Wetsuit thickness for winter paddling?

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3 weeks 5 days ago #40124 by slow
I'm coming into my first winter of paddling and wondering what kind of wetsuit would be appropriate and comfortable.

Water temperature here gets down to around 6C (40F) with air temperature around 0C (32F). I have a 7mm getup I find very comfortable when I'm in the water in the winter and not majorly exerting myself, but I don't know that I'd really be able to paddle in it because it's fairly restrictive and I think I'd overheat in it even if I could paddle in it .

I'm curious how people who paddle in colder climates handle this.

Maybe I should go to something like a 4/3 or 3/2 suit and assume that my exertion will keep me warm enough? The other thing I was thinking about trying was a thicker farmer john and a lighter top.

I could also shift my schedule around and paddle mid-day instead of late evening, where air temperatures will likely be closer to 6C (40F), which seems likely to be a lot cozier if I'm in wet neoprene.

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3 weeks 4 days ago #40125 by zachhandler
Lots of concerns to balance here. You are weighing the risks of gradual hypothermia by exposure to cold and wet, the risk of a catastrophic prolonged immersion such as getting separated from ski or being unable to remount , and the risk of overheating to a degree that makes it not worth paddling. To assess those risks: Is this flat water close to shore, solo open ocean downwind or, something in between? Do you go hard and generate lots of heat or are you more calm and relaxed in your effort? Are you built like a gazelle or more like a marine mammal?

Personally downwinding in those conditions I use 4/3 wetsuit, 5mm booties, 3 mm gloves, neoprene squid lid hat. I have considered moving to a 5 mm suit now that I surf better and have to paddle less. Better to overdress with neoprene because you can always jump in the water to cool off, but once you are cold it is very hard to warm up out there.

Flatwater in those temps i wear 1.5mm neoprene pants, baselayer plus waterproof layer on top, pogies, and a wool hat. But I also take a more stable boat than I would in the summer, and never venture more than 30 meters from shore.

Paddling hard and generating lots of heat is my style of paddling and I am 5’11” 160 pounds.

Its a soapbox that I have stood on many times, but if you are immersed in very cold water with exposed hands you only have a few minutes before hands are no longer functional and could not grab a rope if someone threw it to you. Obviously big thick hands last longer than little hands.

Current Skis: Epic v10 g3, NK 670 double, NK exrcize, Kai Wa’a Vega, Carbonology Feather, Think Jet, Knysna Sonic X
Former Skis: Epic V12 g2, Epic V12 g1, Epic v10 double, Nelo 550 g2, Fenn Elite S, Custom Kayaks Synergy
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3 weeks 4 days ago #40126 by slow
Good questions. Out on the ocean, but I'll likely stick fairly close to shore during the winter. I'd rate my exertion as somewhere between the two extremes you mention. I'm definitely sweating and feel warm when the air temperature is 15C (60F) and I'm just wearing a thin shirt and shorts, so I'm generating some heat. I'm 5'8" and 130 lbs with minimal insulation, so I can lose heat fairly rapidly if I'm in the water without a wetsuit.

Point taken on the hands. My hands get cold very quickly without gloves and I own 5mm gloves for that reason. I haven't tried paddling with them, but I'm not sure I have enough dexterity with the gloves on to feel good about paddling with them. Maybe 3mm or 2mm would work well for paddling and still give me some warmth.

I'm going to want something warmer than what I'm wearing now but less warm than my 7mm outfit in a month or two, when water temperatures can get down to 10C (50F) or so. Maybe I can start with 4/3 for the cold days a month or two from now and then I can see if that will work for the rest of the winter or if I'll want something warmer for November to March, when the water can be a lot colder.

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3 weeks 4 days ago #40127 by SpaceSputnik
At these sort of temps I think the only real option is a properly layered drysuit.

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3 weeks 4 days ago #40129 by zachhandler

At these sort of temps I think the only real option is a properly layered drysuit.

That has not been my experience. I am in Minnesota where we do a lot of paddling in icy water and cold air. Some of my best down winds have been with snow in the air. All the ski paddlers here use wetsuits except one guy that has a dry suit left over from his whitewater days. Even a friend in duluth who downwinds lake superior in the winter up to and right after it it freezes is in neoprene. Pros and cons to both as discussed elsewhere, but wetsuit and dry suit are both viable options.

