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Are you planning on kayaking for long periods of time? Or going out in waters below 60 degrees fahrenheit? If so, you will probably (and rather wisely) be considering what kind of wetsuit to add to your kayaking gear.
There are countless brands and types of wetsuits available which makes it hard to know what’s best for you. But fear not because we’ve scoured the market and created a buying guide to find you the best wetsuit for kayaking.
At A Glance: Wetsuits For Kayaking
- Cressi Men’s Front-Zip Full Wetsuit
- O’Neill Mens 5/4 mm Epic Full Suit
- O’Neill Mens 3/2mm Reactor
- O’Neill Women’s 3/2mm Bahia
- O’Neill Mens 2mm Superlite Jacket
What Makes A Good Wetsuit Suitable For Kayaking?
The main thing to consider when purchasing a wetsuit specifically for kayaking is that it allows maximum mobility for your upper body (especially your arms) so you can experience nature comfortably.
A lovely day paddling on the water will soon become an arduous task if your kayak wetsuit is restricting your movement at every turn.
Choosing The Best Wetsuit For Me
The most important factor in choosing the best kayaking wetsuit for you personally is the conditions you expect to be kayaking in. The type of suit you wear in warm climates will differ greatly from colder air temperatures and waters.
In warm waters (or a warm air temperature), a wetsuit will allow greater comfort but may not be essential for survival (depending on the length of your trip) but in cold waters (anything below 60 degrees fahrenheit) the right wetsuit could prevent cold shock and hypothermia and ultimately save your life – a pretty essential addition to your kayaking gear.
Wetsuits come in several styles for various conditions. You might find slight variations on the names but generally there are four types of wetsuits.
- Full Kayaking Wetsuits – This type of wetsuit covers your full body except hands and feet, offering the most warmth. This can be the best kayaking wetsuit for cold weather and waters where you want a minimum exposure suit, but depending on the wetsuit thickness can also be used in warmer weather.
- Shorty Wetsuits or Spring suits – are a one piece suit with short sleeves and short legs. These short cut wetsuits are good for medium temperatures where you still need some coverage.
- Short John Wetsuits – are one piece suits that cover your torso area and thighs, leaving your arms bare. This sleeveless wetsuit is ideal for hot climates, although it will usually depend on the wetsuit’s thickness.
- Long John Wetsuits – are similar to Short Johns but they cover your legs down to your ankles. Good for warmer climates but it means protecting your arms with other garments if it’s cold.
You can also get wetsuits in separate tops and bottoms so if you’re paddling during a hot summer, you can opt for just bottoms or just a top, depending on conditions. These can be more comfortable than thicker wetsuits and can be easier to get on and off quickly without difficult locking systems to worry about.
A wetsuit that covers your entire body might not be great if you have long legs or a long body, as this could make you feel restricted. Two-piece options can offer increased arm motion for kayaking, without restricting movement in the rest of your body. They can also sometimes be a better fit in the chest area as you can choose different sizes for each piece.
What About Thickness?
The thicker the wetsuit, the warmer you’ll be. This is based on the fact that Neoprene material consists of tiny pockets of air which trap in heat. The more neoprene material used to make the suit, the warmer it will keep you.
The neoprene thickness required depends on the water temperature you will be experiencing. If you’re going to be immersed in cold water – you should consider a thicker wetsuit. Thicker wetsuits will offer increased thermal protection to improve your core temperature.
You can identify the thickness of the wetsuit by the label. There will be two or three numbers on there, each separated by a slash. The numbers represent the thickness in millimeters. The first number is the thickness around the torso, the second is the legs and if there is a third, it is referring to the thickness around the arms.
Numbering Example: 3 (torso) / 2 (legs) / 2 (optional: arms)
You’ll notice that all wetsuits are thicker around the torso. This ensures that your core body temperature is protected and helps prevent hypothermia. The thinner material is used on your limbs to allow flexibility for activities such as paddling.
Comfort And Fit
Wetsuits keep you warm by trapping a thin layer of water and microscopic air bubbles in between the suit and the skin. Your warm body temperature heats up this water which in turn keeps you warm, like little internal heaters.
Though it might not always be flattering, wetsuits are designed to be a snug fit and feel like a so called second skin. Any sag in the suit will allow too much water in, making it harder for your body to warm up. If you have any extra room, you should consider a smaller size for a more contoured fit, which can be important for staying warm.
