Best Wetsuits for Kayaking

Today we’ll look at some of the best wetsuits for kayaking.

My name is Steve, and I guide both whitewater and sea kayak trips. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in wetsuits!

Wetsuits are designed to keep you warm even when you’re wet and it’s windy. The right wetsuit will keep you comfortable without restricting your freedom of movement.

Let’s look at some top picks!

Quick Summary

5 Best Wetsuits for Kayaking Reviewed

I won’t call any of these the best overall. They are designed for different purposes. Choose what’s best for you!

NRS Hydroskin 1.5 Jacket & Pants

A two-piece wetsuit has advantages. You can wear the jacket and pants together or separately, alone or with layers. Sea kayakers can put the jacket on or take it off without getting out of the boat. 

NRS Hydroskin gear comes in several thicknesses, but the 1.5mm is a great compromise between warmth and mobility. They are designed for paddling: they are comfortable sitting down and they don’t bind up under the arms. The seams are friction-free and the fleece liner is comfortable even directly on the skin

Numerous sizes are available for a good fit, and there’s even a “Grizzly” model for the big folks.

The 1.5mm neoprene is not as warm as thicker suits, and any 2-piece set will allow some water entry at the waist if you’re swimming.

Stohlquist Storm John 3mm 

“Farmer John” wetsuits are paddler favorites. The full-body coverage retains core warmth and the torso-only top leaves the arms free and mobile. Many paddlers layer these over a rashguard with a splash top outside.

The arm-free design allows Stohlquist to use 3mm neoprene without restricting arm mobility. This suit is cut for sitting comfort and has reinforced knees and seat for durability. Flat-lock seams prevent chafing.

If you’re heavy for your height you may have a hard time getting the fit you need.

Body Glove Pro 3 Spring

This suit packs a lot of value into a reasonably priced package. It’s a “shorty” design, with short sleeves and legs. The 2mm neoprene is thick enough to provide warmth in moderate temperatures without impeding movement.

Features include an interior key pocket, a heavy-duty zipper, a velcro neck closure (a great feature for roll practice), and a smooth collar to prevent neck chafing.

The downside: this is not specifically cut for paddling, so you’ll want to try it out in a sitting position to see if there’s enough stretch for you.

NRS Rescue

This is a full-body wetsuit for heavy-duty use in cold weather. Full body wetsuits made of 3mm neoprene are often too stiff for kayaking, but this one is made for mobility. The seams and panels are set up for both warmth and movement.

The suit features molded polyurethane knees and shins for protection, a reinforced seat, and side friction zones to help keep your PFD in place. Reflective panels boost visibility and wrist and ankle zippers make it easy to get in and out.

This is an expensive wetsuit. If you’ll be paddling in the conditions it’s designed for you might want to consider going for a drysuit.

O’Neill Reactor 2

This is a full-featured “shorty” wetsuit, with short sleeves and legs. The 2mm neoprene is ideal for the moderate conditions that shorty suits are usually used in. It has enough thickness to keep you warm but enough stretch to keep you mobile.

This suit features seamless “paddle zones” for paddling comfort and a wind-resistant “smoothskin” chest and back. The seams are flat-stitched to avoid chafing.

The rear zipper may be uncomfortable against a kayak backband, and you may need help getting in and out.

When Do You Need a Wetsuit for Kayaking?

Do you need a wetsuit? Here’s a checklist.

  • Will you paddle when the air and water are below 60°F?
  • Will you paddle more than ¼ mile from shore in water below 60°F?
  • Will you have repeated immersion in water of 70°F or below, even in mild weather?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, you should use a wetsuit. Remember that hypothermia is insidious, and can sneak up on you even in conditions that seem mild, especially if it’s windy. Weather conditions can change fast.

If you’re going to be exposed to water below 55°F, a drysuit is recommended.

Best Wetsuit for Kayaking – What to Consider?

What’s the right wetsuit for you? Let’s look at some ways to know.

Not All Wetsuits are the Same

Kayakers paddle from a sitting position, and many wetsuits intended for diving are not designed for sitting. Thick neoprene in an inappropriate cut can be sliff and awkward. Rear zippers can be uncomfortable when leaning against a backband.

Many suits designed for diving are also not made for the range of arm movement that paddlers need. Underarm bunching and chafing are common and annoying.

If possible, use a suit designed for paddling.

Choose the Right Type of Wetsuit

Wetsuits are available in a number of styles.

  • Two-piece suits are sold as a jacket and pants. They are versatile and can be used together or separately.
  • Farmer John wetsuits have a full-body design with no arms. They maintain core warmth with maximum arm movement range.
  • Shorty wetsuits cover the body but have short sleeves and legs.
  • Full body wetsuits cover the body, arms, and legs and are designed for maximum warmth.

The thickness of the neoprene is important. Thicker is warmer, but it’s also heavier and stiffer. Designs like the Farmer John allow the use of thick neoprene without restricting arm movement.

Fit is critical. A wetsuit should be snug but not uncomfortably tight.

Wrapping Up

Wetsuits can be uncomfortably hot if it’s warm and sunny. The jacket of a two-piece suit is a good choice for open-water sea kayaking: you can take it off and put it on without getting out of the boat.

Once you know the type of wetsuit you need, you can narrow your choices down by brand, features, availability, and price. These picks are a great start!