How Drysuits Work (and do you need one?) April 14 2017
We often hear paddlers ask whether drysuits are better, warmer, or more comfortable than wetsuits. On frigid spring whitewater streams in Maine, and along the coast, almost every experienced paddler we see is wearing a drysuit, and almost none are wearing wetsuits. This, in spite of the fact that drysuits cost more than wetsuits (usually a lot more), seems to provide a pretty clear answer. Of course it’s a matter of opinion, and some paddlers prefer wetsuits, but they are in a distinct minority. (Read about the pros and cons of wetsuits and drysuits.)
This post, then is for paddlers who are unfamiliar with drysuits. It describes what they are and how they work. It also explains why we think most paddlers should have one, and it acknowledges that they’re not for everyone. We’d like to sell you a drysuit, but not if you don’t need it.
What’s a Drysuit?
A drysuit covers you from your feet to your neck, and it really and literally keeps you dry even if you fall in the water. This is a lot different from rain gear. Fall in the water wearing rain gear, and you will be soaked in an instant, because it allows water to enter through all the openings.
A drysuit works because it has water-tight seals (also called gaskets) around the wrists and neck. These are made of stretchy latex rubber that hugs your skin. Some drysuits also have gaskets around your ankles, while others have waterproof socks sewn onto the ends of the legs. (Read more about drysuit gaskets or seals.)
Breathable drysuit fabric allows water vapor to escape from inside, but keeps liquid water out.
Drysuit fabric is waterproof, of course. On almost all modern suits, the fabric is also breathable. That means that moisture from perspiration inside the suit can escape right through the fabric, so you don’t get wet from your own sweat. (Read more about breathable drysuit fabric.)
The final key component of the drysuit is the zipper that lets you put it on and seal it up tight. This is a special waterproof design that’s based on the air-tight zippers NASA developed for space suits. (Read more about drysuit zippers.)
Most drysuits are one-piece garments. Some have separate tops and trousers that join together for a water-tight seal. The one-piece style costs less and is more reliable, but the two-piece version is more flexible, allowing the user to wear the dry top or dry pants by themselves or together.
The Importance of Staying Dry
Paddlers wear drysuits for comfort and safety. If you end up in the water – or doused with waves or spray – they keep everything except your head, hands, and possibly feet (if the suit doesn’t have sewn-on drysocks) dry. Cold water steals heat from your body more than 20 times faster than air of the same temperature, so by keeping you dry, a drysuit also keeps you warmer.
If it were just a matter of being comfortable, you’d probably find a lot more paddlers wearing wetsuits, because hard-core paddlers are a hearty bunch and they’re notoriously short on cash. But staying warm also means staying safe. Cold water can incapacitate you in just seconds. It makes it difficult to control your breathing, which can easily lead to drowning if you’re in rough water. Within just minutes, you lose the ability to control your muscles, so getting back into an overturned kayak or canoe may prove impossible. Eventually, hypothermia might kill you, but the chances are high that you’ll drown first, even if you’re wearing a life jacket. (Watch this video for dramatic exposure to the effects of cold water.)
By itself, a drysuit only keeps you dry, and that goes a long way toward conserving your body heat. But drysuits are purposely cut large so that you can wear layers of warm clothing underneath. These will stay dry even if you’re in the water, keeping you much warmer and improving your comfort and your survival prospects to a great extent.
In contrast, wetsuits allow you to get wet. They do provide insulation that protects you from the cold water outside the suit, but the fact remains that cold water enters the suit, and you do not stay nearly as warm as in a drysuit. Almost every kayaker who started his career in a wetsuit has switched to a drysuit for both comfort and safety.
Should You Have a Drysuit?
Hypothermia is a risk for anyone in water below 70°F. The colder the water, the more extreme its effects on the body. In water below 50°F, people quickly lose the ability to function effectively. (Read more about the dangers of cold water.)
This means that anyone who paddles on cold water and expects to end up in the water should have the thermal protection of a drysuit or wetsuit. That applies to every whitewater paddler, including kayakers, canoeists, rafters and paddleboarders, because capsizes are common in whitewater and even the most accomplished paddler may occasional fail to roll up successfully.
It also applies to sea kayakers who venture far from shore. While capsizes are relatively uncommon among skilled kayakers, weather can change unexpectedly, causing conditions to become rough with little warning.
Aside from whitewater paddlers and the more venturesome sea kayakers, are drysuits advisable? We believe they are for the majority of canoeists, paddleboarders and kayakers – even those who confine their paddling to relatively benign conditions. Here’s why:
Everyone makes mistakes. Even in the calmest conditions, people capsize, often for silly reasons, and there are a million of them: you might reach quickly for a camera and lose your balance; or a fish on your line might do something totally unexpected, or you might be startled by a wasp; or you might drop your paddle and reach a bit too far overboard for it; or … you name it. If a “stupid mistake” hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. You will capsize. Wearing a drysuit is like using a seat belt in your car. Accidents are unlikely on any given trip, but over a lifetime of driving or paddling, the chances of a bad situation occurring are too great to ignore. Since you can’t predict which trip will be the one, you have to protect yourself all the time.
You’ll paddle more. If you’re a prudent paddler and you don’t own a drysuit, you don’t go paddling when it’s cold. You know it’s dangerous, and you know it’s uncomfortable. But if you have a drysuit, you can go paddling almost any time. Depending on where you live, this might mean a three or four more months of paddling every year during the “shoulder seasons,” or even paddling year-round.
You’ll become a better paddler. We know this sounds unlikely, but we’ve heard it from even experienced paddlers who have recently begun using a drysuit. Wearing a drysuit gives you confidence to paddle in conditions that seemed too intimidating before, because you’ll no longer be so concerned about capsizing. You’ll be able to paddle more aggressively and you’ll gain more experience in more challenging situations. You’ll be confident about leaning out on your paddle for a high brace or practicing your roll in new situations.
Who Doesn’t Need Thermal Protection?
If all your paddling is done in conditions where hypothermia is not an issue, then you probably don’t need a wetsuit or drysuit. That means the water is perfectly comfortable for swimming. There are plenty of people who fit that description: folks who only take the kayak or paddleboard out on a glorious summer day at the beach or the cabin, when the water is fine and the sun is out, and there are plenty of other paddlers or swimmers around to help you if you tip over and can’t get back in. If you use your kayak or paddleboard as a kind of big pool toy, and you’re not pushing yourself in challenging conditions or going farther than you can easily swim to safety, you’ll probably be fine without thermal protection.
Breathable Drysuit Fabric Basics March 13 2017
Most drysuits for paddling and other surface water sports are made from breathable waterproof fabric – waterproof because of course, and breathable to vent moisture from perspiration inside the suit to the outside. The ability to transport moisture out of the suit keeps you drier, and thus warmer and more comfortable.
CAPTION: The microporous membrane sandwiched in the middle of a breathable fabric laminate has billions of microscopic holes per square inch. These are large enough to allow free-floating water molecules to escape, but too small for liquid water to go through. (The image is schematic: the membrane doesn’t really look like this under an electron microscope.)
Most drysuit fabrics operate on the principle of microporosity to achieve breathability. A special plastic membrane is sandwiched between two or more layers of conventional synthetic woven fabrics. The membrane has billions of microscopic holes through every square inch. These holes are large enough for free-floating molecules of H2O – i.e., water in its gaseous state – to pass through, allowing it to “breathe,” or vent moisture from the inside. That gasified water is actually your sweat, which evaporates inside the suit from your own body heat.
That’s how the moisture gets out from the inside. What keeps it out from the outside?
Water in its liquid state exhibits a property called surface tension: the molecules tend to stick together, which is why water forms droplets instead of spreading out indefinitely. A single drop of water is huge in comparison to the pores in the membrane, and its surface tension holds it together, preventing it from passing through the pores.
Generally, there are at least two layers of nylon or other synthetic woven fabric protecting the membrane, one on each side. Neither of these is waterproof. The inner layer basically keeps liquid sweat on your body or undergarments away from the membrane, where it would clog the pores. The outer layer blocks the wind and protects you and the membrane from physical damage. But it serves another important function.
