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How does neoprene perform as a base layer for winter sports? Is it a way to be warm while remaining sweaty, as opposed to wicking sweat away? What are its disadvantages? What are best practices for how to use it as a layer?

By neoprene I mean typical neoprene wetsuit material (foamed neoprene, closed cell, typically with a fabric backing, typically 2mm to 8mm in thickness) assuming it will be covered with a wind-blocking shell and probably other insulating layers.

By winter I’m personally most interested in the 0F to 32F (-20C to 0C) range

I’ve used it winter kayaking a couple of times (a 2mm sleeveless “farmer John” wetsuit in conjunction with fleece layers and a goretex drysuit) when I didn’t believe I could manage layering just right to avoid sweat. It worked better than sweaty wool or fleece, and generally seemed like a decent option. But I have limited total experience (a few trips of a couple hours’ length). Curious what experience other people have had.

  • Context is the key here. You need to further define what "winter activities" entails as the answer would vary depending on if it's a multi-day trip or not, if it's an English winter or a Canadian winter, etc. – Gabriel C. Aug 28 '18 at 12:53
  • @GabrielC. noted / edited – mmcc Aug 28 '18 at 21:45
  • @GabrielC. your multi-day comment raises the issue of drying neoprene so you can wear it again. That’s a great point, it may be a real limitation to consider and I have never tried to dry a wetsuit on a line in winter let alone in between my sleeping bag and bivy sack. If anyone has experience confirming drying neoprene overnight has or hasn’t worked, it would be valuable. – mmcc Aug 29 '18 at 11:57
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    That is my main concern. How do you put a frozen solid wetsuit back on in the morning? – Gabriel C. Aug 29 '18 at 13:14
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    I have managed to put a frozen wetsuit back on (draped over my tent overnight and frozen into a v shape). I don't recall it being particularly hard, but it was certainly unpleasant. – Chris H Aug 29 '18 at 21:38
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Neoprene is not a good idea - unless circumstances dictate it necessary.

It doesn't breathe well, it has a tendency to gnaw. It has a relatively high friction towards other textiles, so you'll have to work harder to move. And it doesn't isolate as well as alternatives, though it has some isolating properties. It is rough and tough, so I think it will be slightly uncomfortable over time as well.

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By a strange coincidence, your Question and the September/October Technology Review arrived today, with an article titled Super Suit.

When divers carry out rescue missions in frigid waters, standard wetsuits offer less than an hour’s protection. The Navy and researchers who work in polar waters have long sought ways of extending that survival time. Now a pair of MIT engineering professors and their students have come up with a simple and effective way of treating a conventional wetsuit so that it protects people three times longer.

The process works by simply placing a standard neoprene wetsuit inside a pressure tank autoclave no bigger than a beer keg, filled with a heavy inert gas, for about a day. The effects then last for about 20 hours, far longer than anyone would spend on a dive.....

The article does not say how well this suit would work for non-diving applications, nor when it might be on the market, nor anything about its likely cost. They do say:

....the process could be used to make wetsuits that are no more insulating than normal but much thinner, allowing more comfort and freedom of movement. (emphasis added)**

So it is something to bear in mind, although you can't buy one at REI in the immediate future.

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