Oh Winter. How I love you so. Let me count the ways.
One of the worst things about winter paddling – cold weather paddling – that is to say paddling when the water temperature drops below, oh, I don’t know, 68- is neoprene. Now, I can appreciate, if not actually get down with certain Fall and Winter garments and fabrics. For instance, I love a good soft pair of fleece “cabin” pants (AKA pajama pants.) Or a good wool sweater. As I type this, I am wearing flannel-lined blue jeans, since it was 31 degrees when I took Cooper the Super Lab out for his walk. I even love a good down or synthetic puffy-ish coat.
But I cannot cotton to neoprene.
And the thing I hate most: neoprene booties.
I will do anything to delay the inevitable donning of these rubber foot prisons, even if it means having popsicle toes for a bit. They are difficult to put on, they immobilize my feet and they make it darn near impossible for me to feel my board. And, they are excruciatingly hard to get off.
And then they stink.
Whilst casting about on the interwebs for a new wetsuit, I stumbled upon a product from Wetsox. The pitch?
THE FASTEST WAY IN AND OUT OF YOUR COLD WATER GEAR. PERIOD.
IN ALL CAPS. Really.
The first thing I noticed about the Wetsox is that they are knee-high. They come up well over the calf a la a compression sock. Then, they come in both split toe or round toe. In general, I prefer the split toe because I think there’s better board feel. So that’s what I ordered. The Therms are made of 1 mm thick polyester/neoprene “Vertical” fabric which has four way stretch. The regular Wetsox are .5mm thick.
On #OptOut Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) I hoofed it up to the lake where the water temp was 55 degrees. I grabbed my pair of Wetsox Therms and my Starboard drysuit.
Now, in all fairness, testing the Wetsox for easy of ingress and egress with a drysuit isn’t really fair. It’s not difficult to get out of that suit – even with ankle gaskets. And on this day, I still was not willing to put the booties on, even though I had them in the car. I decided to use the Wetsox by themselves.
First off, the extra thickness helped mitigate the pebbles in the parking lot and launch area.
Second, the seams are well-placed on the side of the socks. There was no discomfort with them where they came into contact with the tight ankle gasket of the drysuit.
Third, the fit was great – even without a heel cup. It was easy to get my big toes in the right position and once I pulled them up over my calves they stayed put up top – no slippage.
On the board, I can honestly say it almost felt like being barefoot. I was able to easily move my feet and control the board as if I was not wearing anything. It was amazing.
I was out for about an hour and never once did my feet feel too cold, even after taking a couple of dips in the water to cool off a bit. (The air temp was 75 so I was sweating in the dry suit, but I always dress for the water temp so I was glad of the thermal protection.)
After the paddle, the socks came off easily but again, the real test of interaction with the suit really doesn’t apply here.
So, time for a test with booties and a wetsuit…
I still just can’t bring myself to put on the 4 mm suit so I opted for the thinner 3/2 instead for the test. But I did go for the big guns for the bootie test. That is were the rubber meet the road anyway. Getting the booties off is always the biggest struggle and especially with the thick 7mm ones. Usually when I am done with a paddle and get to the part where I have to get out of the booties, it is an ordeal that takes a frozen eternity and involves so many contortions, even a yogi’s head would spin. And I almost always pull something.
So, I commenced with the test, following the instructions.
First I put the socks on.
Then I pulled my wetsuit on over the left left leg then the right. I was quite surprised at how easy it was to get the neoprene over my calves and into the right place. Very smooth.
Now for the feet.
I looked at the ankle hole in the 7mms for a while, dubious.
With very little fuss or muss the foot slipped in and in no time my feet were settled into the booties, all warm and comfy.
The real test though, is always the bootie removal.
I can report that with just three moves, one to insert fingers down the cuff and past the heel and then two tugs, the booties were off!! easy Peasy!!
Best $33 dollars I have ever spent!!
And they even come in a cool cam color if you are so inclined.
The Wetsox may not change my mind about neoprene and booties in general but I am most certainly not going to dread having to put these things on nearly as much!
They are awesome.