Wetsuit vs Drysuit for Kayaking: What You should Choose
Kayakers who like to go on tour on warm summer evenings do not have to deal much with the question of the right clothes. Short swimsuits, a life jacket, a baseball cap and possibly sunglasses are all you need.
In winter and cold water the situation is quite different. If you want to kayak in winter, you should take a close look at the equipment. If you freeze or sweat while paddling, a kayak tour will quickly become a painful experience, where you just long for the end.
Often the question of the right clothes for winter kayaking trips comes back to the comparison of wetsuits vs. drysuits. Numerous forum discussions and Youtube videos revolve around this topic.
The reason for this is simple: Neither wetsuits are clearly better than drysuits, nor is this the case the other way around. In fact, the choice between dry suits and wetsuits always depends on the circumstances and your personal preferences.
The following is a look at the differences between wetsuits and drysuits from a kayaker’s point of view. But before we get into it, we ask ourselves why you need a dry suit or a wetsuit at all.
Why do you need a drysuit or a wetsuit when kayaking in winter?
Many water sports enthusiasts wear a wetsuit regardless of the season. However, if you start your kayak tour in summer or at a bearable water temperature, you don’t need a wetsuit or drysuit. In winter, however, such a suit is indispensable.
Cold water is not only unpleasant, it can also quickly become a health hazard. Depending on the time and temperature in the water, the first symptoms of hypothermia appear after only a few minutes or a few hours.
If the water is so cold that the body gives off more heat than it produces in heat, sooner or later hypothermia will occur. Even a cooling of the body temperature below 35 degrees Celsius can lead to damage to health or even death (due to the failure of vital organs).
Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable tremors, hardening of muscles, impaired judgment and loss of motor skills. Hypothermia can also lead to confusion and loss of orientation. These limitations further aggravate the precarious situation of kayakers. If the first symptoms appear, it quickly becomes life-threatening.
Especially in winter no paddler wants to fall into the water. Every kayaker wants to return dry from a winter kayak trip. However, even experienced paddlers may be clumsy or fate simply did not mean well with you in one moment. Irrespective of your ability, an unexpected watercourse can occur.
The fright in the moment you fall into the water is further intensified by the cold of the water. Certain physical symptoms of hypothermia can occur quickly. In the worst case, paddlers with heart disease can even suffer a cardiac arrest.
Wearing appropriate clothing and mental preparation for the worst case is therefore very important. In winter temperatures, dry suits and neoprene suits are a great help. The suits will keep your body warm – even if you fall into ice-cold water – but what exactly is the difference between dry suits and neoprene suits?
What is a wetsuit?
Neoprene suits are fundamentally different from drysuits. The goal is not to keep your body dry but to keep you warm. For this reason neoprene suits are also called wetsuits. Neoprene suits come in different strengths. Suits with a thickness of 7 mm isolate you better from the outside world than 3 mm thick models.
How does a wetsuit work?
Neoprene suits, unlike dry suits, let some of the water through. The special structure of the fabric keeps the water inside the suit. Due to your body heat, this layer of water heats up in a short time. The film of warm water forms the ideal insulation against the cold.
Neoprene suits are the better choice for white water rafters and touring paddlers who are not afraid of waves. A fall into the water and also the splash water, the incoming waves, do not bother you much because of your neoprene suit.
It is important to choose a tight fitting suit. If the wetsuit is too wide, the water can flow in and out unhindered. A heat effect by the layer of enclosed water is then hardly given. The wetsuit must offer enough freedom of movement in the arm and shoulder area not to influence your paddle stroke.
What are the advantages of a wetsuit?
Neoprene suits are used by many water sports enthusiasts. For this reason, there are a large number of different models. Fashion-conscious paddlers can choose from numerous different designs. For dry suits, however, the choice is quite limited. Other variations such as Lohn Johns allow you to adjust the wetsuit to the outside temperature.
Compared to drysuits, neoprene suits offer more freedom of movement. These suits fit tighter to the body and feel much more natural in movement than a Drysuit with multiple layers of clothing underneath.
What is a dry suit?
The speciality of dry suits can already be derived from the name. Dry suits are suitable for a variety of water sports. The principle is always the same: waterproof materials such as nylon keep the water out and you dry. All openings on the arms and feet are tightly sealed so that the water has no chance to penetrate.
Drysuits for kayaking are less tight than neoprene suits and give you a lot more freedom of movement. The biggest advantage of dry suits also becomes a problem. Drysuits are designed to keep liquids out. However, this leads to your sweat sticking to your body. However, some modern models are made of breathable materials that allow fluids to flow from the inside out, but keep water out from the outside.
How does a dry suit work?
A Drysuit is basically just a waterproof outer layer. However, these suits do not keep you warm on their own. With a dry suit you have to rely on the onion principle. Several layers on top of each other keep you warm, because the air trapped between the layers heats up and thus insulates your body from the outside temperatures.
The first layer is synthetic underwear or wool underwear. For the layer above, you should use fleece. Moisture-absorbing materials such as cotton would absorb your sweat and leave you feeling uncomfortable.
An advantage of the onion principle is that you can experiment with the thickness and number of layers to find your personal feel-good point.
What are the advantages of a dry suit?
The biggest advantage of Drysuits is already in the name. With dry suits you stay dry when kayaking. Splash water can’t harm you and even with a spontaneous watercourse you’re guaranteed to stay dry and warm.
Another advantage of dry suits is that you can adjust the number and thickness of the individual layers to the outside temperature.
What do you decide now? Are dry suits or wetsuits better for kayakers? Choosing a dry suit or wetsuit is not easy. In fact, there is no better type of suit per se.
Maybe this rule of thumb can help you: If you’re okay with getting wet, you should go for a wetsuit. If you’re planning white water rafting or want to kayak into waves, a wetsuit is the better choice. For example, if you prefer to stay completely dry when kayaking, you should choose a dry suit. This keeps the moisture out completely and your body dry.