The outer layer is treated with a slippery chemical known as a Durable Water Repellant (DWR). This does not make the outer layer waterproof, but it does cause water to bead up and run off readily – like a fresh coat of wax on a car. Without it, the outer layer of fabric would become saturated, and that would prevent gaseous water from passing through it. In other words, the DWR is essential to the fabric’s breathability.
After much use and exposure, DWR loses its juice. When you notice that water no longer beads and runs off, it can be reinvigorated by ironing the fabric on low heat. Be careful not to overheat the fabric or to touch the gaskets with the iron.
When DWR can no longer be refreshed by heat treatment, it can be reapplied. It’s available as a liquid in two versions: one you add in the washing machine; the other you brush on the exterior. The kind you brush on treats only the outer layer of fabric, and this is the way to go. Don’t use the wash-in version: it will clog the pores of the membrane and wreck the fabric’s breathability.
Drysuits are sewn together with needle and thread, and that, of course, creates thousands of small holes through which water could pass. This is overcome by covering all the seams inside the garment with heat-sealed fabric tape. The tape has adhesive on the back, and it is applied with an iron or industrial heat-taping machine, which melts the adhesive to seal the holes and fasten the tape over the seam. Tape can be removed for repairs by heating it again with an iron to soften the adhesive.
River Snorkeling: A New Use for Paddling Drysuits? February 10 2017
Drysuit river snorkeling
We’ve been surprised at the range of non-paddlesports uses to which people are putting our drysuits. Wildlife biologists are using Mythic Gear drysuits during waterfowl and migratory fish surveys. An energy engineering company has equipped more than a dozen of its workers with them for installing cooling systems in chest-deep river water. And we heard from a maintenance professional at a trailer park who wears one when repairing plumbing while lying flat on his back in puddles beneath manufactured homes.
Another unconventional use that we learned of recently is river snorkeling. We weren’t even aware river snorkeling was a thing, but Keith Williams spends hundreds of hours face down in rivers, wearing Mythic Gear drysuits to stay warm and dry.
Keith Williams, river snorkeling pioneer
“River snorkeling is a fledgling river-based sport that a handful of us started to do recreationally about 10 years ago,” says Williams, who is the author of Snorkelhead, Adventures in Creek Snorkeling, the first book on the subject, and one of the founding administrators of the River Snorkeling Facebook page. He runs an outdoor education program for underserved kids, much of it involving river snorkeling; has written a curriculum and implementation guides for the US Forest Service in an effort to get river snorkeling programs established in National Forests; has presented at major outdoor/environmental education conferences; and is, he says, “on a mission to get as many people face down in rivers as I can because it is a perspective changer.”
Snorkelhead is the first book about river snorkeling.
River snorkeling isn’t “diving.” Williams doesn’t wear diving weights, and even after burping the suit, the fleece layers trap a certain amount of air, so he stays on the surface, or submerges only briefly and shallow.
“One of the beauties of river snorkeling is I can see tons of life in knee deep water,” he says.On cold winter days, with air temperature highs in the 20s Fahrenheit, water temperatures at freezing, and ice on the water, Williams wears two fleece layers under the drysuit, and this keeps his core warm. He also wears a neoprene hood and neoprene gloves. “I'm good for 30 minutes before my hands stop working,” he says. In slightly more humane temperatures, he often stays in the water for hours at a time.
“Snorkeling rivers gives me a completely different view of features common and taken for granted in our landscape. That change in perspective opens the door to discovering a different way of thinking about rivers. Snorkeling rivers turns them into much more than conduits for water or resources to be managed. They become communities to experience, places to meditate, reflect, heal. Snorkeling rivers enables me to digest and process life, as I watch unexpected life unfold around me.”
Williams concludes, “River snorkeling connects me deeply to places that are often overlooked and abused by society, places that we depend upon for food, water and sanity.”
Caveat: Think of this blog post like those ads on television in which SUVs go power-sliding around deserted city streets at 100 mph, and then the text appears, “Professional drivers under controlled conditions” – implying that even though the car can do it, you really shouldn’t drive that way. Mythic Gear drysuits are intended for use in paddlesports; any other use is outside of our expertise and not covered by warranties express or implied. We make no claims regarding the suitability or safety of our drysuits for snorkeling. If you give river snorkeling a try, get experienced guidance, approach it with caution, and test your drysuit thoroughly before exposing yourself to possible danger.
What You Need to Know About Drysuit Gaskets January 11 2017
Latex neck gasket on an Enki Relief drysuit by Mythic Gear
Drysuit gaskets, also known as drysuit seals, may seem fairly low-tech, but in a way they’re the trickiest part of the whole garment. Gaskets have to provide a water-tight seal against the skin of the user’s neck and wrists (and ankles on some drysuits), while the movement of muscles and tendons beneath the skin are constantly changing the shape of the sealing surface. No other part of the drysuit has to perform a task like that.
Drysuit Gasket Materials
Most drysuit gaskets are made of natural latex rubber. Others are made from neoprene, the synthetic, “foamed” rubber that wetsuits are made from. Some high-end drysuits for SCUBA divers have silicone rubber gaskets, but they’re elaborate, expensive, and not commonly used on drysuits for paddlesports, and since that’s our only concern, we won’t discuss them here.
Pros and Cons of Latex and Neoprene Drysuit Seals
Latex gaskets are stretchier than neoprene, so they can provide a good water-tight seal with less constriction and discomfort. This usually isn’t an important issue for wrist seals, but many people are understandably uncomfortable with something tight around their neck. Latex gaskets are also somewhat delicate: they’re prone to physical and environmental damage, and they have a limited life-cycle – usually three to five years before they need replacement.
Because it is less stretchy than latex, neoprene has to be somewhat tighter around your neck and wrists to keep the water out. A properly-sized neoprene neck gasket can therefore be difficult to pull over your head. (Neoprene neck seals that open and close with a Velcro tab, as found on so-called semi-drysuits or paddling suits, are not water-tight. For a neoprene seal to be truly waterproof, it must be sewn to a fixed size.)
Neoprene is rugged and durable, and most damage can be fixed with a needle and thread and/or Aquaseal sealant. In contrast, the only solution to a torn latex gasket is usually replacement.
Some people are sensitive to latex. Manufacturers of most latex seals process the raw material to eliminate virtually all of the proteins that can cause allergy-like reactions, but users who are extremely sensitive should proceed with caution.
Conical latex wrist gasket on Mythic Gear’s Enki Relief drysuit
Latex gaskets come in two main shapes, conical (or tapered), and bottle-shaped, with a fairly abrupt “shoulder” that narrows down to a more or less cylindrical section around the neck or wrist. Conical gaskets are easily adjustable: if they are too tight, you can trim them to widen the opening. (See trimming instructions for knife or scissors.) Bottle-shape latex gaskets are not adjustable. As mentioned above, neoprene drysuit gaskets are not adjustable either.
Neoprene gaskets require no special care. You simply wash them with the rest of the suit.
Latex gaskets degrade with time, due mainly to the effects of UV light, heat, and ozone, and special care is required to maximize their lifecycles. In storage, they should be protected from sunlight and excess heat. Treating them periodically with certain chemicals may help preserve them. Gasket manufacturers and paddlers have a wide range of opinions on the best treatment, but options include: Armor-All, 303 Marine (or Aerospace) Protectant, McNett Seal Saver, food-grade silicone spray, and talcum powder.
Replacing a neoprene gasket requires sewing skills to handle the thick, resilient material. Most latex gaskets are glued on, and when they need replacing, the typical procedure is to simply cut the old one off at the glue line and glue a new one right over the remaining band of latex. Aquaseal is the adhesive of choice. Even for latex gaskets that are sewn in place and backed up with heat-seal tape, most people use the same method of replacement, cutting the old one off and gluing the new one to the fabric.
It’s not difficult to replace your own latex gaskets, and most paddlers do it themselves. If you’d rather not, most dive shops, many paddlesports vendors, and a number of individual drysuit specialists offer gasket replacement services.
Which is Better?
Neoprene gaskets are more convenient and less expensive in the long run. Latex gaskets are more comfortable, and they do a better job keeping you dry. The majority of drysuits are made with latex seals, and most paddlers prefer them, but in the end it comes down to your own preference and priorities.
