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Dry vs. Semi-Dry Suit, Latex vs. Neoprene Gaskets Discussion & Quick Test

This a follow up to a video I did where I talked about differences that you may find in dry and semi-dry suits. I tried comparing dry and semi-dry tops out paddling and surfing, as well as standing in the shower to see if any water would get in one vs the other. This might help as background info for those thinking about calmer or warmer situations where a full dry suit isn't absolutely mandatory.

There were a lot of really great questions in the first video about semi-dry and dry suits, and I wanted to do a bit of a follow up just to add some more context to it. Then I also did a quick test in the shower that I thought was worth sharing.

The comment states, “I'd love to see some sort of testing to compare the two. Most videos I've seen about the differences between dry and semi-dry are just people holding them up and talking about them. I have never had any leakage in the neck of a semi-dry suit... However, sometimes in the comments of these videos, there's people with the contention that wearing a semi is basically suicide in any condition. It's hard to know whether to take this seriously or just brush it off."

I wanted to talk a little bit about nuances that I've discovered and I've seen in friends but also to mention that I do think all of it has to be taken into consideration especially with the place and the conditions that you paddle in.

Paddling Location Matters

I've had a lot of discussions recently with friends that live on the West Coast of the US, especially in places where the water can be cold a lot of the time, weather can change very drastically, and when those waves come through they are no joke. I do think that there is more to the conversation than just “semi is useless.” But we do have to take into consideration the location where you're going to be using it. First I'll say this – I do think a big part of how well a semi will fit you and that neoprene gasket will fit you has to do with your body. For example, my wife has a semi-dry suit as I mentioned in the other video, and she has a very slender neck so the gasket is very comfortable on her but it also does not have a good seal on her. Now, as I mentioned in the other video, she doesn't paddle in bad conditions or in waves. She likes going whenever it's nice and calm and she doesn't do it alone. She does it with people. so there's always people to do a rescue. And we're situations where even if a little bit of water got in it wouldn't be as dangerous as someone that is trying to paddle by themselves in Pacific Northwest cold water with the possibility of really big waves coming through. If you are stuck by yourself in a semi-dry suit, unless you have a fantastic seal, those waves will pound and with the cold water coming in, that could turn nasty very quickly.

Alternative for Latex Allergies

I have friends that are allergic to latex, so they depend on neoprene gaskets. And I do know that there are other dry suits where they change out the gaskets and they put other materials to address people with those concerns. They make sure that those other gaskets that are not latex will be watertight. Some brands will tailor-make gear, and they'll use their specific materials and make it to fit you, and have a good comfortable yet watertight seal.

Quick Test and Background Information

Latex is able to accommodate being a good seal on lots of different people, while the neoprene gaskets usually aren't as exact. So that took me to doing this really silly test and the thing is, I don't have a semi-dry suit to do both test, but I do have a dry top and a semi-dry top. My dry top here has latex all around the neck and wrists. Semi-dry has neoprene neck gaskets and latex wrists.

The takeaway from this video is a test just to see how the two neck gaskets stand up to each other, as well as some of the background stories that I have to share. I think these stories can help those that are looking for the easier, safer conditions, and not intended for those that are paddling in really rough conditions because sadly I just can't replicate those conditions. What I do have nearby is smaller conditions, smaller waves, fun little surf, and that's what I have paddled in with both of these tops along the eastern coast. The dry top I used for years, along with a good skirt, as long as I didn't jump out of the boat, kept me dry upside down and getting hit by waves. It was pretty much like having a dry suit. Knowing there's going to be little slippage of water in through the skirt, over the tunnel or the cockpit coming off the kayak – the usual thing. Being upside down for the entire surf session, the gasket at the wrist and the neck was fantastic.

Then I eventually got this top that has the best of wrists with latex and the neoprene neck gasket. I thought it'd be used more for touring, etc. But then I started playing in the water and the waves with it.This gasket was keeping me dry when I was upside down and when I was getting humbled by waves. A little bit of water would get in here and there, but that's how I usually envisioned using a dry top anyway. In a sea kayak, there's always going to be a little bit of water that gets in, but it was keeping the water out so well that I was pretty much using the semi-dry top all the time. Now that I live in a warmer place with warmer water, I ended up going to the semi-dry top all the time. Since I paddle a lot with a Greenland paddle, my wrists are almost always getting wet, and water starts dripping down. That's really annoying to feel especially when you're wearing a dry top. Having the latex wrists were always really welcome. But I was surprised at how well that neoprene neck gasket was keeping up that I wasn't missing the fully dry top with the latex at all. It was more comfortable and it was keeping out enough water that I was just fine using it.

