Where I am temperatures are dropping, so it's almost dry suit weather. With that here's a video with eight tips of what to look for in a drysuit.
If you've never paddled in cold weather before, I highly recommend researching about it. I put together a video with a bunch of risks and tips to help paddle safely in cold weather. I think it's a matter of preference when to start wearing a dry suit. However, I think once the water gets cold enough, I think they're an absolute requirement in order to paddle safely.
I was recently discussing this topic with my buddy Chris and he shared with me his list of requirements for a drysuit and I think it's very much very similar to the things that I look for.
The first thing you should think about is if you want to go for a full drysuit or a semi drysuit. Semi drysuits are becoming more and more popular lately because they are indeed a little more comfortable. A full drysuit comes with a latex neck gasket while a semi drysuit comes with a neoprene neck gasket. The main reason between the two is comfort versus dryness.
Latex gaskets make a very good seal around your neck and that way you stay dry if you're rolling, tumbling around the water, or swimming. For some people wearing that latex gasket around the neck all day can really become uncomfortable so you have a semi dry option which is the neoprene gasket.
That gasket does not seal as well around your neck but it's way, way more comfortable to wear all day. So if you were to take a tumble, if you were to be upside-down, a little bit of water would get in. You would still be safe but you would not be anywhere as dry as it would be with the latex gaskets.
So for example, someone that's probably going to be surfing or is going to be playing in rough water would want a full drysuit versus someone that's just taking leisurely paddles and paddling all day and only needs it as a level of safety if they were to capsize, you can easily get away with having a semi drysuit instead. That will also influence price because usually a full drysuit will be a little bit more expensive than a semi drysuit.
Now, the second thing to look for is what type of zipper setup you want and that is how you will be getting into the drysuit. The most common one is a zipper that goes across the chest. To get into it you put one hand, put the other hand and the head, and then you zip across your chest.
This is my first dry suit, it's quite old and you can tell it has a zipper that goes across the chest that is metal. A lot of companies are now opting for plastic zippers which makes it a little bit easier to open and close. But if you keep your metal zipper well-maintained, it'll still be easy to use.
Now there's several other options out there. There are zippers that go across the back, there's a new one that allows for just a head gasket as a unit to come down and remain tucked away in the chest and there's a new one by Kokatat that's essentially a dry top and a dry bottom that are joined at the waist with a zipper.
I've had friends that have gotten back zippers and then change them for front zippers, I had friends have tried the waist zipper and then opted to go for the back one instead so it comes down to preference. So if you get the chance before you buy one go to a kayak store, try one on, move around, grab a PFD while you're at the store, put it on and see what it's like to have a zipper either on your back, or on your waist, on your chest, see what you think might be more comfortable.
The third thing to look for is what types of booties come with the drysuit. There are drysuits that don't come with booties at all, they just have latex gaskets around your ankles. But most drysuits will come with fabric booties or latex booties.
My old dry suit had latex booties which were very easy to fix if anything happened to them but they were a pain in the butt to get into my neoprene booties or shoes or anything else I was wearing on top of the drysuit. On the other hand, companies are using fabric booties a lot more often so that's something to look for.
This next one is very important because it also influences the price quite a bit and that is if nature calls and you have to go will you have a relief zipper or not. Will you use this for a very short amount of time or will you be touring all day with them.
For women there are two different options: you could have the front relief zipper where you can use something else to help you go to the bathroom through the front or they have drop zippers that go behind the back so that you can easily drop that back and then use it. I know that some people prefer one versus the other because it is easier to use the back zipper, however that could get in the way depending on how you sit on your seat or what type of seat you might have. Forget all the other options, a relief zipper in my opinion is extremely valuable to have in your drysuit.
The next one I think is important because even though it'll influence price a bit, some of them can help with the longevity of the suit and some will just be more useful than others. That is cuffs, zipper covers, tunnels and hoods.
Sunlight will deteriorate latex gaskets over time so most companies will put in a neoprene cuff on top of that. The neoprene cuffs will also help them in punctures or anything that might damage them as well and you will find that pretty much over all of your gaskets. There are drysuits and semi drysuits that are cheaper because they don't have these cuffs but I would recommend making sure you have them so that they last for a long time, as well as protection. You don't want anything that might actually scrape up right against something that is the most important part of your drysuit working. Another thing to add is sunscreen also damages latex gaskets over time so you just have to be conscious of that when you apply.