Drysuit Zipper Selection and Care December 26 2016
Drysuit zippers are pretty impressive for the fact that they actually work. Let’s look at the issues of zipper selection and care.
A plastic watertight zipper on Mythic Gear's Taruba drysuit
Metal Versus Plastic
Drysuit zippers are described as being made of either plastic or metal. That actually describes just the teeth of the zipper “chain,” and the teeth by themselves don’t create the watertight seal. When you zip a waterproof zipper closed, the teeth lock together in order to pull plastic or rubber sealing surfaces on the two sides against each other. These sealing surfaces are quite narrow, and on casual inspection they don’t appear to be a significant part of the zipper. They are, however, the real basis of its water-tight functionality, so the teeth must have very close tolerances to hold the sealing surfaces together tightly and in alignment.
Metal watertight zipper on a Mythic Gear Kiwa drysuit
Metal zippers are usually made of bronze, which has excellent anti-corrosion properties. They tend to be extremely rugged and durable. They are, however, stiffer and bulkier than plastic zippers, forming a fairly rigid ridge across the drysuit. Their operation is also stiffer, requiring more effort to open and close. And because their teeth are smaller and closer together than on plastic zippers, smaller bits of sand or other grit can cause them to jam.
Plastic zippers are more flexible and lighter in weight. This makes them more comfortable and allows the drysuit to be packed or rolled tighter with less chance of damaging the zipper. They are easier to open and close than metal zippers, although they still require more effort than a conventional non-waterproof zipper. They are less prone to jamming than metal zippers, but not quite as rugged, although their reliability is excellent.
Wash and Wax the Zipper
The Number One rule in caring for drysuit zippers is to keep them clean. Dirt and grit in even small amounts can interfere with the smooth movement of the zipper slider over the teeth and prevent the teeth from engaging. A tiny bit of dirt between the two sealing surfaces can allow water to seep through and into the suit. If used in salt water, salt deposits can cause the same problems.
It’s a good idea to wash the whole drysuit after every use, but if you don’t do that, at least clean the zipper. Open the zipper and submerge the suit in clean water or work under running water. Using a soft-bristle brush, brush side to side across each side of the zipper chain separately on the inside and the outside to clear any grit from between the teeth and off of the sealing surfaces. Rinse thoroughly.
Periodically run a block of beeswax or canning wax (i.e., paraffin) along the teeth of metal zippers and especially near the end stop. (Zip Care by McNett also works well as a lubricant, and the bottle comes with a small brush attached.) Do not wax the teeth of plastic zippers, but do apply wax or petroleum jelly to the special surfaces at the end stop. Use only a very light coating of wax or jelly in either case, as it can attract and hold grit.
In the Field
Store drysuits with metal zippers open and plastic zippers closed. When packing the drysuit for travel, avoid over-bending the zipper by rolling the suit loosely around a bundle of other clothing or a towel. Over-bending is a more serious concern for metal zippers. It can create a permanent kink, which will make the zipper inoperable. The only solution is replacement, which is expensive.
Plastic zippers are more forgiving of being bent into a small radius, but you still want to avoid bending them so tightly that the teeth might separate in the middle of the chain.
To operate the zipper, pull the slider slowly, using your other hand to hold the suit fabric straight and tight and keep the two halves of the zipper in alignment. If the zipper jams, don’t pull harder. Instead, back it up, realign the fabric on the two sides, and try again. If it jams again in the same place, examine the zipper carefully for an obstruction (even a single grain of sand could be the problem) or a bent or misaligned tooth.
Avoid getting the zipper dirty. Don’t drop your drysuit on the ground. If you must lay it on the ground, do so with the zipper facing up. If the zipper does get dirty, clean it before using it. You do not want to jam grit into the teeth or sealing surfaces by closing the zipper when it’s dirty.
What is a Kayaking Drysuit? October 12 2016
Mythic Gear's Taruba kayaking drysuit
Since Mythic Gear introduced the Taruba drysuit last month, several paddlers have asked us what a kayaking drysuit is and whether it's appropriate for non-kayaking paddlers like rafters, canoeists, and stand up paddleboarders.
The primary difference between a drysuit designed for kayaking and one made for general paddlesports is the tunnel or overskirt. The tunnel is a tube of fabric sewn to the outside of the drysuit: the top of the tube is sewn around the chest of the suit, and the bottom of the tube is open.
The bottom edge of the tunnel on the Taruba drysuit is fastened with hook-and-loop tape
Most kayakers wear sprayskirts, which connect them to their kayak and prevent water from entering the cockpit. The sprayskirt has two main components: the deck, which fits around the cockpit rim to cover the cockpit opening, and the tunnel, which fits tightly around the paddler's waist and chest. (Yes, there are two "tunnels" in the discussion: one is part of the sprayskirt; the other is part of the drysuit. That's why we prefer the term "overskirt" for the drysuit feature, but "tunnel" is the more commonly accepted term.)
Fastening the bottom edge of the drysuit tunnel over the top of the sprayskirt tunnel.
After a kayaker puts on the sprayskirt, the tunnel of the drysuit is pulled down over the sprayskirt's tunnel. The bottom edge of the drysuit tunnel is made tight over the sprayskirt tunnel with hook-and-loop tapes (e.g., Velcro), elastics, or both. With the drysuit tunnel in place, water can not reach the top of the sprayskirt tunnel to enter the cockpit of the kayak.
The drysuit's tunnel prevents water from sneaking through the sprayskirt tunnel during rolls and other underwater moves.
This is of most concern to whitewater kayakers, whose maneuvers frequently push the top edge of the sprayskirt tunnel below the surface of the water. Sea kayakers who play in rock gardens, surf, practice rolling, or paddle in rough conditions also benefit from the presence of a tunnel.
For non-kayakers and kayakers who do not wear a sprayskirt, the drysuit tunnel provides no advantages, and a few disadvantages. On front-entry drysuits (most drysuits are front-entry designs, with the zipper diagonally across the chest), the entry zipper must pass through the tunnel, so pulling the zipper open or closed is a two-step process: you pull it as far as the little opening through the tunnel, then you stop, grab it on the other side of the tunnel, and pull it the rest of the way. It's not a big deal, but it is a small inconvenience. The extra fabric also represents extra weight, and of course it adds to the cost of the drysuit.
Many kayakers use drysuits without tunnels, even for activities like surfing.
Kayakers who rarely paddle in rough conditions must weigh the tunnel's advantages and disadvantages for themselves. It should be said that most sea kayakers and almost al recreational kayakers do fine without it. Most whitewater kayakers insist upon a tunnel on their drysuit, but some consider it "nice to have but nonessential," and for them, a tunnel-less drysuit may be a reasonable way to save money.
Know What You Know, Know What You Don’t Know July 12 2016
We're in the midst of summer, and several times each week we're seeing news reports of accidents involving kayaks and stand up paddleboards. Most of these articles report on deaths (mostly drownings), but a few of them are about injuries, near misses, and successful rescues by the Coast Guard or other agencies. Most of these accidents are caused by paddler inexperience, ignorance, or poor judgment. Only a few are caused by things that an intelligent paddler couldn't have reasonably foreseen and avoided.
Of course we regret these accidents and sympathize with the people who have lost a family member, partner or friend. But most of all, this makes us angry and frustrated, because the great majority of these accidents, deaths, and rescues are so easily avoided. It only takes a reasonable assessment of a few factors and the most basic attention to safety.
Here's what you need to ask yourself and take account of:
- What is my skill level? Is it sufficient to handle any conditions that might reasonably occur?
- What conditions are prevailing and what conditions might be reasonably expected?
- Is my equipment adequate for any situation that might reasonably be expected?
Although the questions are few, the answers can be complex. For example, knowing what conditions you might encounter requires a good understanding of (depending on where you go) weather, ocean currents, tides, river dynamics, boat traffic, and perhaps a few other factors. Knowing what equipment will be adequate requires experience and knowledge of possible conditions and of the equipment itself, and the skills to use it.
