No doubt the question been discussed many a time, but my searching skills leave a lot to be desired, so bear with me… please?
The dilemma in my head right now is should I get a full drysuit or bib pants with booties + cag combo. I see the benefits of a full drysuit, I also see the main drawback - lack of flexibility when the weather gets a bit too warm. On the other hand, swimming in 0C water in winter is not much fun if you are leaking. Not that I “plan” to do much of swimming, but still. With winter time kayaking I’d never go off-shore more than 200 meters - I know my limits in freezing water as I used to sail (before you ask, it was long ago enough to get rid of all the gear and I used to wear two-piece combo), and anyway, I kayak in an archipelago area where getting more than 300-400 m away from any shore is a bit of a problem to begin with - you really have to plan your route to do that! My roll is so-so, have not tried it in cold water - partly the reason for getting some winter gear.
So what you you think, in your infinite “pro” kayaking wisdom, drysuit or bib pants + cag?
Unless you never plan on paddling water that is under 60F, a dry suit is the best gear you can own. Paddling yesterday on Lake George all of us were in dry suits and we were able to get out of our boats, take off our dry suits and put on our street clothes without having to remove our base layers. My stream thermometer reads down to 35F and it read that in the water. Air temps when we took out were not much different as there was ice on our paddles.
I tend to wear a dry suit when paddling any water that is less than 60F. I simply adjust what I am wearing under it according to the conditions. A dry suit simplifies things as well as being great safety gear.
what kind of cagoule?
I have used a separate dry top and bib with good results and can recommend that combination, but I would not use any type of dry pants or bib which can trap water along with a top that will admit an appreciable volume of water in the event of complete immersion or a prolonged swim. The danger is that the bib pants could fill with water making it difficult or impossible for you to effectively swim.
I suspect a semi-dry top with a neoprene neck gasket would probably be OK but I would not use a cagoule with simple velcro neck and wrist gussets with a bib.
Nobody plans to do much swimming in very cold water but sometimes it happens.
That's what I've been using, until I recently got a Stohlquist B-pod. The combo I have has an outer skirt on the bibs that rolls into an inner skirt on the top. The top has a neoprene neck seal. It works pretty good for the short swims I do on cl1-2 rivers - I stay pretty dry in it.
I wouldn't care to rely on it in heavier whitewater, nor would I feel safe with that combo on any large body of water where wind could put me in a position requiring a long swim.
Besides that - the front-entry drysuit is easier to get in and out of than the roll-sealed bib/top combo. And if you're buying new, by the time you get the dry bibs and top, you've spent almost as much as a dry suit. (I bought half of my combo used, and the other half on 50% sale)
I don't think I'd trust dry pants & top without the roll-up bib system.
As I’ve said before
Suck it up. Buy a drysuit.
I’ve had both types of drysuit (2 piece & more common 1 piece), and while the 2 piece is more versatile, it’s also a lot more likely to leak if not rolled up properly.
I sold the 2 piece bibs a long time ago and went with the 1 piece suit. Never regretted it.
Anyone who has a dilemma about which suit to buy only needs to take a swim in february in each to know which is superior.
Not a pro but
The flexibility of a dry suit is highly underrated. For various reasons I use a dry suit right into warmer temperatures than most, and both of us use them when we go to Maine with warm summer air temps and water still barely touching 60. We tend to favor longer paddles out to islands. For the last part, you just use the most lightweight wicking layers you can and roll some to cool off.
get a dry suit
After you get your suit, go out and do a float test in the clothes you intend to paddle in. Just wade out and float in a ball and see how long it takes to get cold. A neoprene surf hood helps tremendously with roll practice in cold water. For suits, I highly recommend Kokatat. They really stand behind their product. A friend just returned his suit after 5 years and probably 1000 days of wear and they sent him a new one because the old one was delaminating a little. The hood is super nice on cold days.
There are advantages to 2 piece suits
If you don’t have a reliable roll and are paddling in frigid conditions I have no doubt that a one piece dry suit is best.
If you have a decent roll and paddle in conditions in which the air temperature is warm and the water is a bit cool, I find a dry top much more comfortable than a dry suit, however. It is easier to put on and take off and I find it more comfortable in the boat.
Bibs and dry tops with tunnels that “mate” exclude water pretty effectively especially if the tunnel of a spray skirt (as well as a PFD) cover the junction. They will probably admit a bit of water in the event of a prolonged swim, however. The rolled up “mated” tunnels do result in a band above the waist that is uncomfortable, for some. On New Year’s Eve I wore a Kokatat Tropos bib and Kokatat Gore-tex dry top and wound up taking a brief swim on the Tellico and no water whatsoever got in.
An upside to the 2 piece suit is if you need to get into the suit before you get to where you are going to paddle. I find it much more comfortable to just get into the bib and my footwear while driving to the put in and unloading boats, if there is no good place to change at the put in. The dry top can be donned and mated with the bib when you are ready to get into the boat.
If you are ever standing in shallow cool or cold water while teaching someone to roll a bib is a very nice garment to have.
Thanks for the feedback, fellows. After some “looking in the mirror”, so to speak, when it comes to my roll, it is obvious that one-piece is the way to go for me. Probably something along the lines of Palm Aleutian Stikine as those are available where I live at a reasonable price.
Does that suit have…
…the zipper positioned horizontally across the upper back? If so, make sure that you can manage to handle the zipper without help.
I am very happy with my T3 Kokatat Tempest pants and reaction jacket. The pants are very comfortable and mate up good with a double skirt top. I have no problems with freedom of movement. When it warms up during the spring, I continue to use the pants or when I go out in the rain. I just canoe in the cold weather and I’m not planning on getting wet, but I plan for the worst.
One other thing about a full dry suit
that sold me was the realization that I can practice my roll in cold water without worry or concern. This is a good thing.
One-piece dry suit with integral booties, never get wet again. I’ve used them comfortably up to air temps up to the 70s, just roll every once in a while. You don’t have to wear much underneath, the amount underneath is always a balancing act between overheating paddling and staying alive swimming.
Suffered with a bib for years…
before I could afford a one-piece drysuit. No matter how carefully you mate & roll the bib and the top aprons, water always seems to get in.
Like the man said, suck it up & buy a drysuit. It is like night & day.
If survival is a concern
I would definitely go with the drysuit. Whatever you get, swim with it and see how it works out.
Going to try Kokatat EXP next week, when the shop gets a new delivery of those. After reading the reviews and thinking - kayaking is something I enjoy, drysuit is what makes me safe doing it. Ergo, there is no reason not to buy the best there is. Thanks guys.
Done and dusted
After all the reading, searching and comparing - Kokatat EXP Mango it is. looking forward to next weekend so I can test it water-side (air about 27F, water 36F).
Thanks to all who chipped in on this thread, it helped.
Your love it when…
You get out of the water on an early spring paddle with a group, and you just have to take off a top sweaty layer to get ready for the post-paddle beer while the wetsuit folks are peeling wet neoprene off their bodies.
…if it’s windy. There are few paddling experiences less pleasant than struggling your way out of a wetsuit in a cold wind. Brrrrr!
With a dry suit, I find that I can just slip out of it, throw a shell on over my under layers and be warm and good to go.