Dry Suits - Kokatat / Stohlquist / NRS

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

  1. AM

    AM Paddler

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    Thanks, John. That's a pretty thorough summary. I have a Superior 2.0 touring top, which seems to follow the same general construction principles: 2.5-layer fabric in most areas, with 3-layer fabric in high wear areas. The DWR on my jacket started wetting out last spring, so I've been trying the various products to refresh it, but I find it never comes back to life fully.

    Level Six is good value for money especially, as you suggest, when they have their sales. Plus, you gotta love $CAD!

    Cheers,
    Andrew
     
  2. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    I didn't keep the receipts (one key to domestic bliss... :) ) but I probably put $75 worth of products on my Kokatat when the DWR coating went away. Nothing lasted very long...
    A drysuit that wets through is just uncomfortable, but can still make a big difference if you end up in the water.

    I just put saving for drysuit replacement as part of the (small) annual cost of paddling.
     
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  3. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    John, I'm not sure I understand your use of the term "wet through." To me, that implies water is penetrating the suit's Gore-tex barrier and is getting you wet on the inside of the suit. If what you mean by "wet through" is that the outer layer of fabric is becoming saturated with water, but the Gore-tex barrier is still intact and preventing water from passing through it, then the suit is working as designed.

    A brand new suit has enough DWR coating on the outer surface of the fabric to make water bead up. A suit that still beads water "feels" dryer (at least to me) because there is no evaporative cooling occuring on the outer surface. However, as long as the Gore-tex barrier is intact and functional the suit should be no less waterproof after the DWR coating has worn off. In short, what's keeping you dry inside is the Gore-tex barrier, not the DWR coating on the outer layer of fabric.

    I used to reapply DWR every time I washed my suit, but I don't bother doing it anymore. As others have said, the DWR coating doesn't last very long and it kind of gives the fabric a "waxy" feeling. I don't think reapplying DWR once or twice a year damages the Gore-tex barrier in any way, (or my suit wouldn't still be waterproof after 418 days of use), but it's not worth the cost and bother to reapply, IMO.
     
  4. AM

    AM Paddler

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    Skurka's articles on the topic are worth considering:

    https://andrewskurka.com/why-im-hard-on-gore-tex-the-king-of-hype-tm/
    https://andrewskurka.com/backpacking-clothing-rain-jacket-rain-pants/

    I'm an overheater, which means I am stressing my waterproof-breathables (Gore-tex and others) to the max. Once the DWR wets out, all that vapour has nowhere to go, so I get wet from the inside. In a hiking jacket, I can combat this wetness by opening the zippers and venting, but drysuits of course are a different story.

    Gore-tex has tried to address this issue by developing their new Active line, which has no face fabric. The membrane itself is exposed, meaning there is no wet-out problem. Unfortunately, this material is too delicate to use for drysuits. Hopefully, the day will come when they can make the material more robust.

    Till then, I prefer to wear a paddling jacket with an open collar that allows some venting. My drysuit gets saved for when I know immersion is likely, such as surfing.

    I feel that clothing is the real issue in sea kayaking. Unlike other outdoor activities, it is really hard to choose clothing that works for any given day of kayaking and the prices we pay reflect this fact, as we acquire a wardrobe of various expensive garments for different conditions. I often think of Derek Hutchinson, who dressed liked a "sensible hill walker" in wool shirts, and wonder whether he had the right idea.

    Cheers,
    Andrew
     
  5. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    "My drysuit gets saved for when I know immersion is likely, such as surfing."

    And there's the rub. Paddling the outer coast I don't really know when immersion is likely. Surfing? For certain. West Coast of Calvert? Maybe. Windless day in protected waters? Unlikely. But what if? I can't control the weather, wind or current. I can choose to avoid them but I would miss out on a ton of great paddling and would spend most of my time rotting at camp waiting for conditions that might immerse me to improve.

    A GoreTex or other WB dry suit lets me control what I can control and manage what I can't. When the DWR wears off and allows wetting out, which will happen, I can retreat the suit with some level of success and manage internal comfort to what I consider an acceptable degree. I sweat in WB dry suits just like everybody else and choose that condition over possible cold water shock or hypothermia because it allows me to travel through beautiful areas in a wider range of conditions with a greater degree of safety.

    Personally, it puts my mind in a place that is more conducive for enjoying the magnificent BC coastal waters.
     
