What to look for when buying a used drysuit?

There is a lot of discussion about NEW drysuits. But, there isn’t much out there for information about buying used. Many new paddlers are looking for quality gear, but lack the money for new equipment, especially with what a drysuit costs. Being new, they may not have friends or know anyone with a drysuit they can try out. So, off to Craigslist, Ebay, Facebook Marketplace, etc. They find one for a reasonable price that they can afford, and in the pictures it LOOKS decent. The seller is local, they meet up… Now what???

What should the prospective buyer look at on the used drysuit to determine if it’s worth buying or if it’s garbage? How do you check gaskets, zippers, seams, or the overall condition of the drysuit material? If a repair is needed, what can the buyer expect to pay for the repairs?

For example, a local seller has an older Kokatat GFER for sale, with neoprene boots professionally installed, says it needs one wrist gasket, and is asking $225… How would I determine if the suit is worth buying?

The most important thing is to not buy a dry suit that you can’t lay your hands on. That is, unless you’re buying it from a reputable outfitter who will take it back if you’re not happy with it. The obvious issues, like damaged seals, loose seam tape, zippers that don’t open and close properly, are pretty easy to judge. However, it’s difficult to tell whether a suit is water tight without actually pressure testing it.

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My years spent in the outdoor retail industry allowed me to own and resell many drysuits. During those years, I replaced my own gaskets but mostly paid to have them professionally replaced, had suits delaminate and be replaced under warranty (several times), had suits water-tested and pinhole leaks that I never felt patched for a song. I do have some things to suggest that you look for and some questions to ask. I do understand that you probably won’t be able to ask them all of these questions if you are meeting them in a parking lot but it is stuff that could make a difference down the road.

Things that you want to know:
• How long have they had the suit?
• Did they buy it new? Are they the first owner? Where did they buy it?
• How frequently did they use it?
• Have the gaskets ever been replaced?
• Did they stretch or trim the neck gasket to fit?
• Has it ever been leak-tested?
• How and where has it been stored?

These are questions that I have always welcomed during parking lot sales.

Look closely at the latex gaskets for small tears, nicks, ragged edges and stretch marks. If there are any of these visible know that whoever owns the suit will be replacing the gaskets soon. I have small wrists so I have never had to replace a wrist gasket, however, a suit that belonged to a paddler with large or impatient hands might have some replaceable damage at the ends of the sleeves. If you are a hands-on individual, you have already watched some videos on gasket replacement and checked with local shops about pricing for professional work. If replacement is needed and within your comfort zone decide how much your time is worth and log the cost for professional replacement as a negotiating tool. And here is personal thing that will probably get no end of criticism but it is my opinion that a gasket stretched to fit is not a gasket that I want to own. Maybe not obvious at first but the stretch marks show up much sooner than on a responsibly trimmed gasket. I have been trimming 2 rings from a “Large” size Kokatat gasket for nearly 2 decades. Your call.

Now look closely at the fabric. I only have ownership experience with Gore-Tex suits so proprietary fabrics may be different and others should comment on them. With Gore-Tex there are times when the lamination fails and this is what Gore and Associates warrants the suit for. If you look closely, you can see it but unless it has happened in a really obvious place you may not. Normally, if a suit is sent to the manufacturer (in this case Kokatat) for a paid inspection and water test this defect will be caught and the suit replaced. During the water test pin hole leaks (that you have probably not noticed) will be patched or sealed with Seam Coat or similar. By turning the suit inside out these repairs will be seen. If done responsibly I am totally cool with that. Ask them who did the repairs. If they did it themselves that is probably cool and spurs further friendly conversation. In my experience, look in the fabric socks, shoulder areas where torso rotation creates friction between the suit and the PFD, the crotch area for whatever reason, and if you are lucky in one of the larger fabric panels but don’t count on it.

There are some respectable local dealers who may be recommended by the manufacturer or just damn good. Ask around about who they are? Who does repair work on XXXX brand dry suits? Call them and talk. Talk costs nothing. Expertise is priceless and should be rewarded.

How does the exterior of the suit look? Have a bottle of water with you ask if you can sprinkle a bit on the fabric. Does it bead? Not a big deal but tells you something about maintenance. If the shell looks OK but doesn’t bead it may just need a wash and treatment. File that away.

Now I have never sold a drysuit for more than I paid for it but I have never sold a cheap drysuit. That said, I would have welcomed and answered any and all questions that prospective buyers have had but have never been asked the questions that should have been asked… I so wish that any one of them had asked me if they could turn the suit inside out to inspect the lining or if I felt any spots where I suspected leakage… I sold all of my suits for ~1/2 retail. I don’t know that a suit being sold for less without a good explanation is where to spend your money.

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I would put on to make sure it fits. I’d do the visual inspection as talked about above. Ask the questions as above.

That said, this sounds like a good price. And being Kokatat, for extra peace of mind, you can send it in to them for a leak test and wrist gasket replacement ($100 plus shipping for the 2 services - Kokatat - Repair). The leak test involves a water pressure test. Any small leaks they will patch as part of that price (I am amazed at how many little patches mine come back with). If the material has delamintated, they will tell you.

The risk is if it is so heavily used to be worn out or is delaminated (which is a material failure). Assuming the current owner is truthful and says it doesn’t leak, and it looks to be in decent shape, not likely either is problems is there.

If delaminated, Kokatat’s warranty on Goretex products is the best in the industry, but not perfect. “All Kokatat products are fully guaranteed to the original owner against defects in materials and workmanship for the reasonable life of the item.” It does say they warrant the original owner, but not sure if that is checked (though if the dry suit has been back before for repairs, then they may know). My guess would be 5 years with moderate use would be pushing it for “reasonable life”, though actually if the dry suit is much older, you may have one that was bought when Kokatat had the stronger Goretex warranty that didn’t include the word “reasonable” next to life, so people were warrantying 15 year old dry suits.

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Kokatat’s warranty is largely irrelevant, as Gore warrants the fabric for life against delamination. If it delaminates, Gore will replace the garment, assuming that the fabric isn’t just worn through or otherwise damaged. As far as I know, Gore is paying for the cost of replacing delaminated garments, so I don’t understand Kokatat’s apparent restrictions. My Stohlquist Gore-Tex dry suit was more than 5 years old when Gore replaced it. I’ve had other Gore-Tex garments that were as much as 12 years old replaced under warranty by the manufacturers (The North Face and Marmot). It seems to me that Kokatat is playing games if they’re actually refusing to replace delaminated garments.

Look for a maintenance record - wet tests, last time gaskets were replaced, along with photos. You should be able to lay your hands on a print of either the email, a bill etc if the suit was recently in for maintenance before sale.