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Dry Suits, Dry Tops, Wet Suits, and Paddle Jackets

Know What Gear to Wear to Keep Warm When Kayaking, Canoeing, and Rafting

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Some of the nicest paddling is done in warm weather and cool water. Unfortunately, as kayakers, canoeists, and rafters all know, paddling, especially whitewater paddling and sea kayaking, rarely occurs in those conditions. It’s a fact that the best whitewater paddling happens when the conditions are the exact opposite. Sea kayakers also face bitter water and air temperatures. Paddlers brave enough to face these conditions in search of the best water often have to deal with bitter cold air temps and ice cold water. It is during these times that paddlers need to wear dry suits, dry tops, wet suits, and paddle jackets.

The question facing paddlers having to choose what to wear is when to use dry suits, dry tops, wet suits, and paddle jackets. While the decision is ultimately a personal one and water water temperature will help drive the decision, there are some things paddlers need to know in order to make the best decision for them. Here is a brief guide to each type of paddling outer gear.

Wet Suits for Kayaking, Canoeing, and Rafting

Wetsuit: NRS Wetsuit, Wet Suit
Photo © nrsweb.com, used by permission

Wetsuits are skin-tight neoprene suits that allow water to get in between the material and the person’s skin. The water is then heated by the body and insulated by the neoprene thereby keeping the wearer relatively warm. Wet suits are most commonly worn by rafters. They are not however the first choice of most kayakers and canoeists.

Whitewater kayakers don’t generally prefer wetsuits for a couple of reasons. First, since there is no spray skirt tunnel, it is easy for water to get into the kayak through the spray skirt. Also, full wet suits seem to constrict arm motion at the elbows which can affect kayak rolling technique. And, if it’s cold enough to wear a wet suit, kayakers tend to just prefer wearing a dry top which actually keeps one dry and is often more comfortable.

Wearing Paddle Jackets

Paddling Jacket: NRS Paddling Jacket
Photo © nrsweb.com, used by permission
Paddle Jackets are simply water proof jackets meaning they don’t allow water to get through their material. They will not however keep a paddler from getting wet if they flip, swim, or get submerged in the water. That is because paddle jackets don’t have a water tight seal around the neck, wrists, or waist of the paddler. For this reason, paddle jackets should only be worn in non-turbulent water where one does not expect to flip over and swim in the water.

Dry Suits are For Rafting, Canoeing, or Kayaking

Dry Suit: NRS Paddling Dry Suit
Photo © nrsweb.com, used by permission
A dry suit is the only article of clothing a paddler can wear to keep them dry weather in a boat or swimming in the water. The material of a dry suit is waterproof, like the material of a paddling jacket. The real power of the dry suit to keep a person dry is in the gaskets. These gaskets make a water and air tight seal against the neck, wrists, and ankle thereby sealing the person into the dry suit. Dry suits can have a number of built in features such as a zipper which enables the paddler to relieve himself if needed, Gore-Tex material, a spray skirt tunnel, and built in booties.

Kayaking Dry Tops

Dry Top: NRS Paddling Dry Top
Photo © nrsweb.com, used by permission
Dry tops are the favorite article of clothing among the whitewater kayaking community. A dry top is similar to a dry suit except it only covers the kayaker’s upper body. A dry top has a neck gasket and wrist gaskets. It usually has a spray skirt tunnel which helps create a watertight seal with the spray skirt. Dry tops are only successful in keeping the paddler dry if the paddler stays in the kayak. Once the paddler’s lower body is exposed to the water, the dry top will not be able to keep the paddler dry. It is for this reason that dry tops are only appropriate for kayakers wearing spray skirts.
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