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  6. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    What you say is the same as Kokatat said when I shipped my Meridian suit to them for possible warranty replacement: "no delamination, so no warranty problem".
    When I got it back from Kokatat, I turned the Meridian suit inside out and did a water test with the suit on a large piece of cardboard on the back patio. Within a minute or two I could see the inside fabric scrim getting wet everywhere.

    Wetting through is quite a simple idea, and it's not confined to drysuits, in my experience. I've had GoreTex jackets wet through at the shoulders, GoreTex pants wet through in the seat, etc.. Notice how many commercial fisher-persons wear GoreTex vs 'rubbery' PVC foul weather gear. Gore-Tex just isn't very waterproof. And it doesn't 'breathe' when it's covered with a layer of water, either.

    Once water is 'sitting' on the outer surface and saturating the fabric threads on the outside, it 'wicks through' the 'breathable membrane' (GoreTex or eVent, etc) and via capillary action it wets the clothing layers inside. This isn't a situation of a few pinholes or small leaks - I've checked and there's no localized leaking - the entire inner layer of the suit is damp/wet. When I renewed the DWR finish on my Meridian, the 'wetting through' problem disappeared for a few paddles, then returned. I repeated that DWR treatment to convince myself that I wasn't 'imagining' the result. Once the DWR allows water to saturate the outer fabric, the suit isn't fully waterproof.

    I don't sweat very much when exercising and now I usually can judge the right amount of clothing to wear under the suit when paddling, to minimize sweating.

    I 'retired' a drysuit a few weeks ago. After a day paddle, just the normal amount of splashing and a bit of rain shower left me with base layers very damp. With the new replacement suit - my 'spare' of the same model-, similar conditions the following week, my base layers were dry at the end of the day and I could have worn them to the post-paddle coffee get-together without changing them. A couple of days after that, I did some in-water rescue practice with the new suit and I was bone dry inside.

    In May 2018 I was on a trip where it rained ('solid rain', not just drizzle) pretty much every day. For camp wear I had 'rubbery' rain gear; my paddle partner had brand new 'top of the line' $$ Helly Hansen 'Expedition' GoreTex jacket and pants. The GoreTex gear wet through completely and was replaced once we got back home.

    Some years ago friends took the PaddleCanada Level 3 course with SKILS, out of Tofino. It rained hard every day.
    One of the participants commented to me that 'everybody' had wet (GoreTex) rain gear, except for the two instructors who were both wearing heavy-duty 'rubbery' (PVC) commercial fisherman-style raingear.

    There's a message there! :)
     
  7. AM

    AM Paddler

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    Jon, I totally agree. Risk management is a complex algorithm. Add in comfort/enjoyment/hydration/distance and things get even trickier.

    The turning point for me was a few years ago on a Cape Scott trip with 3 skilled friends. We had debated whether to wear our drysuits or not on the trip; in the end, we went with the conservative choice and wore the suits. By the end of the trip, we all agreed that in a group of 4 experienced paddlers, the drysuits were overkill. We actually ran into Chris Duff and a partner north of Quatsino and envied them their relatively light and cool paddling clothing: fleece shirts, if I recall correctly.

    But you are correct, if you don't wear a drysuit, you should adjust your paddling accordingly. Crossings and big conditions become higher consequence. I sit on the beach more often when I don't have a suit.

    Cheers,
    Andrew
     
  8. AM

    AM Paddler

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    I had a nearly identical experience. I went out and bought myself a rain slicker.

    A few years later, I was taking an avalanche course up on Seymour in very rainy weather. The instructor was wearing a Gore-tex jacket UNDER a PVC slicker!
     
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  9. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    Over my paddling career I have owned and used just about every type of paddling clothing and insulation commercially available: Gore-tex dry suits, Gore-tex bibs, Gore-tex dry top, Gore-tex paddling jackets, coated nylon paddling jackets, coated nylon paddling pants, PVC jacket, PVC bibs, 3 mil farmer john wetsuit, 3 mil shorty wet suit, stretch fleece farmer john, poly shirts and pants, and (going way back) cotton jeans or shorts & a cotton T-shirt. I have also tried every imaginable combination of merino wool and fleece insulation in every available weight. Like AM, I sweat a lot when I'm working hard and I simply can't stand to wear a dry suit or dry top made out of ANY fabric unless the air temps are cool/cold or I'm frequently immersed in cold water. It's just too damn hot and sweaty even with almost no insulation on under the suit and I simply can't paddle hard for long when I'm overheating.

