Dry suits: full suits vs tops & bottoms

I have a full dry suit as well as separates (including a short sleeve dry top that I love, but I got it for WW). I use the separate tops but never the just the bottoms. I think I wore them once. I should sell them. If I had to do it all again, I’d just get the dry suit and none of the rest. For the shoulder seasons I like a 3 mm farmer Jane with appropriate tops (rash guards to neoprene, splash top, etc). But once the water gets colder, I bust out the dry suit. I could even do without the wet suit honestly, and just wear the dry suit, but I use it a lot.

I wish I had been aware of this when I got my drysuit. I think that would be ideal. Maybe next time.

As always you are a wealth of information. I saw that you mentioned the Kokatat Icon drysuit. It sounded interesting so I went to look it up online, it seems it is now sold by NRS. The links I found are:

Kokatat Men’s Icon Drysuit | NRS
Kokatat Women’s Icon Drysuit | NRS

Are these the right products? They do not mention a waist zipper so I think I found the the wrong products.

I also searched. The two-piece is the Idol, not the Icon.



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Thamks Pru. Yes rao, the one with zip switch technology.
Most of the letters are the same…

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

Ahhh, that’s exactly what I was looking for, thanks!

I paddle the Portsmouth, NH area (Great Bay, Little Bay, Little Harbor, Newcastle Island, etc). I definitely want to keep paddling, maybe even into winter/year round (although that is dependent upon a dry suit).

As for sizing, looks like I’m a S chest, M waist/inseam/height/weight.

I also searched on the two piece and found the Idol, and the “zipswitch” technology. What I was worried about with a “true” two piece was the joining zipper being leaky, although I would assume it wouldn’t be any more leaky than the entry zip on a one piece (maybe a bit due to location?).

Seems there aren’t any of the “cheap” suits available in two piece. I was initially looking at the Swift Entry Hydrus 3.0 one piece ($730) and the two piece Idol is almost twice that.

The waist zipper does not leak, just have to remember to snug it correctly into the home places under the round thingie in the middle.
I do find that it takes reading glasses and a few extra minutes to get it lined up right when I first come out in the season.

The diff with the better suits is the breathability, and the Kokatat warranty. Varies, but a lot of folks I know had a brief experience with the less breathable stuff and found it worth the bucks for the other.

Do your best with the sizing…

You can’t go wrong with Kokatat. Better to wait and pay more than buy twice and end up with what you could have bought in the beginning. If in doubt buy a 2 piece.

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The easier way to breach the money thing and get into something dry is to consider a pair of Kokatat whirlpool bibs which will mate with your paddling jacket {which I assume you already own} The advantage is twofold. The jacket that you should already have and maintain {if it’s vent-able only has wrist gaskets that need replacing periodically} The bibs don’t have any latex gaskets. The bibs can be stowed and sometimes of the year can be added by just landing somewhere in case a storm is pending. No Latex to go bad , just booties and gortex {or Hydrus , if opting to save a bit more cash} I have both and also drysuits…this produces a viable paddling option for shoulder seasons. If you camp it is nice to be able to just take the paddling jacket off and keep the bibs on for wading out to dip camp water , unload kayaks etc.

For paddling in Ice and cold where you never need to adjust…then I always opt for a dry-suit. But the bib /paddling jacket takes a paddle nicely thru the shoulder seasons.

Actually, I don’t. I only started kayaking a few months ago. Is a paddling jacket effectively a dry suit top?

I certainly see the utility of a two piece and I’m leaning that way, just need to wrap my head around the price jump from the one piece I was looking at. I also need to “convince” the wife, since I already mentioned the price of the one piece and she kinda gave me the eye, heh.

A paddling jacket is many things, not the most useful description. I will take a crack at it.

Paddling jacket. Almost any kind of top that purports to be at least partially protective against water, from not much to a more fitted garments with neoprene or latex gaskets that are much drier. Includes things like zip up oversized jackets that you can pull on over the pfd in case of surprise rain.

The least of these are often lightweight tops with Velcro closures at neck that will keep water splashing on you getting inside. May also see these called a splash top.

Drytop, as in a top sold w/o a bottom. Has neo or latex gaskets at wrist and neck that will prevent water getting in those spots. Full drytops have a neo waist with a long extension that can be placed under a similarly separate bottom to emulate dryness as long as you do not swim.

BUT of you swim, these separates will generally not maintain their dryness. It’ll come in at the waist unless you have a solid roll, and so are only in the water for about 6 seconds. Since most beginners do not yet have a roll, you will get wet.

The waterproof zipper at the waist in the zip switch suits are waterproof, like those in the one piece drysuits.

Now, just to confuse everything, Kokatat also makes a bib two piece system that works by the user rolling the top into the bottom, l think like at least three rolls. Adherents of this one swear it works very nearly like a full dry suit. I have not used it so cannot vouch either way. But the bottom is also pretty pricey, and the overwhelming number of paddlers who prioritize the regular drysuits instead suggtests the isolated bib system represents a quirkier part of the market.

