Would this be safe?

I’ve been thinking about the upcoming colder-weather canoeing. Soon, both the air and water temps will be dropping off. I was wondering if I might solicit an opinion or two on an idea I had. I have a good pair of waterproof chest-high lined canvas fishing waders, and a dry top (sealed, with adjustable neoprene neck, sleeves, and waistband). Would putting them together (with my PFD, of course) and cinching them up as snugly as possible be a safe method of preparation for any accidental dunk I might take in the quiet river I frequent? It’s hard to be sure whether that might keep the water out long enough to recover and get out. Trying it on, it seemed reasonably comfortable. I’m trying to save a bit of cash, but economy has to take a back seat to safety! Any thoughts?

I wouldn’t
fishermen have drowned in the past when they stepped in too deep and their waders filled with water.

I have a two piece NRS dry suit, (which I hate), and would never trust just the top over chest high water proof waders.

Just me. Others might think differently.

Jack L

Others may disagree…
…but I wouldn’t do it with those waders. I don’t think you would get a safe enough seal on canvass waders. Close-fitting neoprene waders might work in a pinch. That’s what I use for duck hunting and stream fishing (when not canoeing). We cinch the top snug above the waist with either a web belt or the belt of an inflatable PFD. I have fallen in briefly with no significant leakage. Your dry top under a PFD might seal good enough against neoprene waders for brief swims in easy water.

But the cost of a good neo chest wader might get you close to something better - depending on your current dry top. My setup for winter paddling is a semi-dry top (neo neck, like yours) that has an inner skirt which rolls up with an outer skirt on my dry (farmer John style)pants. It makes a good seal if you roll it carefully, and keeps me dry for the short swims I deal with. Still not good enough for big water, but for the typical low winter flows around here it buys me enough time to get to shore. Maybe you can find a bottom that would mate with your top in the same fashion?

Makes sense to me
Yeah, that’s basically what I was worried about. I’ll find another alternative. Thanks!


– Last Updated: Sep-11-10 5:23 PM EST –

BTW - there are some dry suits available that aren't as painfully expensive as you might expect. Kokatat has a Tropos suit that lists at $489 now. Tropos doesn't have the reputation for breathability that Gore-tex does (I don't know, because I've only tried Tropos), but if you aren't working up much of a sweat, it will do the job.

edit: Kokatat lists that particular suit as "semi-dry" because, I assume, it has the neo neck closure instead of the latex. My experience with that neck gasket is that it does let in a minute amount of water when my neck goes under. Like I said - it buys you time in the water, but I would measure that in minutes not hours.

I really appreciate all the responses! You guys are the best.

Kokotat also now makes a decent pair of waterpoof pants with feet and a neo waist that’ll seal pretty well with the drytop at a very reasonable price. Don’t remember their model name but it’s on their website.

Bill H.

You can also try E-bay or Craigslist.
I just got a slightly used Kokatat Gore-Tex front entry drysuit, with socks and reief zipper for $450.

Works great. And even better deals exist there or in paddling clubs where members want to sell their gear.

The Kokatat pants are the Tempest Dry pants and you should be able to pick up the newer T3 (3 layer Tropos fabric) ones for around $160.

A one piece drysuit would be better but considering the price this is a good option.

btw. dry bibs would be even better but they’re a lot more money and you’ll want a relief zip for the bibs, you can just pull down the pants.


– Last Updated: Sep-12-10 2:40 PM EST –

All those I've seen here seem good to me also. Better than wearing chest waders certainly.

I don't dump often, don't "push the envelope" especially in cold weather, but every time I have dumped in a canoe, I've gone in sideways. Several times I've come out with my right side dry and left completely soaked - and that kind of spill would fill waders very quickly. Further, suppose you don't dump: How comfortable would those waders be for kneeling or sitting the 99.999% of the time when you don't need them?