    Having lots of choices can be worse than having limited choices, but over time, I have figured out what is the best (or least worst) combination of paddling clothing for me for a specific trip. For WW paddling in the PNW, it is almost always the Gore-tex drysuit because our rivers are ice cold even on a hot summer day and I can always roll if I'm getting too hot. With the right combination of merino wool insulation, I stay fairly dry even though the exterior layer of my suit will be fully saturated all day long. (But, of course, the river is doing most of the work on these trips, so unless it's a long continuous, Class IV run, I don't work hard enough to sweat much which means my insulation layers are only a little damp by the end of the run.)

    For multi-day sea kayaking trips, I NEVER bring the dry suit unless it's going to be reliably cool weather (winter, early spring, or late fall.) Instead, I rely on the 3 mil farmer john wetsuit, Capilene top, and Gore-tex paddling jacket. It's easier to control my body temperature with this combo... all I have to do is ignore the stink that develops after many days of paddling. If it's a solo coastal multi-day trip with lots of exposure, then yeah, I'm going to bring the dry suit, but I'll also bring something lighter to wear (like the wetsuit shorty) if it's hot and there is little exposure.
     
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  10. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    "Instead, I rely on the 3 mil farmer john wetsuit, Capilene top, and Gore-tex paddling jacket."

    Gosh, I have never, ever, been able to get comfortable in neoprene in any conditions. Tried different configurations, different things under and over. Nothing has worked for me. You are fortunate that you have that option as I do not.

    On the other hand I am good in a dry suit up to about 80 degrees. I guess that's a gift that I was given. One of my paddling buddies is only good up to about 70 degrees. Above that he starts speaking in tongues.
     
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  11. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Me, too.
     
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  12. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    I never said I was "comfortable" in neoprene! Far from it! But I have found that I can control my body temperature better while wearing neoprene than when I wear a drysuit or a dry top. I need airflow to keep from overheating and that's just not possible with a neck gasket, even a neoprene gasket. So my comfort level for sea kayaking in a drysuit is more like 65 degrees F or even lower. :)
     
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  13. dvfrggr

    dvfrggr Paddler

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    [/QUOTE] "no delamination, so no warranty problem".[/QUOTE]
    John 15 years ago or so a friend sent back his suit for delamination reasons and recieved the same reply, he was not satisfied so contacted Gortex directly, they found delamination and his suit was replaced, one time he did the same with a jacket he could not get replaced at the dealer. You have done your due diligence in proving a problem, contacting Gortex directly might be worthwhile and for anyone not satisfied with Kokatat's assessment.
     
  14. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    Having the suit tested by Gore makes sense to me, too, if you're convinced that Kokatat is wrong and the Gore-tex barrier has failed.

    Regarding the articles Andrew linked about the failings of Gore-tex (for hikers), let me offer this tongue-in-cheek rebuttal: Cotton is called "The Fabric of Life" TM, and everybody raves about how well cotton breathes and how great it feels next to your skin. But damned if every time I wear a cotton T-shirt, it gets pitted out sometime during the day. And if I'm doing any activity that requires prolonged physical exertion, it "wets-through" near my sternum and at the small of my back, too. THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!!! How dare they call this fabric breathable when it clearly isn't! I'm going to rip up all my cotton T's and undies and just go naked because the idea that cotton is breathable is nothing more than marketing hype and I'm not having it!

    Tongue removed from cheek rebuttal: There is simply no fabric or combination of paddling clothing that works perfectly for sea kayaking. If we dress appropriately for the hard physical labor of paddling then we are under-dressed for cold water immersion and we have put ourselves at great risk. If we dress appropriately for cold water immersion, then we are over-dressed for the physical labor of paddling and we are going to be very uncomfortable thanks to all that sweat and condensed water vapor next to our skin. It doesn't take long for the relative humidity inside a dry suit to reach 100%, even if the suit is made of Gore-tex. Yes, Gore-tex does "breathe" and will release some water vapor, but not nearly as much as your skin produces when you're working hard. So, just like cotton, Gore-tex benefits from over-hyped marketing. This is the world we live in. Get used to it.

    The reality is that each of us must choose the "least worst" combination of paddling clothing for a particular day of paddling, given the myriad factors that go into this decision: water temp, air temp, sea state, weather forecast, paddling speed, paddling distance, our skill level, our paddling companions' skill levels, our overall health and level of physical conditioning and acclimatization to present conditions (i.e., tropical vs arctic).

