What’s The Difference Between A Wetsuit And A Drysuit?

When kayaking, proper attire is a must. Even if the air outside is warm, the water you are paddling in can often be freezing. If you fall in, hypothermia can set in more quickly than you might imagine.

Wearing suitable clothing while kayaking is about more than just staying warm, it should also be a key component of your safety preparations. The two main options for kayak clothing are wetsuits and drysuits. Keep reading and we’ll showcase the difference, so you can make the right choice with your safety gear!

People in wetsuits on beach

How Do Wetsuits And Drysuits Work?

Though the main goal of both wetsuits and drysuits is to keep you warm in the water, they work in completely different ways.


Surfer in a wetsuit

A wetsuit is made from neoprene material much like foam. The thicker the neoprene, the more insulated the suit and the warmer you will be. When you are in water in a colder climate, your wetsuit will likely be between 7mm and 14mm thick, whereas in a warm climate your wetsuit can be much thinner, around 2mm is perfectly adequate.


When you are in a wetsuit and you get wet, a thin layer of water is trapped between your skin and the suit, which allows very little water to flow in and out of the wetsuit. The layer of water inside the suit is warmed by your body heat, bringing it closer to your body temperature. Your body is then surrounded by a warm layer of water, and the fabric of the suit insulates it.


People in modern dry suits

A drysuit is made from either a tri-laminate or neoprene material. Gore-Tex is arguably the most effective material used.

A drysuit will not allow any water in, as it’s sealed around the wrists and ankles. You will be wrapped in a layer of warm air and will remain completely dry in the suit, but there is no insulation to assist with this. Instead, when wearing a drysuit, you must wear undergarments to help keep yourself warm.

The undergarments for a drysuit will vary depending on the climate in which it will be worn. For warmer conditions, you only need lightweight undergarments, but in a very cold climate, you might even wear undergarments heated by battery power.

Pros And Cons Of Each: Wetsuit vs Drysuit

Now that you know what a wetsuit and a drysuit are as well as how they work, you need to decide which one is right for you in your situation. In this section we’ll briefly outline the principal benefits and drawbacks to both of these suits so you can make an informed decision before you jump in to buy yourself a suit.


One of the most important factors in any purchase is the price tag. When it comes to purchasing a wetsuit or a drysuit, there’s a distinct difference.

Wetsuits: Wetsuits are relatively easy to find and can be very affordable. Full suits tend to start out around $75, and at the higher end, they can easily breach $500.

Drysuits: Finding a drysuit that won’t break the bank is a task in itself, though depending on your activity it might be a better choice. A decent drysuit will set you back nearly $1000, so it’s something you should be absolutely certain you need before committing to purchase.


Almost as important as cost is how long the suit will last. If you opt for a cheaper wetsuit but have to replace it every year, it’s not really more cost effective.

Wetsuits: Depending on how often you use it and how well you take care of it, a good wetsuit can last five years or so before it needs replacing.

Drysuits: With proper maintenance and care, a quality drysuit can last 15 years or more.


Warming hands on hot drink mug

The point of either of these suits is to keep you warm while you are enjoying your water activities, so let’s look at their ability to insulate you.

Wetsuits: Available in a variety of thicknesses as well as styles, wetsuits give you a great deal of choice. You can cover as much or as little of your body as you wish, and there are different levels of thickness to suit water temperatures almost anywhere. However, if you plan on paddling in extremely cold places where the water is below 45°F, even the thickest wetsuit won’t be enough to keep you warm.

Drysuits: There is no insulation provided by the drysuit alone, so instead you must purchase and wear separate undergarments to stay warm in colder climates. This is the smarter choice if you wish to venture into extremely chilly waters without endangering yourself.

Ease of Use

Getting in and out of the wetsuit or drysuit is can be a tricky job.

Wetsuits: It can often be awkward to clamber into a wetsuit and more difficult to get out of one as well, especially if it’s wet. Since wetsuits are often wet, they can cause some difficulty for their wearers. Once on, though, wetsuits tend to be easier to move around in since they are skin-tight.

Drysuits: Though there are more steps to getting into the suit – like attaching the gaskets – a drysuit is much easier to remove at the end of the day. A drysuit can be a bit more cumbersome when it comes to mobility, however. Because a drysuit is less fitted than a wetsuit, it can cause a bit of drag.


This is subjective. Only you can know which of these suits will bring more value to you in the long run. For some people, cost will be most important, while for others, mobility will matter most. Just remember the old saying: buy cheap, buy twice.

When To Use A Wetsuit Or Drysuit

When trying to decide which suit to wear, the most important consideration is the temperature of the water, though even this is again to some degree subjective. Follow this guide, but keep in mind your own tolerance to cold water.

  • Temperatures higher than 80F°/26C°: Wear a 2mm wetsuit
  • Temperatures between 68-79F°/20-26C°: Wear a 7mm wetsuit
  • Temperatures between 58-68F°/14-20C°: Wear a 7mm double-layered wetsuit or a full drysuit
  • Temperatures below 58F°/14C°: Wear a full drysuit
man and his boat in winter

Final Word

Take stock of the things that are important to you when it comes to the use of a wetsuit or a drysuit and weigh out your options before purchasing. Get this right and it will be money very well spent. Rush in and buy the wrong type, and you’ll wish you’d spent 10 minutes to think about your needs.

Don’t forget to get a decent dry bag and a VHF radio too, which may be a requirement if you’re kayaking on the sea (depending on where you are).