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Investing in a dry suit was on my "to think about" list for the future. I figured a wet suit and neoprene jacket would do just fine in spite of disliking drenched skin when taking it off. Wet suits are wet whether you've been in the water or not, but my gear was serving its purpose.
Funny how life has a way of changing our plans. When I started paddling in mid-April after the ice left the lake, my Farmer Jane created painful pressure on a healing shoulder injury. I had to find another option and started asking questions here at Pnet.
My outfitter, Marshall of The River Connection, kindly offered to send me a Kokatat Surge paddling suit to try. This suit features Kokatat's new SwitchZip technology. A two-piece suit with attached booties, it was brand new with tags still attached so I never tested it in my boat, only outdoors a few times on cold windy April days. Even while wearing a couple of layers I could feel the wind through the material. I did like the two-piece concept and the SwitchZip was intriguing. Most important, it was comfortable. But I didn't think the Surge was a good option as I don't carry much body fat and doubted it would be warm enough.
I next tried a Kokatat Gore-Tex Expedition suit I could wear while paddling. The gyrations involved getting it on and off were challenging enough, but it was the rear zipper that sealed its fate. Uncomfortable and ungainly. That said, I was warm while wearing it, the Gore-Tex offered good wind protection, and it was wonderful not having wet feet or the clammy skin my wet suit left.
I liked the dry suit experience enough to order a Kokatat Gore-Tex Radius dry suit with SwitchZip. I hadn't tried on the Radius but liked the way it looked, very much liked the SwitchZip technology, and my experience with two-piece and one-piece dry suits made the choice easy. Once I started using it, I knew I made the right decision as I love the Radius for several reasons:
It's two-piece. The pants slip on as easily as a pair of jeans and the top is like putting on a turtle-neck sweater. No gyrations, no stress, no strain, and they come off just as easily. The Radius is also nicely tailored: no excess material hanging off your bum or around your thighs (I'm a girl and how clothes fit matters).
Yes, the SwitchZip takes practice. I spent some time zipping and unzipping while not wearing the suit just to understand the mechanics. Once the zipper is correctly aligned, it's very easy to pull it around my waist and latch it down. I don't feel the presence of the latch knob in or out of my kayak nor is it obtrusive.
The suit's versatility is terrific. I've worn the top as a dry top on cool windy days when a rash guard just wasn't warm enough. I wear the pants weekly as I have to walk in the lake between my dock and an access site because high water levels took out the beach. Dry feet! The Radius dry pants are comfortable so come cold weather season I can don them at home and drive to my launch site then pull on the top, zip, and be ready to go.
The top has two generous self-draining pockets, one on each sleeve. I've not yet needed to use the hood and what I call the Ninja mask, but know they'll come in handy when the weather turns. A plus is the hood and mask store compactly inside the collar.
There's also a large pocket in the pants. I wear an Astral YTV PFD which has only two small side pockets, so the three Radius pockets are a major safety benefit (if you don't have it on you, you don't have it).
I think Kokatat has hit it out of the ball park with the Radius dry suit and SwitchZip. Did I mention how easy it is to put on and take off?