Wet Suit vs Dry Suit: Which Is Right For You?

Two people kayaking on a lake in winter

When it comes to kayaking, standup paddle boarding, rafting, or any water activity for that matter, you need the proper attire. This isn't just to help you look the part - it's to help keep you safe and comfortable. The proper clothing can really make, or completely ruin, your water adventures.

Two of the most common types of paddle clothing you'll hear about when it comes to staying warm and safe during those cold water days are Wetsuits and Dry Suits. What is the difference between these, you ask? And, which of these is right for your next outing? Understanding the garments and how they work is really important to which one is best for YOU.

Wetsuit versus Dry Suit

Why Do You Need A Wetsuit or Dry Suit?

The importance of wearing either a Wetsuit or Dry Suit when dealing with extremely cold conditions cannot be stressed enough. You may be thinking to yourself, "I don't mind very cold water temperatures, or the frigid, windy air outside! I can tough it out".

But, this is not just about your comfort. These crucial pieces of thermal protection keep you safe from cold temperatures, air and water. Once the water temperature reaches a certain level, it becomes unsafe to enter without some kind of protection. In fact, a wetsuit or dry suit could save your life on the water! It's important that you research the water you're going to be entering and determine what you should wear. And be sure to factor in the air temperature and weather conditions as well! Now, let's take a look at some definitions to help you gain a better understanding of the differences between Wetsuits and Dry suits.

What Is A Wetsuit?

When it comes to staying warm in the water, you'll commonly see people wear wetsuits. Wetsuits are made of neoprene, or terraprene neoprene, and they offer some thermal insulation by trapping a layer of water between your skin and the neoprene that your body heat warms up. The garment is not breathable and is very snug to the body to maximize the heat layer. If you are submerged you may feel a rush of cold water but then your body heat will warm up that layer again. You’ll also notice that a wetsuit will make you a bit more buoyant, too, making floating or treading water easier, especially with your lifejacket on. And it will add a bit of protection from bruising if you happen to find yourself floating down the river in rough waters.

We love the NRS Men's 3.0 Ultra John Wetsuit and NRS Women's 3.0 Ultra Jane Wetsuit, they have a lot of stretch, they're environmentally friendly, made from high quality Terraprene neoprene, you won't get any rub seams, they're designed specifically for paddling, and they have a well thought out relief zipper for both men and women. 

NRS Men's 3.0 Ultra John Wetsuit

NRS Men's 3.0 Ultra John Wetsuit

NRS Women's 3.0 Ultra Jane Wetsuit

NRS Women's 3.0 Ultra Jane Wetsuit


What Is A Dry Suit?

A Dry Suit, on the other hand, is completely waterproof, and usually breathable depending on the material. A drysuit is designed as an outerwear to seal out water from touching your body but it's not necessarily designed to keep you warm. That’s where your layering pieces come in. You'll need to put on layers of fleece or wool underneath the drysuit to provide the actual warmth. Your warm underlayer can be one piece, like with a union suit or you can layer with a 2 piece set of Tops and Pants. Personally, I like to wear a wicking layer of nylon or spandex against my skin underneath my fleece layers to move moisture away and allow the trapped steam and water vapor through the breathable membrane of the dry suit to keep from feeling damp and clammy as I’m paddling. Dry suits feature a latex neck and wrist gaskets to keep 100% of the water out of your suit.

One of our top selling dry suits is the Meridian Gore-tex Pro from Kokatat, widely considered the top standard for dry suits. It's made with 3.21oz Evolution GORE-TEX® Pro Shell 3-layer fabric and Cordura® seat and knee reinforcement panels for supreme durability. It features an adjustable overskirt, GORE-TEX® socks, relief zipper, zippered chest pocket, latex gaskets, and neoprene punch through over cuffs. It's also covered by Kokatat's limited lifetime warranty.

Kokatat Men's Meridian GORE-TEX Pro Dry Suit

Kokatat Men's Meridian GORE-TEX Pro Dry Suit

Kokatat Women's Meridian GORE-TEX Pro Dry Suit

Kokatat Women's Meridian GORE-TEX Pro Dry Suit

There is also a Semi-Dry Suit, gaskets that will have a neoprene punch-thru style neck gasket instead of the really tight latex for a bit more comfort, but it could let in a tablespoon or two of water into the suit at the neck. As for fit, the Drysuit or Semi-Dry Suit will be looser than a Wetsuit, but no water will touch any part of your body covered by the suit.

Ok, now that you know a bit more about what wetsuits and dry suits are, which is right for you? Do you need both? Let us explain when we recommend you use each one.

Wetsuit vs Dry Suit - When To Use Each One

While both wetsuits and dry suits are likely going to be necessary pieces of clothing in your gear bag, the instances in which you would use each differs. There isn't necessarily a "winner" in the wetsuit vs dry suit debate. Rather, there are best practices you should follow in determining which one you're going to wear for specific conditions. Let's take a look.