Current Skis: Epic v10 g3, NK 670 double, NK exrcize, Kai Wa’a Vega, Carbonology Feather, Think Jet, Knysna Sonic X
Former Skis: Epic V12 g2, Epic V12 g1, Epic v10 double, Nelo 550 g2, Fenn Elite S, Custom Kayaks Synergy

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3 weeks 4 days ago #40130 by SpaceSputnik

At these sort of temps I think the only real option is a properly layered drysuit.
That has not been my experience. I am in Minnesota where we do a lot of paddling in icy water and cold air. Some of my best down winds have been with snow in the air. All the ski paddlers here use wetsuits except one guy that has a dry suit left over from his whitewater days. Even a friend in duluth who downwinds lake superior in the winter up to and right after it it freezes is in neoprene. Pros and cons to both as discussed elsewhere, but wetsuit and dry suit are both viable options.

It's rare to see anyone use a wetsuit for paddling around here in Toronto across all paddle sports. You pretty much only see them on surfers and kite-boarders, but drysuits are the pretty much the norm for paddling. I personally wouldn't advice a wetsuit in winter here.

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3 weeks 4 days ago - 3 weeks 4 days ago #40131 by Atlas
Hey Slow.
Winter temperatures where I paddle are about the same as your summer temps so not as cold as your waters but cold enough to get me in trouble if I'm not careful. Particularly since I mostly paddle alone, usually in rough water, frequently in the dark and I always end up 2 to 3 kilometres from shore at some point. For that reason I'm pretty careful about what I wear. I usually dress a little warmer than I think I need to.
For context; my paddling is for exercise. I'm usually pushing pretty hard and I don't ever sit around looking at the scenery. I have very little "natural insulation" but I don't usually have much trouble generating body heat as long as I'm moving.
I'm a big fan of the long john wetsuit because it doesn't restrict my arm movement. It's also really versatile because I can combine this with any number of warm or not so warm tops depending on the conditions of the day. I had my long John custom made with 7mm legs and 5mm on the torso. I know this sounds arse about but I wanted floatation on my legs to help with remounting my ski. If my waters were much colder; I'd look at getting one with 10mm legs and 7mm on the torso.
We all know it's important to keep your head warm. You can also lose vast amounts of heat through your neck. I often wear a 1.5mm hooded top in particularly cold conditions. That way there is no gap in protection between my head, neck and torso.
I've only recently swapped my 3mm booties for 5mm ones. The difference is astounding. My feet are actually warm in winter for the first time ever. It's important though that the booties are a snug fit so there is no excess cold water in there. Of course you don't want them so tight that they restrict blood flow.
I'm not a big guy but I have pretty big hands and good circulation. I haven't needed gloves so I don't have any personal experience to share. One guy I sometimes paddle with (who has poor circulation) uses pogies in winter. He finds that just keeping the wind off his hands makes a big difference.
As far as problems go; being a bit too warm is a pretty good one. It gives me a reason to practice my remounts.
Having said all of that: If my local waters were as cold as yours; I'd be at least looking into full drysuits. I'm not particularly attracted to what seems like a very expensive, complicated system. However I've never used one so I don't know what I don't know. Maybe they're awesome.

Current boats
Epic V10L Ultra, Carbonology Sport Boost LV X, Fenn Bluefin, Nelo 510, Fenn XT double, Nelo 600, Expedition Kayaks Azure

Previous boats
Spirit PRS, Fenn Swordfish, Fenn XT, Fenn Swordfish S, Think Zen, Epic V10L Club, Epic V9 Ultra, Carbonology Sport Boost LV
Most with DK rudders
Last edit: 3 weeks 4 days ago by Atlas.
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3 weeks 2 days ago - 3 weeks 2 days ago #40132 by slow

