Any breathable fabric really breathe?

I’m thinking, like some others out there, about “taking the plunge” and investing in a drysuit and insulation to extend my paddling season. My paddling jacket and paddling pants are really great for being waterproof, but not so great in living up to their advertised breathability.

Some new materials are out in the drysuit market, and all with good claims, but my paddling jacket and pants had good breathability claims, too.

So, will any of you comment about the breathability of your drysuit? Thank you.

I had one that…
…sneezed a lot.

I’m not a drysuit sage…

– Last Updated: Jan-17-07 1:41 PM EST –

...but there's alot working against any waterproof/breathable material being used for a drysuit. Half your body is below deck in a sealed compartment w/o fresh movement of air to help the breathable drysuit breath. The top half of your body is mostly covered by your PFD leaving arms/shoulders as only areas that can 'breathe' like the material is supposed to. That's a pretty tall order for a material to breath away total body perpiration through the arms/shoulders especially if you're actively paddling. You will overpower the ability of the material to breathe out moisture very quickly. In the mountains, you can vent your jacket with pit zips and front zip to help out, but this kind of venting kinda defeats the purpose of a 'dry'suit. Just alot to expect of the current crop of waterproof/breathables.

You will get damp. That's all there is to it. If you're working hard, you'll get soaked. Layering appropriately is always a compromise between being comfortable topside given your level of exertion and staving off hypothermia if you were to take a long swim. Some folks will keep their drysuit on while making camp sans PFD which often allows quite a bit of breathing/drying to take place.

That said, I would still go with the waterproof/breathable material over non-breathable. Depending on the individual, you're likely to be more comfortable over the long haul with breathable material. Good luck. BTW, I've got a Palm Stikine I'm pretty happy with.

Edit: Another issue is the condition of the DWR 'coating'. If this DWR is not in good shape to let water bead up and roll off (in other words, if the fabric is 'wetting' out), the fabric will not be able to breath and will perform poorly. The DWR needs to be in top shape to help the face fabrice stay dry and breathe as well as it can. Wetted out fabric will not breath much if at all. There's been a study or two done lately that seems to indicate that Granger's does a better job than Nikwax when it comes time to reapply a new DWR.

Bottom did seem to breathe better
than the top when I wore them in my canoe and SOT.

The PFD nullified the breathability around my chest and back area, as you explained. Thanks.

I did some searches, and it seems that this has been somewhat covered in earlier posts, too. So, I guess I’ll make my play for a drysuit and paddle with it.

Happy paddling!

'Any breathable fabric really breathe’
can think of two right off, cotton and wool :slight_smile:

Gore-Tex XCR
This definitely breathes, but it costs quite a bit too!

Excellent points, jmden.
If people want to help their Goretex (or whatever) drysuit work better, they should consider shortening the tunnel of their sprayskirt, and tightening their PFD only at the bottom, so that their is more effective area for breathing. I don’t know what to suggest for the fact that the bottom of a drysuit, in a decked kayak or c-1, is trapped inside the boat where equilibrium will quickly be reached with the damp boat interior.

On a 50 degree day with high humidity, there may not be enough of a moisture and temperature gradient to move those water molecules through the drysuit into the outside air.

Physics Theory says the suit will …

– Last Updated: Jan-17-07 12:31 AM EST –

... still breathe even through fabric of that part of the suit which is trapped below deck, or on any part of the suit exposed to 100-percent humidity as long as the temperature outside the suit is colder than the inside. With a substantial temperature drop between the inside of the suit and the outside, there will be a strong vapor-pressure differential driving water toward the cold side of the fabric, in spite of 100-percent humidity on the cold side (when this happens below deck, what happens is that you'll just get a constant increase in the amount of condensate inside the boat).

Now, whether that vapor transfer below the deck will be adequate to keep you comfortable may be another matter altogether, but even without fretting over the details, it seems that everyone who has used both breathable and nonbreatable suits says it's worth it to get the breatable one. Still, like g2d says, the more you can expose the suit to the air, the better it will work.

Mine definitely breathes

– Last Updated: Jan-17-07 12:32 AM EST –

I have no idea what kind of fabric my drysuit is made of, but it was advertised as being breathable. It's a military-surplus suit, with no labels regarding fabric type. All my experience with waterproof raingear tells me that this drysuit really does breathe, because in spite of being totally sealed inside the thing, it stays drier inside than my plain old rain gear that has wide-open gaps everywhere.

