Dry suit question

-- Last Updated: Dec-15-13 12:22 PM EST --

So I'm ready to buy my first dry suit and have a few questions. I live in a pretty warm climate so this won't be needed with the exception of a few months of the year.
I've been told that my best bet would be to go with kokatat. Unfortunately, this is going to set me back $1000 or so, which I really don't have right now. On the other hand, I've seen some pretty good deals on eBay within my price range.
I don't want to bargain with my life, but my money is pretty tight right now. Salesman out the local outfitters swears kokatat is the only way to go and any less would likely result in a waste of money or worse, equipment failure.
I have zero experience with dry suits so id really appreciate any input.


– Last Updated: Dec-15-13 12:17 PM EST –

I don't think you would be risking your life to go with a brand other than Kokatat. Latex gaskets are basically the same among all brands and are the element most likely to fail. I think so long as you bought a new dry suit from a reputable maker, the chances of catastrophic seam or zipper failure would be pretty remote.

I have known people who have used dry suits made by NRS, Bomber Gear, Stohlquist, Immersion Research, OS Systems, and Level Six who have been happy with them. I'm sure others will suggest other brands as well.

On the other hand, I think there is some element of truth in what you were told. In my experience with dry tops, semi-dry tops, and dry suits, Kokatat seems to have been the most durable. The seam tapes have held up better than other brands. Kokatat is the only maker that produces Gore-Tex dry tops and dry suits. Other makers offer suits in other types of breathable fabrics.

Opinion is divided on the breathability of various fabrics and how much more comfort they offer compared to coated nylon. My experience is that they are somewhat more comfortable than coated nylon, partly because they seem to be more supple. But the Gore-Tex garments Kokatat makes seem also to be incredibly durable. I have a Kokatat Gore-Tex dry top that I have been using for about 18 years. I have replaced the wrist and neck seals a couple of times, but the fabric is still going strong. I recently bought a used Kokatat Gore-Tex dry suit in good shape with 4 year old seals for $500. I can only say I wish I had bought one earlier and saved the money I spent trying to get by with cheaper brands.

Any decent new dry suit you choose is probably going to have a list price of $500-600 or more although I have seen sale prices on new suits as low as $300-400.

Kokatat versus rest
Kokatat has the best warranty and is the only one allowed by Gore to make dry suits with GoreTex, which is considered then most breathable material.

As said before, they all use the same gaskets.

None of the breathable materials can keep up with you when sweating. Goretex is just a little better at it.

My first was a closeout from Palm. lasted a few years before the material gave out, at which point it was not warrantiable. Replaced it with a Kokatat.

Dry suit vs paddling suit

– Last Updated: Dec-15-13 12:21 PM EST –

What is the amount of time you foresee yourself rolling, playing rapids or surf or is this for touring kayaking as a measure of warmth and insurance against the accidental out of boat experience? If the later the Kokatat Light Weight Goretex Paddling Suit (

Many others exist

– Last Updated: Dec-15-13 12:44 PM EST –

NO ONE has cornered the market on drysuits - it is hype.

Other manufacturers exist making great gear
without the constant marketing ""buzz"" .

Example OS Systems

Example Immersion Research

Example NRS

Are you entering the pro category,
kayaking 5 times a week or more,
maybe leading tour groups daily,
making business money off your gear choices,
..uh, no, you say, perhaps not ?

Re-think the expense and re-evaluate the useage.
Twenty trips a year needing a dry suit ?
That's almost 50% of the 52 weekends a year.

The rest of the time it will ""sit"" in a box,
unused, dormant, awaiting your next adventure.

Agree completely
Kokatat Gore-Tex drysuit isn’t the only way to go, but it’s the best for balancing breathability against watertightness and quality in general, including customer support.

Stohlquist used to make Gore-Tex drysuits, and that’s what my first drysuit was. But they stopped taking those suits in for repairs (even when I offered to pay for the repairs). A Gore-authorized seamstress told me that the Velcro they had used was an inferior knock-off, and that’s why the Velcro strip was falling apart. That, at least, was a repair I could get done locally. The suit’s later coming apart at the seams was not.

Wetsuits as an alternative
I’ll get flamed but most of us who play on the ocean on a regular basis actually wear wetsuits. Search for threads for wetsuits. if you live in a warmer region of the US you can probably find a decent wetsuit that will work for water temps down to 45F for about $160 -180


– Last Updated: Dec-15-13 2:46 PM EST –

I agree that a good surfing wetsuit is a viable alternative. Cheaper and more durable than a drysuit. Less comfortable for general paddling, especially tripping, though arguably more comfortable for rough water (neoprene provides a bit of padding, plus you aren't freaking out about ripping the material).

The extra expense of a Kokatat suit is all about the Gore-tex warranty, which is built into the cost. Think of it as insurance. Gore will replace any garment that delaminates, including a full drysuit. I've had a suit replaced, as have friends, so I know from experience that the warranty is pretty solid. That's what you pay for.

But there are cheaper alternatives to Kokatat and cheaper alternatives to drysuits. Cost/benefit analysis is dependent on a bunch of factors, such as where, how often, and in what manner you paddle, as well as personal comfort and budget.

If you can tolerate the restriction and
constriction that goes with a full wetsuit, more power to you.

I had a custom-made wetsuit, and besides the constriction, it messed up my proprioception. I understand that the latest wetsuits are better, but for whitewater paddling, wetsuits are just “out” for me.

