Mats Bengtsson kayaking and kayak techniques

Kayak experience from using Kokatat gore-tex dry suit for kayaking

Mats Bengtsson mib over the years

Background of how I started kayaking in a gore-tex dry suit

When I started paddling kayak, we were on a course, so we used wet suits. It was in autumn, and due to the type of lessons, we were expected (forced to actually), to be in the water many times during the day. That taught me that wet suits keep you warm even if you fall into water that is not too warm (it was reasonably temperatured, 18-19 degrees in water, warmer in the sun). So after the course, I bought myself a wet suit (low price version, 250 SEK at a post order outlet). The rest of the autumn, we did practice kayak rescues every time we went out, so the wet suit stayed on. We stopped paddling when my wife considered the weather too cold, which was in end of October, and it was then 10 degrees in the water, and 10 degrees in the air.

I had by then learned that down to 10 degrees in water is not cold even with a cheap 3 mm wet suit. But I had learned that paddling in such a wet suit gets warm, the wet suit is not breathing. Since I expected my wife to want to continue paddling in the winter, I selected between a thicker wet suit, and a kayak dry suit. After many worried hours and reading,

Me kayaking in Kokatat gore-text dry suitI decided the major factor was to get a breathing dry suit. Thus I went for a Kokatat gore-tex dry suit instead of buying a 5 or 7 mm wet suit. The reason being that I though it most iportant to find a drysuit good enough to get rid of enough sweat from the kayak paddling.

When it gets really cold in the water, the dry suit is excellent. But in that case, a gore-text dry suit might not be as neccessary. It is probably not warmer than a non gore-text drysuit.

Quick summary of my gore-tex kayak dry suit experience

Nice, thin and comfortable without hindering paddling movements (read below). One layer of clothing beneath is enough from 5 to 20 degrees in water, as well as from 10-25 degrees in the air (it might be enough in even higher span than that, but I have not yet tested it in colder temperatures). Freedom of movement is a lot higher than in a wet suit, and it handles sweat a lot better. Also, since the wind does not get to you, neither the spraying water, it is a lot easier to find a suitable level of clothing. Unlike with more normal clothing, the difference between quite warm, or a sudden chilling wind, or the sun going behind clothes, or a small rain, or spraying water, does not affect your comfort level very much. All those changes are evened out by the dry suit so they affect you only to a smaller degree. This is in the line as being in 12 degrees water or 20 degree air makes a very small difference with the dry suit on. Not to mention that water running down your back, or onto your seat. With a dry suit, you do not even know if it is happening.

I think a major reason behind all above positive words, is that I selected a breathing gore-text dry suit, in fact the best breathing gore-text dry suit I could find (Kokatat), although there might exist better ones.

Experience of a gore-tex dry suit in cold spring time

The dry suit was never used in the winter 2008/2009. We did not paddle again until March. In March, it was 5 degrees in the water, and around 10 degrees in the air, but sun was giving some warmth. This was when we started kayaking again. Paddling in the dry suit in that weather was a positive experience. I only used one layer of clothing under the dry suit (kokatat dryliner, a very thick one piece fleece). Paddling in it was not at all as warm and sweaty as paddling in autumn in a wet suit. I did sweat (I easily sweat), but it is efficiently trasported up in the fleece, making the body comfortable. However, the outer layer of fleece, got really wet.

At the same time, although I did not select to swim in the dry suit, I stepped into the water and kept standing in it for a couple of minutes. I can feel that the water is cold, but it does not go through the layers in such a way that it becomes cold, only so that one can say that there is coldness outside the suit. Given a longer time, it may well go through more, but the protection is definitely enough to keep me warm quite long (probably with the exception of the hands, the dru suit does not contain gloves so on the hands I wear neoprene gloves, and that protection is lower).

Another major advantage is when water either sprays onto your arms or body, or on top of the sprayskirt, you do not feel it. Same goes for the blowing wind.

