... there was no such thing as drysuits for paddlers. Yet tens of thousands of paddlers in northern climes successfully paddled in wetsuits plus additional clothing, even in the toughest whitewater.
I've been present for hundreds of wetsuit swims in whitewater, and I've never personally experienced anyone dying of hypothermia or even being seriously affected by it. Of course, everyone was wearing something in addition to the rubber in cold weather.
Some people would wear poly underwear under the wetsuit. I was always theoretically conflicted about that tactic. Namely, how does that affect the warming of the water layer between the skin and the rubber?
Others, including me, preferred to wear the poly on the outside of the wetsuit. Paddlers usually had poly tops of two different thicknesses. Thicker poly should be considered for a 2mm wetsuit in cold weather. Over that, most would wear a windproof paddling jacket and, perhaps, paddling pants.
As even further insurance, many of us would carry a towel and and extra set of poly garb in a dry bag. Taking off drenched poly, putting on dry poly over the wet wetsuit, and then putting back your windproof paddling jacket always sufficiently warmed up swimmers on any day there was liquid water. If it's too cold for that garb, the fresh water will be frozen.
Ocean paddling in winter presents additional risks, so none of my comments or experiences relate to that.
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