Wetsuits – AKA Wearable Saunas


Illustration by Joe Hughes

Drysuits offer better protection than wetsuits for cold-weather paddlers, but they sure take the fun out of canoe camping.

Drysuits, as the name implies, keep you dry in case you take an unexpected swim. They’re worn over layers of wool, fleece, or — if you’re in an adventurous mood — a sheer negligee.

Wetsuits are more intimate. They’re worn over a layer of sweat. Nothing more.

And sweat you will. A wetsuit is a wearable sauna. No matter how little you paddle and move around, you will sweat. Which is why I prefer a wetsuit; it forces you to exert as little effort as possible during your time on the water. Ideally, you will limit yourself to using your paddle as a rudder. If you can afford it, hire a sherpa to ride along in the canoe and open your beers.

When you arrive at your campsite, you might want to dismiss your sherpa temporarily because things are about to get ugly. You will be peeling off your sweaty wetsuit. Usually sherpas can be gotten rid of by sending them off on a beer run or snipe hunt.

When the coast is clear, start peeling off your wetsuit. This is easier said than done because sweat-soaked neoprene clings to your flesh like a second skin. So, as you writhe and squirm to free yourself, think of a beautiful butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Even though you probably look more like the Pillsbury Doughboy trying to escape from a rubber straightjacket.

Oddly enough, I enjoy this. Maybe it’s the refreshing sensation the windswept winter air caressing my skin.

This is just a preview of what’s to come in the morning when you prepare for another day on the river. By then your wetsuit will be cold and clammy. It might even be coated with a layer of frost. The feeling of an icy wetsuit enveloping your naked body is beyond exhilarating.

If, by now, your sherpa has returned, do your best to practice some restraint. Your shrieks might scare him off and you’ll be stuck opening your own beer.

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