I picked up a wetsuit this fall…
I got a 4\3 hooded wetsuit for kayak surfing and SUPing, for when it’s not cold enough (water above 45 degrees) to really warrant a drysuit. Works great so far, although it’s gotten too cold to use it by now. Was surprised by how comfortable and warm it is, and how you actually stay pretty dry in it. Not sure I’d want to tour in it all day, but for playing around in the surf or rough water it’s great. Might invest in a 6\5 for winter kayak surfing use. Only downside to the wetsuit I can see if it takes longer to change in and out of.

I’m on my third drysuit in eight years and it’s a Kokatat. Started off with a basic NRS suit, wore that out after a year or two, and upgraded to a nice Palm suit. The Palm suffered some delamination issues, was replaced under warranty, but with the understanding it would never happen again, as Palm soon pulled out of the US. So I sold the new Palm to put towards a new Kokatat. The Palm was designed really well and fit well, but the build quality on the Kokatat is exceptional, as is the warranty. Hopefully the last drysuit I’ll have to buy for a long time.

Many options; consider used
I’ve had four different dry suits over the past 30 years–different brands, different materials. One was Goretex.

They all worked fine for heavy duty whitewater and some sea paddling in the northeast. None leaked except trivially due to punctures. If you are not going to be bushwhacking through brush or bashing down rocky whitewater rivers during a swim, and if you are going to use the suit infrequently, the chances of some dangerous “failure” of a dry suit are very slim – so long as you periodically inspect the suit and keep it in good condition. Driving your car to and from the water will be more dangerous.

Small holes and tears can be repaired with Aquaseal. Neck and wrist gaskets, the parts most likely to wear, are easily replaced.

Budget is important. There are always used dry suits up for sale on many sites. People buy the hugely expensive Kokatat products, don’t use them, and often sell them in fine condition. Even cheaper, look for a used non-Goretex suit from a name brand. For example, you can search on paddleswap.com, craigslist, or the classified ads on this site.

More details?
To do the disclaimer - we live in the northeast, I wouldn’t try to get thru a full year of paddling without a dry suit and we have had tremendous luck with Kokatat due to their enforcement of the Goretex warranty. They WILL replace a suit if they see delamination, unlike any other manufacturer I know. So even though I have a neck chemistry that seems to eat latex gaskets, it still works out best over time for me to have invested in one of their suits.

But if money is tight, I’d suggest that you consider alternatives for this season. And there may be better ways to spend those bucks this year.

A dry suit will only help if you capsize in water really chilly water - say stuff in the low 40’s or below - if you also have hood and gloves up to the job (of course good layers under the drysuit) AND are well-practiced at self-rescue. Even with all the good gear, water that cold is disorienting as hell unless you have a bunch of good habits at the ready. And you do not have the time you think you’ll have to get back in the boat. Frozen hands and minds stop being effective a lot sooner than the charts say you are medically compromised.

Even in more southern climes, if you are talking inland water it could be these temps.

I also can’t tell if you would be paddling alone or with company, and if that company could be helpful.

If you don’t have practice invested in self-rescue, and assisted if you are with others, it might be a better use of time and bucks for you to find a place doing pool sessions where you can learn this stuff. Then look for a lightly used good suit as this winter closes.

Kokatats are consistently available
in the $500 range used but in very good condition on Ebay, Kayak Academy and paddling message board gear swap sections. That would be a good option IMO. It’s certainly true that people paddled without them for many years and did just fine, and you probably would too, but they sure are nice. Last May at one of our paddling schools the weather was more like December (highs in the thirties and sleeting). A paddling bud who knew I didn’t have a drysuit insisted on sending me his to wear. I tested it one day by volunteering to be a guinea pig for throw rope practice. Sure makes the prospect of a swim in adverse conditions a lot less daunting.

drysuit sizing
Be sure you know your right size. Manufacturer’s sizes will vary. I recently bought a new Kokatat on sale over Black Friday weekend. I almost ordered it online, mostly convinced I was a large.

In the end, I drove and ferried from Seattle out to Port Gamble to try on suits. My long torso put me into an x-large. Sizing charts are only a place to start.

Good point.
I’m 6’ 175, certainly a large by any clothing manufacturer’s measurements, but with what I wear underneath I’m comfy in an XL.

It’s more a matter of cold tolerance

– Last Updated: Dec-16-13 4:16 PM EST –

Didn't seadart just post details on another pnet msg, of how well he takes cold water?

While I sometimes use a full wetsuit in sub-50-degree water, it's only when I consider a capsize highly unlikely, and in a protected area with shoreline close, with air temps over 50 degrees.

Even more true for wetsuits
Sizing varies so much that their size charts are next to useless.

By the way, that shop in Port Gamble is really good! I recently discovered them.

Me Too
6’2" thinner build, I take an extra large for the length.

What about 1 piece vs 2?

I have used both

– Last Updated: Dec-17-13 3:17 PM EST –

I have a Kokatat Gore-Tex dry top that I have used extensively when paddling a decked boat. A few years ago I bought a used Kokatat Whirlpool bib to use with it to make a 2 piece dry suit. And I have also used 1 piece front entry dry suits.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both. If you are careful mating the tunnels together very little water gets through the junction. I wore this two piece outfit during a recent ACA Swiftwater Rescue Conference. We spent a good bit of time in the water, often in pretty strong current, and I stayed dry. The two piece suit also eliminates the need for a long, stiff entry zipper. If there is a drive to get to the put-in I like being able to put the bib and my shoes on at some convenient spot and then just pull the drytop on before I get in or on the water. I also like being able to use the bib with a short sleeve dry top in warmer air temps.

But mating the tunnels is a bit of a pain (easier with someone behind you helping) and after folding the tunnels together three times there is something like a rather wide belt circling you just above waist level which some people don't like. And the cost of a good bib and dry top is probably going to be greater than a one piece dry top.