But the very complexity of the second and third questions informs the first question and can make that a very easy one to answer. If you don't know how to assess conditions, if you don't know what equipment might be required, then ipso facto you are not capable of handling the situation. It's not possible to possess skills for situations that you're not familiar with or don't understand.
That doesn't mean you can't go paddling. It means that you paddle on in conditions that you do understand. Until you build more experience, that might mean that you only paddle in beautiful weather on well-protected waters and stay within sight of your launching site. It may mean that, regardless of conditions or setting, you do not go out alone.
It isn't hard to stay safe if you retain a consciousness of what you know and what you don't know. All that's needed is to be able to say to yourself "I know that I'll be safe." If you can't say this to yourself truthfully, with an emphasis on "know" rather than "think," then you're not acting with due regard to safety.
Other than that, there's one more thing that's fundamental to safety: you never, ever go out without a PFD (life vest). And that means wearing it, not strapped to the deck bungies. If you are highly skilled and you understand the possible risks, you know that you never go out without it. If you are a raw beginner and you don't understand the risks, then accept this as the most basic, essential piece of knowledge for paddling safety: you never go out without a PFD, regardless of conditions. Ever. We could go on and on about drysuits, signaling equipment, assisted rescues and other safety advice, but that one rule -- wear your PFD -- is key.
My Most Important Personal Safety Gear February 01 2016
As a year round paddler on the coast of Maine, a drysuit is my most import piece of personal safety gear. With wintertime water temps that can go as low as the mid 30’s any mishap that involves a body being in the water is potentially dangerous. In a drysuit in cold water you still feel the cold but you are dry, which is huge in staying safe.
Along with the drysuit comes the importance of what to wear underneath. I think there is no set formula that will work for everyone. We all know whether we run hot or cold and how the elements and our exertion level play in. Air temp, water temp, conditions and your own response to cold are all things to consider.
Most of us have heard the term “dress for the water temp not the air.” I feel that depends on what you are doing and your proficiency in self-rescue. If you are surfing in dynamic waters and exerting yourself to the point of sweating, then you will have enough residual body heat to keep you warm as long as you can get back in your boat relatively quickly. If you are enjoying a leisurely flat-water paddle in cold temps then an extra layer may be required to keep you warm.
It is also important to know that while surfing in a kayak or paddling in rough water in general, it is unavoidable that you will be doused with water repeatedly even if you stay upright the whole time. So the ability to stay dry even if you do not plan on capsizing is paramount and can keep you from ending your day early due to the cold.
With the advanced materials our clothing layers are made of these days, it is possible to get maximum heat retention with minimal sweating and bulk. The lack of bulk in insulating layers has been most welcome in my drysuit wearing life.
The materials that drysuits are made of give us the opportunity to maximize performance as well. Breathable materials allow sweat to be exported without water being imported, so to speak.
Concerning breathable materials and salt-water paddlers, I have found over the years that salt can get into the fibers and clog the breathability of the garment, so be diligent in rinsing after each use in salt water.
Another note on drysuit care that I learned the hard way: if you turn your suit wrong side out to dry, then do so out of direct sunlight. The seam tape will delaminate after prolonged sun exposure. (In the winter I wear my drysuit in the shower to rinse it then hang it in the house over a large muck bucket to dry. In the summer I hang it in my garage where I have a dehumidifier running.)
There are also some quick field repair tips that I have found success with. I got a small rip in the thigh of a drysuit courtesy of some rosebush thorns at a takeout. A small square of duct tape on the outside of the tear and another on the inside fixed the problem. The repair actually held for two years. I also repaired a broken zipper tab with a loop created from a zip tie.
As I said earlier I think that my drysuit is the most important piece of safety gear I own for cold weather paddling. When used with an appropriate layering system that works for you it can open up a whole new world of paddling options. With a drysuit, paddling is no longer just a seasonal activity.
Chris Audet is a Master Maine Guide with a kayak certification, a Level 4 ACA Whitewater & Coastal Kayak Instructor, a BCU 4 Star Paddler and a Wilderness First Responder. He is certified in Swift Water Rescue and has served as an instructor at the Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium.
Photos by Jeannine Audet
Drysuits Make Sense for Prize-Winning Kayak Angler January 19 2016
Daniel Byrne is a recent convert to drysuits. An accomplished kayak angler and fishing guide in DuPage County, Illinois, who goes by the handle Pondboy, he previously relied on traditional warm clothing, unaware of the danger he could be in.
“For a long time, a wetsuit was the only kind of cold-water protection most anglers could afford, but I knew from research that a drysuit was the way to go,” says Byrne, noting that many drysuits cost $1,200 to $1,400 – as much as a high-end fishing kayak. “I’m not going to spend that much on an accessory. Most kayak fishermen are pretty economical types. If we weren’t, we’d probably be in powerboats,” he adds, laughing.
But a Farmer John wetsuit left a lot to be desired, from Byrne’s point of view. Just getting into the boat at the put-in, he explains, they just are not effective, as your feet and lower legs get wet. Then, as you paddle, your arms get wet too, and in cold weather that presents a problem: as you sit fairly still while you’re fishing, that dampness creeps up and makes you cold.
And it’s not just a matter of comfort: it’s a question of security. Kayak anglers stash most of their gear behind them, on the rear deck. Reaching it requires twisting the upper body around, which can easily throw off one’s balance. Even with a fishing kayak’s wide beam, just a moment’s carelessness can result in a capsize. Another common capsize scenario occurs when you’re fishing in current with the anchor down. Should the kayak get sideways to the current, the anchor line can “trip” the boat. "There is also the danger of wave and boat wake combinations as well as fast current and log jams to avoid," says Byrne.
“I do a lot of fishing in water that’s just two to four feet deep,” he continues. “But even if you capsize in shallow water, you still end up totally wet.” On a cold day, that can result in inconvenience and lost time as an angler may need to return to the put-in to dry off and change into dry gear – or maybe stop fishing for the day. "The farther away from your vehicle the more problems you’re likely to have," he says.
Byrne got a Enki model drysuit from Mythic Gear at the beginning of 2015 – just in time for the start of the Kayak Wars team kayak fishing tournament, an international derby that lasts for most of the year. “The neck gasket took some getting used to,” he says, “but after a while you no longer notice it.” Overall, he soon found it more comfortable than the bulky outdoor wear he had been wearing, whether sitting in the kayak or wading with the boat along shorelines or over shallows. “You’re dry, so you’re warm,” he says.
But Byrne finds the biggest advantage in the realm of confidence. “You feel much safer in a drysuit,” he says. “I’m not worried about falling in, so I can pay more attention to fishing.”
Seeing the advantages that Byrne enjoyed with his Enki drysuit, Trout Mafia teammate Tom Harris bought Mythic Gear’s Kiwa model drysuit. Being able to fish longer hours in comfort and confidence, the two of them caught the highest number of fish among the five-member team, and the team went on to win the Kayak Wars worldwide freshwater fishing title for 2015, beating the second-place finishers by 39 percent on points scored. While skill and determination were certainly the biggest factors in Trout Mafia’s huge win, some small part of it might be attributed to the comfort and confidence that a drysuit confers on kayak anglers.
Probably no sea kayaking death has ever received more public notice than that of Douglas Tompkins, the founder of outdoor clothing company The North Face. Tompkins died of hypothermia after his double kayak capsized in a storm in a lake in the Andes Mountains. There are innumerable news articles about the accident; here's one.
Tompkins did the outdoor world and the environment great good, and we have no wish to cast aspersions on his memory. But his high-profile death from hypothermia demands an analysis, to help us understand the dangers and hopefully identify a solution.
Tompkins and all five of his paddling partners were experienced paddlers. He was not, however, dressed appropriately. It's reported that he was not wearing a wetsuit and that he may have been wearing a drytop, but even if so, he was apparently not wearing drypants.
Many whitewater kayakers who have a reliable roll wear drytops without drypants, depending upon their sprayskirt to keep water away from their lower body and their roll to avoid the necessity of a wet exit following a capsize. But should a wet exit be necessary, a drytop without drypants does not keep you dry. Water can enter through the torso opening (i.e., the waist). Drytops provide no thermal protection if you're in the water.