The folks at love to talk about breathability of fabrics (but you have to pay $25 a year to listen to them – well worth it, to me, for three or four years now). They say that eVENT is much more breathable than any of the Gore-Tex family of fabrics, or any of the knockoffs, or any other completely waterproof fabric.

So in 2005 I asked Kokatat if they had any plans to make an eVENT drysuit, and I got back a long version of “no.” Anybody know of a manufacturer who makes / plans to make one?

– Mark

Don’t wear the PFD
The air in the drysuit will float you like a cork. I would not recommend this in extreme conditions, but I think it would be perfectly fine on flat water.

Wet suit failure?
Ever have a dry suit seal or zipper fail? Or tear the fabric on a reentry or on a foreign object in the water? I would not advise treating your dry suit as a PFD. You are in a world of hurt should your suit take on water. It can and does happen. Been there, done that, although it was in a diving scenario as opposed to a kayak. I was very glad I had a BC vest (diving equivalent of a PFD) on.

Short Answer

Not perfect but
I have three or four breathable tops. An older Stohlquist Gripp drytop with Goretex Immersion, an Immersion Research shorty with their breathable Entrant material, a Kokatat Goretex drysuit and a Kokatat SuperNova (semi-dry) with Tropos. The least breathable of them is the Stohlquist top, but it is also the most robust and hardest wearing Goretex I’ve ever encountered. The Entrant is surprisingly solid but does leave me fully sweated underneath. And the full suits are for a different level of concern, so while they probably breathe the best of the lot but still imprefectly, I also would rather be sweaty in there than wet.

No matter what you do, if the air is warmer than the water by a good degree it’ll be tough not to get sweated up. So I just carry a full change of clothes and switch out all layers at the halfway point of a long day.

Anything can happen
I suppose each of us has to assess the amount of risk we are comfortable with.

As a diver you may appreciate this story. My cousin, who works in aquaculture, was inspecting the predator nets and anchors of a salmon cage anchored in Head Harbor, Campobello Island, NB, CA in the Bay of Fundy. As he was decending hand over hand down one of the anchor lines a flap of net that he did not see snagged the regulator on his scuba tank. This pulled him into the anchor rope which struck the valve on his dry suit, filling the suit with air. The suit ballooned, enough to pull apart the buckle on his weight belt which caused him to become very bouyant. Trouble was his regulator was still tangled in the netting so he ended up feet up tethered by his regulator. This pulled on his airline and was dislodging the mouthpiece from his mouth. To complicate things the pressure from the ballooned suit was making it very difficult for him to unbuckle his tank. He finally got it unbuckled and popped to the surface. What sucked then was having to don more dive gear and go back down to retrieve his belt and tank.

No matter how
breathable your drysuit claims to be, your base layers definitely make or break how comfortable you feel. You want something that will wick the moisture away from your skin, but is not so over insulating that it actually makes you sweat more that the outer drysuit does. A lot of it depends on your body as well as the temp and your exertions, so sometimes you have to experiment to get the right combo for the weather.

Try non-breathable
As much as you can still sweat in breathable fabrcs, try a non-breathable article and then you will know how bad it can be. At one time in my paddling career I bought NRS non-breathable dry pants. I figured since my lower half really doesn’t sweat like my torso, this would be fine. I used them twice and never again. I first thought water was comming down the spray skirt tunnel. The second time I thought I peed in my pants. You won’t believe how much a non-breathable chamber will capture moisture as well as convert a lot moisture right from the air into condensation.

I don’t own a dry suit, but
I do have a Stohlquist FreePlay dry top. I’m really pleased with it’s performance. I’ve worn it in a lot of varied conditions and during some 3-4 hours paddles. It has kept me comfortable, but not overheated. Of course, you will work up a sweat.

The bottom half (NRS Black Rock dry pants) gets a bit damper.

Good thing he wasn’t at any depth. Could have been serious issues coming up as fast as he must have. I once was diving on a wall in the St Lawrence river and one of the guys on our boat had his light fail at 150’while on the way up from 160’. He couldn’t see anything (it’s totally black at that depth) so he came up the wall WAY too fast, and ruptured all the veins in his eyes and was bleeding from the nose as well. He didn’t get bent, but he was done diving for 6 months due to damage to his retina from the rapid ascent.

Stohlquist FreeFall (Eclipse TTL)
I have the Stohlquist FreeFall w/ the Eclipse TTL fabric… Very heavy duty and well padded, yet breathes well and keeps me comfortable.