Staying Warm in Grand Canyon Whitewater

What is the difference between and dry suit and a wet suit and which should I take in Grand Canyon?

If you are going on a Grand Canyon trip November through April, it’s gonna get cold with lows in the 30s and highs only in the 50s. Splashy rapids, wind, shady canyons and possible precipitation can make it that much colder. January, March and August see the most precipitation in the Grand Canyon area. You will certainly want a dry suit and perhaps even a wet suit. If you are going to be rowing or paddling, a wet suit might be a bit of a hinderance. However, if you are a passenger, a wet suit might keep you a bit warmer, especially if you go for an unintended swim! Kayak Academy, www.kayakacademy.com, is an excellent resource to use when researhing gear for your trip. Below we have attempted to clarify the age old question…

Dry Suits:

Dry suits are a type of waterproof immersion wear that are loose fitting except for seals called gaskets at the neck and wrists that keep the water out. Dry suits do not provide insulation. It’s what you wear under the dry suit that keeps you warm. If you invest in a great dry suit, it should keep the clothes you wear under it dry. The more you wear under your dry suit the warmer you will be. There are some Scuba Diving dry suits that are made of neoprene but they are costly.

Wet Suits:

You won’t be dry wearing a wetsuit but you will be warm! Wet suits are made of waterproof, closed-cell, foam-rubber (neoprene) which insulates even when wet. Thickness and snugness of the neoprene will determine how warm you are. The looser a wet suit fits, the more water will flow in and out of it, and the colder you’ll be. Ensure that your wet suit fits skin tight that way most of the water that leaks in will stay there, and eventually your body will warm that water up to skin temperature. You will no longer be chilled once the water in your wet suit warms up to about your body temperature. Contrary to a popular myth, the water inside a wet suit doesn’t keep you warm, at best this water is neutral, neither warming or cooling you. After you’ve warmed up the water inside a wet suit, the neoprene can do its job — insulating you from the water outside the suit. Another myth you probably have heard is that peeing in your wet suit is a good way to warm up. Well, true you’ll be warmer for a bit but you will be swimming around in your own…eh… “effluent”. The thicker the neoprene on a wet suit, the warmer you’ll be. Unfortunately, you’ll also be stiff and that can be less comfortable for active sports such as paddling. On the California coast in the summer, a 3mm thick wet suit may be thick enough for acceptable comfort for kayaking, but in the Northwest, a suit that thin will not give much protection from the weather or water. For kayaking in the NW, wet suits that are 5 or 6mm thick are preferred. SCUBA divers wear suits with two layers of 6 to 7mm neoprene (12-14mm covering their core area). Almost all the wet suits marketed to kayakers are 2-3mm thick. So generally you need to go to a SCUBA dive shop buy a thicker wet suit. You don’t need to wear anything under a wet suit for warmth. Most people wear a bathing suit and perhaps a rash guard shirt under a wet suit to prevent chafing, but the warmth is determined by the thickness of the wet suit not the clothes you wear under it. (Kayak Academy: www.kayakacademy.com, 2013).

What to Wear Under Your Dry Suit:

Since dry suits do not offer much insulation, you must wear something warm underneath. The colder the conditions, the more insulation you’ll want to wear. Even though dry suits seal out water, it is possible to get wet from your perspiration or a leak in a gasket; so as with other outdoor sports, the best types of clothing to wear under a dry suit are clothes made from materials that insulate even when wet. This includes polypropylene, pile fleece, wool, etc., but not cotton. We enjoy Smartwool which is comfortable, warm and does not retain your smell as much as polypro does! A layered clothing system provides a versatile choice of insulation thickness to deal with a broad range of weather and water temperatures. However, in Grand Canyon in winter, you’ll need a thick layer of insulation. Consider that one thick layer (i.e. 200 weight pile fleece) will be more comfortable and certainly faster to get dressed. A one-piece uni-suit style liner suit is worth considering as it will prevent cold spots from shirts coming untucked from long johns. (Kayak Academy: www.kayakacademy.com, 2013).

Where Can I Purchase A Dry Suit or Wetsuit:

Waterproof/breathable dry suits start at $480.00 for a front-entry style one-piece dry suit without any options. However, most people are now buying Gore-Tex fabric dry suits, because they breathe the best (let your perspiration breath out of the fabric) so you and your clothes stay even when it’s warm out and you are working hard. Our Gore-Tex dry suits start at $729.00 With options such as relief zippers and dry socks a Gore Tex dry suit will cost around $899.00.

Kayak Academy, www.kayakacademy.com, is a great place to purchase or rent dry suits or wetsuits. You can also try a local dealer in Flagstaff called Summit Divers, 928-556-8780. REI, NRS and other larger dealers such as Amazon.com may have good selections at reasonable prices.



  1. Reply
    Nancy Pistole says

    Anytime you are wearing something for a long time (wetsuit, drysuit, harness, etc), it is important to consider how you are going to ‘relieve’ yourself. A wetsuit or drysuit will become more of a hindrance than a help if you have to peel most of it off just to pee.

    • Reply
      admin says

      Yes Nancy, you’re right! It can be such a pain to remove your wetsuit/drysuit to relieve yourself. Kokatat makes excellent wet suits and dry suits that have “relief zippers” tailored to both men and women so that you do not have to undo all your gear to pee. Kokatat is also one of the first and only companies who create dry suits and wet suits that are tailored in particular to a woman’s figure. Pretty great stuff.

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