At these sort of temps I think the only real option is a properly layered drysuit.
That has not been my experience. I am in Minnesota where we do a lot of paddling in icy water and cold air. Some of my best down winds have been with snow in the air. All the ski paddlers here use wetsuits except one guy that has a dry suit left over from his whitewater days. Even a friend in duluth who downwinds lake superior in the winter up to and right after it it freezes is in neoprene. Pros and cons to both as discussed elsewhere, but wetsuit and dry suit are both viable options.
It's rare to see anyone use a wetsuit for paddling around here in Toronto across all paddle sports. You pretty much only see them on surfers and kite-boarders, but drysuits are the pretty much the norm for paddling. I personally wouldn't advice a wetsuit in winter here.
Why would a drysuit be the only option? I've never used one, so I'm curious. Winter air temperature here is much warmer than Minnesota or Toronto, so I don't view "people do this in Toronto" as a very strong case for why a dry suit is a necessity here.
In terms of temperature, a 7mm wetsuit is quite comfortable for full immersion with our winter temperatures here. I'm not saying I'd want to paddle in 7mm, but I have no problem spending a long time in the water in 7mm, so I don't think a wetsuit has to be unsafe although it may be uncomfortable.
Last edit: 3 weeks 2 days ago by slow.

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3 weeks 2 days ago #40134 by slow

I'm a big fan of the long john wetsuit because it doesn't restrict my arm movement. It's also really versatile because I can combine this with any number of warm or not so warm tops depending on the conditions of the day. I had my long John custom made with 7mm legs and 5mm on the torso. I know this sounds arse about but I wanted floatation on my legs to help with remounting my ski. If my waters were much colder; I'd look at getting one with 10mm legs and 7mm on the torso.

Something like a 7mm wetsuit plus a thin top, like a Vaikobi v-cold top, was something else I was considering, but I'm not sure how my arms would feel after getting dunked, especially if I flub a remount or two. I already own 7mm booties and have tried paddling in them and they're not too bulky, although they might be overkill. Unfortunately, I don't already own a 7mm farmer john, so I'd have to buy one and see how it feels for me. And of course I'd wear gloves and something on my head as well.

Did you have your wetsuit made from some kind of fancy stretchy neoprene or is the same stuff people use for cheap diving wetsuits?

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3 weeks 2 days ago - 3 weeks 2 days ago #40135 by Atlas
My "paddling" long John wetsuit was made from a neoprene that would be suitable for diving wetsuits. I did have the maker optimise the cut of the suit for the seated position. An off the shelf diving long John would be pretty cheap and would probably suit the application quite well. Most neoprene is pretty stretchy these days.
I had another long john wetsuit made by the same manufacturer from fancy super stretchy neoprene for open water swimming. However I don't think this suit would be durable enough for paddling.
I have some Vaikobi Vcold clothes but as these items wear out; I am replacing them with Frogskin and Sharkskin garments which I find to be much warmer when I'm completely soaked by wind and waves or after some remount practice. FWIW; I don't like Sharkskin "Titanium" garments because the "Titanium" fabric has much less stretch than the standard Sharkskin fabric.

Current boats
Epic V10L Ultra, Carbonology Sport Boost LV X, Fenn Bluefin, Nelo 510, Fenn XT double, Nelo 600, Expedition Kayaks Azure

Previous boats
Spirit PRS, Fenn Swordfish, Fenn XT, Fenn Swordfish S, Think Zen, Epic V10L Club, Epic V9 Ultra, Carbonology Sport Boost LV
Most with DK rudders
Last edit: 3 weeks 2 days ago by Atlas.
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3 weeks 2 days ago - 3 weeks 2 days ago #40137 by Arcturus
I have a 5/4mm full hooded wetsuit (5mm torso, 4mm limbs) that I sometimes wore in the PNW. Water temps high 40s to 50, air temp a bit warmer.That one was a bear to put on and take off, though the neoprene itself was stretchy enough to be tolerable for paddling in. But I can’t stand the thought of wearing anything thicker. Just NO WAY.

However, the 7mm surfer booties are terrific! These days in a different region I wear those at the end of our season (late autumn) and the start of the next one (early to mid spring). The air might be warm then but water is cold, less than 50. The rest of the time it is 3mm booties.

A drysuit could be layered inside to go as cold as your head, hands, and feet can tolerate without feeling too restrictive on a ski (no sprayskirt tunnel involved). It is easier to put on and take off than a thick full neoprene wetsuit. I’ve come to prefer a longleg Farmer Jane plus neoprene top under that for our shoulder seasons. You could add a neoprene jacket over those, plus booties, dive hood, and pogies as alternative to a drysuit or full wetsuit.

