If you’re planning a cold water kayaking trip it is paramount to get the right protective gear. People sometimes underestimate the dangers of an accidental spill into cold waters, but cold shock and hypothermia are nothing to mess around with. If you’re still thinking in terms of wetsuit vs. drysuit, it’s time to do some research and know your options.
|O’Neill Wetsuit 4/3mm||$|
|Kokatat Gore-tex Idol Drysuit||$$$$|
Cold Water Paddling
Any time the water is below 60 degree Farenheit or the air and water temperatures combined is less than 120 degrees Fahrenheit, you are in cold water. Immersion in water less than 50 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit can quickly lead to “Cold Water Shock.” Cold Water Shock can cause muscle spasms, hyperventilation, increase pulse and blood pressure and can even lead to cardiac arrest–even if you’re healthy. It’s serious business. If you’re going to be doing any winter kayaking, you need to be prepared.
Plan and Prevent
In order to ensure a safe trip out on cold waters, make sure you’re prepared.
Know The Water
Know the kind of conditions to expect where you’ll be kayaking or boarding. Even if it’s not technically winter the water where you’ll be might be cold enough to be classified as ‘cold water paddling.’ Check weather forecasts so you won’t be surprised. Knowing what to expect and preparing adequately could be the difference between life and death in cold water.
Eat plenty of carbohydrates and drink a lot of water before a cold water kayaking trip. Even bring along some fuel bars to recharge your body out on the water. Being properly fed will help your body perform at it’s high capabilities.
Safety In Numbers
Go with a group of experienced kayakers. Make sure that everyone in your group knows what to do in an emergency. It’s important to have people around you who will be able to respond quickly if you go overboard. You can watch each other for signs of sluggishness, mood changes, lack of appetite. These are all signs that the weather is affecting a group members health.
Dress For Success
Wearing the proper gear is absolutely vital. You need to keep your head cover to trap as much body heat as possible and keeping your extremities warm will protect against frost bite, so be sure to have high quality gloves and footwear. But the most important thing to keep in mind is dressing for immersion. It’s not a pleasant thought, but an accidental slip or capsize can send you plummeting into icy waters. You need to be wearing either a wetsuit or a drysuit. Below, you’ll find the various benefits and differences between these two options.
Wetsuits vs Drysuits
People are generally more familiar with the idea of a wetsuit because that is what is generally used in deep sea diving. Wetsuits aren’t designed to keep you dry. In fact they help to slow the loss of body heat by trapping a small layer of water between the body and the suit. Your body heats this small amount of water and acts as a defense against the frigid water you’re submerged in. Wetsuits use neoprene to trap the water, and the thicker the neoprene the warmer you will be but the more inflexible it is.
Wetsuits can be awkward and restrictive for kayaking. Some wetsuits for kayaking are armless, but these aren’t ideal for cold water kayaking because water can easily rush in through the arm holes and quickly cool your body. They are however cheaper than dry suits and somewhat more reliable. They are easy to put on and don’t require much maintenance. It’s important to have a tight fitting wetsuit. A loose fit won’t keep you warm and too much water will leak in, just making you cold.
- Works best in water
- Restricted arm movement
- Colder when out of the water
- Not as comfortable
A kayaking drysuit is made of waterproof material and has neck, wrist and ankle gaskets or cuffs that are designed to keep water out. The gaskets are often made of latex so if you have a latex allergy, a drysuit obviously won’t work for you. A drysuit isn’t designed to keep you warm by itself. It’s just an outer layer. You’ll have to wear layers of clothing underneath your drysuit. A synthetic or wool layer for your base layer helps to wick moisture away from your body. Your mid layer should be something like fleece so it doesn’t absorb water.
Drysuits for cold water kayaking are more comfortable than wetsuits. They allow for more organic movement and freedom. It does take some time to get used to the tight rubber gaskets, but after awhile a drysuit is generally very comfortable. Unfortunately, drysuits can be rather pricey. They are generally five or six times as expensive as an average wetsuit.
- Versatile underlayer options
- Possibilities of leaks
- Latex allergy
Best Choices for Wetsuits and Drysuits
The O’Neill wetsuit offers men’s and women’s full-body versions. They have the thicker 4mm coverage on the torso and 3mm coverage for the extremities. All of the seams are blindstitched and glued to protect against any leaks and a double deal neck closure. There are built in knee pads for protection and comfort. You can also buy a premium vented neoprene hood and neoprene gloves and zipper boots for full coverage.
- High-quality zipper closure
- Soft on the inside
- Fits tight and is available is large sizes
- Tight on the neck
- Some complaints of seams wearing out after one season
- Difficult to get on and off
The Kokatat Idol is a high-quality water resistant drysuit with some versatility built it. You have the option of wearing the top and bottom separately and the zipper is designed with a fully separate entry/relief system. The small men’s size will fit most small women. The gaskets are made of the traditional latex, but the Idol also has neoprene punch through collar and cuffs, for additional support against leaks.
- Comfortable and extremely flexible
- Easy to put on
- Few reports of leaks
- Neck and wrist cuffs can be extremely tight. Might need to be slightly stretched
- Comparatively expensive
- Must buy pro-socks and hood separately
What Is The Best Buy?
While the O’Neill wetsuit is best for surfing and maybe stand-up paddle boarding, the clear winner for cold water kayaking is the Kokatat drysuit. In cold water kayaking conditions it is so nice to have a dry and flexible suit to wear. Wetsuits are more reliable in water sports that have more direct contact with the water, but for kayaking a high-quality drysuit will be just perfect. The extra neoprene neck and wrist cuffs on the Kokatat Idol drysuit will keep you safe and with the proper underlayers you’ll be comfortable and dry.