Dry Suits - Kokatat / Stohlquist / NRS

Discussion in 'Gear Talk' started by chodups, Oct 9, 2019.

  1. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    A friend has asked me for advice on which dry suit he should choose. He has access to good pricing on Kokatat, NRS and Stohlquist. I know that there are other brands, however, he will choose one of these three. I have always chosen Kokatat and have zero experience with other brands or their proprietary waterproof/breathable fabrics. I'm pretty sure that he is looking at the Kokatat Meridian and I would like your advice on similar models by NRS and Stohlquist. Lets say that the suits we should consider will be one piece, chest zip, the gaskets will be latex, the socks will be fabric, there will be a relief zipper and covers over the zippers are desired but not deal breakers.

    Without getting into a discussion on whether this feature or that feature is desirable or needed or whether he should be looking at other manufacturers can folks provide their advice on fabrics and personal experience on suit performance between these three brands regarding suits with features similar to the Meridian? Cost is not a primary consideration.
     
  2. designer

    designer Paddler

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    chodups - be sure to have your friend check the return policy so she/he can send it back if it doesn't fit. On "fit", it's been my experience that NRS are a bit undersized. That is, if you would wear a Medium from manufacturer X, the same garment type might be a L in NRS sizes. It doesn't make them bad; just tricky to size.

    If I had it to do over again, I'd go with Kokatat and their "custom" option that used to cost about $50 extra. They didn't take your personal measurements, but they would "frankenstein" up a suit from their standard sizes. For example, in the chest I'd be an L or XL, but in arm length I'd be an S or M - the same for inseam length. I haven't looked at Kokatat for a while so I don't know where their sizes cross over. My point is, they'd construct the drysuit by piecing together - for that custom fee - the components you want; short arms, large chest, medium legs, etc.

    Another adjustment is the neck gasket. Gear comes with a standards size, but some manufacturers allow a one time exchange. For example, one of my paddling partners swapped out a latex neck gasket for a larger neoprene one. I think the only charge was shipping one way.

    When my first drysuit arrived at the workplace (I didn't want it left at the front door - most expensive clothing I've ever bought) I tried it on at lunch time. First time in a dry suit. I managed to get the zipper closed up on my shoulder but when I tried to take it off ... For a while I really thought I'd be wearing that drysuit for the rest of the day - asking a co-worker for help never crossed my mind; I was going to DO this. But I channelled my inner Houdini and finally made it back out.
     
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  3. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Stohlquist: Some folks in the group I paddle with have had Stohlquist dry suits over the past couple (?) of years. Lots of problems with leaks (along the seams??). The good (??) news was that Stohlquist eventually replaced some suits. I recall that one friend had two suits in succession replaced. I heard 'through the grapevine' that there have been some changes in the Stohlquist organization recently, so whether that local support will continue is an unknown, I guess.

    Kokatat: I had a Meridian suit - it eventually started wetting through. Kokatat insisted that it wasn't a delamination problem, so no warranty coverage. On top of that they returned the suit with the wrist gaskets blown out - they were OK when I sent it to them. Paying shipping both ways and $75 (US) for that 'service'...never again for me. I did like the cut of the Meridian (skinny legs) but if I had replaced it with another Kokatat suit it would have been one without the 'tunnel'. I switched brands.
     
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  4. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    This is exactly the kind of feedback I knew that I could count on from WCP regulars. Thanks for taking the time and any others out there please know that my friend is watching your responses.
     
  5. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    I'll 'second' Designer's comments about sizing. I wore a L Kokatat but now M Level Six..I am shrinking with age, but not THAT quickly! :)
     
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  6. pryaker

    pryaker Paddler

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    interestingly enough I just got off the phone with Kokotat as I'm in the process of getting a replacement suit so I can comment a bit about their sizing and suits and I did own a NRS a few years back.

    So, my kokotat (a front entry with some mods: suspenders and shoulder pocket) is about 5 years old. I just did a clean, dwr recoat, and new gaskets before a month long trip this summer. During the wash, with the suit inside out I noticed an area near the neck that appeared to be a delam but didn't have time to send it in before the trip so I just kept my fingers crossed. I was initially pleased that the dwr seemed to be working with water beading up, I was able to dunk fully for cooling in the hot conditions without getting wet. But as the trip progressed I was getting wet after swims and decided to send it in for a warranty evaluation and or leak test. Warranty eval is free, if it'd pass that I'd get charged for a leak test and repairs. Word came back that there was a delam and that "... the suit was in good enough shape that they could warranty it" I emphasize that because it's a point where they have to make a judgement which might seem unfair if you're on the wrong side of that decision.

