Dry Suit FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions about drysuits
Written by George Gronseth
- What is a drysuit and what's the difference between a wet suit vs. a dry suit?
- What do I wear under a dry suit?
- What are dry socks?
- What footwear can I use with dry socks?
- What is a relief zipper or drop seat?
- What other options are available on dry suits?
- How much does a dry suit cost?
- Isn't a wet suit a lot cheaper?
- Will I need a custom fitted dry suit, and how much does that cost?
- Why buy a Gore-Tex dry suit?
- What about non-GoreTex waterproof breathable dry suits?
- Do Gore-Tex dry suits really work?
- Do Hydrus dry suits really work?
- Why buy a Kokatat brand dry suit?
- What if I rip a gasket, can it be replaced?
- What about two-piece dry suits?
- How do you clean a dry suits?
What is a drysuit and what's the difference between a wet suit vs. dry suit?
Dry suits are a type of waterproof immersion wear that are loose fitting (except for seals at the neck and wrists that keep the water out). For watersports dry suits the suit itself does not provide insulation -- you wear clothes under the suit for that. The dry suit keeps your clothes dry, and the clothes you wear under it provide insulation. The more you wear under your drysuit the warmer you will be. (Note, some SCUBA diving drysuits are made of neoprene which provides insulation too)
Wet suits don't keep you dry, but they can keep you warm. Wet suits are made of waterproof, closed-cell, foam-rubber (neoprene) which insulates even when wet. The two main things that determine how warm you will be are the thickness of the neoprene and the snugness of the wet suit. The looser a wet suit fits, the more water will flow in and out of it, and the colder you'll be. However, if a wet suit fits skin tight, most of the water that leaks in will stay there, and eventually your body will warm that water up to skin temperature. Once the water inside a wet suit is at the same temperature as your body, it no longer chills you. Contrary to a popular myth, the water inside a wet suit doesn't keep you warm, at best this water is neutral, neither warming or cooling you. After you've warmed up the water inside a wet suit, the neoprene can do its job -- insulating you from the water outside the suit. Assuming a wet suit fits you snug enough, then the thicker its neoprene, the warmer you will be. Unfortunately, the thicker a wet suit is, the stiffer it is too, and the stiffer the suit, the less comfortable it is for active sports such as paddling. On the California coast in the summer, a 3mm thick wet suit may be thick enough for acceptable comfort for kayaking, but in the Northwest, a suit that thin will not give much protection from the weather or water. For kayaking in the NW, I prefer wet suits that are 5 or 6mm thick, SCUBA divers here wear suits with two layers of 6 to 7mm neoprene (12-14mm covering their core area). Almost all the wet suits marketed to kayakers are 2-3mm thick. So generally you need to go to a SCUBA dive shop buy a thicker wet suit. You don't need to wear anything under a wet suit for warmth. Most people wear a bathing suit and perhaps a rash guard shirt under a wet suit to prevent chafing, but the warmth is determined by the thickness of the wet suit not the clothes you wear under it.
What do I wear under a dry suit?
Since dry suits don't provide much inherent insulation (with the exception of some SCUBA diving suits), you'll need to wear some clothes under them to stay warm. The colder the conditions, the more insulation you'll want to wear. Even though dry suits seal out water, it is possible to get wet from your perspiration or a leak; so as with other outdoor sports, the best types of clothing to wear under a dry suit are clothes made from materials that insulate even when wet. This includes polypropylene, pile fleece, wool, etc., but not cotton. A layered clothing system provides a versatile choice of insulation thickness' to deal with a broad range of weather and water temperatures, but in winter conditions, where you know you'll need a thick layer of insulation, it may be more comfortable and certainly faster to get dressed if you use a single thick (i.e. 200 weight pile fleece) layer rather than a large number of thin layers. A one-piece uni-suit style liner suit is worth considering as it will prevent cold spots from shirts coming untucked from long johns.
To view our selection of clothing to wear under a dry suit, go to our Clothing Catalog page.
What are dry socks?
