Wetsuits and Drysuits; what are they? What is the significant difference between a wetsuit vs drysuit, and when should you be wearing one?
Cold Water Kayaking
The need for a Wetsuit or Drysuit comes into play when you are cold water kayaking.
What exactly is considered cold water kayaking you might ask? According to the American Canoe Association, water is considered to be cold water when the overall temperature drops below 16 degree Celsius or 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also, water above 70 degrees Fahrenheit is considered cold if the air temperature is below 50 degrees. With the water or air temperatures so low, an accidental swim could be a major health hazard and even lead to death!
What is a Wetsuit?
A Wetsuit uses a material called neoprene, which is a synthetic polymer resembling rubber. Neoprene allows the Wetsuit to trap and hold a thin layer of water. The layer of water is close to the body, and this causes the water to heat up to body temperature, which in return helps keep the body warm.
The neoprene layer is based on two numbers; 4/3 or 3/2. These figures represent the thickness of the neoprene layers with the first number representing the torso area and the second number representing the legs. The thicker the rubber layer is, the harder it is to move!
Because of this, paddling wetsuits are armless, and this allows the kayaker’s arms to move freely. Full Wetsuits include the arm material, and these type of suits are a lot warmer with full body protection.
Which Type of Wetsuit?
Choosing which one that would be best for you is occasion related to taking a good look at the overall cold water temperatures.
Colder water would call for a full wetsuit as milder water would call for a paddling wetsuit.
What Is A Drysuit?
A Drysuit is a combination of waterproof fabrics and gaskets. The gaskets positioned around the ankles, wrists and neck, create seals to keep the water out.
The gaskets are commonly manufactured out of latex, so if you are allergic to latex, you will have to find a Drysuit made with gaskets of an alternate material.
Drysuits are only an outer layer and will not be warm enough on their own. You must wear a layer or more underneath the Drysuit to stay warm.
Wetsuit vs Drysuit
To determine when you should wear a wetsuit or a drysuit depends on the temperature of the water or the air combined with the water. A simple formula that you can follow to determine if the air and water are too cold together is when the combined air and water temperature is less than 120 degrees Fahrenheit when added together.
- 70-degree water:
When the water temperature reaches over 70 degrees Fahrenheit, you do not need either a wetsuit or a drysuit, unless the air temperature is below 50 degrees Farenheight.
- 50 to 70-degree water:
At this temperature range, there are several options to consider. You can choose to wear a paddling wetsuit or a drysuit when the overall temperatures are closer to 60 to 70 degrees. When the temperatures are closer to 50 degrees, you might want to consider either the drysuit with adequate layers wore underneath or a full wetsuit.
- 45 to 55-degree water:
A Full, 4/3 Wetsuit would be all right at these temperatures with an added paddling jacket or dry top. Adding these options helps maintain the body’s heat. Without these added options, the Wetsuit might not be warm enough. You can also consider wearing a drysuit with several warm layers underneath. At these temperatures, it is important to remember that your hands and feet will also need some support.
- Negative 45-degree water:
At these frigid temperatures, you should always wear a drysuit with a solid base layer, then add multiple, warm mid-layers. You should also protect your hands and feet and additionally, wear a diving Hood. Keep in mind that water so cold can cause cold shock. Cold Shock can shut down your body, which can result in panic and drowning. Please dress accordingly to prevent this effect, and you should always Kayak with friends when the temperatures are so severe!
Always wear your life jacket, or have one close-by! In frigid waters, always wear it.
You especially want to follow all safety protocols when kayaking in cold water situations. In the case of an accidental capsizing, you want to be as prepared as possible.
Kayak with Friends
If at all possible, when kayaking in cold water temperatures, have friends along on the trip.
Have a plan set up in case anyone experiences accidental capsizing. Again, make sure everyone in the group has a life jacket and make sure to have a plan set up in case someone falls in! Having these precautions in place, can save your life!