Of course, you need to make sure that it isn’t too tight or the wrong length. A wetsuit that is too small will make it harder for you to paddle, making you exhausted very quickly.
Most wetsuits will have a size guide or sizing chart but wherever possible, try on your wetsuit prior to purchase. If this is not possible, try it on at home before going into the water. Make sure that there is a good returns policy so you can exchange the size if it’s not right.
A good way of testing the fit is by squatting down and stretching your arms above your head. It should only feel slightly restricting. If it’s hard work – your suit is too small.
What About The Zipper?
When you’re choosing your wetsuit for kayaking, it might be worth thinking about the location of the zipper. This is where a wetsuit with a front zip might be more comfortable than one with a rear zipper.
Sitting down in a suit with a rear zipper or leg zippers might be uncomfortable after a while, so if you plan to sit for long periods while wearing your wetsuit, a front or chest zippered one might be better.
However, front zip kayaking wetsuits can also be more difficult to get into because the zip tends to be shorter, so the suit can’t open as wide as a suit with a longer rear zip.
However, many wetsuits for kayaking can be found with either type of zipper. Sometimes back zippers are positioned a little higher so you’re not sitting on the zipper while paddling.
You can also find wetsuits with relief zippers, both for men and women, which can be a great feature and allow you to use the bathroom without having to take your whole suit off.
Do I Need To Wear Anything Underneath?
In very cold water, you should consider protecting your fingers, toes and ears with wetsuit boots, gloves and hoods to give your skin the most protection against the elements.
You can also add and remove other layers for extra warmth and comfort. You should make sure however that it is not made of materials that retain water (like cotton or other materials). If you wear these materials, you will lose your own body heat in trying to warm up the water in the material and you will get very cold.
Underwear and base layers (the layer closest to your skin) should be made from synthetic fibers like neoprene. Neoprene is great for helping to add warmth, and it’s super-thin, meaning it doesn’t really feel like you’re wearing anything cumbersome (you don’t want to add that while already wearing a wetsuit.) Rash guards can be useful base layers.
You can also opt for layers on top of your wetsuit, particularly if you’re likely to be sat on your kayak for hours and want to stay warm out of the water. A waterproof jacket or drysuit top is ideal for this and makes kayaking in harsh conditions more comfortable.
13 Best Wetsuits For Kayaking
1: Cressi Men’s Front-Zip Full Wetsuit
This Cressi wetsuit is a full wetsuit with a front zip that is designed for a variety of water sports and comes in both 2.5 millimeter and 3 millimeter double lined neoprene. It also benefits from Flex areas that can make it easier to move.
The front zip feature could make it a good choice for paddling because of the added comfort when sitting. There are Aquastop seals at the wrists and ankles, which can help prevent water from getting in.
Additionally, the areas around the knees and shins have been reinforced for added durability, which can be useful when you’re in a kayak.
- Great multi sport wetsuit
- Reinforced knee pads
- List Element
- Not great for cold winter conditions
2: O’Neill Wetsuits Mens 5/4 mm Epic Full Suit
At 5/4mm thickness, this full body wetsuit is ideal for colder temperatures, featuring thick neoprene and long sleeves. It is made with FluidFlex material – technology which essentially means that it is made from wicking material which will not only wick away sweat and excess moisture but also provide insulation. This makes it a great option for active water activities in cooler climates. But if you’re looking to paddle in hot weather, you may prefer a thinner suit.
The Double Superseal Neck opening along with the Lumbar Seamless Design of the suit makes for greater comfort whilst also ensuring that no excess water seeps in to pool inside the suit. The seamless areas in particular allow for easier movement and comfort whilst paddling in this flexible suit.
- Minimizes water seepage
- UltraFlex DS neoprene
- Moisture wicking material
- Double seal neck closure
- Back zipper
3: O’Neill Wetsuits Mens 3/2mm Reactor
At 3/2mm thickness, this is a full kayak wetsuit designed for warmer waters. Specifically designed for free and easy movement, it comes with seamless under-sleeve paddle zones, so all the seams are removed from the main movement areas, which not only allow smooth movement but also minimize chafing from blind stitched seams when paddling.