The North Face does not manufacture paddling drywear, and to the best of my knowledge, it never has. Nonetheless, as the company's founder, Tompkins made his fortune persuading outdoors enthusiasts about the importance of proper gear to avoid exposure, and he was probably more knowledgeable than most about the dangers of hypothermia.
So how did this happen? Tompkins and his colleagues apparently underestimated the potential danger of the situation, and overestimated their ability to cope with problems that might arise. Among the confidence-inspiring circumstances that probably influenced their decision to paddle without proper thermal protection were these:
- All six were experienced paddlers and outdoorsmen.
- They launched in calm conditions.
- Their planned route for the day was short.
- They remained close to shore.
- One presumes that their kayaks and other paddling gear were in good condition.
Working against those circumstances were the following, which they apparently ignored or discounted:
- The lake has a reputation for violent storms that arise quickly. (One did.)
- Landing is impossible along many parts of the lake's shoreline. (The party was unable to land promptly when the storm kicked up.)
- Gear can fail. (The rudder on Tompkins' kayak malfunctioned, preventing his boat from reaching shelter and contributing to the capsize.)
- At 72 years of age, Tompkins, while apparently fit, was not a young man, and from available photos, it appears that he was quite lean. (Younger and overweight people are more resistant to hypothermia.)
- During a severe storm, it is difficult for even experienced paddlers to lend assistance to others, or sometimes even know that a problem exists. (The others in the party were unaware for some time that Tompkins' kayak had capsized, and the paddler who ultimately came to his aid was unable to get him out of the water or tow him to shore.)
As shown by many examples in George Gronseth's Deep Trouble: True Stories and Their Lessons from Sea Kayaker Magazine, accidents are almost always attributable to a failure of judgment. The same lesson appears again and again in Doug McKown's Up the Creek: True Stories of Canoeists in Trouble. It almost always come down, ultimately, to a decision to do something based on the assessment "I think it'll be okay," when in fact it wasn't.
Kayaks and canoes can capsize for an infinitude or reasons and for seemingly no reason at all. Even the best paddlers have capsized "stupidly," due to a moment's inattention or slight carelessness. (If you haven't yet had a "stupid" capsize, beware of hubris. You WILL experience it, and we hope the results are simply a bit of embarrassment and perhaps a slight increase in humility.) When the water is cold, that capsize can lead to hypothermia.
But hypothermia is not even the greatest of the cold-water dangers. Drowning due to "cold shock" is the more common killer. Cold water makes you gasp, and as it becomes difficult to time your breaths, it may become impossible avoid inhaling water into your lungs. According to the National Center for Cold Water Safety, breathing begins to be affected in water as warm as 77°F, and breathing problems become immediately life-threatening in water between 50°F and 60°F.
Effects of cold water, from National Center for Cold Water Safety
One never knows when he or she might end up in the water. Apparently safe conditions have a habit of deceiving and deteriorating; all of us make mistakes; gear occasionally fails; and trusted associates might not be able to help. This all means that thermal protection is a must, and one should wear a drysuit or wetsuit when paddling on cold water, regardless of conditions.
Doing it right: These paddlers are wearing drysuits and PFDs even though conditions are calm in this protected cove, because the water is cold.
Trimming Drysuit Gaskets -- Another Method May 01 2015
Drysuit gaskets or seals often need to be trimmed. Most come with fairly small openings to fit people with small necks or wrists, and these are often too tight for people with larger body parts. Some gaskets come from the manufacturer with the ends entirely closed (see photo below), and these have to be cut open by everyone and trimmed to size.
We blogged previously about trimming drysuit gaskets using scissors. That method works well, but we now prefer this method, which we find easier to produce a nice clean cut, and quicker as well.
- An 11-oz. coffee can (this size people still call "one pound") or a 1-qt. paint can for neck gaskets. For wrist gaskets, use a 6-oz. tomato paste can for narrow wrists or a 10-oz. soup can for wider ones. If a can is just a little too narrow, you can build it up with several wraps of masking tape, as on the paint can in the photo.
- Scissors: only needed if the end of the gasket is closed.
- Utility or craft (e.g., X-acto) knife
- Sharpie or similar permanent marker
If the gasket has a closed end, cut it off with the scissor above the first molded guide ring (i.e., the smallest opening). This cut doesn't have to be terribly neat, as long as you don't leave any nicks in the edge that could turn into tears when you stretch the gasket in the next step.
Turn the drysuit inside out. Stretch the gasket over the can and position it so that the guide rings are fairly straight and even. Pick the guide ring you want to cut, and use the marking pen to highlight it all the way around. The guide rings can be difficult to see, even with good light, and the marking pen helps a lot. You can mark just above the ring you plan to cut, or mark right on the ring itself.
Lay the can on its side. Cut through the gasket with the utility knife, making long, smooth cuts.
You'll have to stop periodically to turn the can. When you do, begin the next part of the cut exactly where the previous one ended. Make sure the final cut ends exactly where the first one begins.
There's a slight dip in the edge of this gasket. This is okay, but if you want to make this a neater job, or if you left a nick in the edge that could turn into a tear, you don't have to cut all the way down to the next guide ring. Instead, make a gradually-sloping cut to exclude the just the flaw. You're aiming for a smooth, gradual dip in the edge.
The finished trimmed neck gasket, turned right side out.
Notes on Sizing Drysuit Gaskets
Drysuit gaskets should be just slightly snug but not uncomfortable. If you feel tingling or numbness, or if breathing is difficult, the gasket should be trimmed wider.
Trim off just one guide ring at a time. A little bit can make a big difference. You can always trim it wider, but you can't undo a cut if you've taken off too much.
Rather than trimming their gaskets, some people stretch them, placing them over a fairly big object and leaving them there for a few days. We advise against this, as it permamently reduces the elasticity of the rubber.
Leak-Testing a Drysuit March 26 2015
When a drysuit leaks, it can be tricky finding the exact spot. When you were wearing the suit, you probably noticed a leak in a general area -- the left foot, perhaps, or the right side under the armpit -- but when you take the suit off, there's enough moisture spread around so that you can't tell exactly where the water came in. And if you can't do that, you can't fix it.
Here's an easy, DIY method to test a drysuit for leaks and identify their exact location.
Work on a flat hard dry surface. On a nice day, a paved driveway works best. Otherwise, a garage floor will do.Cover a large area with clean, dry corrugated cardboard. Open the drysuit's entry zipper and close the relief zipper if it has one. Turn the suit inside-out and lay it flat.
Plug the wrist gaskets with FULL 12-oz. cans. (Empty cans will crush and won't work.) If your suit has ankle gaskets, treat them the same way. If it's a slightly loose fit, you can use a larger can or tighten up the seal by wrapping it with painter's tape. If your gaskets have very small openings, use a smaller can like the kind tomato paste comes in.
Put the end of a garden hose throught the neck gasket. A hose nozzle with an on-off control that you can operate through the fabric is nice to have. If you don't have one, just the plain hose end will do.
Reach into the suit through the neck gasket and close the entry zipper. Pull it tight and make sure it's completely closed.
Wrap the neck gasket tightly around the hose, then tie it in place. If you use string, take several wraps around the gasket before tying the knots: this will help prevent the string from cutting into the latex. Heavier cordage, like the 3/8" rope shown, is less likely to cut. Prop the neck up off the ground 6" to 8". A plastic tub works well for this.
We're ready to go. Turn on the water and watch carefully for any major leaks where the gaskets or zippers might not have been closed off completely. Small leaks in the suit itself are not likely to show up immediately.
Let the water run until the drysuit is 1/3 to 1/2 full then turn it off. Do not fill the suit completely -- that will make it too heavy to move.
As the suit is filling, gently lift the areas where leakage is suspected. If the suit isn't torn, then leaks are most likely to occur at the seams.
Keep lifting all around the suit, exposing the seams on the underside and checking for leaks. Be careful not to move the suit around at this point. After you lift a section, let it settle back to the same spot.
Leaks will be obvious when water drips onto the cardboard. It may take several minutes for the water to inch its way through the seam, so take your time.
Mark the area of the leak with a permanent marking pen like a Sharpie.