Dry socks are loose fitting socks that are fully attached to a dry suit, keep water out of the suit and keep your feet dry. Most people find dry socks make dry suits both easier to use as well as more comfortable -- your feet will be dry and generally warmer. There are several types of dry socks, but for most applications other than SCUBA diving the two popular types are dry socks made from the same fabric as the dry suit (Gore-Tex, Hydrus, etc.) and latex rubber dry socks. Both these types of dry socks are thin and require other footwear to be worn over them. (See "What footwear can I use with dry socks?") Wearing a thin, slippery liner sock on your feet will make it even easier to slip in and out of a dry suit with dry socks. (On suits with ankle gaskets, the gasket needs to seal against the skin of your leg; so if you wear socks at all, with ankle gaskets you would put the socks on after stepping into the suit.) A waterproof/breathable fabric (Gore-Tex, Hydrus, etc.) dry sock "breathes" so your feet will be less wet from perspiration; Gore-Tex dry socks are only an option on Gore-Tex dry suits. Call us for more details about the pros and cons of latex vs. Gore-Tex dry socks.
What foot-wear should I use with dry socks?
Dry socks are paper thin, so you need to wear something to cover and protect them. And for kayakers, this means both while walking and when sitting in your kayak. So for kayakers, sandals are out of the question because you need your heel covered to protect the sock while paddling. Wet-suit booties are OK but for sea kayaking, rafting, and fishing, we sell kayaking-specific booties made by NRS, Kokatat and Stohlquist. For river and surf kayaking there's no room in the boat for thick shoes, so thin soled wet-suit booties and kayak-specific neoprene shoes are the only things that will fit. With dry socks, it is most comfortable to wear a thin, wicking sock (such as those sold as a liner sock for hiking or wool socks) inside the dry suit. They makes it easier to slip your foot in and out of the suit, wick up moisture and move it up the leg to where the breathable Gore-Tex isn't covered by a non-breathable shoe or bootie, and keep your feet warm (for more warmth wear a thicker sock). For most people, a thin sock inside the dry sock provides enough insulation to keep your feet warm. Kayak shoes provide little warmth, but they provide a better heel cushion for kayaking (where your heel rubs inside the boat) than wet suit booties, and good ones have a sole that doesn't waste as much foot space as a sandal or tennis shoe. So for sea kayaking, a good kayak shoe gives both your feet and the dry socks the protection needed without wasting foot room in the boat. Ideally the kayak shoes should be so comfortable that they are my only shoes at camp while on a kayak trip, etc. Being able to hike, paddle, etc. all with the same shoe saves space and weight in the kayak, raft, etc. as compared to wearing booties in the boat and carrying a pair of sandals or shoes for shore. There are many water-sport shoes on the market, but most are either too narrow to wear all day, or they slip off your feet after getting in your kayak, or they trap water. If your feet get cold easily, then you can also wear a neoprene sock (we sell 3mm socks for about $30) on the outside of the dry suit's dry sock and inside the kayak shoe. In this case, buy the shoes 1/2 to 1 size larger than your normal shoe size to allow room for the neoprene sock to be worn under the shoe. The kayak shoes we sell are available in whole and half sizes from unisex 7-12 and 13. No-one makes women's sizes in wet suit booties or kayak shoes, so women generally need to buy one size smaller unisex shoe than their women's shoe size, unless they plan to wear thick socks and/or neoprene socks inside the kayak shoe, in which case then the same size unisex kayak shoe as their regular women's street shoe is probably right.
To view our selection of foot-wear to wear over a dry sock, go to our Foot ware catalog page.
What is a relief zipper/drop seat?
A relief zipper is like the fly zipper on a pair of pants, except on dry suits this zipper is waterproof and runs horizontally. A women's drop seat zipper serves the same purpose for women and again is a waterproof zipper. These are optional features on dry suits, but almost everyone buying a new dry suit for surface sports (i.e. kayaking, rafting, fishing, sailing, etc.) benefits from this option. Even though you generally have to be on shore to use these zippers to heed nature's call, the time and hassle saved with a relief zipper or drop seat is worth the price -- especially if you wear a life jacket or harness over your dry suit. This is the most commonly ordered dry suit option. Relief zippers can be added to either men's or women's suits, but the drop seat is only an option on women's suit and it can not be retrofitted to a suit (it must be added when the suit is being built, men's relief zippers can be retrofitted, but it costs more than when it is ordered as part of a new suit).
What other options are available on dry suits?