It comes with an adjustable collar made from non-irritating materials and the chest and back areas are made from mesh smooth skin fluid foam for extra comfort, offering a spine pad. It’s also crafted with ultra flexible neoprene to keep your upper and lower body warm.
The in-built Krypto Knee Padz are designed to withstand wear which means your suit will last longer and require less maintenance – so it’s a great value suit. It also comes with a handy hidden key pocket for extra convenience on your kayaking adventures.
- Seamless armpit areas for comfort
- Great for mild conditions
- Reinforced knee pads
- Key storage pocket
- Not for very cold conditions
4: O’Neill Wetsuits Womens 3/2mm
A 3/2mm full body wetsuit designed specifically for women. Made with 100% super stretch neoprene for the entire suit, it is made to allow free movement which is great for kayaking.
This kayak wetsuit also comes with reinforced knee pads, which like the above wetsuit will help minimize general wear and tear. It also benefits from having no stitched seams under the arms to reduce chaffing from paddling and an adjustable neck collar.
This suit also comes with a Fluidex Firewall which makes it a great choice for cooler waters.
- Extra stretchy neoprene fabric
- Women specific design
- Durable knee pads
- Seamless under-arm feature
- Not great in cold water
5: Lemorecn Adult’s 3mm Wetsuit (Jacket Only)
This jacket is made to keep you warm across a variety of activities in cold water like wakeboarding, kayaking or diving. It’s easy to put on and take off and can also be worn as an additional outer layer over a wetsuit as and when required.
Made with a Crewneck design, the neck of the jacket is designed to prevent irritation from the zip. Meanwhile the flat lock stitched seams and wind proof construction of the suit allow a smooth feel against the skin for your ultimate comfort whilst also keeping you insulated.
- Easy on and off
- Full zip
- Wetsuit jacket
- Sizes can vary
6: O’Neill Wetsuits Mens 2mm Superlite Jacket
This is a 2mm jacket that can be used on its own or in conjunction with other pieces and accessories for extra insulation. Made with Fluidflex across the shoulder and under arm areas, it is designed to wick away sweat and keep you insulated at the same time.
Much like the full suits, it’s made with seamless paddle zones along with flatlock seams which is ideal for kayaking as it allows free and easy movement for paddling.
The clue is in the name with this one – the Superlite jacket is designed for warm and/or cool waters. At 2mm thickness however, it won’t be enough for extremely cold waters and you may need something that’s a little more wind proof. But you can always wear it with other clothing as your first layer.
- Pure neoprene construction
- Comfortable for paddling
- Great for warm water/weather
- Runs a little short
7: Lemorecn Wetsuits 1.5mm Neoprene Women’s (Rash Guard)
Although designed for women, this neoprene paddling jacket is made for a unisex fit, with a full range of sizes, so men can wear it too.
It’s suitable not only for kayaking but also an array of other watersports like snorkeling, diving and wakeboarding, so it can offer great value if you participate in multiple activities.
It not only provides sun protection from UV rays on a sunny day, but also offers additional protection for your skin from sea lice.
Made with lycra trimmed cuffs (neck, waist and arm openings) for a Spandex neoprene mix, this top allows a high level of comfort for sports that require a fair bit of movement like kayaking and surfing.
- Full length zipper
- Short sleeves
- UV protection
- Spandex trims for comfort
- Sizes run large
8: NRS 3.0 John Wetsuit
This NRS Long John wetsuit is a 3mm lined neoprene kayak wetsuit with generous armholes for easy movement. It has a full front closure and special features, including a relief zipper, as well as 2mm panels at the shoulders and knees for increased stretch.
- Sleeveless design
- Large armholes for comfortable paddling
- Relief zipper
- Suit can run a little long
9: NRS 3.0 Ultra Farmer Jane Wetsuit
The NRS Ultra Farmer Jane is a sleeveless 3mm neoprene kayaking wetsuit with a full-zip entry and paddler’s cut armholes for improved movement. It’s a long John wetsuit and is also lined for added insulation and warmth, with high-stretch panels at the shoulders and knees.
- Eco-friendly neoprene
- Paddler’s cut arms
- Not for very warm conditions
10: Roxy Salt Water Capris
These women’s Roxy Salt Water Capris can be perfect to pair with a neoprene jacket or rashguard for a two-piece wetsuit. These feature 1mm neoprene and can be easy to pull on and comfortable for kayaking.