If you're looking to save money, and who isn't, wear a wet suit under synthetic clothes. Going into autumn the water, at least where I paddle (large, generally shallow rivers that get considerable solar gain and are only minimally spring-fed), the water is usually reasonably warm, often warmer than the air. A wet suit is far less expensive than a dry and except during the very heart of winter will do fine for the 20 minutes or so that it would take to get ashore, change into the spare clothes you have in the dry bag (you have those, right?), and get a duralog burning (you have that also, right?) to warm up.
Even expedition weight polypro long johns with wool pants and shirt work well until it gets really cold.

The real key to safety, in my opinion, is not putting yourself in a position where if you dumped you'd have to make a long swim in very cold water. Care and good judgment can reasonably substitute for a lot of expensive gear, at least until it gets very cold. If you find yourself contemplating paddling in 20deg weather with ice shelves lining the shore - well, there's no substitute for a dry suit then. Or if you often need to paddle more than a 5min swim from a landable shore. Cliffs don't count as shore in cold water.

I did buy a dry suit on-line about ten years ago. It was military surplus for $120 and quite a bargain, I thought at the time. Turns out it was designed for rescue folks to wear as they were being lowered from a helicopter to rescue folks from floundering fishing boats in the N. Atlantic. It would be fine for that - it doesn't leak, is warm, buoyant, but I can barely paddle in it. Its of an incredibly thick material which makes one feel like a frozen version of the Michelin man. The zipper, which runs horizontally from shoulder to shoulder, acts like a little mini-leaf spring flexing and popping back with each paddle stroke. It's exhausting to paddle in. I wouldn't recommend saving money by buying one of those - its not a bargain if you can't really use it.

Oh yes, and knee-high neoprene Chota or NRS mukluks are a cold-weather must, IMHO. Keeping your feet warm and dry while getting in and out or pulling over shallows is important. I got mine a bit oversized to allow for a couple layers of wool or polypro socks and a chemical boot warmer in the most extreme conditions.

A floating painter is another thing I've discovered is important in the cold. (I once had to swim a canoe in in 37deg water and air without one. I don't want to make a habit of that. Too slow.) If you're swimming in cold water time is all-important no matter what you're wearing. Unless you're quite a way from shore it's quicker to swim in than to mess around trying to self-rescue and drain a swamped canoe - especially if there are waves to contend with. But you will definitely need the canoe and its contents to extract yourself eventually, so you don't want to just "abandon ship" and swim for it. You need to get both you and the canoe to shore and quickly. You can swim to shore faster pulling a rope than pulling a swamped canoe. The canoe can then be quickly hauled up when you have solid footing. That painter is more important in the cold.
And the all-important job of getting into dry warm clothes and getting a fire going can begin.

I used waders with a neo jacket. It was
better than any Farmer John with booties I’ve ever used because the bottom was all one piece. The jacket kept out the water with no problems.


– Last Updated: Sep-12-10 10:39 PM EST –

More great responses! Thank you. I have definitely given a lot of thought to the procedural stuff as well. It's a quiet river right by my home, not too wide, so not a great distance from shore, at least in the sections I frequent. I've spent a good deal of time out there at lower tides, to develop a fairly good idea of where the rocks are. I figure it'll generally be a good idea to tend to hang fairly close to the riverbank when it gets colder, anyway. I'm not planning to be out there in the dead of winter, but would like to try stretching the season a bit, and want to be prepared when the water gets chilly. I've already equipped the canoe with painter lines at both ends, just in case.

What I have done is to mate a drytop
with a pair of neoprene shorts. Get quality shorts with a high back. (Mine were made by Patagonia but others are available.)

I also have a Palm Sidewinder bib that I can mate with my drytop, but my OC-1 and C-1 pedestal seats are low enough that a Sidewinder bunches behind my knees and cuts off circulation.

I was just visiting up in Mass, and Charles River Canoe and Kayak had drysuits on sale. Drysuits are great, but you can get by in winter by reducing the difficulty of what you paddle and by waiting for relatively milder days. I used to have to wait for the ice to go out to resume sculling on the Charles, and you can bet us scullers and oarsmen were underdressed for cold conditions.