DryTop vs Semi DryTop; Gore-Tex or Not

I know that this topic has been discussed ad nauseum, and I did do a search on the subject, but couldn’t piece together a coherent story on the above topic, so a few questions.

First a few bits of information.

  1. I am a new kayaker (sea), but have extensive experience with canoeing and have taught the basics of canoe paddling and canoe rescue.

  2. I have done some recreational kayaking, but now want to do more sea kayaking.

  3. I do not have a roll, but can do self rescue.

  4. I live in New England (Boston Area) and want to basically be able to paddle all year round as long as there is no ice on the water.

    My plan is to get a drysuit towards the end of the summer for the fall/winter, but I will need a dry/semi-dry top from now until then. I’d like to get a semi-dry for breathablity and comfort. I am not afraid of getting a little leakage around the neck if I go over, just don’t want it to pour in. Can this be achieved?

    I am restling with Gore-Tex versus Non-goretex for the top and semi- versus total dry. I will mate to a pair of farmer johns (wetsuit).

    I have a lot of Goretex stuff for winter hiking/camping and heavy rain hikes. I does work well for these purposes, but with heavy exertion, I can saturate it, especially the sleeves. Is it (gore-tex)necessary for a dry/semi dry top or will another breathable waterproof fabric be more than adequate for my needs. I am not afraid of spending the money if needed, but if I can save $70 to $100 bucks and get a perfectly good functional top, all the better.

    For the Gore-Tex stuff, Kokatat is the brand I would seriously consider. For a non gore-tex version, the leading candidates are NRS and Stohlquist.


    The BigYaker

GoreTex v. Others
First - understand that if you go over, and you don’t have a roll (hence self-rescue involves swimming), the place that you’ll be getting a lot of water in from will be under the waist. So, for the time period that the water is 50-60 degrees (on conventional wisdom), you need to think about having a neo-based layer/over under the torso of the wetsuit that’ll be enough to keep you warm in the water as though you didn’t have a drytop.

That said, I ended up going thru the bulk of the time I was having a high percentage of roll failures wearing wetsuit, some weight of neoprene top(s) under/over that and a Stohlquist Gripp drytop. Down to maybe 48 degrees was ok for a brief swim. The drytop is very helpful when you are up again, because it is blocking wind from getting at a now wet torso upper portion of your wetsuit.

As to alternatives to breathable - if you can get a good price on them, there are a couple of alternatives to GoreTex that also breathe pretty well. Whether these are less than GoreTex I don’t know. I have an Immersion Research Sessions top that is very comfortable - neoprene neck and sleeves so probably not as watertight as latex, but still much drier than the velcro closures. Kokotat has a material used in their Tropos top - forget what it is - that is made for them by Gore but doesn’t carry the Gore warranties or name. I’m sure it’d do you for a season if they have incorporated it into any of their semi-dry or dry tops, and I think it runs cheaper than GoreTex.

If GoreTex, it sounds like you should be thinking no less than XCR or Immersion. We have drysuits in the former, and older Stohlquist Drytops with the Immersion GoreTex. The XCR breathes better, but the older Immersion material is OK too.

Also - get a good full head cover hood for colder days.

Sounds like you’ve taken some lessons too? Good to hear you are starting off with good preps.

Oops - Gave Lessons
(I meant)

Wearing over neoprene?
If you will always be wearing the top over a neoprene farmer john why spend the money on any breathable fabric?

Breatheable Drytop…
Bombergear is my favorite non goretex drytop. When the water is over 50 degrees, I go into farmer john and drytop mode. If you develop a good roll, you’ll be perfectly fine (well, at least I am) in comfort level.

If you swim, water will come through the waist area. Surprisingly, not as fast as I had originally thought. It seeps more than pours in. If have a good self rescue, you’ll get back into the boat before the cold water really takes effect. But, as the saying goes, your mileage may vary since skills levels and tolerance to cold water vary.

In New England, if you plan to paddle year round, your best bet is to get a drysuit. Goretex is great, if you want to spend that money. If you don’t, Palm and NRS has breathable (but not goretex) drysuits with good metal waterproof zippers. Bombergear also makes a drysuit that is half the price of a goretex drysuit. I like the Bombergear material. However, the use a plastic zipper that I am suspicious of in terms of durability. Having said that, one of my surf buddies bought a Bombergear drysuit on sale for $300. He surfs and white water. He said his suit is hold up so far. Time will tell.

For drytops, check http://www.sierratradingpost.com for deals. They seem to get alotments of drytops here and there. You got to hit it right. They have a drytop now by a company call Rage. Never heard of it, though I like the features I see in the picture.


Actually, you need a dry suit now

– Last Updated: Apr-13-05 1:58 PM EST –

The water is coldest up here (I'm in NH) in winter and spring, warmest in late summer/early fall. The air temp doesn't matter much if you're swimming and with water temps in the 40's currently, you need the protection of a dry suit. Water temps in most areas won't even hit 50 until late May or early June. Be smart and protect yourself.

As for choice of fabric, don't waste your time even thinking about non-breathable fabrics. I know a few people who started out with them, sweated to death in them, untimately switched waterproof breathable garments and kicked themselves for ever considering anything else. Breathable is better.

Whether you buy Gore-Tex or something else is another matter entirely, as there are some good alternatives. However, the Gore warranty is unbeatable and that can really make a difference long-term with garments that see a lot of use. It's up to you to decide if it's worth the difference in price to you.

When it comes to Gore-Tex garments, don't rule out Stohlquist. Their suits tend to offer more for the money than brand "K". Their sizing is also different, so if Kokatat's baggy cut doesn't suit your shape, Stohlquist's closer cut may.