The weather is turning chilly across most of the country and those of us who love to paddle year-round love our drytops and drysuits. The first time I paddled in a good drysuit was a life-changing experience! It makes cold weather paddling pleasant, warm and cozy. I even use my drysuit in the summer sometimes when I’m teaching rolling because it keeps me warm and dry standing for long periods of time in the water.
Drytops and drysuits are big investments and I prefer to invest in a piece of gear that works and that lasts. It’s important to me that my drytop, and especially my drysuit, keep me completely dry. When stripping off gear at the end of a cold day of paddling it feels so good to be warm and dry. Not all drysuits are made equal so you want to make sure that the drysuit you buy actually does keep you dry. Find some paddlers that you know who paddle in the drysuit you’re looking to purchase and ask them how they like it. Gathering information first-hand from other paddlers is key. You don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that is going to leak.
Fit is also important to me when it comes to my gear. That’s one of the reasons why I love Kokatat suits so much because you can special order leg length for those of us who have short legs :). A good fit to size is great and I also like to have some room under my suit for different thicknesses of baselayers. Really, your baselayers are the key to staying warm in a drysuit and adjusting those baselayers depending on how cold it is can make or break your paddling comfort. For colder days I wear my thickest ‘bear’ suit and for warmer fall or spring days I wear a very light baselayer. No matter what I choose to wear underneath, I want the suit sized so that both thick and thin layers work.
Latex doesn’t bother me so I also prefer drysuits and drytops that have gaskets on the wrists and neck, and booties at the feet. This combination is what keeps water out. If you’re allergic to latex or if the initial tightness of the gaskets really bothers you then looking into tops that have a neoprene neck are best. Unfortunately, without the seal of the gaskets, these tops/suits don’t keep you completely dry. Some paddlers do fine with the neoprene necks and prefer them. It’s a matter of what is comfortable and healthy for you.
There is more care involved with gaskets, but they are easy to replace yourself with a gasket repair kit, or have someone else replace them for you. Most retailers offer such a service and manufacturers like Kokatat will repair them for a fee and shipping. The extra care is worth it!
An important decision in choosing your drysuit, as a woman, is where you want your relief zipper. Some women prefer the front relief zipper combined with a funnel and others prefer a drop-seat relief zipper. I fall into the latter category of preferring the drop-seat. Some women have complained that the drop-seat feels too bulky when they sit in their kayaks, but I haven’t found that in either my creek boat or my playboat. It does feel snugger in my playboat, but once I am fitted into my boat it feels comfortable. Remember that you can adjust your outfitting to accommodate thicker layers in cold weather paddling.
My personal preference for drytops and drysuits is the Meridian Women’s line by Kokatat. I’ve been paddling these tops and suits for years and they really work. Weather and comfort are factors that affect performance and learning so when it comes to choosing between feeling comfy and warm versus cold and shaky, the price tag of a great drysuit is fully worth it! Especially when you love kayaking so much that you don’t want the cooler temps keeping you off the water!