Are dry suits just too much trouble?

Maybe it was the cheapskate in me, but for years I avoided owning a dry suit. I still paddled in all four seasons, but when the water temperatures dropped, I shifted my paddling to small streams and rivers so that if I ended up in the water, as I do with embarrassing regularity, I could quickly get out. For the most part, I didn’t miss having a dry suit, because I enjoyed shifting to the small streams, and it was a convenient coincidence that the smaller streams flow most regularly in the cold months, so I paddle happily along changing venues with the seasons. And I didn’t know how true it was, but I used to think that with all the other gear and precautions that go along with paddling, if you needed a dry suit, it was just too much, and maybe I should find an alternative activity.

About a year ago, I saw a dry suit on sale for an extremely reasonable price, and made the leap. I have now used it a total of three times. Enough time has to elapse between uses so that I forget what a PITA it is. It takes me a minimum of twenty minutes to get in or out of it. And dressing for the water temperature, not the air temperature, means that I am uncomfortably hot (and sweaty) once I am paddling in the suit. My Bomber Gear, Radiator model dry suit is supposedly made from a breathable fabric, but with the spray-skirt tube and PFD completely encasing my abdomen, it’s like a steam bath inside the suit. I am ready to revert to my pre-dry-suit point of view, that if I need a dry suit, I should find something else to do.

Are there some tricks to getting into and out of the drysuit that I need to know? I find it difficult to get the gaskets over/around my arms and legs. The neck gasket may actually be too big for my neck size, but it is the easiest of the five gaskets to get on and off. Getting the gaskets off when my hands and feet are soggy is difficult. I really fight the suit. The outer-tunnel arrangement is also a pain in the neck and makes opening and closing the main zipper more difficult than it should be.

It would probably make sense for me to sell the suit, given how little I may use it. But at least for now, I think I will keep it. There are times, like over the past weekend, when I have forgotten what a pain the suit is, and then the dry suit makes it feasible to do what I would not otherwise do. What would be really nice is if I could figure out how to put on and take off the suit without a major expenditure of time and energy.

Anybody have some hints for me?

~~Chip Walsh, Gambrills, MD

Get a suit

– Last Updated: Apr-02-07 1:36 PM EST –

with booties. I have a NRS Extreme. Donned and doffed in about 1 minute. I also roto cool quite a bit. I have Bomber Gear tops and they are not breathable.

Gee TsunamiChuck…
…sure you really need a drysuit in Lake Tahoe?

-6200ft elevation

-deep as some oceans

-conditions as bad as some oceans…

yup - being a bit sarcastic!!

Realistically though, I have worn my drysuit about three times a year now for two years and can sympathize. However, it just takes ONE DUNKING in 34degree water to make you understand the WHY in the sentence “Why do I need a drysuit?”.

Almost anything/everything else I have tried just plain LEAKS and I hate cold water!


Actually like drytop/bib combo too
Not uncommon for me to take out like this

To answer your question – no.
Depending on where you are, it is too much risk to go out without it.

I’m in Minnesota, and having a drysuit allowed me to paddle year-round on Mississippi, even in sub-zero temps. I would not risk going on the river with fast current without it.

Drysuit takes a bit to get used to, but the degree of freedom it allows you overcomes any inconveniences, IMO. I use nylon longjohns as the first layer, and wool as additional layers as necessary, and was not too hot yet.

I use a Palm Classic with built-in booties. The get in and out time is about 1-2 minutes, similar to what Chuck said. Having 3 gaskets to deal with simplifiers matters a lot, and allows me to wear nice wool alpaca socks.

Always fun…

– Last Updated: Apr-03-07 3:09 PM EST –

watchin' Fat Elmo gittin' in his drysuit. Makes fer a barrel o' laughs.
Finally got de prooceedure down an' in 2 minutes or less ah' be in it, but me head be a'mighty red.
Stick me feet in first (mine be a Kokatat wit booties), then pull it up over me blubber bucket (careful passin' de naughty bits). Now stick me left arm through de left sleeve an' wrist gasket, next ah' then stick me noggin' through de neck gasket (easier wit me aerodynamic scalp), then comes de hard part - squish me upper right arm agin' me chest an' rotate me right forearm back inta de right sleeve witout dislocatin' me shoulder in de meanwhile an' push. Reach over me right shoulder wit me left hand an' zip up de chest zipper an' then de sewer zipper - an' it be all done.
Well, it do take a bit o' practice but ah' manage it in a couple o' minutes.


the first time you really need it
It’ll not seem like too much trouble.

The Coast Guard defines waters of 50 degrees as “arctic”. Now granted Maryland is not Michigan, but if your waters get that cold for even one or two months, even if it’s just a wintry Atlantic current, it’s good insurance.