    As far as sizing goes, my warrantied suit was a medium but when I followed the custom measurement process on kokotats web site https://kokatat.com/custom/gore-tex-front-entry-dry-suit-dsugfeconfig it recommended a large suit with -3" on sleeves and -1" on inseam. Because my old suit mostly fit fine ( a bit tight going over my head) and a custom size is non returnable I decided to stick with medium. If I were near a knowledgeable shop like Kayak Acadamy who could help do the measurements and ensure me I'd like the resulting fit I might have gone full custom but on my own I stuck with what I knew worked.

    They told me it'll be three weeks to build the suit so in one month I'll be sporting a brand new replacement suit so I'm stoked. I asked their rep how many suits end up getting warrantied for delams and he said less than 1%.

    My experience with NRS was previous to buying kokotat I had bought an NRS model with a WP breathable fabric that was supposed to be just as waterproof and much more breathable. At that point I thought a drysuit would be a sweatbox and wanted that breathability. The suit had an overskirt and zipper cover that seemed a poor design, often being in a pain when donning. It also had a single shoulder pocket that was basically design like a jacket pocket; a zippered slit through the fabric with a inner "bag" that formed the actual pocket. This makes for a less useful design than what kokotat does; a pleated pcoket sewn to the outside of the suit. Also NRS suspenders were klunky with big plastic fastex buckle whereas K's are just velcro-ed straps and sewn loops; much better in my opinion. The end result of my NRS "experiment" was a return to purchaser (REI) after about a years use due to it no longer being waterproof. At the time employee's at Alder Creek told me to expect 2-3 years out of any non goretex suit and 5-8 of a kokotat goretex suit.

    So for me the fit and function of their suits as well as the warranty makes me a happy kokotat customer and it'd take a lot to change my mind on that. On the other hand , when I was having problems iwith my first suit, I remember hearing somewhere that NRS will totally stand behind their gear and will replace suits even beyond warranty period if the user isn't happy. I don't know if this is true but the implication was that they were still a paddler owned business rather than corporate money makers and would ensure satisfaction. Not sure if that is true but might be worth asking if your friend has inside access as possibly implied by the discounts you mentioned.
     
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  7. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    I have seen this very same question discussed at least five times over the past twenty years on both sea kayaking and whitewater websites and the resulting discussion has been essentially identical every single time. One or two people will offer perfectly believable stories about how Kokatat did not honor their warranty to the paddler's liking, but an even greater number of people will rave about how well they were treated and how good Kokatat's products are relative to the competition.

    I started off in the camp that was unhappy with Kokatat, as my first Gore-tex drysuit, (purchased in 1998), was stiff as a board and ill-fitting. In 2008, I purchased my second Gore-tex Meridian dry suit and as of last weekend, it has seen 418 days of use. (I recently asked George Gronseth how many days he gets out of his suits and he said between 400 and 500, so I'm definitely shooting for 500!) Last winter, I bought my third Gore-tex Meridian dry suit (just too good of a sale price to pass up!) and now have 16 days of use on it. (For now, I only use this suit when it's really cold out, since it still beads water nicely and its predecessor still has lots of life left in it.)

    The suit I purchased in 2008 has been sent back for leak testing and repairs three times. The first time, (after a Grand Canyon trip), it came back with over a hundred patches. The second time I sent it back, I thought they'd replace the Gore-tex socks, which were so heavily patched they were stiff as a shoe's sole, but they just re-taped the seams and added more patches. Grrr! However, they did replace the neoprene cuffs (not the latex gaskets, I replace those myself) on the neck and both wrists. A very nice surprise. The third time I sent the suit back, it was returned with brand new Gore-tex socks. yeah! By now, the suit is so faded that you can see the outline of my PFD shoulder straps perfectly. I like that!
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2019
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  8. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    Thanks everyone for the advice on drysuits. My friend has ordered a Kokatat Odyssey with up-sized socks.
     
