Educate me on Paddling Jackets

I’ve not used either “paddling jackets”, dry-tops, or “splash tops”. Aside from the fundamental differences, tell me the details regarding gaskets, breathability, reasonable usage, comfort, protection from the elements and general utility (sitting around camp in the rain?).

I paddle canoes and do so in cold water and questionable weather. Carry all the safe guards in terms of dry clothes and emergency gear. I just have yet to go with a specialized garment. Use layers and Gortex shells. So far has worked but interested in an upgrade.

Thanks in advance


From my perspective…
…paddling jackets = splash tops. Breathable,

water resistant, good in the rain, and the

occasional dunking in relatively warm water.

Gaskets, if there, are usually neoprene and do

OK at keeping water out.

Dry tops. Rubber wrist and neck gaskets. No

water in despite dunkings. Some are breathable some not. Cold water usage.

Easiest thing
If you have a paddle shop within reach, go in and take a look at them. It’s really difficult to tell from photos and online unless you’ve seen the real thing for a basis.

If you are paddling an open canoe
I don’t see that a dry top is the best choice for you. A drys top in a kayak allows the inner sleave of the dry top to fit under under the spray skirt and hence keep out water. Unfortunately, once you swim, dry tops are no longer “dry”. Dry suits on the other hand fit the entire body suit.

Some Thoughts
Like you I generaly spend my time in open boats.

I have a hard time tolerating the feel of gaskets on either my neck or wrists. I have owned a number of high dollar dry tops but sold them all off because in all but epic conditions I despised wearing them.

Since then I have started using multiple layers of capileene and a waterproof breathable shell. I have a number of reagular rain jackets and softshells. For most conditions I appreciate the ease of unzipping to vent.

I carry a dedicated paddle top in my safety bag. These things pack down to nothing but are amazingly dry and resilient.

WE have a few of each

– Last Updated: Sep-08-06 7:02 PM EST –

except dry suits, and the wife is buying one of those when she can find one she likes. A paddling jacket in my mind is more of a wind break than anything else... very lightweight and thin, but does have the wrist seals to keep water from running up your arms. I bought two Stolquist jackets in my size, both bright mango color for visibility, and one long sleeve and one short. They roll up small enough to fit in the little cat bag in front of the seat on my Tarpon. If it rains "real hard" they get soaked thru.

Then we have a couple of the heavier Rain Jackets in both Yellow and Gray and and Orange and Gray that are mid weight for Rain use. Gaskets at the wrists and adjustable at the neck for comfort.

Heavy Weight rain gear that looks like the guy on the Gortons fish box. These were expensive but very nice, and will fit over the PFDs and will keep you dry unless you go in. They have the gaskets, multiple pockets on the outside for radios and gear and do everything EXCEPT funtion as a drysuit.

Like a previous poster, I bought a drytop, felt like I was choking the whole time I was wearing it and decided it wasn't for me. They have a new type of drysuit out now with a different type of gasket at the neck that will allow a "small amount" of water down the neck if your head should go under, but they realize that most folks will be wearing a pfd and the head will only be under during the initial roll. I might be able to use this one, as this gasket is supposed to be much more comfortable. Maybe later I will give it a try.

Hope this helps. like another reply said, check out your local retailer, try on the various styles and materials and see what they have to offer. We have the different styles for the different weather conditions. The first for summer rainy days, the last for Cold Winter days to be worn over the appropriate underlayers. (longjohns, farmerjohns, jacket, then the heavy rain gear...etc.)

Remember, you always dress for the water temp and not the outside air temp. I made the mistake once of dressing for the 70 degree weather and not the sub 40 degree water temp. Wanna guess where I ended up? Luckily I was near shore and had a dry bag with extra clothes. :-O

Good luck,


I’ve got dry tops & paddling jackets…

– Last Updated: Sep-11-06 8:30 AM EST –

...and I never wear the latter anymore. Probably the best garment I've bought - aside from my dry suit - is a short-sleeve dry top. I find it much better than a paddling jacket, as it keeps my core dry, but I stay cooler than in a long-sleeve jacket because my arms are exposed. It's ideal for paddling cool water in warm weather. While I have a long-sleeve drytop, I find that most of the time when I need it, I'm better off wearing a dry suit. I still carry it and use it at times.

One thing that's important with any dry garment is to trim the seals to fit you comfortably. Factory seals are sized to fit the smallest necks/wrists that are likely to be used in a particular size garment, so they're likely to be too tight for most wearers. Stretching them is a waste of time and damages the seals, so your best bet is to trim them immediately, leaving them just a little bit tight. After wearing the garment a few times, you can fine-tune the trimming if necessary.