Optional features include:
- Reinforcement patches on seat and knees (optional on some brands but they come standard on Kokatat dry suits)
- Relief (pee) zipper
- Drop seat zippers (available on women's suits only)
- Dry socks sealed to legs instead of tight fitting ankle gaskets -- choice of Latex or Gore Tex dry socks in three sizes
- Zippered pocket on the sleeve (you may order pockets on Left, Right or both sleeves)
- Gore-Tex hood (on Kokatat GEE model suits only)
- Reflective tape on sleeves (both)
- Overskirt (for kayakers who do a lot of Eskimo roll practice or paddling in rough water, this helps keep water out of the kayak)
Custom sizing is also available, call us for details; custom sizing is surprisingly affordable ($42 - $197 per adjustment).
To view pictures custom options for dry suits, click here Dry suit Options
How much does a dry suit cost?
Our waterproof/breathable dry suits start at $545.00 for a front-entry style one-piece dry suit without any options. However, most people are now buying Gore-Tex fabric dry suits, because they breathe the best (let your perspiration breath out of the fabric) so you and your clothes stay even when it's warm out and you are working hard. Our Gore-Tex dry suits with options such as relief zippers and dry socks a Gore-Tex dry suit will cost $995.00 through $1030.00.
Isn't a wet suit a lot cheaper?
A typical kayaking/rafting style farmer john wet suit (3 mm neoprene sleeveless bib pant) runs about $100.00 - 150.00, but then you will usually want some of the paddling jacket or dry top to go with it for rafting, kayaking, etc. and these days most people are choosing Gore-Tex tops for this which typically cost around $350.00 - $500.00 So when you look at the wet suit option as a complete system, it may be that a coated nylon dry suit is less expensive and a Gore-Tex dry suit is only a little more.
Will I need a custom fitted dry suit, and how much does that cost?
If you are a "big or tall" size person then you will definitely want to have a dry suit custom sized for you. Even if you are average proportioned, you may want to have neck or wrist gaskets that are looser or tighter than on standard suits your size. It turns out that well over half of the people buying dry suits are better off with some kind of custom sizing. These custom sizing features add from $0.00 to $197.00 per item to the cost of a dry suit. To figure out if you need a custom suit, please click here to download our measurement sheet, collect all the measurements asked for, then email us the measurements or call us with them. We will work with you to determine if you need a custom suit and if so, what alterations would be best.
Why buy a Gore-Tex dry suit?
If you can afford a Gore-Tex model dry suit, it is worth it. You'll be drier, much drier, because Gore-Tex breaths. Coated nylon is waterproof, but you get damp/wet from your own perspiration. Hardly anyone is buying coated nylon suits anymore, especially if they've tried a Gore-Tex suit. So a Gore-Tex suit also holds it's resale value better if you ever want to sell it. If you use the suit on multi-day trips where there isn't any way to dry your clothes overnight, the Gore-Tex is a huge advantage because all your clothes stay dry. And by the way, yes, Gore-Tex works fine in salt water -- we go snorkeling in ours and come out dry!
What about non-GoreTex waterproof breathable dry suits?
Gore has over thirty years of experience developing their waterproof/breathable Gore-Tex membrane that is used in the special GoreTex fabric Kokatat builds their Gore-Tex dry suits with (Gore-Tex Evolution fabric is a step above the best rain gear Gore-Tex). No other waterproof breathable membrane is as well tested, proven, rugged, chemical resistant, and durable as Gore-Tex. I remember when Gore was new and advertised the first-ever rain gear that was waterproof and breathable. Some people said they loved it. I bought some and got wet from the rain leaking in as well as from my sweat not breathing out. After some bad experiences I went back to my old system of two shells -- a totally waterproof shell for when it rained and an uncoated, totally breathable wind breaker when the sun was out. A few years later Gore came out with a new and improved Gore-Tex. Sales people admitted that the first generation stuff wasn't so good, but they insisted that the second generation fabric really worked. I bought some and got wet. I kept trying to make it work, but it soon delaminated. Years later Gore came out with their third generation fabric, and again sales people said they knew the older stuff didn't hold up, but you really had to try the third generation -- I didn't. I went back to wearing coated nylon when it rained and uncoated nylon when it wasn't raining (I carried two jackets and two pants wherever I hiked/skied/biked). Of course by then Gore had some competition. New manufacturers got into the waterproof/breathable fabric act and claimed to have a cheaper fabric that was "like" Gore-Tex. I tried a bunch of them and got wet. Years later a company I really trusted (Kokatat) came out with the first waterproof/breathable (Gore-Tex) dry suit, and I was in a dilemma. Kokatat had earned my trust for making the best quality waterproof dry tops and dry suits for water-sports, but a Gore-Tex dry suit?
