What is the real difference between these tops? They all appear to have waterproof fabric and most are breathable, but is the real difference in how they seal at the neck, wrists and waist? Thanks in advance for the education!
I guess it makes sense if you truly want to stay dry after dumping, the dry top is the style that will most likely accomplish that. How does each work and what kind of use is each best suited?
Sometimes it’s what it says…
One of the places that paddling is actually literal -
Splash top - Protects against water that splashes up while paddling. So this tends to be fairly tight at the wrist near the water but has a looser neck since splashing water will generally hit your chest and sides.
Dry top - Protects fully against water getting to you from any place covered by the dry top, including a water-tight neck gasket that will not let water in should you roll.
Semi-dry - A lot of stuff inbetween. Some of it is things like semi-dry suits that actually function as dry suits for some but are very semi for people with chicken necks like myself.
Note that a dry top over a wetsuit is no longer functional as a dry top if you capsize and exit the boat rather than rolling - because then water will come in at your waist. If you roll though, it will keep out any water except what comes in thru the seal between the drytop and the skirt and any that slips in uncer the edges of the skirt.
They all keep you protected, the water temperature and conditions in which you are paddling argue for one or another. Below 50 degree water, and almost any temperature air temps, many will argue for a full drysuit. Those used to be a wetsuit/extra layers/drytop temps before everyone had to have a roll and a drysuit to paddle...
is whether or not they have a double tunnel to seal with a spray skirt. Dry tops do, semi-dry tops usually do and splash jackets usually do not. The double tunnel will help a lot to keep water from sneaking in around your waist.
The difference between dry and semi-dry is usually the neck seal. Both usually have latex wrist gaskets, but semi-dry usually use a neoprene neck gasket instead of latex.
I just used my new semi-dry top yesterday (kokatat action jacket). Latex wrist seals to keep sleeves from filling up (hate that). The neck is neoprene and velcro that opens fairly wide - I think it will be fairly dry - it was nice to open it for ventilation yesterday. It makes more sense to me to have a semi-dry top then the next step being a true drysuit.
A semi-dry top is also known…
…as a semi-wet top.
So, if I already have a
farmer wetsuit would it be better to get a wetsuit jacket and layer over that with maybe a splash top on top? It sounds like a dry top over a farmer john is not good if one is dunked. Oh yeah, I'm in an open boat although any information is helpful for those nubie kayakers who may be reading this.
Also, does it make a difference if one wears Polartec 100 or other synthetic as a top under a farmer john? Will it help or hurt if one is wet?
Layers over/under a wetsuit
If you get dunked and are up in the air again, and there is a cool breeze blowing, a wetsuit or similar material without a wind-blocking and heat-preserving layer over it can be darned cold. My second start into mild hypothermia was thanks to that, on an evening with air temps near 70.
As to what under, lots of options work. Seems that most people come to find that a particular one works better for them.
Wet suit layers
This year, 2 times I’ve been in the water with a 3mm farmer john wetsuit. Under it, I wore heavy/expedition-weight thermals for my legs and on top, a long-sleeve mid-weight termal for my chest/arms.
I’m planning on getting a splash top to protect myself in the wind. On the bottom, I’m not too worried about it, as I’m covered by the boat until I get out of the water. At which point, I’ll be changing into dry clothes.
Any preference or ideas on
synthetics and wool for layering. I have a variety of lightweight polyester and merino wool longs as well as polyester fleece and wool sweaters for layering. The Polartec 100 longs (as well as the other polyester longs) I have feel dry to the touch after the spin cycle in the washer and I’ve always found wool will insulate when wet, especially when wrung out.
I’m not your best bet
Wool itches the heck out of me (except in alpaca wool socks - lovely things), so I am unable to take good advantage of its warm-when-wet capabilities and offer a comparison to synthetics.
Most people just get wet and figure it out.
I once read that wool releases some
heat when it is first dampened. Haven’t seen verification. Wool holds its loft once wet, so if the water drains out, the wool will have some insulating value.
I prefer polypropelene for insulating garments. This fiber does not absorb water >into the fibers at all, and water drains out readily. Polyester pile fibers absorb some water, but not a lot, and the pile tends to keep its loft. Most “wicking” garments seem to involve a coating on polyester. Nylon knit or Nylon pile absorbs quite a bit of water into the fibers, and is not very good for insulation unless the fibers have been coated. Of course we all know that cotton absorbs very large amounts of water into its fibers, which then lose resiliency.
I think wicking garments are over-rated for paddling, especially when worn under a drysuit that interferes with the wicking function. The wicking isn’t magic. It’s based on a coating that attracts water to the fiber surface, but allows the water molecules to move freely. If there is a temperature gradient and/or a water density gradient, the water molecules will move along that gradient and away from your skin. But the hydrophilic wicking coating also makes the garmet tend to remain “wet” longer than uncoated polypropelene.
Also an open boater
Did paddle for a couple of seasons with a wetsuit and splash top. On cold days would add a long sleeve HydroSkin shirt under the wetsuit. Gave me three layers that I could adjust based on the temperature. I also have a wetsuit jacket, but can honestly say that I never used it paddling.
Biggest issue I had with the wetsuit was cold feet. No matter how many layers of neoprene socks I wore, my feet would eventually get wet and cold. Bought a drysuit this year and highly recommend it.
over or under
I’ve never worn a full wetsuit or wetsuit jacket, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but it seems they’re unpopular with paddlers due to the nature of the sport: because you have to paddle (move your arms), anything that would chaff is out. Therefore the advent of the farmer john.
Also, you ask about synthetics UNDER a farmer john. As I understand it, neoprene works best when it’s against the skin: neoprene floods until saturated and the water stops, is retained, and heated up by the body. Although people make a concession with a rash guard, it seems like anything beyond that would begin to defeat the way a wetsuit/farmer john works; layers below would soak water up. I wear thermal layers OVER my farmer john. Maybe somebody else will have something else to say.