Dry suits: full suits vs tops & bottoms

I own a full size Kokatat Meridan dry suit (Gore-tex). But I noticed that several manufacturers make full size dry and semi dry suits plus separate tops and bottoms. Even short sleeve tops and trunks.

I assume this range of suits is all about matching protection to water temperature conditions. But do the separates keep one as dry as a full suit? Do paddlers use the shorter separates just to stay cooler in the air but protected during “swims”? I wonder if anyone owns both and use them equally? The reason I ask is that it gets pretty warm while paddling on fresh water lakes where the water temperature is not as dangerous as Puget Sound…

I have used both one piece and two piece drysuits made by Kokatat. In order for a two piece suit to be effective, both the top and the bottom (usually a “bib”) need to have tunnels. The tunnel on the top is on the inside of the suit and that on the bib is on the outside. Both of the tunnels have to be carefully “mated” by folding them together in about 1 inch wide folds at least three times.

If this is done, the two-piece suits can be quite effective. If you spend a lot of time immersed in the water, a little bit of water might sneak in around your waist, but it won’t be enough to matter. Using a conventional dry top along with a pair of dry pants that has only a neoprene waist band will not keep you dry. This combo will protect you pretty well from splash, but if your waist is submerged, lots of water will get in.

What are the advantages and disadvantages to a two piece dry suit? On the pro side, the two piece allows the dry top to be used alone. This can be very nice for kayaking on a SINK using a spray skirt for conditions in which you are pretty sure you are not going to exit the boat, or in conditions in which a swim would not be likely to result in significant hypothermia. With the dry top tunnel inside the spray skirt tunnel, and the elastic dry top waist band cinched around the outside of the spray skirt tunnel, relatively little water will get in, even if you have to roll a number of times. I find wearing just the dry top to be much more comfortable than a full dry suit in warm air, cold water conditions. I prefer just putting on the bib to drive to the put-in and then putting on the top before putting on. Of course, you can wear a full dry suit over just the lower half of your body with your arms, upper trunk, and head out, put then the top half of the suit dangles behind you and the neck gasket and zipper can be more prone to damage. The two piece suit does allow more flexibility in that it affords you the option to use the bib with a short sleeve dry or semi-dry top in warmer weather. Finally, the two-piece eliminates the need for the zipper, which can be stiff enough that some people find objectionable.

Disadvantages to the two piece? Well, you need to buy two pieces, for one thing. The two piece suit is a bit more fiddly to get into, and you might need someone to help you mate the tunnels together smoothly behind your back. There might be a bit more leakage if you take a prolonged swim. Finally, the folded-together tunnels does create a somewhat thick band around your mid section. This has never bothered me but I have heard some folks complain about it.


Great info! Thanks for taking the time to present this…

Not all two piece drysuits use tunnel assembly.

Kokatat’s Radius and Icon models use a zipper assembly. When the zipper is properly taken care of and the closing knob is turned tight enough, it is as water tight as a 1-piece drysuit.

In my opinion, the only disadvantage compared to a 1-piece is the bulkiness of the zipper. Price is more or less the same for comparable 1- and 2+piece models. The largest advantage is in my opinion that you can walk around in the drysuit trousers before and after the trip. I usually drive from home in my drysuit trousers, so I just have to put on the top before I start paddling. And when we arrive at a campsite, I am in no hurry to get out of the trousers.

Reinforce what Peter has said about pants with an elastic top not being able to mate in a dry way with a separate top. For example, Kokatat Goretex pants with booties, or the Tempest version of same that is not GoreTex. I have had these pants. They will not keep water from getting in at your waist if you swim. no matter what you mate them with. They will keep you lower extremities dry if you don’t get splash, and not let tons in if you roll since that is a matter of seconds.

I just took a couple of new paddlers out to poke around this morning. They want to be able to paddle into the fall in northeastern lakes. I was wearing the bottom half of my Kokatat Icon suit. Honestly, I told them I thought the best idea on the market right now was these suits that can function as separates or together to be dry.

I concur with Allan and Celia. I have the Kokatat Radius two-piece. I wear the drysuit pants on my drive to my destination, then add the top when my boat is ready to launch. I’ve also used the top as a drytop on chilly windy summer days. I don’t own a separate set of waders, so use the drysuit pants when needed. It’s a great multi-tasking drysuit.

