Kayaking in Cold Water: Wetsuit vs Drysuit

wetsuit vs drysuit for kayaking

Kayaking is a thrilling sport that can be enjoyed all year round, even in colder temperatures. The key to staying safe and comfortable in cold water is choosing the right gear. In this article, we will explore the debate between wetsuits and drysuits for kayaking in cold water, and help you decide which option is best for you.

When to Consider a Wetsuit or Drysuit for Kayaking

Determining whether you need a wetsuit or drysuit for kayaking depends on the combined temperature of the air and water. As a general rule, if the total temperature is below 120 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s advisable to wear a wetsuit. For example, if the air temperature is 75 degrees and the water temperature is 65 degrees, the combined temperature is 140 degrees, and a wetsuit is not necessary.

However, if the air temperature is 65 degrees and the water temperature is 50 degrees, the combined temperature is 115 degrees. In this case, wearing a wetsuit becomes essential. It’s also important to note that if the water temperature drops below 60 degrees, wearing a wetsuit or drysuit is recommended regardless of the air temperature.

Understanding Wetsuits and Drysuits


A wetsuit, typically made of neoprene, works by trapping a thin layer of water next to your body. This layer, combined with the insulation provided by the neoprene material, helps keep you warm. To maximize the efficiency of a wetsuit, it should fit snugly so that the neoprene rests close to your skin, minimizing the water layer between your body and the suit.

Further reading:  Life Jackets: Stay Safe and Stylish on the Water

Wetsuits come in varying thicknesses depending on the water temperature. Thicker neoprene is required for colder conditions, with some wetsuits featuring thicker material in the chest and torso and thinner material in the arms and legs. The thickness of the neoprene determines the level of insulation provided. Refer to the table below for recommended wetsuit thicknesses based on water temperature:

Water Temperature Wetsuit Thickness
Above 72°F 1-2mm
65-75°F 3-4mm
55-64°F 4-5mm
45-55°F 5-6mm
Below 45°F 6mm+


Drysuits are optimal for extremely cold days on the water. Unlike wetsuits, drysuits are designed to keep water out completely. They feature rubber seals around the hands and neck, and either rubber booties or seals around the ankles. To stay warm in a drysuit, layering with base layers and mid layers is essential, similar to how you would dress for skiing under a ski jacket and pants.

Drysuits offer excellent comfort on cold days and don’t feel restrictive like wetsuits. If you choose a drysuit made with breathable fabric, it won’t accumulate sweat and moisture inside. Drysuits require regular maintenance, such as lubricating the rubber seals and waxing the zipper, to ensure they remain water-resistant. It’s crucial to address any leaks or failures promptly, as a drysuit is only effective when it keeps water out.

Which Option is Better for Kayaking?

Choosing between a wetsuit and a drysuit ultimately depends on the water and air temperatures you are likely to encounter. For water temperatures between 55-65 degrees and warmer air temperatures, a thin wetsuit will suffice. Wetsuits offer good temperature regulation both in and out of the water.

Further reading:  Kayaking Adventures: Experience the Thrill of Sailing

However, for colder conditions, a drysuit provides greater comfort. With proper layering, including wicking and breathable materials, you can maintain warmth even on a 50-degree day. Drysuits made with breathable materials, such as GORE-TEX, offer enhanced comfort by preventing the accumulation of sweat and moisture within the suit.


When venturing into cold water for kayaking, selecting the appropriate gear is crucial. Both wetsuits and drysuits serve their purpose depending on the temperature conditions. Wetsuits provide insulation and flexibility for milder temperatures, while drysuits offer superior protection in colder environments.

To explore the world of kayaking and find the perfect gear for your adventure, visit UpStreamPaddle.

Kayaking Wetsuit And Drysuit FAQ

  • Q: Do I need a drysuit for kayaking?

    • A: In warm temperatures, a drysuit is not necessary. However, for cold water and air temperatures, a wetsuit or drysuit is recommended. Choose the appropriate thickness based on the water temperature.
  • Q: Is a drysuit better than a wetsuit?

    • A: A drysuit keeps you dry and requires layering underneath for insulation. It is suitable for freezing temperatures and below, whereas a wetsuit for such conditions can be heavy and restrictive.
  • Q: Can you swim in a drysuit?

    • A: Yes, you can swim in a drysuit. It provides buoyancy and is commonly used in cold water diving as well.
  • Q: How long should a drysuit last?

    • A: Drysuit seals made of rubber require regular maintenance to prevent dry rot. With proper care, you should expect a drysuit to last at least five years.
  • Q: Is a drysuit worth it?

    • A: If you enjoy kayaking in cold weather, a drysuit is definitely worth the investment. It ensures comfort and enjoyment even on the coldest days.
  • Q: Do you wear anything under a wetsuit?

    • A: Wearing a rashguard underneath a wetsuit is recommended. It provides a barrier between your skin and the neoprene, preventing bacteria buildup and making it easier to put on and take off the wetsuit.
Further reading:  Star Kayak: The Ultimate River Running Adventure