Shower Test

An option for a quick test would be to just put both on and get in the shower and then just have water pouring down my head and into my neck and see if any would spill down through the gasket. I know that's not the same as being dumped underwater or having waves bashing on you, but I figured at least the water dripping down from my head would try to make its way into the gasket. So for the first one I did the fully dry top. This one I expected obviously to just stay dry because I've been upside down with it so much and it always kept me dry that I figured it would be the same thing in the shower. As I took it off, you can tell that the only places where my undershirt was wet was where the water could get to at the very bottom.

So putting on my semi-dry top, I really thought that some water was going to dribble in, at least in some of the joints. I have an average neck, and I am six feet tall, usually around 165-170 pounds. I love this top and I've had a little bit of water dribble in here and there whenever playing in smaller waves and being upside down, and getting the little bit of water you would expect from wearing a dry top. It's not like with a dry suit where you're always going to be dry. But I was really surprised as I took off the semi-dry top that absolutely no water got in. And while this isn't the same as being dumped in waves or being upside down, it was still really interesting to see. I was surprised as I thought at least a little bit of water would dribble in. I also think that if you have a bigger build than me, it might be a little more uncomfortable for you, but you will have a better seal with that gasket. Just something to take into consideration.

Other Ways to Test Your Dry Suit

Cold Water Class

Test out your dry suit or semi-dry suit in a setting that makes sense to you. The first time that my wife and I took a cold water class, we had the chance to go and jump in. We put all the gear on and along with the group we had the chance to be swimming amongst ice. We were in a situation where we had lots of people around and we were all being watched. The idea was for us to feel what it was like to be in a real cold water situation, so that we understand how long we might have in terms of how long it takes to get cold, what it feels like when the water is trying to get in different places, having your extremities get cold but thankfully what you had on your body was keeping you warm.

Swim With Your Gear On

A lot of my friends, whenever they would get a new dry suit, they would set up a session to go out to the water. Not even get in the kayak, but just walk into the water and take a bit of a swim. Go completely submerged in and test things out so that you can really get a sense of what your dry suit can do. I've done that several times in cold conditions with either classes or with lessons or working with others.

If you have a semi-dry and you really want to test it thoroughly, maybe set up a session where you go with friends, and depending on where you live, you go to a situation where you can really test it thoroughly. You want to be in a situation where you're really close to a put in, and close to getting out and taking everything off and getting dry if water does get into your dry suit. Please do not go test this out in the middle of nowhere by yourself. Be smart about it and test it in a situation where you can easily get yourself out of that and warm right up.

Pool Sessions

One last thing and this one I don't recommend but I know some people have done it. Some people have taken their dry suits to pool sessions. The reason I wouldn't outright recommend this is the chlorine is going to hurt the dry suit or the semi-dry suit. I've had gear that I've used while teaching or playing in pools and over the course of several months or even just weeks in some cases, you can tell it'll really break down the gear. The skirt that I used to use for pool sessions is not watertight at all anymore. I just chose it to be my pool session skirt because I knew that it was just getting destroyed in the chlorine. Maybe if you just use it one time for just a tiny bit, and then you immediately went into the showers and rinsed it off, maybe that's another way that you can test it safely without other people around and in a setting that you won't be in any danger.

Is a semi-dry suit really that dangerous?

The question was “Is a semi-dry suit really that dangerous?” I think that there is a range of possibilities for that answer because it does come with a few questions. How well does it seal? How well does it work for you? Have you tested it thoroughly? And what are the conditions and places you're going to be paddling in?

I know many people in certain areas that would say, “I will not go out unless I have this this this and that” because conditions can get crazy rough for them. But on the other hand, there are many places where conditions will not get to that or if you happen to be in a place that is warmer and the stakes are not as high.

Do try to test it out in a safe location, in a safe way with friends that can maybe help as well. So then you might understand a little bit more of what the limit of your dry suit is. I think the hard part is recreating some of those situations, unless you live in those specific areas. So I would love to hear from other paddlers that do use neoprene neck gaskets or maybe neoprene gaskets all around about what you feel your limits are when you're paddling. What conditions have you been to where the gaskets have held up? But I will end by saying that I was very surprised at the test that no water got in on the neck gasket.

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