During a trip in early spring 2010, I stepped out into the water again, this time in 8 degree water, 11 degree air, and a NRS Wavelite XT instead of a Kokatat DryLiner.

Experience of a gore-tex dry suit in cold spring time after a rest

I just (april 2010) finished another long trip in 3 degree Celcius water, but with a little warmer in the outside air (7 degree Clecius). This was more close to last winter paddling than normal spring time paddling, since spring is late this year. For this trip I used heavy smartwool socks instead of the light smartwool socks I used last autumn/winter and which was not enough on my last winter paddling. The heavy smartwool socks really made the difference, my feet where warm and comfortable all the trip.

However, this trip we took in two parts, with a short rest in between. This rest made a difference. First I noticed that due to the wind (7 meter per second, 10 meter in tops), when sitting and resting the clothing I had was on the limit to me being able to feel that it was cold outside. The clothing was perfect when paddling, and I did neither freeze when resting, but I cold feel that when the wind hit on me standing up, there was a feeling that it was cold outside. In a longer break (we rested about 10-15 minutes) , I would probably want to stay shielded from the wind. What was not good though was when continuing after the rest. The NRS paddlers gloves, that had kept me warm while paddling, where wet. Immediately after starting anew, my hands became cold. Really painfully freezing cold (the cold you feel when finger tops start to hurt from the cold). I concentrated on using my hands, using a more extensive than normal opening of the hands on the top of every stroke, where I was also moving the thumbs of the top hand for every stroke. After about 10 minutes, the hands became warm again. To me, the indication is that either I need to have a dry glove to change to if resting, or use even thicker gloves. Even if using a dry glove after resting, I would most likely be painfully cold on the hands after a short time if falling into the water.

Experience of a dry suit in middle warm spring time

When it became warmer (around 12 degree in water, 20 in air (we had a very warm spring this year)), then I switched to a thinner inner layer. Still a warming layer, but not as thick as the proliner. This I only had about two times, but it demonstrates the major dry suit advantage. You change what you wear below, and with that you change your insulation, and the differences in the layer can be in larger steps, the difference for you is not that big. One single layer is good during a lot of different temperatures.

Also with this layer did I try standing in the water. I actually felt the cold a little more from the water with this layer, in spite of the water being warmer (12 degrees instead of 5). Still, it was not in any way being uncomfortable, not even cold for real, it was more like it was easier to feel that it was cold outside the outfit.

All the advantages from the cold spring remain the same in this temperature.

Experience of a kayak drysuit in warm spring time

Me in Kokatat gore-tex kayak dry suit and rash guards under the drysuitNow then, since spring was warm, I have this spring been out paddling in really warm days.above 20 degrees. Considering that we are on the water, and you get sunburned even with protection factor 8, the true temperature is more than a thermometer in the shadow says. We are talking about being in the sun, paddling, and with almost no wind.

Here is the level when one can start doubting the dry suit. But so far, I only say start doubting it, since I actually feel it less warm and sweaty in these temperatures with the dry suit than in autumn with 10 degrees and a wet suit. As long as the water remains cold, there are bigger advantages to the dry suit than disadvantages from the sun.

In these higher temperatures, water has been up to 15 degrees, and I am down to a very thin layer beneath the dry suit. It is a nylon and spandex rash guard (its only purpose is to isolate me from the dry suit and transport sweat from the body). The picture to the left shows me with the dry suit around the feet, and the inner layer as my current clothing.

As before, I have tried to stand in the water, and it does not feel cold (in these temperatures, there are people bathing, but I would not like to do that). The interesting thing is that I do see some great advantages with the dry suit also in this weather. Most people around me are now dressed for warm weather, meaning clothing similar to rash guards, or biking, or ... This has to be more comfortable in the sun, since the wind will take some heat away directly from the body, not only from the dry suit. But even then, I still feel less warm and sweaty than I did in the wet suit in autumn, so I would say that so far, it has not been too warm, although I expect to paddle without the dry suit in the summer.

