O'Neil Drysuit vs Kokatat vs 4/3 Wetsuit

Hi I’ve been trying to figure out the best cool water clothing setup for me. Without experience with either it is next to impossible to choose. The options as I see them would be.

-Dry Suit

-Dry Top + Dry pants (more versatile?)

-4/3 Wetsuit + Splashtop (probably use my patagonia waterproof torrentshell)

The place where I intend on using this is lake michigan around 45°F+ water temps or May - November.

I’m new to the whole sport and trying to figure this out for the spring. A full dry suit seems like it may be overkill … not sure. Price is less of an issue however would prefer the best value / versatility.

Also any thoughts on the O’Neil dry suit? The o’neill is half the price of a kokatat.

What about neoprene neck gaskets? I think if you ideally intend on staying upright the few ounces of water that may get in would be less of an issue give you were wearing the right base layers? Latex around my neck seems like it would be uncomfortable? Also my current desires is more to the recreational side in the cooler months, just getting out there some for a few hours and not like a long expedition voyage.

Given most of this stuff has a limited life probably would a less expensive dry suit be better for just casual use and save the big purchase when one might plan a longer trip that would require it. Lots of questions. Any experience stories would be helpful too.

If its of any interest I have a Trak kayak.

Thanks so much in advance!!!


O’Neil Dry suit: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001MTEPHW/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B001MTEPHW&linkCode=as2&tag=brianyork-20&linkId=XZWLSIOMCRYHRZZV

lots of opinions here

– Last Updated: Nov-11-14 5:20 PM EST –

Mine is just one.

After purchasing a dry suit I've never regretted it. May and november in Lake MI? Drysuit. Whatever you wear will almost certainly get wet with cold water in those months. I'd even shorten my season until my budget allowed a drysuit purchase.

Having said that, it's nice to have options. I now have a drysuit, farmer john wetsuit, dry top, and shorty john wetsuit.
I have a drysuit with a neo gasket and love it. I've done roling practice in it, helpd instruct in it, swam in it. On me it's darn near watertight. But I've heard from others with different results so fit is the key - if you have a really slender neck a neo neck gasket may not be as effective.

My first really cold dip took place when I was out on a small lake, in calm conditions, and thinking that I was playing itsafe, did something stupid which sent me over.

No advice from me…
I’m too new at all this to provide any advice. So, I’ll let others give their take. Everyone here has been more than helpful when I have questions. Even when I get a little hot-headed!

I just wanted to let you know that it seems you and me are nearly in the same boat with regards to what we’re looking for in cold weather gear. Except that it sounds like you may have significantly more options (financially) than me. Oh, and also that you’re paddling Lake MI and I’m just out on the Fox River. But other than that, we probably have very similar circumstances and questions!

Where on Lake MI are you paddling? Are you in the Chicago area?

“Intend on staying upright”

– Last Updated: Nov-11-14 6:10 PM EST –

Laudable goal, but the point of most cold-weather gear is to deal with the eventuality that you might not stay upright. Even if you're paddling the calmest, flattest, most benign water imaginable, you want to be able to affirmatively answer the question "if I had to swim here, am I confident that I would be safe."

45 degree water is very, very cold. I definitely do not consider a dry-suit to be overkill in 45 degree water for anyone. Ironically, as a relative beginner, you would probably benefit more from a drysuit insofar as your "avoiding immersion" skills are likely still developing. In terms of alternatives, a drytop/dry pant combo is better than nothing, but still not ideal as you will get wet if you swim. A wetsuit/dry top option might be a reasonable compromise, but I hate wetsuits, so I'll leave others to comment on the merits of that approach.

Neck gasket -- should be snug but not uncomfortable. Latex gaskets can be trimmed/stretched as needed.

For drysuits, Kokotat is the gold standard, and I consider mine one of the best, if the not the best, pieces of outdoor gear I've ever purchased. I've had the gaskets replaced twice but never had any problems with the suit itself. Kokatat has a very liberal replacement/repair policy such that they are essentially lifetime purchases.

Semi-dry top + dry pants
Personally, my wife and I use separate tops and pant combos.

We both use dry pants with built-in socks, but we differ on the tops.

My wife uses a Palm full dry top with a latex neck seal. She hates putting it on and taking it off, but says it doesn’t bother her at all while she is paddling.

I use a Hiko semi-dry top with a neoprene neck seal. It’s super easy to put on and take off, but some water does get in when you capsize, usually right down my back. It’s enough to make you do the “Crap, that’s cold!” dance, but overall not much water in total.

The trick we use for connecting the top and bottom is to roll the inner tunnels together. Usually we put both parts on then pull the inner tunnel of the dry top up so that it’s kind of inside-out. Then pull the inner tunnel of the dry pants up so that the elastic is even with the dry top’so tunnel elastic. Then we roll them down together until it is below the Velcro waist belt of the pants. After tightening the Velcro it seals the two halves together pretty well and doesn’t let much water through if at all. Maybe this is the standard way of doing it, but I found almost no information about it on the Internet when I was starting out.

The O’Neil dry suit you linked doesn’t have a tunnel for a spray skirt I see. That would be a problem for me since we always use spray skirts.

Kokatat light weight Gore-Tex Suit

– Last Updated: Nov-12-14 10:27 AM EST –

Kokatat light weight Gore-Tex Paddlong Suit. $779

Straight forward no nonsense design. Best for touring and sup purposes I've found. Most breathable fabric Kokatat has. Neo collar is comfy-er. Larger neck folks will find the collar more dry than skinny neck peoples.

