Drysuits are an essential part of your kit for extending your boating season beyond the summer months and get the most out of it. A drysuit seals your body in a watertight environment so you can wear warmer layers underneath, and, well, stay dry!
Only your hands and head get wet, assuming you zipped your suit up correctly. Drysuits are an important safety item to have in the springtime, as well as during winter season boating (Yes, people do that! And have a blast!).
Owning a drysuit is part of “growing up” as a boater. It represents a commitment to your sport beyond the times when it’s most pleasant. You will be surprised how warm and enjoyable shoulder season boating can be if you own a drysuit.
My typical whitewater season starts in March, when warm days bring snowmelt to the Yampa River. It’s just barely deep enough to Spud or SUP, but there is something about trudging through knee deep snow to paddle that puts a smile on your face … when you own a drysuit. My season typically ends sometime in October, as it gets too cold to camp at night on the river in my neck of the woods in Colorado. That’s a solid 7 months of frequent paddling - 4 of those months are really only possible because I own my drysuit.
My first drysuit was an NRS Crux. I was lucky enough that a 20% off coupon on a gear retailer’s website did not exclude that category during a January promotion, so I pulled the trigger and saved like $250 - I was a ski instructor at the time and wasn’t exactly made of money. That purchase was a significant expense for me and I had to decide between a new pair of skis and a drysuit, but that spring I was out on the river paddle boarding months before my previous season had started!
All gear has a lifespan, and my trusty NRS Crux Drysuit has now seen easily 200 days of boating. It’s held up for the most part but it’s time to upgrade. This time, I am looking at the Kokatat Gore-Tex Meridian Drysuit. I am primarily a rafter and stand-up paddleboarder, so the front entry system will give me ease of getting it on and off, especially on cold mornings at the end of the season where the suit might be partially frozen! A front-entry suit like the Gore-Tex Meridian gives you a wider entry point that you’re more likely to be able to get in and out of without assistance from your paddling partner, and the dependable Gore-Tex membrane keeps you dry without compromising breathability.
I spend my money on products that last and are backed by a manufacturer warranty that shows they stand behind their product, even if it means the gear is more expensive. Kokatat is exactly that — a top of the line suit that is durable and dependable. Chances are you’ve seen a bunch of old Kokatat suits out on the river, which tells you something about their performance. Depending on how often you boat and how well you maintain your gear, a Kokatat Drysuit can easily last you a couple of seasons of ‘like new’ performance, and about another 10-years of “I can’t believe this still works!”.
Kokatat is backed by the best drysuit warranty in the business, which helps me be confident that the suit I am purchasing is one that will last as long as I intend it to. Kokatat is contracted by the military to make drysuits for US Special Forces like the Navy Seals, so I am pretty confident these things are built to last!
One of the biggest drawbacks to owning a drysuit is the cost of procuring one. A good one is going to cost over $1000 at full retail price, and for many people that is out of the price range of what they are willing to spend on a piece of outerwear.
I have noticed a trend with boaters: people tend to buy what they need about two weeks before they need it, rather than invest at a time when you get the best value for the purchase. I am guilty of this myself, and tend to put in large orders of stuff right before trips that I’ve been thinking about buying for months and never did.
Picking up a drysuit now, if you’ve been thinking about owning one, means that you won’t have to wait like I did to use your gear, as we are coming into the final months of the boating season; the time when a drysuit becomes relevant again.
September doesn’t mean that it’s time to put the boats away. It’s time to use a new strategy instead. Layer up and get out on the water, you’ve got a solid two months left of boating if you go to the right spots with the right gear!