If you’re looking to go Kayaking in the near future, then a question you might be asking yourself is whether or not you need to go out and purchase a wetsuit. They’re seen everywhere in the Water-sports arena, but why exactly are they suitable for kayaking?
This article will give you a brief introduction to the science of the wetsuit, why it’s a good option for kayaking, and what kind of things you should look out for when it comes to buying your own.
What is a Wetsuit?
A wetsuit is a special type of suit worn by individuals who intend on spending extended periods of time in the water. This includes swimmers, surfers, snorkelers and, of course, kayakers.
Wetsuits work to utilise your own body heat to help keep you warm and well-insulated underwater. Being wet for long periods of time in cold weather can pose a risk to your health, and even lead to hypothermia. Wetsuits are specifically designed to avoid this.
Wetsuits are made of a type of synthetic rubber called neoprene which works as an insulator by trapping layers of water between your body and the material. Using your own body heat, these layers warm up and keep your core temperature steady.
In the wetsuit, there is closed-cell foam material which is packed with thousands of minuscule gas particles locked into the structure. When you immerse yourself in water, the material permits a thin layer of the water in through the suit to occupy the space between your body and the innermost layer of neoprene. This layer then heats up according to your body temperature and so keeps you safely warm throughout your immersion in water.
However, the suit must be a tight fit in order to be effective. If there is a gap between your skin and the suit, then the layers cannot warm up and you will therefore not be kept insulated.
While in the suit, you will be constantly wet on account of all the layers, hence why it’s named a wetsuit.
Origins of The Wetsuit
There is some controversy over who invented the wetsuit. An American physicist who was also a keen diver is potentially the first person to have put together a suit out of neoprene. His goal was to discover a way for divers to be able to carry out their sport in cold waters without catching hypothermia.
However, around the same time, a surfer named Jack O’Neill also started crafting neoprene wetsuits for surfers in the California area. He was the one who went on to form a business out of it, and today it’s a multi-billion-pound industry.
Regardless of who can lay claim to the title of wetsuit inventor, we’re certainly glad to be able to hit the icy waters and stay warm!
Different Types of Wetsuit
There are several different shapes and styles of wetsuits. Some suits go up to your wrists and ankles, while others cut off at the elbows and knees. You can purchase hoods, gloves and wet booties if you want extra warmth and protection.
The thickness of the wetsuit can also vary between 0/5mm and 6mm. The thicker the wetsuit, the warmer it’s going to be.
If you’re going out in summer and wearing a torso suit, then somewhere between 0.5-2mm thickness will keep you nice and warm. In a full-length suit in cold winter weather, it’s generally recommended to go somewhere between 3-6mm.
If you’re a very keen kayaker and have got some spare money to spend on your passion, think about buying a range of wetsuits so you can adopt which one you wear to the season and temperature of your various ventures.
Wetsuit vs Drysuit
As already outlined, Wetsuits use a layer of water, warmed by the individual’s own body, to help maintain body insulation. Drysuits, meanwhile, use a layer of air and actively work to stop any water from coming into direct contact with the skin.
A drysuit, as the name suggests, keeps you totally dry while in the water but prevents any water from entering into the suit. It is made of either foam neoprene, crushed neoprene, vulcanised rubber or hard-wearing nylon. It is also completely sealed, even at the wrist, the ankles and the neck to ensure that no water gets in.
Drysuits are a little less tight compared to wetsuits, and so you can wear clothes and other warm layers under the suit.
Drysuits work by providing an insulating layer between the suit’s material and the body. This insulating layer is kept by inflator valves. You can control these valves and increase the gas as you go deeper into colder waters. Drysuits also use exhaust valves to let out air when coming back up to the surface.
Drysuits are a little more complicated to use than wetsuits as you need to know how to manage the valves and maintain neutral buoyancy. You will need to have training and practice before you can use a drysuit effectively.
Can I Wear a Drysuit Kayaking?
Drysuits are generally used in extremely cold conditions, like deep-sea waters or the arctic. However, they are suitable for kayaking too and can understandably be appealing for those who prefer to keep dry.
They are slightly baggier than wetsuits so can inhibit mobility. Although drysuits don’t let in any water, inside the suit might still get sweaty, and this can get a little uncomfortable.
Bear in mind too, that you will need some specialist guidance on using a drysuit and they tend to be more expensive than wetsuits on account of the complexity of their design. All these factors make potentially not the best choice for beginner kayakers but are definitely something worth looking into as you progress.
Best Wetsuits For Kayaking
As there are so many different types of wetsuits that are worn by sportspeople of so many different kinds of activities, from surfing to diving, which wetsuits are best tailored to kayaking?
While any wetsuit can be suitable for kayaking in mild temperatures, there are still certain features you can look out for which are well suited to paddling.
Being able to manoeuvre the paddles easily is essential in kayaking, so look for a suit which mentions having good mobility in the product description.
Something you might not have thought about is where the zip is positioned on the wetsuit. If it’s on your back, then unless you’re extremely flexible, you’re going to need the assistance of someone else to get it on and off. If you’re kayaking solo, this will be a big inconvenience so make sure you opt for a front-zipping suit.
Some brands make wetsuits specifically designed for kayaking, like The Palm Kayak. This product is sleeveless which allows for great mobility in the arms for paddling, but might leave your arms a bit chilly in winter!
How Much Do Wetsuits Cost?
The cost of a wetsuit varies drastically according to its style, features and quality.
Torso wetsuits which cut off at the wrists and ankles can start at around £50. This torso suit has thin neoprene (1.5mm) and comes at a great value low price.
Full-length premium wetsuits can knock you back as much as £200. This thick neoprene suit is made of high-quality materials and has some great bonus features.
In general, you can expect to pay a minimum of 50 GBP, and there are some great budget options that will be perfectly adequate for mild temperatures.
If you’re in a position to make big investments, then the sky is really the limit on how much you can spend. Premium wetsuits might be around £200, but you can look into purchasing a range of different styles, shapes and thicknesses. If you’re really pushing the boat out, then you can buy some extra warm accessories, like neoprene gloves and jackets.
Are Wetsuits Good For Kayaking?
If you’re planning on paddling on warm to mildly-cold waters and you might capsize or go for a swim, then a wetsuit is your best bet for keeping you well insulated and maintaining your core temperature. If you prefer to stay completely dry while kayaking and have some extra money to spend on your Watersport gear, then a drysuit is a good option.
Make sure to consider the season, temperature and weather of your kayaking expedition and purchase the best wetsuit accordingly. If you’re heading out onto ice-cold rapids, then you need to have a full length and thick neoprene suit to keep yourself warm and avoid getting a cold-related condition like hypothermia. If it’s a warmer, summery day, then a torso wetsuit with a thin neoprene layer will keep your core amply insulated.
Pay attention to other attributes of the suit too, such as where the zip is located and whether you have sufficient mobility in your arms to paddle as fast and effectively as you want.
Be prepared on your kayaking expeditions, and make sure you have a suitable wetsuit before getting onto the waters!