See you on the water,
The River Connection, Inc.
Hyde Park, NY

Kokatat Hydrus
I was in the same position as you last year, trying to decide what to get for occasional cold water use. I went with the Kokatat Hydrus 1-piece with socks and relief zipper. Substantially less money than the Gore-Tex suits, but it worked great the one time (so far!) I went for a swim. You do have to trim the neoprene neck gasket carefully, one ring at a time, until you get it snug but not too tight. I haven’t had to trim the wrist gaskets.

You might want to go to the Kayak Academy site and read up on dry suits. There’s a wealth of information and options there.


Lake Michigan in the Winter

– Last Updated: Nov-11-14 11:42 PM EST –

No way a dry suit is overkill for those conditions. As in a dry suit - not a semi-dry with a neo neck gasket. That is something you need to find out by getting wet. Some people do find a semi-dry neck gasket works decently for them if they get back in the boat quickly enough, then there are chicken necks like me who really need a full latex gasket to achieve the same effect.

But you apparently have not taken your paddling into being wet and are still in the will stay upright part of doing this. Between your relative newness in the sport and the reality of winter coming, I suggest that your best course would be to find pool session in some heated indoor pool over the winter, and learn practice self-rescue etc. It might be a better use of funds than buying clothing where you are just guessing on its usefulness in an emergency.

If you did go over
So if you did go over in Lake Michigan at 45F can you roll or how fast can you do a self rescue? If self rescue do you need a paddle float? This might effect what I would want to wear. If your new to self rescue then you had better have a drysuit on in 45F. If your quick to get back into you boat then maybe something less than a full drysuit.

Are you heavy set? We had this heavier women go in when it was about 55F water temp (air temp about 70) and it took about 5 minutes to get here back into here kayak as conditions were rough. She was perfectly fine. She wasn’t wearing any protective gear at all. Had I gone into the water that long I would have been frozen solid. I was wearing a drysuit at the time and I have a bullet proof roll. So some people can take more cold than others especially if they have more body fat to keep them warmer. All things to keep in mind.

If it doesn’t have booties don’t bother
There is nothing worse than cold wet feet. I have an NRS Extreme Drysuit that has served me well. I use it a lot, and I am tough on zippers, but I keep going back. For a couple of hundred buck more than the O’Neill, you can get an NRS Extreme with a latex neck gasket and booties.


You referred to a neoprene neck gasket but I think you meant latex? Hopefully you didn’t get a semi-drysuit then trim the neoprene neck gasket. Anywho, as to the original poster’s question; drysuit, no brainer. 45 degree water is cold and when you end up in it you’ll be oh so glad you have on a drysuit. I second the Kayak Academy recommendation. I just bought a brand new Hydrus front entry with relief zipper and booties from them for $500. Most people want $400 to $500 for their USED suits and this one is brand spanking new with Kokatat’s robust lifetime warranty. Plus, the folks at KA are a super class act. You’ll find their stuff on ebay and paddling gear swaps such as the one on Boatertalk as well as their web site.

disagree on the neck gasket
That’s one feature the user has to determine for himself, the personal variability is too great to draw broad conclusions.

Which is exactly what I said - reread
"…That is something you need to find out by getting wet. Some people do find a semi-dry neck gasket works decently for them if they get back in the boat quickly enough, then there are chicken necks like me who really need a full latex gasket to achieve the same effect."

That’s what she said, at least
in my interpretation of her comments.


dry suit w/ built in socks
In temps below 55, a dry suit feels so much better. You won’t regret that.

The O’Neil doesn’t have built in booties, but instead latex seals at the ankles. Booties are a lot easier and two less latex gasket to break (most common problem with dry suits is broken latex gaskets).

Neoprene can be fine if the neck seals nicely. I have one with neoprene neck and it is a lot more comfortable than my latex. Only a little wetter when rolling. Neoprene neck ones are often called Paddling Suits - check Kokatat for what they have. I don’t think they are much more than the O’Neil.

Different subject - with the Trak, make sure you always have float bags. I had one. Early in my ownership, I went to practice rescues. The boat nearly sank on me, as it doesn’t have any built in flotation. Your clothing options are meant to give you time to get back in to the boat - what you’d need to be wearing if your boat sank and you were swimming to sore is much different…

At Montrose beach
Hi RobbW,

I’m right off Montrose Beach in Chicago. Just got my Trak this summer. Looking to go out to the Kankakee too.

Thanks for the point blank answer about the dry suit. There are so many pros and cons to each it seems without actually using either.

I was just watching the DamNation documentary on netflix and saw pretty much everyone around 15 minutes let was wearing a kokatat dry suit. That just made me think its probably the route to go as well.

What water temps would you stop using a dry suit, given the air temps was warmish (70+)?

So you think getting a dry suit first would be best then fill in where you need later for more comfort.

As far as shortening my season I haven’t went out once the water dipped below 62°F due to the possibility of taking a dip. Lake MI can get pretty gnarly at times without a warning once you get a hundred yards off the shore. Check out these images and video of halloween on the lake. http://brianyork.net/high-winds-and-big-waves-on-lake-michigan/

Thanks for the insight into the drytop/pants combo still letting water in (or at least potentially). I wasn’t sure about that or if it would be comfortable given you would have two seals at your waist as opposed to none with the suit.

Kokatat is definitely the way to go it seems. (literally just saw the Oneil suit) The internet is very loud and expressive about not going with anyone else. This is what happens when you make a good product and stand behind it and don’t worry about cost so much like corporate america tends to get overly concerned about hitting specific price points for goods.

Good catch on the spray skirt tunnel
Good catch on the spray skirt tunnel. I guess thats why a lot of the reviews were toward jet skis and not kayaking. Does the waist attachment from using both the top and bottom every become bothersome or restrictive?