In my case, a drysuit adds about 4 - 4.5 months of paddling opportunities (figuring one month of solid ice mid January-mid February into that).

Twenty minutes to put a drysuit on? You mean counting the layers and such? Takes me about 3 minutes to put on the layers and two minutes to put on my Kokatat (with booties, great feature as others have said). Thirty seconds for the Chotas, 1 minute for head layers (1 or 2 depending). Is it too tight or do the zippers need waxing. Just asking, no offense meant.

And I am a female, acc to you men, we always take longer to get ready :wink:

Hi Chip,

In the beginning I used to use cornstarch on my wrists to make it easier to slide into and especially out of the gaskets. I am now to the point where I don’t use it anymore. Definitely get the integrated booties. It used to take me forever to get in to and especially OUT of my suit. Now I have down to a science and it only takes minutes.

Two people swam in yesterday’s trip on the Great Egg River in the Jersey Pine Barrens. Even though it is a skinny little river and there were plenty of experienced people nearby to assist them in getting them back into their boats, the fact that they both had on drysuits made both swims an inconvenience rather than a disaster.

FatElmo’s description (once translated into the King’s English) is actually exactly how I would have described the process of getting into the suit.

Jeff P.

Should take just a minute to put it on.
Like with sex, if you’re not enjoying it, you must not be doing it right ;-). FatElmo gave good instruction, for putting on a dry suit with diagonal front zipper, I mean.

How does the suit fit after it’s on? There should be some extra room in the waist and shoulders.

The suit should be a full or half size over sized. For example, if you can just squeeze into an L, go for an XL. If you can just sqeeze into an XL, go for an XXL. If you walk into the water and burp it, it will cling to you and fit fine anyway.

Also, the neck gasket can be trimmed, a quarter inch at a time, until it’s not super tight. Lot’s of back posts on that. Plenty of 303 on the gaskets helps, too.

I could just squeeze into a Kokatat XL GMER at 6’2", 260 lbs, so bought an XXL. Takes about a minute to put on. 240 lbs now. Still fits fine.

Even the XL was three minutes to put on and maybe 5 to do the Houdini contortion to get the first shoulder out. (Granted, I had sore muscles and a kink in my neck afterwards.) I’m starting to think Kokatats are generally easier to get in and out of. The posts I’ve read about difficulty getting the suit on and off seems to be with other brands. Certainly not blanket dissing other brands. If I was slimmer I would have seriously considered some of them. Kokatat runs big, which I needed.

Paul S.

Need drysuit in cold water, but…
Absolutely, I will agree that if you are going to paddle where you might be in for a prolonged swim in cold water, a drysuit is necessary. But I suggest there are other things to do that are a lot less trouble, like go skiing, go for a hike, make a snowman or paddle a small stream.

Maryland certainly isn’t artic, but the last time I checked the Bay temp, it was 47.

I can see where booties will be quite helpful. Booties would eliminate half the gaskets I find so troublesome, cutting down on the five minutes or so I spend getting each leg on.

So let’s talk arms. Do you just stick your hand in there and push for all your worth? I stick my hand through as far as it will go and then from the outside I start working the gasket with my other hand to get the gasket over my hand. Getting it off, I start working the gasket off with my free hand until the edge of the gasket is on the fat part of my hand, then I pull the arm inside out, and I can just pull until the gasket lets go. But it takes a few minutes to get the gasket past the knuckle of my thumb. The arms are easier than the legs.

The zipper starts at my left shoulder and goes towards my belly button. I grab a tab where the zipper starts with my left hand, and pull the zipper with my right hand. After about a foot of the zipper is closed, the tunnel cover gets in the way, and I have to reach around inside the tunnel and regrip the zipper. Then that last half inch, regrip, grit the teeth, pull real hard, and it’s closed. Maybe some lubricant would make it easier, but the zipper isn’t really a problem. What lubricant would I use? Is this another 303 application?

Bomber Gear says their “toray” fabric is breathable. But my experience with breathable materials has been that if I am hot and working hard, I overwhelm the material’s capability to transport water outside the garment. I used to wear a gore-tex rain suit while cycling and I always ended up wetter inside the suit than if I just let it rain on me. In the kayak with spray tunnel and pfd, there’s not much surface area exposed to breath (shoulders and arms). I don’t think any breathable suit will be able to evacuate all the moisture through such a small surface.

Thanks for the suggestions. Tsunami, I looked at that picture and thought–that’s what I’m talking about…, time to find an alternative to paddling! But you obviously love the sport, so I can see that answer is not for you!


Got Two Drysuits…
that I haven’t worn for over a year in favor of wetsuits instead. Not that these are particularly more effective or as easier to get on. Appropriate wetsuit or drysuit are prudent immersion wear for winter conditions. And, they do get hot. Having the roto cooling technique down helps quite a bit.

