If you hear the river calling your name even though it is cold outside, then you may consider yourself a hardcore floater. The old boy scout saying, “Always be prepared” is definitely something you need to remember when floating in colder climates. Remember these things before your next cold water float.
The 120-Degree Rule
The best rule of thumb for wearing a wetsuit is the 120-degree rule. It is very simple, you add the air and water temperatures together, if the total doesn’t equal at least 120 degrees, you will need a wetsuit to stay warm in the case of tipping over and falling in the water. If the total is under 120 degrees, you have a greater risk of hypothermia or cold shock when you hit the water.
A wetsuit is worn as your base layer of clothing in cold weather. They allow a tiny bit of water to enter the suit and your body warms the water while next to your skin to keep you warm. Wetsuits are available in different types and thicknesses.
Most wetsuits are constructed of neoprene, which is a synthetic rubber material of chloroprene that is resistant to degradation, so they last a long time. While trapping the warm water next to your body it keeps all of the cold water outside of the suit. Neoprene has tiny air pockets to minimize your body’s heat loss to cold water. Neoprene is kind stretchy and the best wetsuits will be more stretchy in areas you need it most, like your knees and elbows. This allows full movement while in a wetsuit.
The neoprene varies in thicknesses from 2mm to 6mm. In cold weather, you’ll likely need a 5 to 6mm thickness in a full-length wetsuit with boots, gloves and a hood.
What Are The Numbers All About?
The numbers on neoprene wetsuits are the thickness. You will see numbers like 3/2 or 4/3 on wetsuits. The first number is the thickness of the fabric in your torso and the second number is the thickness in the hood, legs and arms. Remember that thicker neoprene is less flexible, so it may keep you extra warm, but you may have limits to your legs and arms range of movement.
What about the Zippers?
You can choose between a back or chest zipper. Back zippers are easier to get into and take off, but are not quite as good at keeping water from entering through the neck. Chest zippers are better for thicker wetsuits and do a better job of sealing the neck.
Wetsuits designed with thicker neoprene are designed for cold water and often include a hood. A hood can help you to retain your body heat while on the chilly water. You can also purchase a separate hood for use with your wetsuit.
It is crucial to get the correct fit so you have good mobility and you can prevent heat loss. Your suit shouldn’t have wrinkles in it or baggy and loose areas. It should fit snug all around your body, but not so tight that is feels restrictive. Make sure all of the openings in your suit are comfortable and they aren’t tight enough to cut off your circulation.
Accessories for Wetsuits
Booties are made of neoprene with a rubber sole on the bottom for extra traction while keeping your toes toasty. They are rated on the same scale as wetsuits for the thickness. Booties also help protect your feet from sharp rocks and other underwater dangers. You can choose from split toe or round toe booties. The split toe version has a separate chamber for your big toe which is designed to keep your feet from shifting around inside. The round toe design is a bit warmer and may be more comfortable if you haven’t worn booties before.
You may choose to wear a rash guard underneath your wetsuit. It’s a tight fitting vest like athletic shirt that provides warmth, sun protection and rash protection and it aids in getting your wetsuit on and off.
Now that you’ve learned about how to maintain your comfort zone when cold water floating, go get your gear and get ready to float.