Dry suit... or paddle jacket?

Been rec kayaking for the last two years… this year, I’ll be upgrading my kayak and will want to start learning to edge and roll.
In addition to a skirt, I’ll need something more than a t-shirt!

So, I’m a fair weather paddler, want to stay cool while I’m out for a few hours… what do you suggest? Are there just paddling jackets?
I don’t need latex gaskets, I’m sure neoprene ones will be fine for my purposes. Are there just light jacks for this need, or…

NRS has some pretty decent splash jackets with latex cuffs & neoprene collars. I have one from NRS that has a better sealing neck that my Kokatat paddling suit. That said, for what looks like the next stages of your journey you need to be sure that you are dressed for full (and probably frequent) immersion when in learning mode. Prepared to be in and out of the water for several hours at a time even if close to shore. A paddling jacket will not keep you dry when you find yourself out of the boat.

Paddle where? …When?

I have a ~10 year old Kokatat jacket similar to the Session (https://kokatat.com/product/session-semi-dry-top-pjusej). Love it for rolls and such. The neoprene neck gasket means I don’t get the normal rush of water down my back when I roll. The NRS jacket @rival51 mentioned should be similar.

Keep in mind, it won’t do all that much for you should you swim. But for as long as you are in the boat, it is great.

Yes, mainly looking for something for warmer weather for edging and rolling. If I go in the water, so be it. Just looking for something so a cotton t-shirt is t soaked for a 4-5 paddle if I roll around.

Cotton??? About the worst fabric you could wear as it absorbs water and never dries. In cold water the mantra is “cotton kills.”

Get a synthetic fabric which wicks moisture and dries quickly. Lots of reasonably priced shirts on the market.

Dry suits and paddling jackets are designed for two different purposes. A dry suit provides immersion protection in the event you end up in the water. A paddling jacket is basically just for protection from splash and spray while you’re paddling. It provides very limited protection if you’re rolling around and practicing skills. Dry tops, which have neck and wrist seals, can keep you dry during these activities, while you’re in your boat and help somewhat if you end up swimming. I have all three and I find that I rarely ever use a paddling jacket anymore.


Yes, cotton, I know, but as I mentioned, I’m a fair weather paddler, and only been rec kayaking so far, no rolling etc. Now I’m starting to look into this, so I know t-shirts won’t be the norm.

That’s what I’m looking for by the sounds of it… a dry top. This is exactly why I start these topics… it’s hard to know what’s out there…
I’m in Southern Ontario and there’s limited outfitters around here, a couple good ones that are hours away from me, so most of my research is online.
Something to wear above the skirt that will do an “ok” job keeping me dry while I practice rolling edging etc.

A friend and I decided to help each other learn to roll some years ago … and continue practicing to this day. The virtue to doing this with a friend is that when you fail on your roll, the friend rolls you up and you avoid a wet exit - especially useful when you first start on such a project. This is a time and enthusiasm saver!

But standing around in cold water a bit above your waist while the ‘roller’ is making an attempt gets way cold. A dry suit (not a wet suit nor dry top) is the only way to go for such a project. In late spring our lake water is about 57.23 degrees Fahrenheit and approaches 72 in the deep heat of summer.

I like a short-sleeve paddle jacket for the use you describe, i.e. wet paddling in warm weather. I have a long-sleeve goretex jacket by Kokatat, but rarely use it. The short sleeve splash jacket with neoprene neck and bicep seals gets much more use.

This is similar to what I have, although mine is short sleeve:
Similar, in short sleeve:

My old paddle jacket is around 6 or 7 years old from REI. It has zippers in the pits and sides you can open to vent on those hot days. It sheds rain, well did, and keeps the wind off. I’ve worn it all over the country in summer like and not so summer like. It works good with wet suit to repel wind. No it isn’t for cold water immersion. But it would work great today with our 70 degree water and 60 degree air.

A drytop will not keep you dry if you immerse at all, i.e. roll, wet exit, etc. They are more inclined to ship in more water during practice mentioned. They keep wind spray wave splash at bay. I have often practiced in warmer conditions with hydro skin set up. C is not the fabric of your life on the water.

Cotton is fine for that purpose, as the wet t shirt evaporates on your body, it keeps you cool. Just make sure it is a good match for the water temp as well as the air temp that you are paddling in.

If you are using cotton for insulation it certainly can kill but if you are using it for cooling then it can be very useful

The hardest environment to dress for is one where the air temp is high and the water temp is low. Breathable fabrics help, and sometimes folks intentionally stay damp in those conditions.

I don’t think of roll practice as a dry activity. If the water is warm (without a drysuit) then I just assume I’m getting wet.

Dry tops work very well for experienced paddlers who stay in their boats. Splash jackets do just that, protect you from splashes, the sun, and can help a bit at keeping water from entering the boat through the spray skirt tunnel but are pretty useless in a swim. . Dry suits are designed to keep you dry. Semi dry suits with neoprene are designed to keep you semi dry.