Go over the entire suit, lifting it gently in small sections to check for leaks at all the seams on the underside. Draw circles around the wet spots on the cardboard so that when you turn the suit over, you'll be able to distinguish them from any new leaks that occur.
Turn the suit over. This isn't as easy as it sounds, since there is a lot of weight in water in there. Lift the right leg to drain the water out, then cross it over the left leg. Lift the neck and chest to drain water toward the legs, then shift the left arm under the suit toward the right side. Pull the right arm over to the left side, then gently roll the body of the suit and reposition it on the cardboard. If there were any leaks on the first side, position the legs, arms, and main body seams so that they are not over the marked wet areas.
Again, take your time and wait several minutes for water to work its way through any dubious seams. Lift the entire suit gently, in small sections, looking for new wet spots on the cardboard. Mark the offending seams and circle the wet spots on the cardboard.
When you're sure you've found all the leaks, pull one of the cans from a wrist gasket to begin draining. If you're working inside a garage, the whole setup -- suit and cardboard -- should be dragged outside before you drain.
Hang the suit inside out (out of direct sunlight) to dry the inside, then turn it rightside-out to dry the outside before repairing the seams.
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New Matsu and Kiwa Models Now Shipping January 23 2015
Mythic Gear's new Matsu and Kiwa drysuits are now in stock and available for immediate shipping. The new models are a small step up from our existing Sobek and Enki Relief drysuits, but still below $400 -- which is less than half the price of most other drysuits on the market.
While we await professional photography, here are some quick snaps:
Both are unisex, front-entry one-piece drysuits with breathable fabric, latex gaskets at neck and wrists, and integral drysocks. The two models are actually identical, except for the relief zipper on the Kiwa. We've received many queries about the differences between these suits and our Sobek and Enki Relief Series, so here's a summary:
- The most significant difference is the tailoring. The Matsu/Kiwa series has a more sophisticated cut than the Sobek/Enki series, for improved comfort and freedom of movement.
- The drysocks have an extra layer of tough nylon Oxford-weave fabric (similar to Cordura®) for durability.
- There is a strip of reflective tape across the chest. Combined with the red color, Matsu/Kiwa's visibility in low light is better.
- We've removed the cover over the relief zipper for ease of access.
- The new drysuits have a drawstring waist, vs. the velcro belt on the Sobek/Enki. Many users find this more convenient, and it's easier to replace when necessary.
What hasn't changed is just as important:
- High-quality waterproof zippers and latex gaskets
- 3-layer breathable waterproof fabric
- Great value in cold-water protection: aside from our own Sobek and Enki models, you will not find a lower-priced drysuit in North America.
- Protected by a 1-year warranty
Both suits are available in sizes Small, X-Large, and XXL (no Medium or Large at this time). Orders ship the next business day, but orders received before noon often ship the same day.
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Introducing Matsu and Kiwa Drysuits December 17 2014
Two new drysuit models -- Matsu and Kiwa -- are on their way. They're a step up from our popular Sobek and Enki Relief suits, but still amazing values, priced below any other American supplier.
- reinforced drysocks: Oxford cloth nylon fabric (similar to Cordura) for improved durability
- reflective piping and red color: better visibility in almost any conditions
- drawstring waistcord: many users find the drawstring more convenient than a velcro belt, and it's easier to replace
- more refined tailoring for greater comfort and freedom of movement.
|Mythic Gear president Bob Holtzman models the new Matsu drysuit.|
Kiwa's relief zipper is the only difference from the Matsu. All our drysuits are unisex, one-piece front-entry designs with the entry zipper placed diagonally across the chest. All have breathable, 3-layer fabric, integral drysocks, and dive-quality zippers and latex neck and wrist gaskets.
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Trim Your Drysuit Gaskets Right May 30 2014
If your drysuit gaskets are too tight for comfort, they may have to be trimmed. Some drysuits (including Mythic Gear's) come through from the manufacturer with the gaskets completely closed at the ends, and these must be trimmed before you can even try the suit on.
It's important to trim gaskets correctly. Poor trimming can result in premature gasket failure, which is inconvenient and somewhat expensive to repair. Should you wreck a gasket on a brand new suit, the manufacturer may be reluctant to offer a refund or size exchange.
We'll use closed-end gaskets in this example. If your gaskets are open-ended, the process is the same except for step #2 and as noted in step #3.
1. Turn the suit and gasket inside-out. Notice the trimming rings molded into the gasket.
Left: Trim the tip of closed-end gasket. Right: This cut need not be very smooth.
3. Cut down toward the first trim ring. On a closed gasket where you just cut off the tip, start nearly perpendicular to the edge and rapidly change the angle of the cut so that by the time you reach the first ring, it's in line with the ring. On open gaskets, start the cut at a shallow angle, heading gradually down before leveling out in line with the ring.
The next cut begins at a steep angle (left) and quickly levels out with the trim ring (right)
4. Cut all the way around the ring. The keys to a clean cut are: hold the gasket as flat and tight as possible, and make each stroke of the scissors as long as possible.
5. On closed-end wrist gaskets, the first ring is usually quite close to the end, and its diameter is so small that it is difficult to make long, clean scissor strokes. Work carefully and do your best. Make sure that each successive stroke begins precisely in the apex of the previous one.
6. Make sure that the end of the cut aligns precisely with the beginning, leaving a perfectly smooth edge all the way around.
7. Slight imperfections that stick up can be acceptable. Notches in the edge are unacceptable, because notches can easily turn into tears. If your cut left a notch, repair it by cutting at a very shallow angle from its deepest point to meet the clean edge an inch or two away. Do this in both directions from the deepest point of the notch. The result should be a very shallow, perfectly smooth-edged depression in the top edge of the gasket.
8. Turn the suit rightside-out and try the fit of the gasket. (You don't have to put the suit on each time: you can just insert your wrist or neck through the gasket you're working on.) If it's too tight, trim down to the next ring and repeat.
9. A properly-fitting gasket should feel just a little bit snug, not uncomfortable. It only needs to be tight enough to remain in contact with your skin no matter how your body moves. When the gasket is submerged, water pressure helps create the watertight seal.
- Some people report better results with a razor knife than scissors. We have not had luck with this method.
- Some people report good results clamping one side of the gasket against a tabletop, stretching the gasket sideways, then cutting through both layers at once with scissors. (As an alternate to clamping, some suggest having a friend hold one side while you stretch the other side with one hand and cut with the other.) We find it difficult to keep both layers perfectly aligned with this method, and impossible to finish the cut cleanly.
Trimming Mythic Gear's New Closed-End Gaskets
Cutting to the first (top) trim ring on Mythic Gear's new closed-end gaskets produces a very small opening that is too tight for most people, and trimming just one ring at a time can be tedious if you ultimately need to trim down 5 or more rings. The following tables show the rings (trim lines) that should provide a pretty good fit for most people, based on the circumference of their wrists and neck. (Use a dressmaker's fabric measuring tape.)
The rings on the tables are numbered from the base of the gasket (where it attaches to the fabric of the drysuit), so that ring #1 is the one closest to the fabric. That way, even after you've trimmed off a few rings, you can still count from the bottom and get the right ring. We recommend making your first cut at least 2 or 3 rings above the recommended one (i.e., closer to the opening) and working your way down one at a time.
Wetsuits Versus Drysuits May 13 2014
The Question Isn't "Which Is Better?" It's "Which is Better for You?"
Wetsuits and drysuits are kind of like cats and dogs: neither is "better," although they're certainly different. One is better in some respects, and not as good in others. And once you understand their relative advantages and disadvantages, it's a matter of deciding which one is better suited to your needs.
(Just to be clear: we're talking primarily about paddlesports here, although many of the arguments apply to other surface-water sports like dinghy sailing and surfing. This is not meant to address the concerns of SCUBA divers.)
Left: "Shorty" and full-length wetsuits (Photo courtesy David Corby, GNU Free Documentation License)
Right: Drysuits (Mythic Gear photo by Rapid Shooters Maine)
How they Work
Wetsuits are made of foamed neoprene rubber. This thick, spongy material contains thousands of tiny bubbles of nitrogen. The heat from your body warms the trapped gas, which acts like a buffer between you and the cold water outside the suit. Wetsuits allow water to enter, but contrary to popular belief, they do not work by trapping that water and using your body heat to warm it up. Water flushes in and out of a wetsuit too quickly to function as an insulating medium.
