Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Drysuits

Winter is coming.  For many kayakers that means drysuit season.  I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of drysuits but find them necessary for winter whitewater kayaking and multi-day sea kayak events in areas with cool water and air temperatures.

Over the years, I have had drysuits from several different manufacturers.  My current drysuit is the best so far - Immersion Research Shawty.  Of course I love the awesome purple color.  Technical and practical features of the Shawty drysuit that I like include a rear/shoulder entry, comfortable fit, and the material.
Loving my Immersion Research Shawty Drysuit!
I like the fabric of my Immersion Research (IR) drysuit.  It is a bit stiffer than goretex but seems to be tougher and doesn't "wet-out" like a gore-tex suit does over time.  I often hear the comment, "But it isn't gore-tex."  I have had gore-tex drysuits and dry tops and don't find them to be as durable or comfortable.  My biggest issue is that the gore-tex fabric wets out after the dwr (durable water repellent) wears off (read the link for more on dwr and environmental related concerns).  When the dwr wears off, the suit feels damp.

Also, the hype over the breathability of gore-tex doesn't make sense to me.  I sweat when I am paddling.  The main areas where I sweat are my core and feet.  Life jackets and sprayskirts pretty much negate the wicking of any drysuit in the core area.

Latex booties provide slim, seamless comfort in paddling shoes.
Did you know that you can get latex booties put in your drysuit?  I was skeptical when I first heard but now I am a convert.  Regardless of the material, fabric drysuit socks are bulky.  They bunch up in your paddling shoes, and often you have to buy a larger pair of shoes for the socks to fit.  Latex socks are a lot slimmer and are seamless.  I find them to be much more comfortable.  They definitely fit in my paddling shoes better.  I usually wear a pair of wool socks under them and then a neoprene booty over them for warmth and protection.  There is usually an added charge to have latex socks put in.  Both Immersion Research and Kokatat will do it.

I am happy to see drysuit companies offering a variety of entry systems.  I am a fan of the rear entry with the shoulder zipper.  I never found the large metal chest zippers of front entry drysuits to be comfortable.  Relief zippers are improving as well, and it is nice that women have the options of front zip or drop seat relief zippers.  I am a fan of the drop seat.  Currently Kokatat and NRS are making women's drysuits with drop seats.  It is rumored that IR is going to have that option available again soon.

If you are shopping for a new drysuit, I encourage you to try some out before buying.  Figure out what type of entry and relief system works for you.  Don't just buy what you see everyone else wearing.  Drysuits are like shoes - one size doesn't fit all and all brands have their advantages and disadvantages.  A good way to try a drysuit out is to rent one.  Immersion Research has a drysuit rental program.  Kokatat drysuits can be rented from Pacific River Supply or Kayak Academy.

Drysuit maintenance and repair - this is a topic for another time, but the good thing to know is that both Kokatat and Immersion Research offer drysuit leak testing and repair.  Both companies also can do alterations to make suits that fit better.

It is good to have options and great to have a drysuit when you are paddling in cool/cold weather.