Just got back in from surfing several hours in my 6/5/4 wetsuit. Yeah, it was a bit of a pain to get off (getting it on is easier), especially after getting a bit of a work out already. But a 5 minute hassle for several hours of bliss… It was totally worth it to me. But, of course, the issue is it worth to you. If not, maybe the thing to do is find something else until the water becomes more temperate for what you want to do.


Are your gaskets properly trimmed or
stretched? But you are right about one other thing. A drysuit and appropriate insulation for a protracted swim may prove too warm and sweaty for paddling on the surface.

Let me repeat that, for the drysuit fanatics and un-realists. A drysuit and appropriate insulation for a protracted swim may prove too warm and sweaty for paddling on the surface. The same was true for wetsuits. At present there is NO drysuit/ insulation combination comfortable for typical winter surface paddling conditions AND for a protracted swim in typical winter water temperatures. A short, even a not-so-short swim, yes, but not for an hour long swim. Anything warm enough for an hour long emergency swim is going to be too warm for routine surface paddling.

Let’s all stop pretending that we have a complete solution for winter paddling. Things are better, but we may never achieve “the answer.”

1 Like

Hands and zippers

– Last Updated: Apr-02-07 5:44 PM EST –

I kinda round each hand so it is as narrow as it can be by the bottom of the palm, put them in one at a time. As to zippers, McNett makes zipper wax or you can find a handy candle around the house when you've lost track (again!) of the little McNett tube. And a dab of vaseline at the absolute bottom and top.

I also tend to have suits that are on the big side, so I have a decent amount of shoulder room for winter layers. In fact I need a unisex suit to be easily able to handle winter layers - the womens' are too small.

As someone has mentioned above, even accounting for the ankle gaskets being a real pain, that's a lot of time involved in getting into a drysuit. You may have one that is sized correctly for cooler but not real cold weather layering.

XL suit, lots of extra room
I am around 6’4" but at 180-ish, kinda skinny. I ordered the suit XL to get the legs and arms long enough, and they are. There’s lots of room in the suit, so I don’t think it is too small.

If I roll, I get a few spoonfuls of water in the neck gasket, so that may be too big for my chicken neck. Gloves in size L are tight on my hands, but I would think for an XL my hands are relatively normal size. Maybe the gaskets could be too tight.

Yesterday, I made a call after breaking camp and packing the boat. The number was busy, so I put the phone down and geared up. I put on the dry suit, spray skirt, neoprene booties and my hat. Then I picked up the phone again and made the call. Looking at my call log, I see the ET between calls was 24 minutes, so that really is the time it took me.

As you described, my hand also forms a tube as it goes into the gasket. Then I can get a finger of my free hand into the hollow space formed between the fingers and thumb, grab the gasked and pull a bit, then work the finger around to the back of the hand and pull some on that side. Once I get the gasket past the knuckles, I can kind of brute force the sleeve the rest of the way on. It just takes a few minutes. I bet corn startch will help, and I will try that.

I should get with some of my local kayaker folks who use dry suits. Perhaps they will have some pointers for me. It’s easier when you can see it in person.

Thanks all, again,


In a drysuit I paddle with…
reckless abandon, without one, I worry about going in and where I paddle and rescueing myself, ad nauseum. Makes it all worthwhile for me. Fat Elmo, he got it right.


it’s getting warmer already

Drysuit with Booties
I agree with Chuck. Get a drysuit and make sure it has booties.

I absolutely love my dry suit. Soooooo much better than a wet suit. For me it is way more comfortable…and way easier and quicker to get on and off. That’s one of the reasons I really like mine. It is on and off in a flash.

I too live in Maryland. I just got here in October and have paddled just about every weekend since then and roll pretty much every time I am out all winter long. No way I could have done this without a drysuit.


Never tried F Elmo’s method, but
left arm, right arm and lastly head is what I do. I used my free hand to help spread the gasket on the wrist rather than brute force pushing the hand through. I use both hands to spread the neck gasket from the top while pushing my head through.

Cut off the ankle gaskets and glue in latex booties to replace them ($) or have someone sew in gortex booties ($$$) for you.

As for the zipper, it it metal toothed? If so, occasional zipper clean and lube help, but as Celia said parafin rubbed on both sides makes the zipper work with a one handed easy pull. The dab of Vaseline goes at the closure end to create a better seal. Use no more of a dab than your pinky fingernail.

Rather than corn starch try billiard talc if you can find it. It’s unscented, so you won’t smell like a babies behind, and it doesn’t have any oils. It’s possible for oils in scented talc to damage the gasket over time.

Like others have said this should be less than a 2 minute drill. I take a little more time than some so as not to damage the latex booties. Goretex are a bit more forgiving.