Here is my guide on what to wear for frostbiting Lasers. Before the winter 2017/2018 sailing season I could not find much info for what gear to outfit myself with, so I wanted to share some of my tips for happy cold weather sailing. I bought everything I could second hand. I would encourage you to do the same....most of this stuff really only gets some use for a few months of the year.
#1 NRS 3.0 Ultra 'Farmer John' Wetsuit
This is the big debate: drysuit or wetsuit. I say wetsuit all the way. While sailing Lasers, flexibility and mobility are of the highest importance, and the wetsuit is the clear winner in those areas. Wetsuits are cheaper. Wetsuits are also still effective if you get a small tear in the suit, while drysuits are not. All is takes is one area to be compromised, and the drysuit can take in water. Not cool.
I do think it's important to state that all the frostbiting I did was in temperatures above freezing (is that true frostbiting??), so for those of you sailing in truly Arctic conditions, a drysuit might be best. There were days we had to shovel ice and snow off the ramp to launch our boats, and I definitely capsized and got dunked a few times in icy water. I would still choose wetsuit.
My only gripe with a wetsuit is getting it off later is a pain. But that's life. If you want an easy sport go bowling!
This NRS wetsuit was 60 bucks on Ebay, a killer deal compared to new suits from Gill or Rooster. You don't need a Zhik Superwarm, they are stupid expensive and I don't think offer that much of an advantage for the price. This wetsuit also has reinforced knees and seat areas, perfect for Laser sailing. PS if you don't know what a Relief Zipper is, you're gonna love it.
#2 Moisture Wicking Long Sleeve Shirt
This shirt was $15 from Intensity Sails and I wore it all summer, then used it all winter as a layer tucked into my wetsuit. I think that moisture wicking technology cannot be understated. You can wear less stuff, sweat less, and stay warmer. This is a no brainer at the price too. I know some of the sailing companies make technical clothing that would work well here. If you already own some pieces for the summer season, see if they would work for you like it did for me.
I also bought a separate wetsuit top, thinking it would be cold enough to wear over this shirt (and under a spray top)....I NEVER used it.
#3 Neoprene Socks
Who likes cold feet? NO ONE! I bought these neoprene 'socks' at a Field and Stream sporting goods store for around $25. They are not really socks, they are much thicker. Hard to get off when they are wet, but hey would you rather be sailing or not?
The insides have a soft faux fur-like material that is quite comfy.
#4 Neoprene Sailing Boots
Gotta have a good pair of sailing boots that keep your feet warm even when wet. I bought these on Ebay for $40ish dollars, and I gotta say, not in love with the lacing system on these particular boots. Hard to get on and off. The laces come untied, or can get caught on things in the boat. Buy the boots from Gill with the zipper, so much better in almost every way. You can use these during the summer months too so definitely worth the money.
#5 Biker Shorts
These are essentially an inexpensive rash guard to layer over your wetsuit so that it remains in great condition for years to come. We all know what happens to our clothes hiking so much in a Laser. These were $12 bucks on Ebay. Could prolly thrift some even cheaper. I stole this idea from someone on the internet, really smart.
#6 Spray Top
Before owning this jacket, I thought spray tops were a marketing scheme to charge more for what is a rain jacket. This was erroneous. This product from SLAM is just awesome. I think the main thing that's great is the fit. It allows a ton of flex in the shoulders, very important while sailing. It repels water. It has Velcro straps on the wrists and waist with rubber seals that create a tight fit to keep water out. It has two giant breast pockets that are great for keeping a warmer hat or an extra pair of gloves. My life jacket fits underneath it. It's also breathable!!! I could say more, but I just really love this jacket.
This was given to me FOR FREE. It's almost not fair. A Similar one new will set you back $138 dollars. I found used ones on ebay for around $100. I think it's money very well spent. This is an article of clothing you will also have for many years.
There are tons of spray top options out there. Here's an article from Sailing World that is helpful.
For those of you looking for a cheaper option, I would say get a sweet Northface rain coat that is a size larger then what you would wear. If it has drawstrings around the waist or some kind of way to clinch, that would be great. This type of jacket will definitely not stand up to the rigors of sailing, but it will get you going.
#7 Hardy Latex Work Gloves
I really, really stressed before the season about wetsuits and footwear, but especially about what to wear on my hands. I knew most gloves would not have the grip required to handle the tiller, which is essential while sailing. Any loss of grip can really mess up the direction of the boat. Fingerless sailing gloves made of leather that we wear in the summer are not warm and harden in the cold.
The solution I came up with is latex coated gloves from Hardy. They are super cheap and have the most outstanding grip I could find. I have slowly converted others in my Laser fleet into wearing these. I will say that these are not the very warmest gloves out there. The top of the glove is a thin stretchy material that does NOT repel water, and in fact absorbs it and holds it against your skin. This isn't great, but once you get sailing and are warmed up I found I could usually deal.
It would be possible to layer another thin glove underneath the latex coated ones for some added warmth. I would experiment before going out on the water to try a good solution.
#8 Wear A Hat
I didn't take a photo for this one. I would always wear a cycling hat...small bill, hard to knock off your head...or if it was really cold, a knit hat. It's essential kit.
Go sailing in the winter. With the right gear, it's enjoyable and challenging. I'm already looking forward to next year. I hope this helps some of you find what you need to have an awesome frostbiting season. Good luck and happy sailing!