  9. pryaker

    pryaker Paddler

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    I'd be happy to hear what they think of the Odyssey once they get it and use it a bit. I was tempted to get one (ordered a front entry with added pockets, suspenders, and hood) except for 2 things; I don't think I like the overskirt and it appears the new style pockets probably won't hold as much stuff. I asked about the pockets and their rep said it appeared they were 2/3 the capacity of the old style. The detachable hood might be a great addition though...
     
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  10. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    pryaker,


    I have been using the Expedition for most of the past decade and started using the Odyssey this year. IMO there is good and not-so-good to report with the suit.


    The Cut - The suit has more seams and fits me more comfortably than the Expedition. Those seams on the upper feel as though they allow me more freedom of movement. The legs are cut very different with different fabric, again with more seams for freedom of movement and comfort in fit. I prefer the cut of the new style. More seams mean more potential points of failure so we’ll see how that goes. I don’t believe that sizing has changed. My Expedition is a Large and my Odyssey is a large. The Odyssey just feels better and free-er moving to me. I give the new cut a thumbs up.


    The Hood - I'm not sold on the hood except for the fact that it is removable. The base of the hood is sort of stretchy and fits my head and face more like a balaclava than a standard hood. Maybe a good thing when it is needed but when you pull your head through the neck gasket you also have to pull it through the base of the hood. I'm not describing this clearly but if you look at photos of paddlers wearing the suit you can see that the hood, when not worn is still pretty close around the neck. With the relaxed hood on my Expedition I found that it still sort of trapped heat up around my neck. I predict that the Odyssey design will probably trap more heat and that the hood will undergo some sort of redesign. Since a hood is seldom needed I like the fact that I can remove it altogether and open the collar for more ventilation around my neck and face. I noticed that Kayak Academy describes a tab of some sort that gathers the hood out of the way. My suit has no such feature so that tab may have been a design change or they confused the new hood with the Expedition hood. I don’t know whether to give hood a thumbs up for being removable or a thumbs down for execution while installed. It’s not a deal breaker for me. I will store it under the deck and slip it on when it’s needed.


    The Overskirt - As far as I can tell it is the same as the Expedition and the Meridian. If a paddler likes overskirts I suspect that they will be fine with the design. I like them and don't see a change from my Expedition.


    Zippers - My Expedition and all previous dry suits had metal zippers. The Odyssey has plastic for the chest and relief zip. I've owned a lot of dry suits and the ease of operation with the metal zippers has always been a crap shoot. Some metal zippers, no matter how clean and lubed just don't work that smoothly. Getting the chest zippers all the way opened or to get them started closing can be a challenge with my arthritic shoulders. Relief zips in particular seem to vary and I have been, lets say discomforted, while struggling to open my metal relief zippers at times. These plastic zippers seem much smoother and easier to operate. If you already have a Kokatat plastic zipper you know this but I learned that the zipper pull sort of “thunks” into place when fully closed. Without feeling that little thunk of your zipper you are leaving the beach with a leaky suit. I like the plastic zippers. A small but very thoughtful design change is leaving the end of the zipper flap unattached on the Odyssey. With the flap attached it is harder to get the zipper started or to know when you have it all the way open. It's something that has pissed me off for years. Good change. Thumbs up from me.


    Pockets - The Odyssey shoulder pockets are definitely smaller than the Expedition and I don't like that. The old style pockets were patched on the outside of the suit and had a bellows design which I preferred. I could easily put my SPOT device in one shoulder pocket and the mesh bellow allowed communication with satellites. The Odyssey pockets are tailored into the cut which makes them smaller with solid, more signal blocking, fabric. My SPOT doesn't always transmit successfully so I'll have to find someplace else to put it. I used the other shoulder pocket to carry three flares in with room left over. Since the Odyssey pocket is a sort of wedge shaped it will hold only one flare with reasonable ease. The thigh pocket is good sized and I can carry the flares there but I would just prefer to have them on my upper body so that I wouldn’t have to remove my sprayskirt to get to them. Thigh pocket gets my thumbs up while shoulder pockets get my thumbs down. Oh yeah, that goofy upside down chest pocket that has been on Kokatat suits is gone. Good riddance as far as I’m concerned as it seemed a poor design to me. Overall I wish the shoulder pockets hadn’t changed.


    Cuffs – Gone are the neoprene cuffs on the sleeves and pant legs. All cuffs are fabric. This change really makes little difference to me though with the neoprene pant cuffs I found that they were always coming loose. Not a big deal, I suppose, but the fabric cuffs on the Odyssey seem to close more securely and stay closed until the end of the day. Since they stay closed and don’t fray I’ll vote thumbs up for the cuffs.


