I am new to whitewater kayaking. I have all the basic gear, but in order to extend my paddling season I was looking to get a good dry top. I am a little confused by some companies using the terms dry top, splash top, semi dry top, and others. I will mostly be river running, not a lot of playboating. What is the difference in these different tops and what do I really need?
in my view a splash top has
little benefit after a few rolls where as a dry top is designed to consistently keep water out of your cockpit and away from you after rolling. To confuse it more, depending on your weather and boating conditions you may wish to consider a dry suit.
You mention a relationship between not being a play boater and whitewater yaking. Yea play boaters are wet lots but you can be sure that as a whitewater boater you are going to be spending plenty of time up side down just the same. Being dry and warm is good in bad weather conditions. See ya downstream.
Dry top/dry suit
Dry means dry, anything else isn’t. As above you need either a wetsuit or sufficient drywear to keep you warm when you swim in WW. You will capsize, you will roll or not hence swim. It’s not likely you have a reliable roll if you are just starting out.
Drysuit can’t leak at the waist but can cost a lot. When the water hits 50 degrees many people go to a drysuit. If you do find a wetsuit will do, a top that does not have a guaranteed dry neck gasket works for many over the wetsuit. (Wetsuit alone is not enough, needs a windblock layer once wet.)
To further complicate matters, there are two piece drywear systems and the one piece (drysuit). If you have a reliable roll the two piece systems may be fine, because there’s likely to be very little leakage at the waist from a roll or two compared to a swim. That’s where most of the drytop/ dry pants outfits are vulnerable.
Lots of words above - your first stop should be to see what others in your area wear to extend their season and copy the ones you like best. There can be a lot of variations in local conditions and what someone from the northeast says may not be too applicable to your situation.
Splash top = no gaskets
semi-dry = wrist gaskets, no neck gasket
dry = wrist and neck gaskets
Dry and semi-dry tops usually have a "double tunnel" waistband to minimize water leaking around the top of the skirt.
The distinction between dry and semi-dry used to be clear: if it didn't have a latex neck gasket, it was semi-dry. Now some of the new neoprene neck gaskets supposedly work almost as well as latex.
I started paddling with just a splash top. The first time I rolled with a dry top and didn't feel cold water rushing in it seemed almost miraculous.
Another advantage of a dry or semi-dry top is that it keeps a lot of water out of your boat. That's why some people wear short-sleeve drytops in warm weather.
I wouldn't bother with a splash top if you're going to be spending time upside-down -- which is a certainty in whitewater.
4th of July…in a creek or northern…
stream and find yourself needing to roll…you’ll find that wearing a drytop has nothing to do with an extended season. Try just a t-shirt on top while learning your wet exits…you’ll find the motivation for a drytop.
I’ve had dry suits and dry tops for years, but until recently never a waterproof AND breathable one.
I finally broke down and bought a Gortex dry suit (for sailing and 'yaking) and I have to say: WHY DIDN’T I DO THIS A LONG TIME AGO!
SO nice to step out and not feel like you were in a plastic bag!
I’m now looking for a new Gortex (or other brand) of breathable/waterproof dry top.
One thing, at a minimum I’d suggest full wrist seals no matter what. The drip down your arm pit gets annoying real quick!
Dry tops, etc
The key difference between "semi dry" and "dry" is the material used around the neck to keep water out.
A dry top or dry suit uses latex rubber at the neck. Latex is the best way to keep water out but it can be a bit uncomfortable for some people. There are a few alternatives to latex seals but, snce the alternatives don't work quite as well as latex, these are designated as "semi dry".
After latex, neoprene is the next best thing to keep water out. Neoprene neck seals can actually work pretty well. With a good fit, there won't be any big problem even when rolling.
Since you are talking about white water, you want clothing designed for white water (whether you go dry or semi dry). (A semi dry top intended for flat water might not be dry enough for white water.)
That means that any top you are going to look at will have latex wrist seals.
Important note: a dry top (or a good semidry top) will only keep you dry (and warm) if you are in the boat. If you wet exit, the top is useless because a top doesn't keep the water from coming up from the bottom.
If you want to keep warm in the water, you will also need some insulation for your legs and torso. Many people wear a top over a wetsuit made of "fuzzy rubber" or thin neoprene.
If the water is really cold, people will tend to go to a full dry suit. Most of these use latex neck seals, but there are a few of these (Stohlquist Bodypod) that use neoprene instead of latex for the neck (these are still "semidry" because they don't use latex at the neck but they still can work well).
A dry top/wetsuit combination would be the cheapest way to extend your season.
A good breathable dry top (or a good semi dry) is about $250. A good breathable dry suit is about $500 (at the low end). A wet suit is about $100. A "fuzzy rubber" suit is about $150.
There are "two piece" dry suits (as Celia mentioned). Basically, these allow you to use your dry top along with some water proof pants. Basically, the top of the pants and the bottom of the dry suit are rolled together to keep the water out.
As far as I can tell, these work (if you are carefull creating the seal at the waist) but are not intended for long periods of immersion or vigorous movement. As far as I can tell, these are not very popular.
"Splash tops" basically keep you dry from (minor) splashes and rain. They are primarily clothing for flat water. A splash top isn't going to be very useful in white water. (It certainly won't help you to extend your season.
Exception to the rule
I am a whitewater kayaker that does some “run and play”. I wear a short-sleeve semi-dry top in the early summer and early fall. I don’t paddle in the winter (ice climb and grouse hunting). This works well for me as I mainly wanted to eliminate EXCESS water when I roll or play in bigger features. Yes, it lets a little water in, but for the temps I paddle in, it’s still much drier than having no top. Hope this didn’t confuse the issue any further.