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Harry Houdini might have been a genius at escaping while trussed upside-down in chains & a straight jacket inside a sealed chamber submersed in water, but the man never had to get out of a kayak dry suit that was just one size too small for him - just saying…

@PhotoMax This is why my latest suit is a bit larger than my last… Beginning to take too many yoga moves to get out of the older one. :smiley:

A lot of times the tops are not meant to be part of a complete dry suit, but used as a dry top. These generally have tunnels to encompass your skirt, and are used by people who have strong rolls, and more often by white water folks (where they can swim to shore if they swim) than sea kayakers who may have prolonged swim as they try to self rescue. The short sleeve versions seem to be pretty much only used by white water folks.

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The only people I’ve seen wearing the shortsleeve drytops were all WW paddlers.

With the change in season, the (NH Seacoast) water is cold enough to warrant a dry suit now and I’m not quite ready to stop paddling. Air temp is dropping too, highs are barely getting into the 70s.

I was planning on getting a one-piece suit but got to thinking that a top-only could be useful, and I stumbled upon this thread while doing some Googling. Before taking the fairly-expensive cost plunge, from a sea kayaking perspective (touring and surfing, not WW), are there any scenarios in which a top would be “necessary” but not the bottom? Also, I’m failing to come up with any scenario in which the bottom would be useful without the top, but perhaps I’m just being short-sighted or don’t know what I don’t know?


For me no, use bottoms for fishing as waders.

Two piece good for wearing top only as a splash jacket.

I have reasons unique to me for bottoms only use. But in chillier weather it is nice to be dry on the bottom so you can wade into the water to get in and out of your boat without having to worry about water coming over the top of your mukluks. Weather that may, If a low risk paddle is planned, be a good match for a non-mating top.

But yeah, for most people bottoms only is a rarer event.

In the spring I often use the bottoms of my Radius drysuit as waders. Because of high water levels, I’ve had to do some work to control shoreline erosion on my property. The bottom half of my drysuit makes that job more comfortable.

I also get my kayak down to the water as soon as the ice clears, but my dock doesn’t go in until mid to late May. Using just the bottoms to get in and out of my boat keeps my feet dry. And warm.

As to using only the top, in the Great Lakes the water can be warm but the air temp chilly.
The top of my Radius has offered good protection on such chilly and windy days. Gore-Tex offers good wind protection.

Thanks for the feedback. I can definitely see the benefits of having bottoms only for things like wading, lounging after a paddle, other various non-kayak type stuff, just didn’t see much point while actually in the boat.

Well, you are a newer paddler, yes?

If you get into bigger water, you may want the bottoms on for dryness in waves etc where a bit of water could be slopping in under the skirt. Unlike the top that is up on the sun, what is under the skirt tends to stay damp. Each person has their own tolerance for a wet butt.

Yep, definitely a new(er) paddler. That use case makes perfect sense too, and I don’t mind being wet/damp under the skirt, although my outings have all been < 3 hours so far. I suspect I might change my mind if I was out for longer. I have noticed that my feet prune within my water shoes after wading out a bit at put-in.

My main concern is more about buying a one piece then wishing I’d bought a two piece, or buying a two piece and finding I always wear both pieces so a one piece would have been more ideal. I hate buying something expensive and then wishing I’d spent just a bit more for what I really wanted/needed.

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I was in the same boat (puny?)back in the spring and decided against a two piece because from what I read a two piece will never be a true ‘dry suit’, you will get wet where the top and bottom come together/overlap, so I went with a one piece.

I think you are confused, but as long as you have a drysuit you are OK.

There ARE two piece dry suits from Kokatat that have the zipper around the waist, it joins the upper and lower half just as securely as the zippers on the one piece dry suits and once zipped is fully waterproof. It is just that, with these models, the user can also wear the top or bottom as separate pieces. Which is what Rookie was talking about and what I have done with my ICON drysuit.

There are also two piece systems, which do not have a fully waterproof closure around the middle. But those are not two piece drysuits.

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Where do you paddle? If you want to paddle into chillier weather in the NE or NW I suggest you hope for seasonal sales on drysuits.

Also, what size are you on Kokatat’s sizing chart?