    Almost forgot the Suspenders – I’ve never had suspenders before and thought that they were a great idea but I find them confusing. They are not that easy to attach and remove and since putting on the suit with them attached seems complicated I haven’t used them. I practiced donning the suit at home so that I wouldn’t look like a dork at the put-in but they just seemed to be in the way and mess with me. I’m sure it’s a personal problem and I am fully open to “suspender coaching”.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2019
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  11. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    I'm not in the market for a suit with a hood, but that was a very interesting write up. Thanks.

    I don't get the need for suspenders while wearing a drysuit... my past two Meridan drysuits seem to fit and feel fine w/o them. About the only time I can see suspenders being useful is when you want to steam off (on-shore) and take your head and arms out of the suit while still wearing it. I just tie the sleeves around my waist, which eventually slips free but works well enough for a lunch break.

    As for over-skirts, they're pretty much a necessity in WW as they prevent water from entering your boat in the space between your sprayskirt tunnel and the drysuit. If you're not paddling into waves that are chest-high or over your head, then they don't really have a lot of function and it's just another layer of fabric around your torso. Since Kokatat is using lighter and lighter fabric to make their suits, this isn't the big problem it used to be.
     
  12. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    I really like the suspenders in my Fjord drysuit - they are more than just lengths of elastic, though.
    They keep the suit 'up' without needing the waist 'cinched tight' - makes paddling more comfortable for me.
    And, I don't have to 'burp' air from the legs via the P-zipper, which I need to do when the waist is tight.

    As a sea-kayaker I have little use for 'overskirts' or 'tunnels' on drysuits. (One reason I like my Triton suit..no overskirt. If I bought another Kokatat it would be the 'Front Entry' basic model without overskirt/tunnel, probably-$150 USD cheaper than the Meridian.) With a PFD over the sprayskirt tunnel, I never had problems getting a lot of water into the boat when rolling. Chest-high green water could be different, I guess, but I don't run into that very often. The downside of the 'overskirt' on my Meridian suit was that it didn't allow the neoprene sprayskirt tunnel of my Seals sprayskirts to lie flat against my torso - it was either folded over at the top or pushed down too low. And, I'm not enough of a contortionist to reach behind my back and pull up the neoprene tunnel under the 'overskirt'. Without the 'overskirt', I just pull the sprayskirt over my head and the tunnel is smooth and in the correct position.
    All this is easier to demonstrate than describe! Sorry!
     
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  13. Peter-CKM

    Peter-CKM Paddler

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    I haven't used, but I see the use for suspenders when you have the 1-piece dry suit on over your legs, but not on on top.

    When I first am getting ready, I usually pull the suit legs on and shoes, so I can walk around, but I don't pull the top over my head. At lunch breaks and the likes, if it is a sunny day, I often strip the top off to let my shirts air dry some (leakage, sweat, etc. - dry suits aren't really dry for me). In these cases, my belly to hip ratio makes it hard for the dry suit to stay up. I usually tie the arms around my waist to try to hold it up, but that doesn't always work. I see suspenders on some dry suits ad think that would be awesome for this.
     
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  14. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    Peter - CKM said: "When I first am getting ready, I usually pull the suit legs on and shoes, so I can walk around, but I don't pull the top over my head."

    That is where I see the value of suspenders. Most of the places I paddle require a 100 to 200 meter carry and with my boat in a cockpit carry, waist cinched up, sleeves tied around my waist and tucked under the cinch I so often find myself controlling the boat with one hand while trying to keep my suit from sagging below my butt with the other. I think that if the sewn-in loops for hooking the suspenders to the suit were just a tiny bit longer my confidence and ability to gracefully operate them would be enhanced and I wouldn't feel like an old grey-headed geek emulating a failed hip-hop look.
     
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  15. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Suspenders:
    The Fjord 'suspenders' don't require hooking as they are not removable. I find that I can just step into the suit and slip the suspenders over my shoulders without adjustment. A friend crosses the straps in front; pretty easy to do.
    With the mid-back zip, it's a good system IMO.
    drysuit suspenders Fjord 1.JPG

    drysuit suspenders Fjord 2.JPG
     
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  16. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    Oh wow! I see what you mean about them not being elastic straps. Very nice detailing. Sort of like a suspender vest, or something. I've never seen anything like that.

