Drysuit Durability

Hi all, I’m looking for information about which are the most durable drysuits. I do a lot of sea kayak instructing, plus surfing and rock hopping. I want a suit that can stand up to the most use and abuse.


My opinion of drysuit durability is like Jon Turk’s. He talked about his experiences and thoughts about them in a Sea Kayaker article about two years ago. His experiences with them on expeditions has not been good! They don’t hold up well to hard use for extended periods of time, and a drysuit with water in it is like an anchor. He intends to use wet suits until they come up with something better, and so do I.

simply must know how they work to assess
One must know how they work and how they fail in order to know for oneself whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and even so, One might want to know how to deal with the downsides of either dry or wet suit problems so one is not left in a life and death situation.

I have used Kokatat, both a heavy duty version (made for Navy Seals) and their regular version. I have used them for White water, Sea Kayaking and Week long expeditions.

Down side first. You must know how to make field repairs of the suit and the gaskets. 99% of gasket failure has to do with improper use, so I have only once in 25 years had one fail but it happens. However, some super glue and aquaseal will field fix the problem for you. For a remote expedition carry a spare gasket fix kit in a flexible nalgene canteen for complete field fix just to be responsible. Leaks in seam are easily fixable with seam grip or aquaseal. A tear patch is similarly fixable.

Yes, a huge rip or torn seal during emergency situation could be life and death, it is a consideration. That said, there are serious problems with wet suits as well. I have on remote trips brought with me hydroskin garments and worn them under my drysuit on treacherous days where launching and landing might spill me and boat on rocks when I was younger. Now I would simply wait a day or however long.

I won’t go into the advantages of a drysuit here, others can share that.

Regards a wet suit, for me not everyone, I am so thin and tall that I need a thick wet suit and still I freeze and over heat and cannot move properly so I am a poor one to ask to choose a wet suit. Others may have very different experiences.

I find drysuit so comfortable and protective and safe that with precautions and good care it is my choice. Get only the best though, imo.

The drysuit has it’s place, even if it is only while standing in waist deep cold water at a symposiumn, helping people learn to roll. It will help the instructor last longer. It is also nice that when you take a 101 group on a small trip (not in rocks etc) that the people new to kayaking, the ones that are prone to do only the first half of a roll while on relatively flat water, have a dry suit. Gives the rescue a wee bit more time without any frenzy. Makes the guide happier to see that the swimmer has a dry suit on. John Turk is very tough on equiptment, doesn’t mean that all dry suit uses are for expedition, or that everyone is going to follow John Turk on some or any of his type of expeditions. I too have been thinking about a dry suit, but mainly for standing in the water, while it’s still real cold.

I met John Turk a couple of years ago and talked to him and I don’t realy think that there are very many people (myself included) that are going to attemp his style of expeditions.

The drysuit does have it’s place, if you are in jaged rocks, swimming for your life, and you have sufficently covered yourself with neoprene (including your head) you definatly have more padding and less worry about a tear in the fabric, but a dry suit would be good for normal times and most normal people for most normal conditions

Sorry I don’t have any thing to tell you about the duriability of different drysuits, but I would think that as the price goes up, so will the durabillity or the features. If you just plan on doing Symposiumns and some light paddling, I would think that any of the reputable drysuits would work and features for the buck would the important part. If you plan on going on expedition with John Turk, not much might hold up.

I’ve been curious about the reed Chillcheater drysuit since it has a very small pricetag compared to Kokatat etc. and the other stuff I have from them is very nice. Fiona Whitehead has one and told me that they all seem to be needing replacing every 2 years if used hard (even the $1000 models), so for less money you could replace them more often. When I talked to her she had no idea how long the reed would last, I assume that she hadn’t had it all that long yet.

Kind uv a rambling post, just remember that if you paddle in cold water and plan to swim, cover your head too. It’s nice to have a nice warm drysuit to keep the organs functioning for the donor program, without a warm brain…well I believe that this might be a bigger danger for most people than a tear.

It depends…
The Gore-Tex fabrics used in higher end dry suits are quite durable. I’ve had no trouble with mine in five years of use. I recently did a leak test on it and found only a couple of tiny leaks where some of the seam tape had come loose. That was easily fixed.

You can expect to replace the seals every three years or so on a dry that sees a lot of use. How long they last will depend on the amount of UV exposure, exposure to sweat, sunscreen, etc. Replacing seals is relatively easy and inexpensive if you DIY.