I would expect to get unpleasantly sweaty in any setup. Wearing a PFD blocks vapor from sweat breathing out of the drysuit even if it’s Goretex. Non-Goretex drysuits are sweat chambers.

If you’re 5’8” and 130 lbs, you must have very little insulation indeed. Don’t even bother with the 2mm wetsuits for those conditions. I’m just under 5’3” and 105-107 lbs; a 2mm suit is for warmer water and air.
Last edit: 3 weeks 2 days ago by Arcturus.

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3 weeks 2 days ago #40138 by SpaceSputnik

At these sort of temps I think the only real option is a properly layered drysuit.
That has not been my experience. I am in Minnesota where we do a lot of paddling in icy water and cold air. Some of my best down winds have been with snow in the air. All the ski paddlers here use wetsuits except one guy that has a dry suit left over from his whitewater days. Even a friend in duluth who downwinds lake superior in the winter up to and right after it it freezes is in neoprene. Pros and cons to both as discussed elsewhere, but wetsuit and dry suit are both viable options.
It's rare to see anyone use a wetsuit for paddling around here in Toronto across all paddle sports. You pretty much only see them on surfers and kite-boarders, but drysuits are the pretty much the norm for paddling. I personally wouldn't advice a wetsuit in winter here.
Why would a drysuit be the only option? I've never used one, so I'm curious. Winter air temperature here is much warmer than Minnesota or Toronto, so I don't view "people do this in Toronto" as a very strong case for why a dry suit is a necessity here.
In terms of temperature, a 7mm wetsuit is quite comfortable for full immersion with our winter temperatures here. I'm not saying I'd want to paddle in 7mm, but I have no problem spending a long time in the water in 7mm, so I don't think a wetsuit has to be unsafe although it may be uncomfortable.

Our winter paddling temps are not far off from what you said - 0 air, 6 water. Drysuit is far less restrictive than even as thin as a 3mm wetsuit and you can fine-tune the layering for perfect thermoregulation for long periods of time.
With as little as 3mm wetsuit my mobility takes a hit and the effort increases. With 7 mm it would be excruciating for me. I have one hanging somewhere that I bought, tried on and never used since it felt pretty awful for mobility.

Comfort in the water and out of the water are different things. In the water there is no evaporative cooling but once you are out and exposed to air wet neoprene gets dangerously cold. Surfers sit in water a lot so not an issue for them.
To combat evap cooling you would need some wind protection layer over, probably including your legs. No such thing in a drysuit, the worst you get is a slight chill from the wind which you regulate with layering.

I personally get into my Kokatat as soon as water hits 15 degrees, starting with just a thin base layer and add layer as temps drop. For the temps you mentioned and especially when out for 1-2h paddle, I often need a couple of thin wool shirts that aren't that thick altogether. Doesn't feel much different than street clothes.
You do however, need to work out latex gaskets. Usually when they are new they would try to suffocate you, so you cut them down a bit and they do conform better with time. Once worked in it's more than manageable.

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3 weeks 1 day ago #40139 by zachhandler
Evaporative cooling on wetsuits is a thing and is a positive or a negative feature depending on your use. If you are going at an all day touring pace and not generating a lot if heat it is a disadvantage. If you are on a multi day sea kayaking expedition there is no comparison. For my use I am paddling a bit more intensely for 2 hrs or so, and evaporative cooling is a positive, as it makes it easier to dress properly for immersion. In general a wetsuit is cooler in the air but does not lose much insulation in the water. A dry suit is the opposite. It insulates more in the air than it does in the water. There is not evaporative cooling when in the air. And when in the water, water pressure compresses the suit and redistributes the insulating air up to the top of the suit. Another way to look at it is that if two paddlers are dressed adequately for immersion, the one in the drysuit is more prone to overheating So those are differences to take into account.

There are many other differences as well. Drysuit easier to don and doff. Wetsuit much faster if you have to swim. Drysuit allows better mobility compared to thick wetsuits. Wetsuits still insulate (though not as well) with small holes; a small hole in a dry suit is catastrophic. Wetsuits need to be sized just right while dry suit sizing is forgiving. Dry suits are spendy, but so is owning wetsuits if you end up with 4 of them to cover all conditions. Peeing a wetsuit is a joy. Peeing a drysuit not so much. Pooing in either is not recommended!