    I could go on listing factors, but you get the point: this is no easy decision and what works for me will not necessarily work for you. And since the conditions we paddle in change from day to day, if not hour-to-hour, there's an extremely good chance that what we choose to wear for a given day of paddling will become uncomfortable or risky or both at some point during the day. This is the reality of sea kayaking and it isn't likely to change until sea kayakers evolve to become more like seals: a thick layer of blubber underneath a thick layer of fur, closable nose flaps, closable ear flaps, flippers instead of hands and feet, and the ability to hold our breath for 30+ minutes. However, by the time we have evolved all of these features, we'll probably decide we don't need those expensive sea kayaks and paddles anymore.
     
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  15. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    "But damned if every time I wear a cotton T-shirt, it gets pitted out sometime during the day. "

    Hilarious and spot on. Having worked for 47 years in the outdoor retail industry I have sold more than my share of GoreTex. Whenever a customer would ask if they were going to sweat in GoreTex I would assure them that they would. I would tell them that we were in a temperature controlled environment and I was wearing a cotton short-sleeve shirt, same as them, involved in the sedentary activity of selling outdoor gear and that my armpits were damp, same as theirs. We were doing no strenuous activity and yet we were sweating. Since all WB fabrics must breath less than cotton in order to be waterproof they should count on sweating.
     
  16. AM

    AM Paddler

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    Spot on! Thanks for the great post. Unfortunately, you don't have a future in marketing...;)

    Cheers,
    Andrew
     
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  17. designer

    designer Paddler

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    I use cotton with the understanding of its pros and cons. If it is really hot out, I'll wear cotton knowing I'll be sweating and cotton will help with cooling. But I may not wear it if it needs to be dry the next day and and there is no "drying time" left in the day. I always endeavor to have cotton jammies to put on at the end of the day. Because no matter how hard I've worked, what I've endured, it all melts away when I have comfortable cotton to put on and can sink into the warmth of my down enhanced (top and bottom quilts) hammock.

    If solo, if long crossings are anticipated, I'll wear the drysuit. If I'm with others I trust - don't expect to be in the water more than a few minutes of rescue time (if I've forgotten my roll) - and the weather/water temps dictate, I'll wear neoprene.

    I was convinced to get a drysuit when, during a discussion with a guy on Jones Island, he told me that he switched from neoprene to a drysuit when he started paddling with his family. He didn't want to deal with the cold shock that could be momentarily debilitating.

    But my "rules" of what to wear are evaluated against whom I will paddle with and the usual temperatures of those waters (i.e. the Gulf Island area is relatively warm to me). If my paddling companions have done their rescue skills homework - as I try to do - I'll lean more towards comfort.
     
  18. pryaker

    pryaker Paddler

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    Chodups,

    Thanks for the great details on the Odyssey! I hadn't been able to find any details on the net before reading this. After reading your post I'm mostly happy with my choices on my new suit except that you and others mentioning they rarely use the hood makes me wonder if I'll like it. I guess we'll see.

    One thing that's always made me wonder is why I'm quite happy with a goretex drysuit but I gave up on gore rain jackets years ago because I never stay dry in them. My guess is that mentally I'm ok with being damp in a marine environment cause it's "normal" but on land I'm less tolerant of dampness.

    I totally agree with everyone's thoughts on non breathable pvc type rain gear for camp use. I don't have enough use with it yet fully endorse but the stretchy Helly Hanson stuff has a great reputation. It packs way smaller and is lighter and more flexible than the heavy stuff I usually get for construction work. If they could only make it ember-proof!
     
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  19. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    That suit is 'long gone' from my collection; I've drawn conclusions from the experience that 'work for me'.

    Shipping a drysuit makes more sense within the US, where shipping via UPS/FedEx is very cheap. Shipping across the Canada/US border is (very) expensive, so mailing a suit to Kokatat, shipping it back, mailing it to Gore, etc doesn't make sense for me. . Some of my friends pay $150 CAD or so each year to send their suits back to Kokatat for 'checkups'; I'd rather just put that money aside for a new suit every few years.
     
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  20. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    Yeah. Shipping across the border is crazy expensive. I once prodealed some stuff from North Water at ~50% retail. By the time it arrived in Seattle the shipping and govt fees made it more expensive than if I had paid retail at a local dealer.