The way I dress depends on the air and water temps, the risk for extended immersion, and comfort. So yes, I own splash tops, drysuits, drytops, and semidry suits, wetsuits, pogies, gloves, water shoes, booties, pogies, balaclavas, wool socks, and sometimes even cotton t shirts and ball caps. What are most severe conditions you will paddle in? You want to be safe every-time you go out.

Information on what else you would be using is not adequate for me at least to provide good advice, at least for me.

In one reply above you mention wanting something that will keep you somewhat dry during edging and rolling. Just to knock off one thing, learning to roll generally involves an amount of swimming. Only a dry suit can keep you dry in a swim.

Once you have a reliable roll, that can be executed quickly, a lesser top with watertight neck and wrist gaskets that can somewhat mate with a better skirt can keep some people relatively dry. You haven’t indicated what you would be using for a skirt.

That said, I have never been someone for who the lesser gaskets worked unless I wanted to be quite wet. I need very much the dry end of dry wear to actually stay dry. Until you start doing wet work it is almost impossible to predict what will work for you.

Almost everyone starts out thinking they can get away with stuff that that is deeper into the semi-dry side of things than they ultimately find works out well for them.

If you are learning a skill like rolling and want some relatively inexpensive clothing to manage it, and the water will be 60 degrees or above, I would suggest ditching the idea of dry altogether to start. Get a decently fitting wet suit and use that for the learning phase. You will want a wind blocking layer above that some days if you go with the basic Farmer John, but you can stash most any basic lightweight rain jacket in a dry bag and pull it on after you have done the wet work. That will let you decide better how to spend money on the more expensive paddling jackets.

I’m curious just what role paddle jackets have for most people. I wear a full dry suit when I feel I need to worry about safety in case of immersion (which is the case for most of my paddles here in the Pacific Northwest even in summer). But if I’m paddling a non-challenging river in warm weather, where I am unlikely to swamp/roll and I am comfortable that I can swim to the side and get out pretty quickly if necessary, I’ll just wear a wind-breaker (if even that) for splashes or because of rain.

Is there really that much middle ground for a paddle jacket with gaskets, for most of us? I ask because I worry that I’m missing something and would in fact benefit from a dedicated paddle jacket. :slight_smile:

As I mentioned in an earlier post, when a friend and I practice various rolls we both wear dry suits. However when I go to that same spot on my own to practice rolling, I am not standing around in the water while my partner rolls. In that solo case I wear a wet suit (farmer John) under a dry top. In both cases I am trying to stay warm in a situation where safety is not a usual issue. It lets me practice as long as I wish … more or less.

Any body using a tuilik?

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Lots of people have given great answers here on the drytop/drysuit issue. Just wanted to throw this in- even if you practice rolling with a friend and never wet exit, you might end up with water in your boat. Make sure your skirt fits your boat tightly or water will sneak in around the combing. The looser the skirt, the more water you’ll get. Even in a drysuit sitting in cold water is cold. Plan accordingly and good luck, learning to roll is really fun and very empowering!


@rsevenic: Yes, I’ve used a Tuiliq.

Tuiliqs and dry tops (gaskets) + skirt serve a similar function - they keep you dry as long as you’re in a boat. The tuiliq integrates the skirt and the dry top requires a skirt - good dry tops have a tunnel which can really keep the water out of the boat. Both, by themselves, do not keep you dry out of the boat.

I’ve got a Brooks neoprene tuiliq and it’s great for rough and cold weather paddling. Feels like you’re paddling from inside a cabin with your head stuck out a porthole. And great for rolling - lots of extra buoyancy. Gets really warm on a warm day though.

As folks have said, if you want to stay dry, then a drysuit is the answer. Because the amount of warmth it provides is based on the layers you put in under it, it can be useful for longer in the season you’d think.

I’ve used Kokatat in the past and am currently using a Stohlquist Shift. I like it because the zipper runs around the shoulders, making it easy pop the neck gasket off and tuck the front flap inside. It has an integrated jacket that lets you keep the wind out - they call it “standby mode”. It makes a great rain suit (used it in the Pine Barrens canoeing in the rain) as well as a immersion suit.


Unless I missed it, I did not see any mention of what the water temperature will be when you go out in your area. We live in Maine which takes a bit to warm up in the spring and we practiced on a lake in May and wore drysuits which we had just bought. If it’s hot out, just get in the water to cool down. You’ll be dry inside but the more time you spend in the water the more comfortable you’ll be even on a warm day. It also depends on what you wear under the drysuit. But please, ditch the cotton unless it’s a 100 degrees out and the water in the 80s and you want to stay wet to cool off. I bet the lakes in Ontario take quite a bit of time to warm up as well.

I don’t really see this as an either or, situation. A paddle jacket is a always carry item all summer long for in case the weather changes during your paddle time. Also worn when weather is borderline. A drysuit covers more bases and is for when you plan to spend time in cold water, practicing rescues etc {including rolling in cold water, especially if you don’t have a Tuilik} or the weather is past borderline or going to be past borderline during your paddle time. The drysuit is much more useful in bad weather situations and also has a wider temperature range as far as borderline conditions and adds a tremendous amount of safety for water and air and storms etc.

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