Monday, July 11, 2011

Choosing new drysuits

Hanging out with our drysuits, old and new.
After six seasons, our drysuits were shot. Seams were leaking; holes were spontaneously appearing. Everything has a lifespan, and after six years of heavy use, our drysuits had reached theirs.

We didn't reflexively choose to purchase Kokatat drysuits again. Before replacing them, we examined the materials and designs of drysuits from various manufacturers and talked to paddlers who own them. But in the end, we chose Kokatat drysuits again because we were happy with our old suits as well as the customer service every time we needed advice or a repair. We liked the front-entry zipper (some manufacturers place the entry zipper in back), the high-quality Goretex, and the option of a front relief zipper for women. And the fit was great. (Kokatat is also willing to customize suits for a reasonable extra charge.)

There are a lot of options beyond manufacturer. Here's what we chose and why:

Style: We chose to go with the GMER again -- the Goretex Meridian drysuit with a tunnel and boots but no hood. For us, this is the best combination: Goretex has a longer lifespan than Tropos; the tunnel is great for keeping water out of the cockpit during rough-water paddling or play; the boots keep your feet dry and eliminate the need for an additional gasket around your ankles; the flap over the zipper protects that essential and expensive part; and we prefer to wear a separate hood, not one that's attached when we need it and when we don't.

Zippers: Men have just two choices: zipper or no zipper. Having no zipper means you have to almost entirely take off the drysuit every time you need to pee, which is a hassle in the best of circumstances and unpleasant in the worst. It means exposing the dry layers beneath to the elements, and also exposing your latex gaskets to sunscreen as you pull them over your face and hands, which hastens the deterioration of the latex.

Women can choose no zipper,  a drop-seat zipper, or a front-relief zipper much like the men's but lower down. (The latter requires the use of a female-to-male adapter, of course.) After trying drysuits with a drop-seat zipper and talking to women who have them, Sharon chose the front-relief zipper, mainly because the drop-seat zipper adds bulk to the suit and isn't any easier for her to use than the front-relief zipper.

Color: Alec chose a mango-colored drysuit again because it's the lightest color available, and therefore least likely to cause him to overheat when paddling hard in cold conditions. (Light colors reflect more heat than darker colors.) Also, mango shows up well on the water. Sharon chose a black suit because she is too cold more often than too warm. And besides, she was sick of mango.

New (left) and old (right). The mango color faded over time. Note the change in the cuff design. The older suit has a Goretex cuff with a Velcro closure over the latex. The new one has a neoprene tube over the latex.
Care: Like all gear, drysuits require some maintenance, so we called Adam Knoeller in Kokatat's design department to ask a few questions about how to help our new drysuits last as long as possible. His advice:

  • Rinse them in clean water to get rid of dirt.
  • Dry them out of direct sunlight.
  • Make sure they are dry before storing.
  • Hang them on wide suit hangers that support the shoulders. Avoid creasing them.
  • Avoid getting sunscreen, lotion and insect repellant on your gaskets.
  • Use 303 Aerospace Protectant on the gaskets periodically.
  • Lubricate the zippers with beeswax.
  • Don't force the zippers; make sure they are aligned before pulling them open or closed.
  • Protect your Goretex boots by wearing something over them at all times.

Just add paddlers. The new design includes a mesh-lined chest pocket. 

1 comment:

David H. Johnston said...

Nice work. These should keep things a bit drier for you indeed!

David J.