Current Skis: Epic v10 g3, NK 670 double, NK exrcize, Kai Wa’a Vega, Carbonology Feather, Think Jet, Knysna Sonic X
Former Skis: Epic V12 g2, Epic V12 g1, Epic v10 double, Nelo 550 g2, Fenn Elite S, Custom Kayaks Synergy
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3 weeks 1 hour ago - 3 weeks 30 minutes ago #40141 by slow

.
I have some Vaikobi Vcold clothes but as these items wear out; I am replacing them with Frogskin and Sharkskin garments which I find to be much warmer when I'm completely soaked by wind and waves or after some remount practice. FWIW; I don't like Sharkskin "Titanium" garments because the "Titanium" fabric has much less stretch than the standard Sharkskin fabric.
That's great information. Thanks! Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like there's a place I can try a Sharkskin top on and I'm hesitant to buy neoprene without trying it on first. According to the size chart I can find online, I'd need a Men's S or Women's M to fit my chest, but the waist on both of those would be way too large (6" too large on the Men's!). It might be ok to size down and rely on the stretch, but I don't think I'd want to do that when buying sight unseen. Oddly enough, the sharkskin.com site says that they stopped taking returns as of this June, so you can't actually try something on before you buy it, and their store locator lists a bunch of stores near me, none of which actually carry their products. I guess I'll keep an eye out for their products when I travel to see if I can try a top on somewhere.
Last edit: 3 weeks 30 minutes ago by slow.

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2 weeks 6 days ago #40142 by SpaceSputnik
Not sure about a small hole in a drysuit being catastrophic. Various pinch holes, leaky seams and loose gaskets are more maintenance items. Usually you don't notice them before undressing and realizing your layers are wet. Which is rarely an issue with synthetics and wool since they don't lose insulation properties wet. For folks who sweat a lot even less noticeable.
Unless you are talking about a significant gash, which I am yet to witness.
The worst I have seen folks coming ashore with feet full of water but again usually noticed post-paddle.

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2 weeks 6 days ago #40143 by mrcharly
IME, back-zip full wetsuits are terrible for paddling. Sitting forward in the ski bucket, you are fighting the zip. The shoulders (I'm talking 3/4/5 suit, not a super thin stretchy swimmer's suit) are restrictive and exhausting.

A front-zip farmer john would be ok.

Personally I use a dinghy cag (Rooster) that is waterproof, insulates when wet and allows ventilation. Paired with neoprene trousers. I'll probably upgrade those to some aquatherm trousers, like these: paddleandpitch.com/collections/reed-kaya...t-aquatherm-trousers

In winter, (water about 4-10C, air similar, very strong winds), I wear wool thermals as a base layer. In sub-zero conditions, with wet sleet, I'll wear wool thermals plus a thin wool sweater. Aquatherm hat, neoprene booties, silvered reflective pogies for hands.
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2 weeks 6 days ago #40145 by zachhandler
In my view there are 3 things we a trying to accomplish with cold weather clothes. One is to be comfortable while paddling. Two is to be safe and comfortable with a normal number of capsizes and relatively quick remounts. Three is to maximize chance of survival with a prolonged immersion, be it from getting separated from the ski or having an injury like a dislocated shoulder that prevents us from remounting. It is this third category that really puts our kit to the test. Synthetics and wool insulate when damp because they retain air pockets and do not mat down like cotton. But without the trapped air they do not insulate, and as such they offer little to no protection when fully saturated with water. Gear that has waterproof outer layer and “open cell” air trapping under-layer will achieve the first two goals very nicely. But if there is a way for water to slowly intrude into the insulating layers then they may fail at the third goal. That is my main concern with holes in drysuits. In addition they can hold a huge volume of water, and that weight could make it very hard to pull oneself out of the water. My first ski had a sharp metal andersen mini bailer that i cut myself on a couple times in clumsy remounts. That was a big part of the reason I chose neoprene over goretex when i started. That said goretex laminated fabric is amazingly tough stuff. Overall on a snowy downwind I would rather wear a drysuit than my 4/3 neoprene. But like neoprene there are downsides to drysuits that are worth being aware of.

