wetsuit for kayaking

Choosing A Suitable Wetsuit for Kayaking

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When deciding on a wetsuit for kayaking you will want to choose one that allows the maximum freedom of movement through the upper body and shoulders for unrestricted paddling. For this reason, kayaking wetsuits are the sleeveless, Farmer John type of suit.

Most are of neoprene between 2mm and 3mm thickness and many feature a titanium laminate for heat retention.

  • In warm water/warm air situations, the suits most popular with kayakers are “Little John“. These are sleeveless suits, usually 2mm, with short legs.
  • For cooler water situations, the long-legged “Farmer John” sleeveless suit is most popular.

For men, many of these suits feature a front opening zipper that opens from the bottom as well as the top. This type of zip is often called a ‘relief zipper’ – for obvious reasons! Another feature to look for is ankle zips that make the suit much easier to put on and take off.

Many suits have a moisture-wicking liner. This adds warmth and eliminates the clammy feel of wet neoprene next to your skin. This type of lining also makes it easier to put on or take off a suit that has already become wet.

Some of these kayaking suits have the feature to add shoulder extenders. These can allow a more customized fit in “off the rack” wetsuits. On these suits, the sleeveless shoulders are fastened by Velcro, and extension strips can be added by undoing this, slipping the extender in and adjusting to a comfortable fit.

What Else Should You Wear?

Professionals recommend the use of wicking underwear in a wetsuit to keep the core of the body as dry and warm as possible.

Drytops and Paddling Jackets in waterproof, breathable fabrics have many advantages when combined with a wetsuit for kayaking.

  • Drytops For Kayaking will have waterproof gaskets for the neck and wrists and usually an overskirt to keep water out of your kayak.
  • Paddling Jackets are less expensive than Drytops. They have cuff and neck closures that will keep out most of the water but do not provide protection during an Eskimo roll because they do not seal at the waist.


When Should You Wear A Wetsuit For Kayaking?

The American Canoe Association has published guidelines for kayaking in cold water. They recommend that you should always wear suitable protective clothing such as a wetsuit when you are paddling:

  • in water and air temperatures below 60°F
  • if you are expecting to be paddling more than a quarter-mile from the shore and the water temperature is below 60°F
  • if you are anticipating repeated exposure to water of 70°F or below, even in mild weather


In water temperatures of 45-54°F where the risk of hypothermia is moderate, the recommendation is to wear a dry suit instead of a wetsuit. In water temperatures below 45°F where the risk of hypothermia is high, wearing a dry suit is “strongly recommended”.

Wetsuits for kayaking do have advantages over dry suits though. They are less expensive, less likely to tear or be damaged and any damage to a dry suit must be repaired immediately. The disadvantages are that they can be hot in warm weather conditions and are really only suitable for water temperatures in excess of 50°F. In cooler conditions, layer clothing on top of your suit to keep you warm and comfortable.