Chilly willy temperatures are now here and those wanting to keep the paddling flame burning through the off season will need some decent protection against the cold. There are many different ways to dress for a winter kayaking session. Some swear by drysuits, others take their chances with only wind breakers (you’ll need to be confident in your abilities if choosing this) and a large proportion of kayakers choose a wetsuit. Wetsuits are good for those who play in waves or in the sea. They can also work well in rivers, although many choose drysuits over their neoprene counter parts. Wetties are designed to work when wet, with a thin layer of water trapped between the wearer’s skin and the neoprene. Your body then warms this up creating your own central heating system. If you’re in the market for a new winter wetsuit then read on…
Styles – double lined v single lined
It’s a cliché to mention how much wetsuit technology has advanced over the years – but it’s true! Gone are the days of beaver tails, vertical front zips, leaky seams and suits that only cover a modest amount of flesh.
Wetsuits generally come as double lined or single lined suits. Single lined neoprene appears smooth while double lined suits are rougher. Manufactures over the years have discovered ever more exotic materials to work into their designs making it harder to distinguish which is which. Double lined suits used to be for submersible sports whereas single lined were for disciplines exposed to the air. Evaporative cooling from double lined suits was something to be aware of while the less durable nature of single lined neoprene could also affect buying decisions. Brands now add alternative materials to the mix and address these two issues. It’s still worth keeping the differences in mind but if you choose right you’ll get a warm and hard wearing product.
Cash is king
With a wetsuit you get what you pay for. Spend next to nothing on your suit and don’t be surprised if it falls apart after a couple of sessions. Parting with a large chunk of cash is difficult though when the benefits aren’t immediately obvious. Pricier wetsuits will also have additional features such as reinforced panels around key areas. They may have a built in hood and possibly thicker chunks of material/added ‘insulators’ around heat loss areas – such as chest and kidney zones.
Seems, stitching, glue and welding
Wetsuit seams need to be stitched, glued and taped at critical join points. ‘Welding’ (or liquid seals) is another option for binding panels together and removes the risk of chafing. When browsing for your perfect winter suit, check all the details and where possible, visit your local retailer. Understand wetsuit terminology – flat locked, blind stitched, taped, welded and glued are all common phrases. You’ll also need to take a long look at how neck, ankle and wrist seals work. Having a snug fitting wetty is key but if ankle and wrist areas don’t keep water out then you’ll get no benefit.
Wetsuits are a combination of different thickness neoprene panels and suitable for a variety of different water temperatures. In the UK and Northern Europe during winter, you’ll need to consider your susceptibility to hypothermia without the correct thickness of suit. If you’re paddling in particularly freezing water then 5mm and 6mm suits would be best. It could be you’ll end up too warm most of the time, but best to be this than bone chillingly cold.
Zip, short zip or zipperless
Most will be familiar with vertical zips – the traditional way of securing your suit. From a water flush point of view it’s actually the least efficient zipper system available. Other options include short front zips, where you enter and exit the suit through the chest area – this gives more security and less chance of fluid passing into the suit – and no zip at all!
Many people are choosing zipperless wetsuits; the benefits being next to no water seepage at all. However, they can be tricky to get on and off and the rubber’s ‘memory’ will be lost over time leaving you with a bit of a sack.
Wetsuits come with all manner of features and ways to help you maintain warmth. Fixed hoods, internal barrier systems, Velcro seals, ankle straps, key pockets and even fusion heating systems (such as with Rip Curl’s H-Bomb) are all worthy choices. Be aware though, the more features come with your suit, the higher the price tag. Once you’ve purchased a winter wetsuit you’ll want to think about wetsuit boots, possibly gloves, a hood (if your suit hasn’t one attached) and maybe a thermal rash vest. These extras cost, but during those Baltic days you’ll be thankful you made those purchases.
There’s no accounting for being warm on the water. Keeping the cold at bay by having the correct gear is how you’ll ensure smiles all through winter. Don’t scrimp on your winter wetsuit and you’ll be enjoy your winter paddling exploits.