    Do you have any issues with the rear zip? At one time I could manage that but those days are gone for me. Too much arthritis.
     
  17. designer

    designer Paddler

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    I bought the NRS Mariner because, you know, I paddle a Mariner. I thought it was required.
    It has all those zipper covers mentioned above. They don't get in the way but I do have to make sure the suit is ready to enter - legs aren't on the wrong side of the tunnel cover, etc. - before I put it on.

    The hood is zipper removable and I have never worn it in the 8 years I've had the suit. I prefer a separate hat that I can also wear on shore (Yes, I could just wear the unzipped hood if I wanted to look like a ... what was that word a paddling partner used ... "dork".)

    It has a thigh pocket but doesn't have a drain hole. If you wade into the water to burp the suit, and forget to close that zipper (you'll only do it once), it is very interesting getting the water out of that pocket.

    The shoulder pocket may great for Spot device (I carry mine in a pocket on the tunnel of my SnapDragon skirt) but too small for the InReach SE+ I'll try out next season. Once I realized spare batteries in a bow dry bag don't help if you're on a crossing and your GPS goes out, I now carry them in a ziplock bag in that shoulder pocket.

    Suspenders are great. Once you reach shore and want to unload first and/or may still need to get knee deep in water, you can undress the top of the dry suit and use the suspenders for support without having to keep tugging the pants up. Tying the arms never worked well for me.

    BUT - I don't wear them while paddling. Too many times they have slipped off my shoulder and with every other stroke I feel them misfitting on that side. Also, it's important to get your feet/legs in the drysuit pants without straddling a loose suspender strap. So I paddle with the straps off my shoulder and pull them on if I'm going to walk around, unloading the boat, before I take off the suit.
     
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  18. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    When I mail-ordered the Fjord, I was a bit worried about the rear zip, but it hasn't been a problem at all. I think it is easier than the 'across the shoulders' style zip?

    A few features help:
    -zipper position is mid-back
    -plastic zippers move more easily than metal zips
    -there's a elasticized fabric pull tab which stretches out to 8 (?) inches or so, which makes it pretty easy to get a 'straight pull' on the zip.
    There's free return on most Level Six items, so a low-risk purchase for me.
    If you can grab one when LevelSix is having a sale (like now - limited sizes, though), the price is very attractive (under $700 CAD).
    Getting on the email list from LevelSix will give you a 'heads up' on sales, which happen a 4-5 times a year.
     
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  19. AM

    AM Paddler

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    John, how is that Fjord in terms of leaks? I know about 8-9 years ago I heard some folks say that they had problems with their Level 6 suits leaking.
     
  20. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    I haven't had any problems with the Fjord - I haven't done any swimming in it, but I did wear it on a few trips, one quite rainy, and everything was OK. A friend who paddles a lot more than I do hasn't mentioned any leaking problems with his Fjord, and he does jump in the water while wearing it. The Fjord fabric is less 'heavy duty' than the Triton's. Note: The Triton is discontinued; the new Odin suit looks similar, though the Odin has the 'overskirt/tunnel'.
    With my L6 Triton I had one spot below the knee (where the 'overleg' starts) that wore a small hole from abrasion.
    It was easily fixed with iron-on GoreTex tape.
    On both the Kokatat Meridian and the Level Six Triton, I've had to re-iron a few spots of seam tape which came a bit loose at a 'high-flex' spot. I've also patched a few pinholes in the socks on both my Kokatat Meridian and the Triton- pretty standard stuff, in my experience.
    Hint: a good LED flashlight and a very dark room is a good way to find holes in a drysuit. Turn the suit inside out and shine the light through the fabric...have a 'Sharpie' marker handy to circle any holes you find. I've done the 'water test' and the flashlight is a lot easier and seems to work OK.
    Unlike Kokatat, Level Six don't do water testing on suits sent in for 'maintenance', so that's a consideration for non-DIY folks.
    Both the Kokatat Meridian and the Level Six Triton eventually started 'wetting through'; when the DWR coating was worn away. The Triton lasted quite a bit longer than the Kokatat before it got to that point, though. The Triton fabric was more 'heavy duty' than the Kokatat GoreTex. BTW, the gaskets on the Level Six are the same type I've bought from Seaskin in the UK - heavier/better/cheaper than the Kokatat gaskets.