Trimming neck seals

– Last Updated: Sep-11-06 9:58 AM EST –

I just bought a new Kokatat Dry top. The seal comes with lines indented in the rubber. If you trim it back a few lines, you gain about a half inch of diameter opening which in my case is still too tight. (I don't have a football player neck) Kokatat only uses large gaskets even on their XL and XXL suits. For years I have always been stretching mine when new and I always get at least 3 or more years out of them. When I replace them I buy XL gaskets from a dive store. If you put a nick in the cutting of the gasket, it can go quite easily. So, I prefer stretching mine over a gallon milk jug. We have been pushing Kokatat to start using XL neck gaskets for years. Nick Deslyn from Kokatat told us at a Kayak club in meeting in CT to stretch them a bit. We always laugh because they feel best just before they are ready to go.

That's why NRS won't guarantee a gasket that's cut. They know it stands a good chance or tearing if the cut job is sloppy. The gasket doesn't go when it's on your neck, it goes when you stretch it over your head.

You can certainly cut it if you want but it's not a black and white decision. Most paddlers I know stretch them a bit.

For the guy with the original question - only buy breathable fabrics.

My take on paddling jackets
For open boating, much as Topher said, your needs will run toward windproofness and drizzle / rain protection. A breathable rain jacket should fullfill these needs. Wrist sealing comes in handy in WW, but short of a latex seal not much works. The neo/lycra seals work OK, but are not 100% dry (I have a Kokatat paddle jacket w/ such seals I sometimes wear for sea kayaking - the wetness of the Greenland paddle sends some water toward my torso via forearms & elbows.

Many tops for recreatonal use have, IMHO too small a neck opening for good ventilation. I believe Stohlquist makes a top with a long zip.

I’ll have my Lotus Skanorak (Rutabaga sale for $99!) at Raystown. I have yet to need it, but the built-in hood and neo/lycra cuffs will be appreciated when the spray flies.


Dry Top
I have a non breathable Kokatat dry top that I got cheap at an end of season sale some years back. It has latex neck and wrist gaskets, a neoprene waist and double tunnel.

The double tunnel is great in a decked boat. It’s dryer than my drysuit IF I don’t swim!

I also carry or wear it in the open boat in the fall when the water is not too cold.

The top combined with a farmer john wetsuit and rain pants makes a good layering system that doesn’t take much space and lets me be comfortable in a wide range of conditions.

Trimming isn’t rocket science
It doesn’t take any special skill or tools to do it. In a pinch, I’ve trimmed latex seals using a plastic bottle found on the beach and a (sharp) Swiss Army knife, and it worked fine for years. In fact, it’s so easy that I’d actually say that you almost have to try in order to screw it up.

Here’s the method I typically use:

  1. Insert a snug fitting plastic bottle into the seal. You want to stretch it enough that it will stay in place. Plastic works best, since it will not dull the blade.

  2. Set the garment on a flat surface.

  3. Twist the garment toward you at least one full turn (you’re “winding it up”, so to speak).

  4. Mark the start of the cut on the bottle.

  5. Using a single edged razor blade or sharp utility knife, position the blade on the start mark at the line you want to cut, press down firmly and roll the bottle and garment away from you, cutting as you go. Keep the blade in contact with the bottle when you need to reposition your hand in order to continue rolling.

  6. When you get close to the start mark, spread the cut section so you can see where you need to end the cut, then continue rolling, correcting

    the direction slightly if necessary.

  7. Once the cut is connected, check for any sections that didn’t cut completely and finish cutting them. If you find any “whiskers” on the

    cut, trim them off with the blade or with sharp scissors.

  8. Take off small increments, starting with 1/4" at a time and reducing that to 1/8" for fine tuning the fit, if necessary.

    Keep in mind that perfect cuts are desireable, but not critical. A little waviness in an otherwise clean edge will not cause any problems.

    Use 303 Protectant on the outside of your seals. I haven’t tried it, but it’s possible that coating the seals with 303 before trimming would make

    them easier to cut with a blade (less drag). I can’t see where it would do any harm. On the inside of the seals, use talcum powder. It makes them slip on MUCH easier. Since you’ll be testing the fit frequently as you trim, you’ll appreciate the difference.

I had not been to their website for a while - turns out that they now have a hooded model of the splash top I liked. Similar to my Skanorak, and probably works better.


Good Info