- Easy to pull on and off
- Great as part of a two-piece
- Thinner neoprene for warm conditions
- Not very warm
11: Quiksilver 5/4/3 Everyday Sessions Chest-Zip Wetsuit
This Quiksilver Everyday Sessions Men’s Kayaking Wetsuit fully covers your legs and arms, is made from eco-friendly neoprene and is designed for colder weather. It has a fleece lining, a windproof middle layer, and drainage holes to let water out. The chest zipper makes it more comfortable for paddling.
- Chest zipper
- Fleece lining
- Great for cold temperatures
- Can be tricky to get on and off
12: Rip Curl Dawn Patrol Wetsuit
The Rip Curl Dawn Patrol wetsuit is designed for cooler spring/summer temperatures, made from 2mm E5 neoprene with a spring suit design. It has a chest zipper and can be ideal for a variety of watersports.
- Chest zipper
- Great for cool water
- Short sleeves
- Not for cold conditions
13: Patagonia R1 Lite Yulex Front-Zip Wetsuit
This Patagonia R1 men’s wetsuit features short sleeves and a front zip for easy on/off. It also features glued seams for freedom of movement and comfort while seated or scuba diving. It’s made from 85% natural rubber and is neoprene-free.
- Great for warm water kayaking
- Recycled materials
- Short sleeves
- Not for winter paddling
How Do I Wash And Clean A Wetsuit?
Ideally, you should rinse your wetsuit in clean water after you take it off – every time. This is because salt and chlorine can build up and damage the neoprene. This means you should rinse both the inside and the outside.
It can be a good idea to soak it in a large bucket or bathtub full of warm (not hot) water when you get home and then rinse it again outside with a hose as a water flush tool.
For really dirty or smelly wetsuits you can use wetsuit shampoo in a bucket of cool, clean water.
How Do I Get Into One?
It can be easier to fold the top half of the suit down so that it’s almost inside out, as this can allow you to put your legs in the pants. Once you’ve put your leg in, grab the material to pull up as much as you can up to your knee, so you have a maximum amount of material to work the rest of your body into it.
Once both legs are in, you can then pull up the top part and put your arms in the sleeves in a similar way to how you put your legs in.
Video: Putting On A Wetsuit
How Do I Dry Out And Store My Wetsuit?
A good way to dry your wetsuit is to hang it on a large hanger to air dry. Make sure all the zippers are open so that air can circulate and it should dry quicker. It’s best to dry it in the shade outside, as direct sunlight can damage and weaken the fabric. Remember to turn it inside out to dry both sides.
The best way to store your wetsuit is to lay it flat. However, you can also hang it up if you have a suitable hanger that can take the weight and won’t cause your wetsuit to stretch.
Some wetsuits are machine washable using mild detergent but others may require special cleaning, depending on the care label.
Wetsuits differ in styles and thickness, each designed for specific conditions and activities, as you’ll see from our wetsuit reviews and buying guide. Wetsuits designed for kayaking will be made with maximum movement in the arms for easier paddling.
When choosing a style and thickness for your suit, think about the water temperatures and conditions you’ll be encountering. For colder conditions, consider a full, thick wetsuit. For warmer climates, you can try Shorty, Short John or Long John suits.
Most importantly, when you buy a wetsuit, you need to ensure that your suit fits. Having the right thickness and style will be completely redundant if your suit is too loose. The best kayak wetsuit will be one that fits properly and feels comfortable.
Trying on your suit at home before taking it to water is a good idea. Don’t be afraid to send it back for a different size. You will be glad you did once you’re out on the water!
Thanks for reading. Have a question? You can ask us anything in the comments below…
5 thoughts on “Best Wetsuit For Kayaking”
I’ve been kayaking for 20 years and diving/surf non-full front zipper wetsuits are poor substitutes for real a kayak wetsuits.
Thanks for your input Cahuenga
What about paddling in cold water: 12-17°C, but with the sun warm – in Penobscot Bay, Maine in August? I worry about being too warm in a long-sleeved suit, but too cold if I actually capsize…
I’m disappointed the full wetsuits you recommend for kayaking are back entry instead of front entry. The zipper in the back between a backband or seatback and the skin is VERY uncomfortable. For that reason, back entry wetsuits, while fine for surfing and diving, are not ideal for kayaking.
This is more about affiliate links than providing help it seems.