Also, as soon as the sun sets, and wind blows or water sprays onto you, the clothing without the dry suit quickly becomes cold. Both on short paddling trips like last track of 1.5 hour in the late evening, or when the wind blows enough to start spraying you, that kind of clothing is hard to select right, it risk to quickly go from warm to become quite cold. In evening, the water reamains about 14-15 degrees, but when the sun is not heating, the air goes down to around 12 degrees, which has a quick cooling effect if you get even a little wet or chilled by the wind.

So as it currently stands, the only time in warm spring (15 degrees water and 20 degrees plus air) when I feel the dry suit is not the best alternative is if the sun isreally up and burning. But the interesting thing is that the best dress you could have if you at that time wanted to skip the dry suit would be what you in that weather have beneath the dry suit. So the only change needed is to take it off and put it in a dry storage bag. So far I have not done that, I have not not yet felt it increasing the temperature very much.

Experience of a drysuit in warm summer

We just where on a 7 day kayak vacation in Denmark. The weather really hit high summer temperatures, in fact, unusually warm days, as well as unusually calm winds. End result:

  • I started paddling without a dry suit

Water temperatures where still not too high the first days (16-18 degress Celcius), but had reached 20 degrees Celcius and above the last couple of days. Air temperature was around 23 to 29 degrees depending on whichof the days we are talking about. Keeping the dry suit on when paddling in windy conditions is not a problem even at 23 degrees celcius, can be said not being a big problem even in 25 degrees Celcius.

But if you are paddling where it is very little wind, and 23 degrees Celcius or more, a dry suit becomes too hot, no matter how breathing it is said to be. Unless you aree willing to now and then get into the water, you will become very hot. So there is my limit. At 25 degrees, even if there is a small breeze, it will become hot. 23 degrees will be ok if there is a weak wind. If there is more wind, causing even some spraying, 25 degrees might be ok.

We did a number of security and rescue training sessions in the vacation. With a dry suit, they were fine also in 25 degrees (since water temperature was down to 16-18 degrees. But probably also with water at 21 degrees, the dry suit is a lot more comfortable to have than a wet suit, at least if you are in the water frequent enough.

So now I am going to expand on my wardrobe. When the dry suit went off, I did not replace it with a wet suit (they are worse than dry suits, all temperatures below 25 degrees). Instead I used the rash guards I normally wear inside the dry suit as the outer clothing. This gives a little weak protection for the water, but excellent cooling in the air. Thus I have tried 0.5 mm thin neoprene clothing. Accepting some extra heat in the air, to be a little more protected in the water. From that, I have found that using the thin neoprene shorts from NRS is a very good choice. You sit dry unless it gets really wet inside, and yet they are not too warm.

To this can be added that also in swedish summer (20-22 degrees Celcius), if it is raining, people who are out a longer time (like during our one day paddling trips) start to freeze from the chilling effect of being wet. So whenever there is going to be rain, the drysuit is a clear winner also in summer.

Experience from drysuit in autumn

It is now getting into autumn in southern part of Sweden. It is yet early autumn, but the temperature has dropped in the water, although it still sometimes comes up to higher degrees again, especially in air. Today (2009-09-11), KF Öresund was out on an eskimo roll workshop (so called since the ones holding in the arrangement were to shy of their own abilities to call it an eskimo roll course). It was known that we were to practice rolling, including the customary predrills (grabbing the bow of another kayak to practice coming up of water using the hips and not arm muscles, ...). Thus, everybody met up in 3mm wetsuits (except me wearing my drysuit). After a little less than two hours, those in wetsuits were cold. The water was not too cold (16 degrees Celcius), neither was the air temperature too low (18 degrees Clecius when we started, 16 degrees when we ended). Anyway, after two hours, and with participants having been wet since the first 15 minutes (not spending very much time in the water, but now and again renewing the wetness from the water through the drills), everyone except me was freezing. I was wearing the thinnest NRS rash guards under the dry suit (Microlite), and was still quite comfortable (neither sweating, nor freezing).