Thanks for the good discussion everyone. I think its helpful to have someone else try to “poke holes” in our safety plans so we can consider more closely any weaknesses they might have.

Current Skis: Epic v10 g3, NK 670 double, NK exrcize, Kai Wa’a Vega, Carbonology Feather, Think Jet, Knysna Sonic X
Former Skis: Epic V12 g2, Epic V12 g1, Epic v10 double, Nelo 550 g2, Fenn Elite S, Custom Kayaks Synergy
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2 weeks 13 hours ago #40147 by Jonathansanborn
Great discussion.

I Paddle in MN as well. Have a variety to wetsuit options. We did a cold downwind with a friend who inadvertently burped their dry suit and when a bit of cold water leaked in they refused to put their feet back in the boat for the rest of the paddle for fear of falling in again. It put the rest of us in danger because we were paddling so slowly waiting for them and didn't generate the heat we normally would have.

One thing I have noticed recently is cold hands. I ski and never get cold hands all winter in fairly light gloves. My hands are warm during the paddle, but very quickly after the paddle they get so cold I have a hard time strapping the boat down. I've worn pogies and love the paddle feel and how warm my hands stay, but if I have the catastrophic situation come up I'd end up with bare hands trying to swim or remount or use my phone. I got a pair of www.glacierglove.com/pro-angler/ last year and like the curved shape and warmth. I got the ones with fold back thumb and fore finger for phone use if need be.

I think my cold hands are related to my wetsuit thickness. I plan this season to go thicker and see if being sort of too hot makes my hands warmer. I've notice with skiers, that if they are under dressed in the core trying to not sweat, that no matter how thick their gloves are they get cold hands.

Stay safe everyone. Pick routes that are close to shore when it's cold.

Current: Vega Flex, V12 g1, V8double
Past: Vector Spec Ski, V10 g2, Ares OC-1
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2 weeks 2 hours ago #40149 by Arcturus
jonathansanborn:

I wore out a pair of Glacier’s “ice climbing” gloves with the prebent finger curves and have another pair stashed somewhere, They really are good in wet sports, though I had to get used to the different paddle feel both when starting the cold season and when ending the gloved season. Glacier stopped calling them ice climbing gloves, but it looked like the ones for winter bicycling were similar. Go by the features, not the marketing label.

If the seams leak at all, you can seal them with a flexible goop that is sold in tubes for this purpose. An experienced kayaker told me he advises that everybody seal them when new, before wearing them even one time.

You didn’t give details on your wetsuit. Assuming it does not include a hood, consider bringing a separate dive hood with you—one that also covers the neck and overlaps the wetsuit collar. I was amazed at how much warmer I felt with such a hood vs wearing a neoprene cap. Keeping my NECK warm meant I no longer ended each paddle dying to pee! For whatever reason, when I’m cold I need to pee sooner. And that’s a PITA when wearing a wetsuit. The hood also protects your eardrums from a sudden flood of very cold water if your head goes under.

If the hood is too hot for you, maybe when you get to shore you can immediately don a warm knit hat. That might warm you enough that your hands are agile enough for strapping the ski on the rack.

I remember winter training for bike racing and how every ride ended with my feet numb like blocks of ice. Dressing meant underdressing to avoid sweat outracing the breathable clothing’s ability to wick it out. It was the same when I x-c skiied. It wasn’t a big danger for land sports; the trouble with paddling is that you might not even be able to safely pause to add a top layer.
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1 week 6 days ago #40151 by zachhandler
Arcturus good tip on the hood. I have been considering getting a winter suit with a hood.

Regarding the urination you are right. Look up cold diuresis. Blood vessels in the extremities constrict in response to cold. That keeps the blood in the core where it stays warm. But it is too much volume in those central large blood vessels so the kidney tries to fix the problem.

You should really try pissing your wetsuit. It feels lovely and the wetsuit never smells like pee. Its magic!

Zach

Current Skis: Epic v10 g3, NK 670 double, NK exrcize, Kai Wa’a Vega, Carbonology Feather, Think Jet, Knysna Sonic X
Former Skis: Epic V12 g2, Epic V12 g1, Epic v10 double, Nelo 550 g2, Fenn Elite S, Custom Kayaks Synergy

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