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I had assumed that you already had a paddling jacket. Usually when someone gets into paddling among their first purchases is some sort of neoprene like a farmer john or farmer Jane, maybe some hydroskin and a rash top and something for their feet. Either some neo booties or socks or water shoes.

The next buy, to wear, is some sort of paddling jacket to put on when the cool wind blows or rain shows up. The paddling jacket that has a vent able neck is a kind of universal carried item. Always carried in case of a small weather shift.

All the major paddle clothing companies sell one {Kokatat, NRS, Level Six etc} The neck being able to be opened instead of the latex neck make it usable in all the paddling situations where you need to be able to cool off some while paddling , but still need some protection from the elements as opposed to a dry latex neck which is not vent-able. Most all come with a tunnel . The tunnel will mate with the Kokatat bib and make a reasonable bad weather combination.

It is not a full dry suit…but covers a lot of the bases and adds a lot of adaptability .

Assuming that you already had a paddling jacket {you will need one if you are going to paddle even in the summer in most places. Since the weather changes no matter where you are. This would have allowed you to buy the best bibs since the top half of this combination already being in your possession.

So if you plan on paddling and buy a full dry suit…you will still need to own a paddling jacket. It is a basic piece of gear…buy the best that you can afford. {the reed chillcheater paddling cag is a nice one and it doesn’t have any latex to go bad…But Kokatat has a nice one too as do the other major manufactures}

Don’t scrimp on either of these if you plan to paddle out and about in conditions and dubious weather … they are your first line of defense against hypothermia.

If you plan on buying a dry suit or a combination of sorts, you will also need some insulation for under it as things move colder.

Nothing cheap about paddling in cold water. Then ask yourself how much is my life worth?

You need a drysuit, insulation bunny suit, rash gaurd top and bottom, shoes / boots, gloves, balaclava, communications, and… I can buy a real nice composite sea kayak for 700-1000. I can’t come close to buying all the gear required. All the gear will cost double the kayak.

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Thanks for all of the replies, definitely helps me understand the options better. I do wear quick drying swim trunks, a long sleeve rashguard and water shoes (hat and sunglasses too). On every outing so far I have needed to splash water all over my top half just to keep cool, so up to this point I hadn’t even pondered the need for anything more.

Did some more digging on Kokotat and NRS websites and I get the difference between a paddling jacket and a dry suit/top now.

I have all of my skiing base layers (merino wool) that should work well under a dry suit for insulation.

What you wear under dry wear has to be good at wicking moisture. Otherwise you are sitting in a soggy mess that becomes cold.
I find some of my base winter layers work ok, some not so well. My best two underlayers for paddling seem to be polypro and wicking fleece. But others find wool works - that is something you have to mess with. But base layers for other winter activities will get you started.


Here’s a thread discussing two piece dry suits, specifically my Radius model:

I also have several diff tops & bottoms. I tour & surf but not river WW.
I love my dry/semi-dry tops. I wear them really for warmer water and cooler air. If it’s cool or even rainy the top provides protection from wind, splash or both. Even when it’s fairly nice out being wet in the wind will chill me quickly. When it’s just “hydro skin” conditions a top breaking the wind is priceless and way more comfortable than a full 3mm wet suit or full-on dry suit.
I’ve been wearing my shorty top over shorty hydroskin top now for about a month (Sept) and happy. I’ve been wearing just swim trunks in the boat and fine for me.
I have tops w/all the over-tunnels, under-tunnels, adjustable cummerbunds, etc. and find them overkill and just uncomfortable. latex wrist seals are worthwhile though. Now you mostly can’t get one without the other, it seems.
My separate dry pants are useful for maybe canoeing in rain. Had them for 6 yrs, used them…never.
I go w/ hydroskins (& dry top) as late as possible. Once the water is too cold for that I break out the dry suit. I’ve given up on wet suits completely because they’re not comfortable to me.

I think the issue of dropping $800+ for a full dry suit boils down to how many days each winter you can expect to paddle. If it’s once a month may be not justified.
My first suit was a Kokatat full “paddling suit”. It had latex wrists but neoprene neck seal. That was perfectly safe for touring and I used it 4 yrs and paid under $500.
Good luck.

If anyone is looking for Men’s Kokatat Idol XXL there is one on eBay at a good discount. Currently about $760 instead of full price of $1390. Here:


It is described as new. I can attest that it seemed like it is new, as I bought it and then returned it to the seller as it did not fit me. The seller very promptly returned my money, I was impressed. I have no relationship with the seller other than what I just described.

Do you wear gloves for colder water paddling? I once had my hands immersed in maybe 45 degree water for only a few minutes and it was a downright painful experience.

Wear gloves year round. Don’t like blisters.