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Value of Dry Suits / Semi-Dry Suits

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  • Value of Dry Suits / Semi-Dry Suits

    The wife and I have taken up paddling over the last couple of years, and we recently purchased a Folbot Greenland II for multi-day touring in PWS (great 'yak, by the way). I am hoping that somebody with some decent paddling experience in PWS will take a shot at addressing a few questions:

    - Should the wife and I throw down our hard-earned cash for dry suits or semi-dry suits?
    - Are they difficult to keep in good condition?
    - Do they tend to rub or chafe?
    - What brands are reputable?
    - Do wet suits have any real value in PWS?

    So far, we have just been layering: wicking base layer, quick-dry insulating layer (e.g. Polartec), usually some extra wool, REI Gore-Tex jacket, and lightweight waterproof rain pants. It has worked well, but I’m wondering how much more comfortable we might be in dry or semi-dry suits.


  • #2
    dry suite/semi-dry suits

    My Husband and I have been kayaking PWS and Kenai Fjords for 14 years. One of our longest trips was in the Southern Kenai Fjords from Harris Lagoon to Petrof Glacier in Nuka Bay Passage. Open exposed coast along much of it and the potential for high surf helped us to decide to purchase dry suits for that trip. Prior to that, we have never felt much need for them. They paid for themselves on that particular trip of 18 days, but we have not worn them much since. A "rogue" wave sucked our fully loaded boat out into the surf while we were checking out a beach. Out went our boat with ALL of our gear, food, etc. I jumped in with the dry suit and swam out to retrieve the boat and our retriever swam out to retrieve me. Needless to say, had I not have had a drysuit, I may not have made it. Oh, my Husband was beachcombing; looking for a glass float, so it was up to me to save the day. ; ) I still give him grief over that!

    Is your desire for a dry suit to stay more dry or to prolong your life in case of a capsize or accident? Paddling in dry-suits can be extremely comfortable in that rainy weather we get out there in PWS, and it sure is nice to step out of your kayak and be dry. However, with today's improvements in paddling gear, I find I stay just as dry with good clothing.

    Since PWS doesn't tend to get the high surf that the Kenai Fjords do, we tend not to feel as much of a need for the dry suits unless we are doing a lot of open crossings or if the weather report is for rain and more rain.

    We purchased our dry suits a number of years ago when Kokatat was still making a lighter grade of Gore-tex. They were discontinuing this particular material so we got a pretty good deal. I find mine to be extremely comfortable and I stay dry. We have latex feet in ours, which we highly recommend. However, finding footwear can be a bit interesting as it has to fit over the latex feet. Oh, and it is well worth the extra cost to have the relief zippers, especially for women! : ) We rinse ours in fresh water each use and check for leaks. Repairs are fairly easy and there are lots of places in the US that do repairs.

    Perhaps you might try renting one for a trip to see how you like them? I believe at one time the kayak academy rented dry suits.

    Since you have a folbot, I seriously doubt you will be doing many high surf landings. I can remember a high surf launch that I took on a huge wave right in my lap when we had our Folbot. I had really wished for a dry suit at that time and my rain gear didn't help much.

    Dry suits probably won't save your life as much as common sense will out there. Staying dry is so critical and everyone has their own system or technique. I think we could open up a used outdoor clothing store with all of our old gear and clothing.

    Good luck with the decision and let me know if you have any questions. Happy Paddling! Where have you been out there in PWS?

    Take care


    • #3
      Just a quick note on Dry-suits

      Just a quick note 4-ya

      - Should the wife and I throw down our hard-earned cash for dry suits or semi-dry suits?
      Yes - absolutely 4-certain!!! Piece of mind, safety, quality that will last, overall utility, the ability to function, comfort, extended seasons...

      However you may wish to rent some first.

      - Are they difficult to keep in good condition?
      They are durable & Yes if you take good car of them. If you do blow a gasket they can be replaced.

      - Do they tend to rub or chafe?
      No --- Buy the suit bigger than you think you would require and this way they will accommodate any layering, movement, easier to get on & off, & so on. The seam work and fabrics will hold up much better w/ no extra stress.

      - What brands are reputable?
      The design you are looking for is a "surface rescue and multi-use classification” that is also used for kayaking & rafting or surface water sports. Breathables like Gore-Tex, Tropos, etc. is nice, but not 100% necessary... however... you will feel and be much drier in a Gore-Tex suit. You just about can't go wrong... Kokatat (Particularly for women are the best), NRS, Stohlquist, and maybe Bomber Gear are a few brands here in Anchorage.
      Alaska Raft and Kayak is a great place to go.

      I'd look at the Super Nova Paddling Suit made of Tropos from Kokatat as a most bang quality for you $$$.

      Also take a look at OS Systems for good values less than $400 for no-breathable and about $600 for breathable. Overtons will have some as well.

      - Do wet suits have any real value in PWS?
      I'd say yes, but not too comfy and not nearly as suitable for survival and body function as the dry-suit.

      Hope this helps ya out –

      Brian Richardson


      • #4

        Thanks to the both of you for your thoughtful responses. It sounds like a dry suit can contribute to comfort and safety over extended trips but really isn't a true necessity. I'll certainly take your advice and rent before I purchase one. Again, I really appreciate the replies.


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