The drysuit is an essential piece of equipment for us since it extends the kayaking season year-round.   With a drysuit a paddler can comfortably, and more importantly, safely, paddle in cold weather.   The Badger wears an NRS Extreme Relief drysuit (the yellow one) and the Rhino wears a Kokatat Women's Tropos Swift Entry drysuit (the blue one).

Drysuit 101:

Why a drysuit?: A drysuit is much better than a wetsuit for paddling in cold weather since it keeps you warm by keeping all water out, while a wetsuit simply heats the water that gets in by trapping your body heat.  You can put multiple moisture-wicking layers beneath a drysuit and comfortably paddle in sub-zero weather. 

How does it work?:  A drysuit has latex membranes at the neck, wrists, and ankles (or has latex feet) that keep any water out of the suit.  A waterproof zipper opens the entire front of the suit to allow you to get it.  An elastic drawstring at the waist keeps the suit basically in place.   A drysuit should be made out of some type of breathable material such as Goretex, that will allow sweat to evaporate.

Features:  A drysuit specifically made for paddling has some important features that you should look for.  1. A relief zipper.  This is a feature that will cost you 40-75 dollars extra, but is well worth it.  Basically, it's a waterproof zipper at the crotch of the suit.  2. Some reflective piping on the suit itself.  3.  Reinforced seat and knees, especially the knees, since they take a lot of abuse as you paddle and brace in your kayak.  4. Breathable fabric.  If the fabric doesn't breath at all, the inside of your suit will be extremely wet.  5. Latex gaskets.  There are drysuits that advertise neoprene or other materials for the neck gasket.  They are listed as "semi-dry".  Although latex requires more care and takes longer to get comfortable, it is definitely the standard for keeping you dry.   6. Some sort of sock.  This is nice to have, but you can glue in socks later on if you determine you really want them.

What size drysuit do I need?:  Each company has a different sizing scheme.  It's best to actually measure yourself and check against the sizing guide.  The manufacturer has already taken the fact that you will wear layers underneath the suit into account.  Don't buy a "size up";  it will not be comfortable.

Do I need a woman's suit?:  If you are a woman, DEFINITELY get a woman's suit.  They are cut completely differently and are cut fuller in the chest and hips.  Guy's suits don't fit women well at all. 

How much should I spend?:  Plan on spending about $400-$500USD on a suit that will fit all your basic needs.  Drysuits can cost well over $1000USD for all the bells and whistles.

Where can I get one?:  The Rhino and I both bought our suits from www.altrec.com.  I've had nothing but good experiences with them, they have great customer service, prices, selection, return processing if the suit doesn't fit right.

Do I really need a union suit?:  A union suit is a one piece garment with enough latex to make it form fitting, enough pile to make it warm, and enough polypropelene to wick moisture away from your skin quickly.  I thought that I didn't need one initially, but it makes a great base layer and does a great job of keeping you warm and dry.  During colder days I'll put on the union suit along with multiple layers on top of the suit to trap more heat.  Remember that the drysuit is a water barrier, not a warming layer.

Should I spray the suit with anything or put anything on the zippers?:  Yes.  Spray the suit with 303 (blocks UV rays that break down latex gaskets and the suit material) and use a zipper cleaner and lube specifically designed for use on waterproof zippers.