When To Wear A Wetsuit

As the weather changes from summer into fall those early morning paddles can get a bit chilly. Or, on those unseasonably warm spring days when there’s a brisk breeze in the air and the water just hasn’t warmed up enough for you to paddle in a bathing suit, and you just need something more on. These are perfect times, and situations, when a Wetsuit will come in handy. If you are working on your eskimo roll and practicing your rolls over and over, a wetsuit will be perfect to keep you comfortable on those below 70 degree days, even with chilly water. You can even add a neoprene head heater to help cut down on those “ice cream headaches” during your roll practices. Remember, if it’s chilly enough for your light fleece jacket out of the water, then it might be a great time for you to put on a wetsuit, or neoprene skirt or jacket and pants. That's not to say you don't also need a dry suit in your arsenal, however. Let's examine when you should wear a dry suit.

When to Wear A Dry Suit

If you're heading out for a day of paddling in extremely cold conditions and you need to keep the water from touching your skin, then a Dry Suit will be your best bet. The beauty of a dry suit is that you can vary the layers you wear underneath to match the weather and water temperatures. You can layer up with a bunch of warm-weather clothes underneath your dry suit, such as union, or bunnysuit, pants, fleece or wool tops, and don’t forget your gloves or pogies. Once you put your dry suit on, you'll enjoy the best of both worlds with warmth and dryness. The extra layers provide warmth, while the dry suit provides protection from the water itself. Whether you get splashed, worked in a hole, or miss your roll and go for a swim, a dry suit will keep you comfortable and safe!

Things to Know When Picking Out Wetsuits or Dry Suits

Whether you ultimately decide to get a wetsuit, drysuit, or both, there are some things you should keep in mind. These tips and tricks will help ensure you get the best possible fit and help keep you safe during your next paddle adventure.

When sizing your Wetsuit, it is important to get it as tight as possible. A loose-fitting wetsuit won't provide the warmth you need while one too tight might not be comfortable for you when sitting in your kayak, if you get what I mean. Not all bodies will fit in a standard 1-piece garment so don’t forget that many paddling manufacturers will offer 2-piece options. If you've decided a wetsuit is best for you, we also recommend keeping your wetsuit fresh with the use of Wetsuit Shampoo. It help remove organic odor-causing bacteria also know as, "wetsuit funk" and neutralizes chlorine and salt deposits preventing damage to the neoprene.

Wetsuit and Dry Suit Shampoo

Now for sizing your dry suit, it’s completely the opposite! You want your dry suit loose enough so that you can wear those fleece or wool layers underneath for warmth. We suggest that you add 1 inch to your chest and waist measurements to give you room for those warm layers on your coldest paddling days. You will also want to make sure that you factor in your inseam so that you can be comfortable when sitting in a raft or kayak. Compressed layers or pinching fabric will not help keep you warm. Again, not all bodies fit in standard sizing so know that it’s always better to have your dry suit a little loose than too tight. Dry suits can also be “burped” to force all the air trapped in the suit out which helps the suit not feel so baggy. You can do this by putting on your dry, or semi dry suit, zipping the suit up, and while pulling the neck gasket away from you skin ball up forcing all the extra air out. Then let go of the gasket and stand up!

And while we are talking about gaskets, be sure to always open the gaskets with your hands and not force your head or hands through the gaskets. Latex gaskets are a bit fragile, which is why most dry suit manufacturers will not warranty them. And why most outdoor stores sell replacement and repair kits. So be sure to not wear jewelry when putting on your dry suit so you won’t rip or tear your gaskets. And be sure to keep your gaskets from drying out by regularly applying 303 Protectant to keep them supple.

303 Protectant

Whether you're in a wetsuit or a dry suit, appropriate footwear is a must.  The right shoes will provide comfort, warmth, and protection from cold water during rowing, kayaking, SUP paddling, and similar watersports. For men, we recommend the NRS Men's Paddle Wetshoes

NRS Men's Paddle Wet Shoes

For women, we recommend the NRS Women's Paddle Wetshoes 

NRS Women's Paddle Wetshoes
If you ever have any questions about your new dry suit or wetsuit, or need help with the fit or usage, you can always consult the Outdoorplay team. We are available Monday through Friday, 8am - 4pm PST. Just give us a call at 1-800-994-4327, and one of our friendly Customer Experience Representatives will be glad to assist you.

Well, now you know everything you need to determine whether you should buy a wetsuit, dry suit, or both! At this point, there is just one thing left to do - head over to Outdoorplay and shop for all your kayaking, rafting, SUPing, Kayak Fishing essentials!

Find The Best Wetsuits and Dry Suits Online At Outdoorplay!

Outdoorplay has come to be known as the one-stop shop for all things outdoor adventure. From camping to hiking, kayaking to rafting, and everything in between. We've got the top products from the best brands to help you enjoy the great outdoors as they were intended!
As lifelong paddlers ourselves, we've spent our fair share of time searching for dry suits or wetsuits. So, we know how hard it can be to find quality options at fair prices. We decided to change that.

Now, it's easier than ever to find the perfect fit for your next outing - just head over to our site and take a look at our collection of drysuits for sale or wetsuits for sale! We've even got dry tops, dry pants, and every other type of paddling apparel you could ever need. You'll find top brands like NRS, Kokatat, and more to help you withstand cold water temperature or frigid air conditions.

If you need help selecting the right product, don't be shy. As lifelong water sport enthusiasts ourselves, getting to help others enjoy it as much as we do is the best part of our day. We're available via phone, email, or chat. And, all orders are backed up by a money-back guarantee. Shop today and enjoy free shipping for all orders over $49!

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