Drysuits are generally made of layers of nylon and plastic membranes that provide a waterproof barrier to keep you dry. Body heat transfers into water about 20 times faster than it does into air, so simply by keeping you dry, a drysuit goes a long way toward conserving your body heat. But inside a drysuit, you also wear insulating clothing. This traps air, which is warmed by your body heat, and so slows heat loss through the drysuit fabric.
Drysuits cost a lot more than wetsuits. You can get an entry-level wetsuit for about $50, and a pretty good one for $150-250. The least expensive drysuit costs $250, and most cost around $1,000.
Hands-down, drysuits keep you warmer. This is true whether you're wet from numerous brief immersions while playboating, or in the water due to a capsize. We're not aware of any empirical tests that compare their warmth-conserving performance, but one need only go boating in equally cold water in the two types of garments to be quickly convinced. When wearing a drysuit, you can stay warm when immersed in cold water. In a wetsuit, you're cold – just not as cold as you'd be without it.
This is a more subjective quality. Some people find the neck gaskets on drysuits uncomfortable, and that discomfort can range from mild to panic-inducing. On the other hand, wetsuits tend to bunch up uncomfortably at the knees and elbows, where drysuits behave more like "regular" clothing.
When paddling, the thin nylon sleeves of a drysuit are somewhat less constricting than the neoprene sleeves of a full-length wetsuit. Paddlers who wear farmer John (i.e., sleeveless) wetsuits usually also wear a semi-dry top or splash jacket, which have about the same effect on arm and shoulder mobility as a drysuit.
Buoyancy and Swimming
Drysuits can be somewhat awkward to swim in, due to the trapped volume of air that always rises to the highest point inside the suit. The buoyancy of a wetsuit is evenly distributed and does not shift, making swimming more natural.
Ease of use
Lacking gaskets and waterproof zippers, wetsuits are easier and quicker to put on than drysuits when they're dry. When they're wet, on the other hand, wetsuits require a good deal of tugging to put on and take off, while drysuits slip on and off easily.
A torn wetsuit loses little of its insulating performance, except immediately over the part of the body exposed by the tear. If a torn drysuit permits water to enter and saturate the undergarments, then the suit's insulating qualities are lost. In most cases, however, only a small amount of water enters, so the drysuit retains most of its insulating properties.
The fear of a damaged drysuit filling with water and "dragging you down" is unfounded. The water inside a torn drysuit is no denser than the water outside it, so it has no effect on your buoyancy. On the other hand, a drysuit filled with water will certainly be awkward to swim in, and it might make it difficult to re-enter a boat following a capsize. But very few drysuit tears are so extensive that they allow a great deal of water to enter, and we are not aware of any instances in which a paddler drowned due to a water-filled drysuit.
Care, Repairs and Maintenance
Drysuits gaskets are somewhat fragile, and they degrade over time, typically requiring replacement every 3-5 years unless mechanical damage forces replacement sooner. Replacing a gasket is a bit fussy, but it's not terribly difficult and most paddlers do it themselves. Neck gaskets typically cost $35-50, wrist gaskets $25-35 a pair, and a tube of Aquaseal adhesive/sealant about $8. Professional replacement can more than double the cost. Fabric tears can generally be repaired with a swatch of fabric, some simple stitching, and a bit of Aquaseal. Although the waterproof zippers on drysuits have excellent durability, a damaged zipper is expensive to replace and generally requires the services of a drysuit expert.
Wetsuits have no maintenance components comparable to drysuit gaskets. Aquaseal suffices to repair most tears. The zippers are not expensive or technical, as on drysuits, and replacement is within the capabilities of many seamstresses accustomed to working with heavy materials.
Because of the delicacy of gaskets and the high cost of replacing a damaged zipper, one must treat drysuits with greater care when storing and transporting them.
Wetsuits have a tendency to stink, and the older they get, the worse they smell. Drysuits do not exhibit a similar drawback.
The table summarizes the arguments above, with "X" representing the superior performance for each quality in the left column. Where neither is clearly superior, no X appears.
Ease of Use
Although wetsuits have three X's to drysuits' two, this does not mean that wetsuits are "better" than drysuits, for the performance qualities are not all of equal importance. You have to consider your own priorities and the conditions you paddle in. For most paddlers, the decision narrows down to the tradeoff between price and functionality. Only you can decide whether the superior warmth and safety of a drysuit justifies its higher cost.
What Does it Cost to Wear a Drysuit? March 25 2014
We've heard fans of other brands of drysuits comment that their suits, although more expensive to purchase than Mythic Gear's, are a better deal overall. They cite two arguments:
- The suits are more durable; i.e., you get more use out of them.
- With the lifetime replacement warranty, they cost less over the user's lifetime of drysuit paddling.
Although it hasn't been demonstrated, we think there may be some truth to #1. As a cost-saving measure, Mythic Gear eliminated the fabric reinforcements that some drysuit makers put on the knees, elbows and butt. Getting rid of those reinforcements confers some advantages (lighter weight, better breathability), but we don't question that they enhance durability.
Regarding #2: while a lifetime warranty is certainly a nice feature, it obviously doesn't come free. Drysuits from the most popular manufacturer cost 3 to 5 times as much as Mythic Gear's. So how great a deal is that, really?
We decided to find out. Each of the charts below compares the cost-per-use of drysuits at five different price-points:
$225: the price of the Mythic Gear Sobek, North America's lowest-price drysuit (1-year warranty)
$325: the price of Mythic Gear's Enki Relief, the lowest-price relief suit (1-year warranty)
$450: approximate price of the next-cheapest drysuit on the market (1-year warranty)
$600: approximate list price of the least expensive drysuit from the best-known manufacturer (lifetime warranty)
$1,000: approximate list price of a mid-priced drysuit from the best-known manufacturer (lifetime warranty)
The four charts compare different levels of annual usage: 12, 25, 50, and 100 times per year. Note that the scale of the vertical axis changes from chart to chart.
The charts assume that every drysuit lasts 5 years, regardless of usage, and all suits are replaced at years 6 and 11. Users of the three less expensive suits replace them with identical suits at the same price at years 6 and 11. (Obviously, we're ignoring inflation.) Because the two more expensive suits are covered by lifetime warranties, users incur no additional purchase expenses during the 15-year period.
Using a 5-year life cycle is arbitrary but at least it's objective. We have no data on the number of uses to be expected between failures for our suits or anyone else's. And drysuits are often replaced for reasons other than failure (e.g., when the user gains weight). Maintenance costs are ignored: we assume that gaskets and zippers, neither of which are typically covered by warranty, need to be replaced at equal rates across all drysuit price-points.
So let's look at the results. Discussion follows the charts. Click the charts to magnify.
Overall: During the first five years, cost per use is in direct proportion to the cost of the drysuit, so the suits that are less expensive to purchase are less expensive to use. At years 6 and 11 there is some crossover, where one or both of the suits with lifetime warranties become either temporarily or permanently more economical than some or all of the "cheaper" suits, depending upon price and level of usage.
12 Uses per Year: For paddlers who only use their suits a few times at the beginning and end of the season, the $600/lifetime warranty suit becomes the most economical at year 6 and remains there through year 15. The $225/1-year-warranty suit is in second place between years 6-11, after which the $1,000 suit overtakes it for second place. The $450/1-year-warranty suit becomes the most expensive at year 6 and remains there through year 15.
25, 50, and 100 Uses per Year: For more active paddlers, the $225 suit is the best deal through year 10, after which the $600 suit becomes slightly more economical.
Obviously, some of the assumptions we've used may not apply to you. But we feel it's a useful analysis, and the first one we've seen that compares the value of drysuits on a per-use basis.
In conclusion: several factors go into determining what drysuit makes the most economic sense:
- purchase price
- the amount of usage it will receive
- the likelihood that you'll want or need a new suit independent of durability (e.g., weight gain, desire for different style or features)
- the likelihood that you'll still be paddling on cold water 6 or 11 years down the road
- cash flow. This is obviously one of the most important concerns. Just because something might be cheaper over the course of 10 or 15 years doesn't mean it's a good use of limited resources now. That's why consumers don't buy toilet paper by the truckload.
