work for you if used properly of course.

Rick

Author:  canoeguitar [ April 1st, 2013, 9:43 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

A little peace of mind without getting carried away - you will be on flat water after all. I'd recommend picking up a thin neoprene vest & shorts to wear as a base layer. They won't be too bulky or restrictive. The vest doesn't rub under you arms when paddling. Also, because the shorts are separate from the vest, pee stops are far less complicated than in a full suit. Also, keep a basic ditch kit at hand - knife, waterproof matches/lighter, silver emergency blanket. This all fits into the pocket of my PFD.

Here's a link to the vest on the MEC site. They also have the shorts.

http://www.mec.ca/AST/ShopMEC/MensCloth ... t-mens.jsp

Cheers

Author:  MartinG [ April 1st, 2013, 10:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

Thanks! There are some interesting options I hadn't thought of. I will assume the Hydro Skins mentioned by LRC and the thin vest and shorts combo mentioned by Mike is essentially the same thing. What about a Farmer John Wet suit? Something like this: http://www.mec.ca/AST/ShopMEC/GiftIdeas ... n-mens.jsp The zippers seem to be convenient for venting and pee stops. Would it be warmer than the separates in the unlikely case of a dunk?

The advice on the dry top/bottoms is also appreciated. This seems like a good compromise. Would you recommend the dry bottoms with socks or just with gaskets? The other problem I have with the drysuit type outer layer is that it seems to me they would be highly susceptible to damage on your typical early spring trip. Most portages are littered with blow downs which could lead to rather expensive snags.

Author:  littleredcanoe [ April 1st, 2013, 11:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I mentioned drysuits and portages. Not a good mix. Drysuits are for paddling when there is a chance you will be in the water an extended time like ten minutes trying to swim out or on open water crossings where a change of clothes possibility is an hour or more away.

If you are interested in a wetsuit I recommend trying it on first. The one you cited is paddler specific, but remember for them to work, they have to be tight. Make sure you are comfortable in it.

Dry bottom socks are wonderful. But you cannot walk long distances in them. The inevitable sand and pebbles over time leads to pinholes. When I take my booties off, I stand in my drysuit on a thick towel..and never leave the towel while getting the thing off. Latex gaskets are paddlers torture.

Author:  Sam82 [ April 1st, 2013, 12:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

If I'm paddling whitewater then I wear a drysuit. If I'm paddling flat water then just warm paddling clothes. If I fall in I know I can get warm when I get out with the equipment I have. Smart wool is my preferred material for baselayers whether I'm wearing a drysuit or not.

Author:  wotrock [ April 1st, 2013, 5:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I have a 3 mm pants and jacket---I think they are called "Farmer John. Like the shorts CG described, they simplify pit stops. Nevertheless, I have used them quite infrequently. Here in S. Ont we have virtually no spring. The air temps can be into the 20s while the water temp still hasn't reached double digits. So even though the water is cold and dangerous if dunked, it tends to be uncomfortably hot in even that thin wetsuit.
My approach to water safety is quite similar to the OP's

Author:  Mattt [ April 2nd, 2013, 7:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

I use a two piece dry suit for April whitewater trips. Its a Bomber Gear top and bottom, and it does leak a litle bit in a 300 meter swim thru CIII (its hard to get a perfect seal in teh back - might be better to have a partners help) - I assume it would still have a slight leakage where the top and bottom mate, even in a lake swim - but its been minimal the couple of times I've swum in it. Hands get cold in neoprene gloves and feet cold in boots. Latex gaskets, no booties. It works and was about $300 or $400 total cost. I'd not likely go to a full one-piece dry suit unless I did a lot more spring WW. Gasket around the neck is uncomfortable, though after a while, I tend not to notice. A real PITA to put on and take off.

Even for a just after ice-out solo lake trip, I wouldn't take it unless I was doing a big lake where I'd be a mile or more from shore. I just go with the wool/synthetics, wear the PFD, and carry a ditch kit in a fanny pack in case I ever got seperated from the boat.

