Using a Drysuit
A drysuit is unlike any other piece of clothing you've ever owned. Here's how to put one on and use it so that it gives you years of reliable service.
Putting On a Drysuit
- This first layer should be full-length underwear of some wicking material like polyester, polypropylene, or silk. (Never wear cotton beneath your drysuit.) This base layer can be either a one-piece "union suit" or a separate top and bottom. If you wear separates, the top should be long enough to remain securely tucked into the bottom.
- The insulating layer should be made of synthetic fleece or pile. Many paddlers wear a fleece top and thin (non-insulating) nylon paddling pants, but if the water's cold, you should have insulation from ankles to neck.
2. Remove jewelry, watches, and hair clips. A perfectly smooth wedding band is okay, but anything that could catch on the gaskets has to come off. Trim and file your nails smooth. You might want to secure long hair with an elastic, but make sure it isn't pulled off when you put on the neck gasket. A fleece helmet also works well to keep long hair under control and slides more easily through the neck gasket.
3. Clean exposed skin of chemicals like sunblock and bug dope. Some of these may damage latex. You can reapply it after the suit is on, being careful to avoid contact with the gaskets.
4. Stand on a clean, smooth surface to avoid damage to the drysuit socks.
5. Step into the suit through the entry zipper, working your feet into the socks. Pull the suit up to your waist or a bit higher. Fasten the hook-and-loop straps firmly across your waist.
6. Work one arm into the sleeve. When you reach the gasket, stop. Never push your hand through the opening.
7. Use your other hand to open up the wrist gasket. (Make a "spider" with your fingers and spread them wide.) Work the other hand through until it reaches resistance again, then stop.
8. Use fingers of the opposite hand to gently stretch the gasket, working it around and around as you gradually move it up the hand to the wrist.
9. Once the gasket is over your wrist, remove any folds or creases so that the end lies flat all the way around. The gasket should be against your bare skin. Make sure the cuff of your undergarment isn't in the way.
10. Follow the same procedure for the other arm.
11. Now that both hands are through the gaskets, it's time to bring the suit up all the way up your arms and over your shoulders. Some people start with the right side (closer to the bottom of the zipper). Others begin with the left (near the top of the zipper). People with wide shoulders may find it easiest to do both sides simultaneously, and "shrug" their way into the suit.
12. Let's put on the neck gasket. Pull the suit over your head and push into the gasket until you feel resistance. Do not pull the gasket over your head from below.
13. Working from the top, use both hands to stretch the gasket and ease it over your head. Spread your fingers as wide as possible to stretch the gasket open as you ease it down. When it's around your neck, remove creases and folds as you did with the wrist gaskets. Make sure your hair tie is still in place, and not lost somewhere inside the suit.
14. Zipper Time! The waterproof entry zipper doesn't work like a standard clothing zipper, so follow these directions carefully. It is stiffer than a standard zipper, and it's a two-hand operation. One hand pulls the slider, and the other keeps the sides straight and aligned. Sometimes you'll pull tight above the slider to straighten the fabric. Sometimes you'll hold the two halves together below the slider. Pull the slider slowly and firmly, but don't force it: if the slider won't move, you need to back up a bit and pull or straighten one end or the other.
15. Make sure the zipper is completely closed, with the slider butted right up against the bottom stop. Then fold down the protective flap and secure it with the hook-and-loop tapes.
16. Removing the suit is the opposite of putting it one. Remember to treat the gaskets gently: they must be stretched, rather than pulled, over body parts.
Getting the Air Out
After the drysuit is zipped up, it's necessary to remove excess air from the inside. Too much air in the suit will make swimming awkward if you end up in the water. If you end up head-down in the water, air in the suit will move to the legs, which can make it difficult to right yourself. This is obviously a dangerous situation, but you can easily avoid it by following these directions:
Burp the Suit
Squat as low as you can. Keeping your upper arms pressed tight against your chest or sides, use one or both hands to gently pull the neck gasket slightly away from your neck. You'll feel the air escaping. When it stops, release the gasket then stand up.
Purge the Suit
Most people are satisfied with burping the suit, but you can use this method to extract even more air. It requires an area of calm water than you can walk into safely and securely, until you're almost neck-deep. Make sure the water isn't splashing above the top of the neck gasket, then ease the gasket open. The pressure of the water will force the air out. When you walk out of the water, you may find that air pressure presses the suit against your whole body so tightly that it's a little constricting. If so, ease open the neck gasket to allow just a bit of air to reenter.
Wearing a Drysuit
- After you've put on the suit but before you begin paddling or boating, test it in the water to make sure the gaskets, zippers, fabric and seams are all doing their job to keep you dry.
- Gaskets may not seal well if you have a lot of hair on your wrists or neck. The solution is simple: shave them.
- If you apply sunblock or insect repellent, take care to keep it off the latex gaskets. If you're a little messy and some does get on them, wash it off.
- There are no special tricks to wearing a drysuit when you're on the water. Just do your thing and keep the gaskets away from sharp edges. If you get overheated, you might jump into the water to cool off – assuming that conditions are safe to do so.
- A bit of extra care is called for when you're off the water. Remember that the gaskets are delicate, so if you have a rough portage ahead of you, take off the suit and put it back on at the other end. Don't get too close to a campfire: the fabric and the gaskets can be damaged by excess heat. Don't walk around without some kind of protective footgear over the drysuit socks or you'll cause leaks. If you get too warm, open the entry zipper. If that's not enough, you can remove the neck gasket over your head, or even take the whole top half off and tie the arms around your waist.
- Peeing is a lot easier if your suit is equipped with a relief zipper. (Hopefully, you chose undergarments with a fly.) Women can use one of those funnel-shaped "feminine urination devices" to do it standing up. For more serious business, it's safest and probably most convenient to remove the suit entirely.
- Do not have sex in your drysuit! Because, really.