I’ve had no problems with the brass zippers at all. All I do to maintain them is to keep them lubricated with a silicone based wax.

It Holds Well…
I got my goretex drysuit out this AM in surf. It’s got some very small leakage that I was slightly damped after 2.5 hour session. Some of the seam tape is coming loose. But this is after 4 years of hard usage since I am out at least once if not twice a week paddling or mostly surf throughout the winter (our best surf season in Northeast). It’s time to send it to Kokatat for a check and uphaul.

I also use surfing wetsuits 4/3 and 3/2 for waveskiing. I like these, but once December comes around, I am definitely won’t even consider a wetsuit (or waveskiing) and will opt for drysuit and a decked surf kayak.

I am confident enough in drysuits that I have another that is arriving this month. I ordered a Palm, mostly because I think their sizing will fit my more medium built body with a short stature better than the Kokatat. Not all drysuits are cut the same.


NRS Extreme Drysuit
Has anyone had any experience with this product? Or heard anything good or bad. It seems like a good option for the money.



I have one
I haven’t used it extensively, nor in severe conditions yet, but am happy with it so far.

The Triton fabric is heavier and stiffer than the Goretex used by Kokatat. It is similar to Cordura.

Turk ammended that article

– Last Updated: Nov-19-05 3:49 PM EST –

if I recall correctly he said that in 35 degree water and cold air that drysuits are pretty much the way to go.

full context is important. he does not usually expedition in super cold places. I don't either but I do take short paddles there and some internet friends live there.

ultimate belt and suspender solution: two layer polartec aquashell wetsuit under a drysuit. wicks well enough and two layers of that stuff would keep you pretty warm for a while.

As for my money: I have an old, heavy kokatat polyester gtex drysuit. much tougher than the new nylon ones. Yes the newer fabric breathes better. That is a real feature. The lightweight and soft drape of the new fabric is sexy, but when you have the goods, why advertise? L.O.L.!

Extreme by NRS
The Extreme drysuit looks pretty good. I might get one after Christmas. It only costs $382 at Outdoorplay.com if you use your Paddling Perks discount.

I am reading “Jomon” now
and read "Cold Oceans earlier this year (my favorite expedition book).

In “Jomon,” Turk specifically said the wrist gaskets were leaking. He did not mention having ripped anything. It is possible that he trimmed them a bit too much, or that his wrists’ tendons pop out enough to cause a gap. Others here have mentioned the latter happening to them. The guy is skinny, so that’s possible. Without knowing exactly what happened, I wouldn’t necessarily conclude that drysuits are not tough enough.

Also, as others have pointed out, Turk puts his gear through day-after-day (and night-after-night! they slept in the trimarans many nights) conditions that most of us will never encounter. How many people have done a 300-mile ocean trip, let alone 3,000 miles?

For the original poster’s purposes, a drysuit should work very well. He did not say he was going to run a long wilderness trip in it. He can afford to rinse it in fresh water daily, check for abrasions and tears, repair if necessary, etc.

did you get the Stikine?
I’m still on the fence between the Stikine or a used Kokatat. Definitely give us a full product review once you’ve used it a few times.

Surf / Rock Gardens?
This spells “wet suit” to me. I own several wet suits and one dry suit. When I’m surfing, especially with big surf or around rocks, it’s always a wet suit. A dry suit failure (eg. a tear) is catastrophic in cold water, whereas a wetsuit tear is usually no big problem. For touring, I prefer the dry suit.

In the really cold months (I live in Rhode Island) my wetsuit is a 7mm hyperstretch farmer john, with a 3mm hyperstretch jacket, 7mm 3-fingered mitts, 7mm divers boots, and 5mm divers hood. The gloves extend almost to the elbow, so that the only skin covered by only 3mm of neophrene is from elbow to shoulder, but this provides for good mobility in this critical area. Thus clad, I can comfortably surf for 3 hours on a cold winter day. And that’s in a Tsunami X-15, a sit-on-top. Yes, it’s not quite as comfortable as a drysuit would be, but it is doable (enough mobility to roll…the hyperstretch makes a big difference), and safer. For less cold conditions (November, April) I use a standard surfers wetsuit, with thicker torso and thinner limb neophrene.


This Week, I Think…
I’ll post something of a review after I get some surfing in it. It’s way thicker by feel than my kokatat. It’ll take a bit to figure out how well it breathes… I am looking for a roomier cut than my Kokatat which the Palm seems to have.