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Wetsuits vs Dry Suits?

Read on about both pros and cons for each option. Wetsuits vs Dry Suits? It all comes down to your preference for comfort, the type of paddling you do and/or features. Both are great options for immersion and water safety.

Up here in the Pacific NW, most kayakers wear dry suits and most paddle boarders and surfers wear wetsuits.

Why one or the other?

Sometimes its a group culture thing. Traditionally, wetsuits were not as dry or warm so the kayaking communities in cold water went for the drier dry suits.  In recent years, wetsuits have come a long way with dry and super flexible models.

                          NRS Crux Dry Suit

Dry Suit Pros

  • Dry suits do provide a pee zipper
  • Can be worn on dry clothes – thus dry when you’re done
  • Dry suits offer folks with larger body types a less revealing clothing option.
  • Better option for reducing super cold wind chill
  • Colorful for on-water visibility

Cons of dry suits – Expensive ($600-$1,500), a rip can compromise the suit’s safety, requires maintenance such for latex gaskets, suit material and zippers.

Manufacturers like Kokatat offer really good repair services, often free to fix fabric wear and tear, gaskets and more.

Full Wet Suit Pros

  • Many suits over $200 are completely dry, some are fleece lined
  • Very flexible, even in arms if no more than 3-4mm.
  • A hole doesn’t compromise the suit’s ability to stay dry and/or warm
  • Affordable. A high end suit may be $600, low-end, about $150.
  • Easier to swim in
  • Minimal maintenance

Cons of full wetsuits – No pee zip, lacking bright colors, doesn’t fit all body types, occasional zipper and fabric maintenance.

Some manufacturers offer good wetsuit repair. Or get in touch with ProMotion in Hood River, Oregon who not only make their own suits but repair other brands as well.

Alternative Mix / Match Tips:

Some neoprene options like a wetsuit hooded vest fit well over hoodless dry suits. Or you can add a fabric Splash Top over a neoprene wetsuit to cut wind chill, add visibility and more.

Some kayakers have been comfortable with Farmer Johns (armless wetsuits) with a dry top or neoprene jacket or top over for cold water.

Recent Wetsuit Improvements..

Innovative and Environmentally Friendly Neoprene

Fleece quick drying and dry interior of the RipCurl Flash Bomb wetsuits

Fleece quick drying and dry interior of the RipCurl Flash Bomb wetsuits

Materials such as the Japanese limestone neoprene, fleece lined RipCurl Flash Bomb suits and, the thermal lined environmentally friendly Patagonia Yulex suits, and the toasty battery warmed wetsuit by RipCurl are changing perceptions.

Seam Sealed Wetsuits

Most medium to higher end surfing wetsuits are now totally seam sealed and waterproof.  “Wetsuit” isn’t right term for these suits anymore.

After owning two $900 plus dry suits over the years, I quickly became a fan of my $460 ish 5/4mm RipCurl Flash Bomb wetsuits not only for the price, but contrary to what others told me, the wetsuit was completely dry and more flexible than dry suits especially when swimming.

Wetsuit Thickness Explained

What does 4/3mm mean? 4mm chest, 3mm arms and legs. a 5/4/3, means 5mm chest, 4mm legs, 3mm arms. Some friends own 6mm, others a 4/3 – it depends on your body and how you perceive cold. Some suits come with hoods.

Trusted Wetsuit Brands

Add a wetsuit top over a hoodless dry suit

Patagonia, O’Neill, RipCurl.

Popular Dry Suit Brands

Kokatat, Stohlquist, NRS

Tips for Wetsuits

  • When putting a back-zip on for the first time, the pull string goes on your back. Newbies often put wetsuits on backwards.
  • Wetsuits with no zippers are warmer and leak less, but will be more difficult to put on. Got old stiff shoulders? Get a back-zip.
  • Does the suit feel stiff at first? Neoprene loosens up when wet.
  • While rental wetsuits are often not in the best shape, renting is away to find your preferred thickness and suit type. Try before you buy. 
  • Put on a rash guard or thin thermal layer under your suit to boost warmth. I also put a kayaking dry-top over in cold temps to reduce windchill.
  • Do your arms get cold? Put bicycling arm warmers on under your suit or a thermal shirt layer under.
  • Most importantly, each his own! Find what works best for you.
  • Wash after each use. You can put on a wet wetsuit and it’ll warm up quickly.  RipCurl’s Flash Bomb and Patagonia’s Yulex suit dry quickly due to their internal fleece like thermal layer.
  • Kayaking shops tend to call a Farmer John a wetsuit and don’t have full 4/3mm wetsuits.  Surf and SUP shops often don’t carry dry suits.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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