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What to Wear With a Drysuit March 18 2014
Just as you can't enjoy your kayak, canoe or SUP without a paddle, you can't use a drysuit without some "accessories." Although drysuits provide an essential layer of protection for paddlers in cold water, they're not complete. Here's what else you need to wear. (If the article doesn't appear, click the headline above.)
Cold Water Danger Not Limited to Hypothermia March 05 2014
It's almost impossible to discuss the dangers that drysuits protect you from without sounding kind of…negative. But drysuits are safety gear, facts are facts, and we're mostly adults here. So let's face some cold hard truths. Mainly cold.
Hypothermia is often viewed as the biggest danger associated with cold water immersion. And when one sees figures showing that even in ice-cold water, it can take an hour or more for hypothermia to kill, it makes cold water seem not so very dangerous after all. "Plenty of time to self-rescue or get rescued," you might think.
Not so. According to the National Center for Cold Water Safety, death from cold water immersion can come in several forms:
Cold Shock: When your body is suddently immersed in cold water, you lose control of your breathing. In other words, you gasp uncontrollably, often several times in a row. If your head is underwater when that happens, your lungs will fill with water and you can drown almost instantaneously.
Gradual drowning: Because you lack control over your breathing, it can be difficult to time your breaths relative to waves. If you survive cold shock, you might drown by stages as you take repeated gulps of water into your lungs. It only takes about 5 ounces of water – about two big swallows – down the wrong tube.
Heart Failure and Stroke: Immersion in cold water causes extreme, instantaneous increases in heart rate and blood pressure. If you're susceptible to heart failure, this can trigger it.
Physical Incapacitation: After about ten minutes in really cold water, you lose muscle coordination. You will be unable to perform a boat empty-and-reentry or swim any distance. Hypothermia or gradual drowning become the inevitable result.
Circumrescue Collapse: A significant percentage of people who are pulled alive from cold water die of heart failure within moments of rescue. The reason is obscure, but it may be due to a precipitous drop in blood pressure or to cold blood suddenly circulating from your limbs into your core.
Accidents happen to everyone, and people who "never capsize" have simplynot capsized yet. If you paddle in water below 70F (21C), the thermal protection of a wetsuit or drysuit is a must.
More information on drysuits and cold water.
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Packing Drysuits for Travel February 20 2014
When packing a drysuit for travel, it's important to do it right. Over-bending the expensive entry zipper can damage it and render it useless. This video shows step by step how to pack the suit to protect the zipper. If you prefer to read, a transcript appears below the video.
Transcript (not verbatim)
One of the most important and expensive parts of a drysuit is the watertight entry zipper. We want to take good care of that zipper, because if it gets kinked or over-bent, it won't function properly. When we pack a suit for travel, we won't fold it or roll it up like a normal piece of clothing, and we certainly won't just stuff it into a drybag or duffel. We'll fold it AND roll it in a special way to protect the entry zipper.
Lay the suit out flat like we have here, face up. The zipper should be closed, and the flap over the zipper should be closed too. Fold the right arm at a right angle over the zipper, then fold the left arm down parallel to the zipper, so both arms are at right angles to each other.
Fold the legs up the waistband, then fold the lower half of the legs back down. What we have now is nice, square package.
Here's our zipper, from this corner to this corner. Take the two opposite corners and fold them in together.
Now we're ready to roll up the package. Take a towel, or a bundle of clothing, and roll the suit around it. The towel ensures that the zipper never gets bent to a really small radius when the drysuit is in your duffel with other gear.
Once it's rolled, you can take a gear strap or a piece of cord, and secure the rolled-up suit. Then you're ready to pack the suit into your duffel, along with your other gear.
Make sure you protect the entry zipper from over-bending when you pack your suit. Take care of your drysuit when you travel, and it'll take care of you on the water.
More information on drysuit use and care: How to love your drysuit.
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Why Are Drysuits So Big? February 12 2014
Drysuits look huge. When you're about to try one on, it's the first thing you'll notice. "Ridiculous," you'll think. "It's taller than I am! I must have the wrong size."
You'll be surprised.
Try that enormous suit on, and it magically shrinks to fit you. Or maybe it's the other way around: a drysuit is such an awesome thing that, as soon as you put it on, you become bigger, more powerful -- better looking too!
A front-entry drysuit has to be big for a few reasons:
- After you pull on the bottom half, you have to get your head through the entry zipper. The torso has to be extra long so that the top of the chest fits completely over your head.
- Drysuit fabric doesn't stretch at all, so the legs have to be cut extra long to allow you to bend at the knees.
- Because you'll wear a full suit of insulating clothing under the drysuit and need unimpeded freedom of movement, it has to be big around at every location: shoulders, armholes, chest, hips, etc.
- And if your suit has sewn-on drysocks, they add another foot or so below where your pants would normally end.
Where does all this extra fabric go when you put the suit on?
The upper torso remains big. You'll notice the entry zipper tends to stand out far from your chest. You need a lot of this extra room for full arm and shoulder movement and torso rotation. Your PFD will contain and hide all that extra fabric.
Even after your feet take up the length of the drysocks, the legs remain long. You simply need that extra length so that you can sit, bend your knees, etc. The cuffs may sag down over the top of your booties, but as long as you tighten the waist belt or drawstring, things shouldn't droop down too far.
There's one more factor that allows that apparently huge suit to fit you so well. When you put it on, you get bigger.
Don't believe me? Try it yourself.
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Read Newsletter Issue #2 February 07 2014
Issue #2 of News from Mythic Gear is now online here.
- Stay Simple to Stay Cheap
- New video: How to Store a Drysuit
- Owner's Manual download
- Cheapest drysuits in N. America
- Shipping schedule update: Feb.18 still looks good.
Thanks for reading!
Download our Drysuit Owner's Manual February 06 2014
We just sent our drysuit Owner's Manual to the printer. Having spent a lot of time writing, revising, and reviewing it, we think it does a really good job telling you everything you need to know about drysuit usage and care. In fact, we think it's useful for the owners of all drysuits, regardless of brand. So we reformatted it so that anyone can download it and print it on 8.5" x 11" paper. Enjoy!
Drysuit Storage February 05 2014
Proper storage techniques will prolong the life of your drysuit by protecting its latex gaskets, watertight zippers and breathable waterproof fabric. This video goes through the procedures step by step. If you prefer reading, a transcript (not verbatim) appears below.
When we store a drysuit, we're most concerned with protecting the rubber gaskets. Most gaskets are made from natural latex, and they degrade with exposure to sunlight, ozone, and excessive heat. We can't stop that process completely, but we can slow it down so that your gaskets last longer.
Never put a drysuit into storage without first making sure it's clean and totally dry. For cleaning instructions, visit the Mythic Gear website at mythicdrysuits.com.
Dust the gaskets with talcum powder. This will help prevent them from getting sticky, especially if they're exposed to heat.
Treat the zipper with a zipper lubricant. You can get these online. I use paraffin, which is a lot cheaper. You'll find it with the canning supplies in most supermarkets and hardware stores.
Use a nice, wide coat hanger for the upper part of the drysuit. Don't use a bare wire hanger.
Most drysuits are so long that the feet would drag on the floor on your closet. Use another hanger to lift the feet off the ground.
If you're going to be using the suit again soon, just hang it in a closet and close the door to protect it from sunlight. If you're putting it away for several weeks or months, take a big black trash bag, pull it up from the bottom, and twist-tie it around the hangers. That will help prevent ozone degradation.
Here are a few more tips:
DON'T STORE YOUR DRYSUIT:
- in a concrete room (e.g., most unfinished basements)
- in a room that gets very hot (like an uninsulated attic)
- in a room with machinery or lamps that produce ozone
- where it's exposed to sunlight
- when it's dirty or wet
Take care of your drysuit when you store it, and it'll take care of you on the water. If you have any questions, please get in touch. Thanks for watching.
More information on how to use and care for your drysuit lives here: How to Love Your Drysuit.
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