Two days before, I did have a less positive experience from the drysuit. I went out for some eskimo roll practice, and it was quite warm in the air (22 degrees Celcius). After about 15 minutes, I was down in the water doing drills. 2 hours later, after a very unintence day of drills, I realised I was feeling a little chilly, not cold, but enough for realising it was colder than perfect. When going back and changing, I noticed the shirt was wet, but not the pants (both NRS Microlite rash guards). What seems to have happened is that I was warm and sweaty from the warm weather, as well as from rushing straight from work to kayaking, and when I went down into the water, the sudden chill created condense inside the drysuit. Then I never worked up the heat again, since the session was quite slow. I first thought there was a problem with the drysuit, I had for the first time since I bought it machine washed it using Nikwax in accordance with Kokatat gore-tex wash instructions, and the machine wash might have included some centrifuging which is dangerous for the membrane. But the experience two days later shows it is still working ok, I just has learned about the condensing factor if starting warm, cooling down suddenly (like a cool bootle of soda placed in a warm room) and then not working up some heat for example through paddling.

This week I have used the drysuit together with Kokatat innercore instead of my usual NRS Microlite. I do not know if the Microlite would be too cold, it just felt like Kokatat Innercore was a little warmer, so I took that. I did some roll exercises, water temperature was 12 degrees, and the Kokatat innercore felt to be a lot warmer than MRS microlite, I did not even feel the feeling of cold as I would do already in 15 degree water with Microlite. Today the air temperature was 10 degrees, and it was blowing around 10 meter per second. Still wearing Kokatat innercore under the drysuit, I felt it quite comfortable, rather than being chilly, I was contemplating if the innercore was a bit too warm. But I was not wet from sweat, only feeling that there had been areas where I had been close to sweating.

I have now paddled in rainy/cloudy weather in air temperature around 8-12 degrees. I did not try rolling (my shoulder still hurts from a failed attempt in the dark). But I was sprayed with water from breaking waves on the sand reef and from a small rain. I used the NRS Wavelite instead of the Kokatat innercore. I do not know for certain which is the warmer, Wavelite is a bit thicker, but they are not of the same material. I believe NRS Wavelite better transports the sweat, but it will be hard to become shure of that. Anyway, for these temperatures, NRS Wavelite also works well.

Experience of a dry suit in cold winter time

The water temperature is now down around 2 degrees Celcius. Last time I was out in the kayak, there was 3-4 millimeter thick ice on the water which we started from. I am not making any attempts of testing my dry suit in water at these temperatures. It is a pure safety and comfort provider. And it truly does provide comfort, although to a large part through the apparel that can be used beneath it.

I am still quite comfortable when paddling, except for one thing that with he last temperature drop gives too weak protection. I am now using my NRS paddlers gloves. They are enough for being comfortable during 2 hours paddling in the weather (around 0 degrees Celcius air temperature). I do have both mits and thicker gloves, but so far they remain in the kayak, the paddler gloves are enough, even if I do get them a little wet now and then. Also my combination of thin wicking pants and shirt (NRS Microlite) underneath a Kokatat Polartec Proliner works well. Using the microlite beneath adds a lot to comfortability by keeping sweat away fromt he body. The proliner is warm, and both when paddling hard as well as when taking breaks I am comfortable in it even with zero degrees air temperature. I have bought a mystery cap from NRS for the head. It is perfect in all ways except one: it looks ugly.

What did not work well was the feet. I am using a light smartwool sport sock, a gore-tex dry suit with socks on top of that, and a 3 mm neoprene moccasine on top of it all. This is something that has worked very well in all temperatures before 6 degrees to 22 degrees), but not this time. With no sun to warm the hull, and with water so cold, the feet got cold after two hours resting on the kayak floor. I will switch to thicker smartwool socks. Next time I will use a heavy sock instead of a light sock, hopefully that is enough.


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