Whitewater Beginner (clothing question)

I am wanting to get into whitewater kayaking and I am currently compiling a list of necessary equipment. I am pretty much set as far as the boat goes (used Booster 55), but my question concerns the clothing. Do most WW boaters always wear some sort of dry top, or is this not necessary in the warmer months. My paddling will be in the SE (TN, NC area). Sorry for the vague question, but if anyone could break down some of the clothing, that would be great. I already have lots of synthetics from hiking and rec boating, but always wondered about the dry tops. The class that I want to take is near the end of May, so hopefully I can have everything purchased by then. Thanks in advance.

While I am a beginning sea kayaker
my white water friends use dry tops year round here in California. One dry top they recommended and I purchased is from Palm. I purchased the Palm Extreme dry top when I was going to take a rolling class last October. It was a great purchase and helped me keep the cockpit dry. I have since purchased a Palm Stikine dry suit which I used for the first time this weekend in San Diego. I had occasion to flip out of my boat twice and I stayed nice and dry! I like the quality and durability of both Palm items. I feel they breathe well.

Their link is:


whether you intend to paddle just the warmer months or year round. Year round, you are going to end up wanting a drysuit, misc hoods, gloves, pogies, etc.

Just warmer months, you’ll want a neo 3mm farmer joh and perhaps a spash top. You can layer whatever thin synthetic underwear under the FJ. A drytop is highly desirable because it adds on another layer of protection on cool days, or early/late season where the water is chillier. A dry or semi drytop will also minimize, seepage of water into your boat through the skirt tunnel since waistband of the top will go over the skirt tunnel.


drytop = drier boat
That’s why a lot of folks wear drytops even in warmer weather. I never saw the point of a short-sleeve drytop until I started spending a lot of time upside-down…

I almost never wear a dry top
I typically wear a long sleeved Hydroskin top and Hydroskin shorts with neoprene booties. In warmer conditions (air + water) I wear a swim suit and light polypro top. Sometimes I put a paddle jacket over my Hydroskin top if the trip starts out chilly. Of course, this all depends on the river and the time of year. For the Nantahala (a cold river) this time of year I would probably wear a dry top with a Farmer John underneath. But later on when the air temps are warmer I would go for the paddle jacket. Bring along stuff in a waterproof bag in your stern so you can adjust as the trip goes on, especially if you end up swimming a time or two.

You have choices
First let me say that am jealous as hell that your primary paddling will be in TN & NC. Lucky!!

Money may dictate some of your decisions. A drysuit would be great if you can afford. Most I paddle with have a drytop and claim to like them so if the masses say it is good, it might be good. I wear a base layer of body armor top and bottom, a hydroskin farmer john with a Mountain Surf top “fuzzy rubber” top under that, hydroskin socks and NRS desperado boots. A few weeks ago I crashed and burned on a river in N. ARK and spent a few minutes in 40 degree water. When I got to the bank and was out I realized that I was so caught up in the event and the cracking my head and shoulder on the bottom that I had no memory of the water temp. I also like the ability to peel layers as the day warms up.

There is not right answer to this. Your wallet will help you decide. Also, your ability to handle cold water is also a factor you need to consider.

Good Luck and have fun.


my advice
skip a farmer john, take that money and spend it towards a good drytop. it’ll keep you dryer in the boat, and keep you much warmer. IMHO you should pony up for a breathable top, and then you can wear it in a wide range of conditions. i really don’t understand the logic of the farmer john to be honest. more constrictive on the body when you can wear comfortable layers depending on the temp and stay dry with a drytop. I really like kokatat stuff but its the most $$$. also look at IR, Stolquist, and Palm. but if you want the best - go with kokatat.

Drytop Definitely Warmer
and drier when you stay in the boat. Hard to expect that from someone just starting out in ww… A drytop works well for someone who has a good roll.


…for all the replies so far. I think I will go ahead and go with a dry top. I am still undecided on the long sleeve or short sleeve, but I guess if I am only going to own one top, it would be better to get the LS and I can layer underneath depending on the temps. Right now I am not planning to boat during cold months, but that all could change. I have heard some mixed reviews concerning Bomber Gear sprayskirts, but how are their drytops? Reason I ask is b/c I am on a budget and Sierra Trading post has a few for 50% off right now.

BomberGear Out Of Business…
but I love their drytops. Got two. May have to get another and store it away. Yes, go for it.


Another Bomber Gear fan
I love my Bomber Gear “The Bomb” dry top.

As you said, Sierra Trading Post really has some on sale, including The Bomb. If they have your size, I’d say it’s a no brainer (unless you are particular about color or something).