Zippers are just as important as the gaskets in functioning correctly and keeping the drysuit dry, so a lot of companies will use covers that then go down with Velcro to stay in place. There's another feature that can drive the price slightly up on your drysuit but over time I think it's something that could be helpful in keeping those zippers functioning properly.
Tunnels are very useful in keeping water out of your kayak. Most dry tops will come with tunnels as well so drysuits that come with tunnels are very useful for that reason. You pull the tunnel up, you slide your skirt as high as it'll go, you put the tunnel on top of it, velcro it into place, now you have an extra layer on top of the skirt that's going to try to help keep water from going between your body and the skirt into the kayak.
Lastly, some drysuits come with hoods. Some drysuits, like my old one, come with a detachable zippered hood so that you can use it once in a while and take it off when you don't need it. So once again, all of these items I think will come into play depending on the type of paddling you're going to be doing and personal preference. If you're going to be taking a short leisurely paddle in a calm place, and you just want a drysuit because you know the water is cold so you want to it as a level of safety, I see absolutely no problem in using a semi drysuit without booties, with exposed cuffs, with exposed zippers. It doesn't make a difference because you're just using it for that. However, if you're going to be doing other things you might want to have some of these options because it'll probably make the drysuit last longer.
Another thing to think about it's the type of material and the thickness of the material and this will also make price vary quite a bit. You’ll have the top drysuits that come with gore-tex materials that are extremely breathable and very waterproof, and you can maintain them as well, and then you'll have more affordable versions as you go down the line. Most will come with reinforcements at the knees, at the elbows, at the butt, and then if say you're a whitewater paddler, some will come with extra reinforcements and very thick fabric in those particular places because there is a chance those are going to get scraped somehow.
So it would be good to get a drysuit specific to the type of paddling you do. Let's say you're paddling long adventures, a week, two weeks out on the water, you're probably going to want one of the better dry suits. And if you're taking leisurely paddles, the lower level also might be absolutely perfect for the type of paddling you do.
The main question I get all the time when I talk about dry suits is price. I don't have a thousand dollars to spend on a dry suit, can I get them somewhere else? The answer is yes. There are closeout sales, lots of stores depending on the time of season will put a lot of their stuff on sale at different prices and you can always get a great deal. My very first drysuit which was absolutely fantastic, I got it at a closeout sale and I got it about 60% off of the price.
You can also buy them used, but you have to be very careful about that because this is something technically that you are using to protect your life in the event of a capsize in really cold water. There are places online like Kayak Academy, and there are kayak stores that will sell used drysuits that have just been fixed and tested by them. That’s one way of finding a used drysuit that is still safe to use.
Another thing you can do is if you go to sites like eBay you can find sometimes people buy a drysuit they think they're going to use, two years go by, they've used them twice and then they want to put them back on the market. So in that case the drysuit might be perfect but it still would be a good idea for you to test it when you get it.
Depending on the brand some brands will actually fix leaks and gaskets for you and send them back after testing, others will let you send them in and then for a small price will actually maintain the dry suit and send it back to you, but between buying used in a smart way or finding a closeout sale you can certainly find deals on great dry suits for a lot less money.
The last thing I want to say is no matter what if you get one used or not, test it. Put on pajamas, put on long sleeves, fill up your tub, get in there with your drysuit and then take the drysuit off and see if there's any parts of your body that are wet. It's very important that you test it ahead of time. A lot of times people will do the bathtub trick, or they'll take them to pool sessions, put on the drysuit, get in the water and see what it's like.
What's good about wearing long clothes underneath is that often times you're able to see where the leak is coming from because you'll see where you're wet on your body. If you're not wearing anything it’ll be a lot harder to pinpoint.
So that's only testing to see if the drysuit is keeping you dry, what I'm saying is also test what it's like to be in cold water situations with your drysuit because remember the drysuit doesn't keep you warm, it only keeps you dry. So you need to layer appropriately underneath.
Put on your layers, put on the drysuit and walk into the water before you go kayaking and see what it's like to hang out, for let's say a couple of minutes, see what it feels like. Are you layered appropriately? You don't want the first time to test if you're dressed appropriately to be the one time you capsize.
So those are some tips that I think can be helpful when looking for a drysuit. Please, if you have anything to add, don't hesitate to comment below, or if you want to discuss anything further. If you have any questions, please just comment below. I hope that was helpful, please subscribe if you'd like, I'm always trying to put these videos out, or if you have any other topics you want to discuss. As always, Luke Rovner for Kayak Hipster, thank you for joining me, see you next time.