Below are tips for what to wear when paddling in cold region areas in Fall and Winter.


Full surfing wetsuits are now seam sealed and dry and have less issues than more more expensive drysuits. I prefer the RipCurl 5/4mm and 4/3mm suit which have a fleecy quick drying interior, looks thick but are quite flexible for paddling and comfortable.

Types of Full Wetsuits

  • Zipper free – Top loading, most dry.
  • Back zip – Easier to get into but may leak through the zipper. Get a ‘zipper dam’ version which are drier.
  • Zipper free or back zip with a hood. The hood can slipped on or off. Off, it will help keep flushing out of your neck area.
  • Farmer John/Jane – Armless suit. Usually one thickness 3-5mm.  Wear a neoprene or fleece shirt and waterproof top.
  • Shorty – Same concept as a Farmer John but short legs and arms.

Mine is top loading 5/4mm which isn’t fun to get into, so I wear a rash guard under for additional warmth and to help get out. Most 5/4mm’s come with hoods. Slightly less thick would be a non fleece lined 5/4mm or an upper end 4/3. These should be seam sealed either with a hood or not, and back zip or top loading. If you have shoulder issues get a back zip.

Hooded full wetsuit

Hooded full wetsuit

Tip: Try before you buy.  Necks can be tight, arms too short.

What does 4/3mm or 5/4mm mean? 4mm thickness in legs and chest, 3mm in arms. 

Making your Wetsuit Warmer – Wear a thin polypro or SmartWool top under your suit or add a hooded vest under your suit. Over your suit, wear a nylon or GoreTex shell paddling jacket to cut the wind chill.  Add a hood/scull cap (below).


Drysuits are good option for cold temps as well. They work by being waterproof. The user wears fleece or similarly warm thermal clothing underneath.

Kayakers tend to prefer drysuits as they’re sitting in an enclosed cockpit and swim less than surfers.

Dry suit

Dry suit

Dry suits do come with pee zippers (often women now wear men’s versions to assist with this).  Good brands are Stohquist, Kokatat and NRS.


7mm surfing booties are popular, but I found mine only lasted one season after the pull tab ripped out. I now use the NRS Freestyle Wet Shoe (and Freestyle shoe). The Freestyle is fleece lined, waterproof and quite warm but not as thick and hard to get on as the 7mm versions.

Zippered booties tend to leak but are fine in warmer seasons.


I use Glacier Gloves which are fleece lined. The Maverick glove by NRS is good but not as warm in frigid temps.


Vest style will keep you warmer and safer than a C02 waist version which will inflated slower in cold temps. Get one with good visibility, a pocket or two and again, try it on first. Great brands are MTI, Kokatat, Mustang Survival, Vaikobi, Mocke, NRS, Stolquist, and Astral.

Vaikobi Vest PFD (hi-vis)

Vaikobi Vest PFD (hi-vis)

Scull Caps / Hoods

I carry an extra in my PFD even with my hooded suit. I prefer one with a chin strap so it stays on when I surf or fall off the board.  ProMotion ( has a few nice options. and I like the NRS Storm Cap. Some sell a full neck/head thing but we’ve found those make turning your head difficult.

Related Reading

Read my 30 Tips for Staying Warm in Winter on SUP Magazine

Winter Paddle Boarding Tips


About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.
Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.


Spokane River surf wave day with the Cindric family, winter 2015.


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