Dry Top vs. Paddling Jacket

-- Last Updated: May-11-10 11:53 PM EST --

Hey all,

I just started paddling, got my kayak and my paddle and my PFD. I've been working on my roll in a pool and done a bit of flat water paddling. I figure the next step is to get on a river (once I get a bit more comfortable with my roll anyway) and I want to get the right clothes for it. I'm in Oregon so I figure the water is going to be cold (I think most of the rivers around here are glacier fed). I've done some whitewater rafting around here and have always been fine in my rain-jacket but I don't know if I need to upgrade for kayaking.

I'm looking at either a dry top or a paddling jacket. As I understand it the difference is that a dry top is just more waterproof than a paddling jacket. If anyone has any advice to offer I would really appreciate it.

here’s my take on it.
I have both what I consider paddling jackets and dry tops, though some would call my dry top ‘semi-dry’.

The paddling jackets have adjustable sleeves and necks, using velcro to tighten the fit. This seals out splashes pretty well,and can be opened for venting heat.

The waist has a pull-type closure with a clasp. These are pretty comfortable and give good protection against evaporative cooling.

The main drawback I discovered is during a wet exit, where the sleeves will fill with water and the weight hinders my ability to re-enter the boat. Secondarily, they don’t seal well enough to keep you dry during rolls, either at the body, or with the skirt.

A dry top has good ‘fixed’ (non adjustable) seals at the neck and sleeves, usually latex. My top has a glideskin neoprene seal at the neck, which seals fine for me, but is normally considered ‘semi-dry’. In addition, there is a double tunnel waist, which sandwiches the waist portion of the sprayskirt inside to provide a much dryer seal. The inner tunnel seals very well against the body, eliminating most water entry during swims. The top is very dry during rolls, sealing against the body and the skirt very well.

I normally use the dry top and no longer wear the paddling jackets, although I take them along as a backup when I wear only neoprene on the top.

Tor be dry or not to…

– Last Updated: May-12-10 12:18 AM EST –

A dry top is only dry if you stay in your boat (successfully roll up) and the mating with the skirt tunnel is fairly tight. If you swim, it isn't going to be dry unless it is really well mated with a bottom - many swear that the Kokatat bib system can be dry if you take the time to get the top and bottom mated really well.

If you end up swimming, you'll probably want neoprene/hydroskin type top under that dry top to handle its now-not-dry phase. But the dry top will still help you stay warm by being a wind-blocking layer for the neoprene.

A splash jacket is likely to let in more water during a roll. It can have much the same wind blocking effect after a swim as a full dry top.

As mentioned above, a splash top that doesn't have really good closures can be annoying in a capsize. Some splash tops have fairly tight neo waists and wrist closures.

So - you may have to start out by considering your likelihood of a swim.

I have both…

– Last Updated: May-12-10 10:46 AM EST –

...but haven't worn a paddling jacket in years, as I just don't find it to be very useful. Perhaps if you paddle only in relatively flat water, it would be OK, but if you paddle rough water, like to roll (or are learning to roll), like to play in surf or even have to deal with wind-driven spray, dry tops are a much better way to go. In cool weather, a long-sleeve dry top provides good protection. In warm weather, a short-sleeve dry top is much cooler, but still protects your core from wind and water.

If you go the dry top route, make sure you get waterproof/breathable fabrics, as plain coated fabrics will become a sauna inside. My preference is for Gore-Tex, for it's durability and lifetime warranty. I've gotten some insane deals at Sierra Trading Post, so definitely check out their website when you're ready to buy.

I have used my Paddling Jacket 2 times
total while paddling and all the rest has been with the dry top. Several reasons that the jacket did not work well for me. As already mentioned, it offers very little protection in a capsize and is actually more of a problem when it fills-up with water. But can block wind well so not a bad option to have as spare and can be worn over the dry top on land or as a backup.

My dry top keeps me dry during rolling but as mentioned, if I swim it tends to let some water in. A short swim is not a problem - only minimum water comes in when mated with dry pants. The water tends to drain out to the pants and you can drain the sleeves once you are back in the boat so you will be wet but warm with appropriate layers under it (even thin ones). And you probably want the dry pants or some neoprene if the water is cold enough.

The dry tops/pants combo is not as good a a full dry suit for lots of cold weather paddling. But for me it gives me more flexibility. I paddle such that at least 2-3 months a year I us the dry top with a very thin layer under it and just shorts for the bottom. That’s because swims either do not happen or if they do they are short and close to shore in manageably cold water. If I had to have a full dry suit or dry pants on in these conditions I would be boiling from the waist down. Yet the top is still necessary during these 2-3 months as I would feel freezeing cold from wind and water spray if I use the short-sleve semi dry, which I also have.

Lastly, the river water where I paddle is not always the cleanest - a dry top keeps it off me for the most part -:wink:

I started with a paddling jacket. Kept the splashes off just fine, but water would flush through every time I capsized, even if I rolled up immediately.

The first time I rolled with a drytop, and came up still dry inside, it seemed miraculous.

If you’re going to be kayaking in whitewater, you’re going to be rolling. A drytop will keep you much warmer.

I live in Portland
I don’t know where in Oregon you live and what your future kayaking plans involve, but I would consider going with a full dry suit. When I was a new kayaker I balked at the cost, but ended up using a rain jacket, then a full wetsuit, non-breathable dry top, non-breathable dry suit, and finally a breathable Stolquist dry suit. I could have saved a ton of $ if I just listened and went straight for the breathable dry suit. The waters in Oregon are gonna be cold most of the year and as you know, you should always dress for the water temps.

if I may need to roll
then I take dry gear. Enough to think about while upside down without the distraction a flush of cold water might bring :slight_smile:

Those are some good deals, thanks.

Thanks Everyone
Thanks Everyone, I think I’ve made my choice to spend some extra $ (when available) and get the dry-top.

Get a drtyop
It is routine to be buried in a wall of water in river paddling. A paddling jacket is annoyingly wet, a drytop is dry. Mate it with a farmer john neoprene suit and you are all but covered with the exception of November through March paddling in the PNW. You can get a pair of Kokatat bibs for then. They rollup with the inner tunnel of the drytop and create a very dry seal. Just roll them right and seal them behind a neoprene tunnel of a good spray deck. A significant minority of people I paddle with use that system. It is highly versatile. When temps warm up and your roll improves, a dry top and neo shorts or Hydroskin pants is effective protection. Or an additional drytop in case a seal pops. Nice alternative.


Water in the sleeves is annoying
same experience as dave.