My p.o.v is that I'm not going to fall out of my boat on a lake - if conditions are that tenuous in ice water, I'll stay close to shore. 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. There is always some risk invoved, but I feel it is negligable, or nearly so and go on that assumption.

Never wore a wetsuit, but I've paddled with people who do - very shortly after they get out of the water, they can get real cold in the wind - they keep you warm in the water, but not necessarily on the shore if your all wet and its cold and windy

IF you go with the one-piece dry suit - definitely go for one with a relief sipper.

Author:  pblanc [ April 2nd, 2013, 9:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

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. A dry suit would have the advantage that you would not have to change clothes if you fell in.

I also like 2 piece dry suits and I prefer dry pants with attached waterproof booties. If you are careful about mating the tunnels a minimal amount of water leaks in at the waist during a short immersion, especially on flat water. A full dry suit requires a long, stiff waterproof zipper and is a pain to put on and take off. A pair of dry pants with attached booties is no more difficult to put on or take off than a pair of bib overalls.

Both Level 6 and Kokatat make excellent dry garments. I'm sure other makers do as well, but I haven't owned them.

Author:  Ralph [ April 2nd, 2013, 9:59 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

Risk analysis.
What is the probability that you will go for a swim?
What can you do to minimize the possibility of going for a swim?
What are the possible consequences of that swim?
What can you do to reduce the severity of the consequences? Wear wool? Wear a ditch kit? Wear a wetsuit? Wear a drysuit?
What are the real life, day-to-day consequences of using these? i.e., you'll be too hot, you might damage an expensive dry suit, etc.
Which of those "consequence reduction" strategies best suits you?
For me, on flatwater, when I use good judgement about the weather, the odds of me going for a swim are quite low. However, in cold water, the consequences could be quite high. I would go with the wool and a ditch kit for more comfort and I would be very conscious of my vulnerability when making decisions about weather and route selection (cutting across a big bay, etc.).

Author:  pawistik [ April 2nd, 2013, 10:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

There is a perception that dry suits are really hot and uncomfortable. That's an aspect of my drysuit that I've been pleasantly surprised with - the breathable material means it's fairly comfortable across a wide range of temperatures by varying the insulating layers. With a light layer on under the suit, I'm comforable to temperatures well over 15C. By adding thicker layers, I've swum in ice water and barely felt it. My hands turned to blocks of useless numbness even with thick neoprene gloves very quickly, but my body was comfortable. When I kayak I have an added advantage to limit overheating - I can simply roll and cool down once in a while which means the effective comfort range of my dry suit is up to over 20C.

If I was on the water in the current very cold water and cool air, I would definitely have on the dry suit whether I was in a canoe or kayak. As the water and air warm up, I'm less certain which I will pick if canoeing.

Glad to see the positive comments about the NRS hydroskin products - I just ordered some for myself to use as paddling wet wear while canoeing and kayaking.

Bryan

Author:  MartinG [ April 2nd, 2013, 10:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

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.

Cheers,
Martin

Author:  recped [ April 2nd, 2013, 12:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Clothing for canoeing in cold water. Dry Suit, wet suit.

A farmer john will definitely help with the shock factor, "help" being the operative word. It will also help considerably if you have to spend any time swimming around in cold water. Mentioned before in passing, if the air temperature is low and or windy you will want to shed the neoprene the moment you get out of the water, you could be better off naked than standing around in wet neoprene.

Personally I switched to a full dry suit number of years ago but I'm mostly paddling in cold water rivers where a swim could be lengthy and the possibility of being separated from dry gear could happen. I've been using the NRS Triton suits, I bash through rough portages and other activities that are hard on the suit but I figure my cost per day at about $3.50 - $4.00 and I don't mind that. It's one of the few things that I try not to let my thrifty nature control.

For warmer and less critical situations I'm now using dry pants, I figure those with a PFD will be sufficient for brief immersion in more benign conditions.

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