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Drysuit Know How

Drysuit Know HowWhy has the waterproof-breathable drysuit become the go-to garment for those who want to keep boating when the water gets cold? The reason is right there in the name. It’s a suit that covers most of your body, and it keeps the insulating layers you wear under it dry. Dry = warm. Warm = safe. And, warm = comfortable.

Water sucks heat away from your body 25 times more quickly than air. You can run around naked in 60°F air for a while and be a little bit uncomfortable. You can swim around in 60° F water, wearing a t-shirt and shorts, and be more than a little bit dead.

The Drysuit

  • Material: Obviously you want it to be waterproof. You also want it to be breathable; to pass your sweat out through the material, so your layers stay dry. Manufacturers achieve this one of two ways. They laminate a waterproof-breathable membrane to the face fabric, or they apply a coating to the inside of the fabric. The membrane, or coating, repels liquid water, while allowing water vapor to pass out through it. Stay away from a suit with non-breathable material; it will trap all your moisture inside the suit, soak your inner layers and take away their insulating value.
  • Gaskets: To prevent water entry at the neck, wrists, and ankles, some type of snug-fitting gasket is needed. Latex is the most common material; it’s stretchy, with a smooth surface that creates a good seal. Some folks have a latex allergy or, especially at the neck, find latex too confining. Neoprene gaskets are an alternative; however, they usually aren’t quite as watertight as latex.
  • Zippers: To get into the suit you need a zippered opening, and the zipper needs to be watertight. There are two types of watertight zippers: ones with metal “teeth” and ones with plastic teeth. Both can provide a good seal.
  • Relief zipper: This feature adds to the price of a suit, but most find the extra expense well worth it. Getting in and out of the suit is time consuming, so being able to pee without peeling it off is a real plus. A front relief zipper is used by men, and also by women, with a feminine urinary device like the Whiz Freedom. An alternative for women is the rear drop-seat zipper.
  • Socks or no socks: Most boaters prefer waterproof socks on their suits, as opposed to ankle gaskets. They’re easier on and off, and allow you to wear synthetic or wool socks inside to adjust your foot warmth.
  • Overskirt: An adjustable fabric extension that is secured over a kayaker’s sprayskirt to help keep water out of the cockpit. It’s not totally necessary for kayakers, but if you’re boating in rapids, turbulent ocean waters, and have a roll, you’ll appreciate that extra level of dry protection.
  • Other quality features: Look for reinforcing fabric over high-wear areas like elbows, seat and knees. Overcuffs on neck, wrists and ankles provide extra protection for gaskets and socks. Protective flaps over zippers help prevent damage to these important pieces.

Inner Layers

By itself, the drysuit doesn’t provide much warmth; you get that by adding garments inside the suit to adjust your comfort level.

  • Base layer: Wear a good wicking layer, like NRS H2Core Silkweight or Rashguard, next to your skin. This material moves sweat away from your body, out to other layers and out through the suit’s material. If temperatures are mild enough, this may be all you need for insulation. Do not wear cotton under your suit; it absorbs moisture and doesn’t wick efficiently.
  • Insulating layers: Thicker materials like H2Core Lightweight and Expedition Weight garments trap more warmth, allowing you to stay comfortable, even in frigid waters. A one-piece union suit eliminates any gap between a top and bottom. A neoprene top isn’t recommended because it doesn’t breathe, trapping moisture against your skin. However, some folks wear HydroSkin Pants under their suits; a boater doesn’t sweat as much in the lower body.

The drysuits is your most versatile cold-water boating garment. Yes, they are expensive but a quality suit will last you for years. It’s a cheap insurance policy.

Find more information on this and other boating topics in our Learn pages.