If it weren't for all the students asking me about Gore-tex dry suits, I would probably have stuck with my coated nylon dry suit and assumed a Gore Tex suit could never work. But in the name of science I had to have first-hand experience with what I talk about. So as an experiment I put up the money for a new Gore-Tex suit (with assurance from Kokatat that I could return it if it didn't work). My expectations were low. I would have been reasonably satisfied if it simply didn't leak. But after the first day I wore it I couldn't believe what I found. I was dry! I had been in the water swimming and wading for over an hour, I had been paddling the rest of the day in the rain, and I was dry. My clothes were dry. I was shocked! This was the first time I had ever seen Gore-Tex work in the field. And in the years since, my Gore-tex dry suits (which now includes hundreds of rental suits) have never let me down. I do little to maintain my suit, and it just keeps working. I've bivouacked in my dry suit; I've hiked miles in down-pouring rain; I've swum and snorkeled till exhausted; and of course I've kayaked all over the NW, BC, Alaska, CA, Grand Canyon, and Baja in it. My Gore-tex dry suit is one piece of gear I know I can count on, and that is very important because often my life as well as my enjoyment of the trip depends on it. In fact, it breathes so well that I've even taken clothes that got left out in the rain at camp and dried them out on rainy days by wearing them inside my dry suit.
As with rain gear, there now are some non-Goretex "waterproof/breathable" dry suits. So it's time again for us to be guinea pigs and see if any of them work. Using Gore-tex as the gold standard to compare all other waterproof/breathable fabrics to, the questions are: how waterproof is the brand-X "waterproof/breathable" fabric, how breathable is the brand-X "waterproof/breathable" fabric, and how durable is the brand-X "waterproof/breathable" suit? A fourth question would be, "Do they work as well as Gore-Tex in salt water?" Are these new cheaper fabrics even as good as Gore was thirty years ago let alone the newer Gore-Tex? Are they as good as the special Gore-Tex (Evolution) Kokatat uses for dry suits? Kokatat Gore-Tex dry suits have successfully past many years of testing by the US Coast Guard, military special forces, raft guides, kayak and canoe instructors, long distance expeditions, etc. To me, real world field tests are more valuable than all the advertising, marketing hype, and indoor lab tests.
I thought it would take a lot of testing (days of use) to find out how the non-Gore "waterproof/breathable" dry suits compared to Gore-Tex, but with a few exceptions I over rated the competition. More than one manufacture's new "waterproof breathable" dry suit leaked right from day one. Turns out there's more to waterproof/breathable dry suits than just the fabric. If you could test rain gear under water, you would find that most brands have leaky seams. In rain gear it goes unnoticed, but not in a dry suit! Kokatat has the best seam sealing equipment combined with the most experienced (due to low employee turn-over) seam sealing operators in the world of manufacturing waterproof/breathable products. I've found four "waterproof/breathable" suits from other brands didn't leak leak when new, one had so little breath-ability that I got wet from sweat before we even had time to get on the water (15 minutes of doing nothing but getting ready to go kayaking and I was noticeably wet on the inside), another only lasted about ten days before the membrane broke down and leaked like a sieve, and the other would be okay except for the rubber socks and other details. So just because a label says some fabric is breathable it doesn't mean it will breath well enough to keep you dry the way Gore-tex does.
There's only a few non-Gore-Tex dry suits that we've found that worked nearly as well as a Gore-tex dry suit. They include the new Hydrus 3L fabric dry suits by Kokatat and the latest Stohlquist and IR's suits. Hydrus 3L is a new waterproof/breathable fabric that Kokatat developed and tested. Kokatat introduced these suits in 2006. With these suits you can paddle all day and only have a little bit of dampness from perspiration inside the suit and swim and not get soaked. There're not as durable or breathable as Gore-Tex, but for people who don't sweat a lot and aren't wearing their suit than often they do the job. We've field tested these Hydrus 3L suits a long time now and can testify that they live up to Kokatat's high standards for waterproof integrity and are second only to Gore-tex (in our experience) for breathability. And Kokatat leak tests every one of these suits before they leave the factory. Maybe you'll never swim in your dry suit, maybe you'll never need to bivouac in it, maybe you'll never wear it as rain gear at camp, but isn't it nice to know you could? And now you don't have to sacrifice quality to save money on a non-Gore-Tex waterproof/breathable dry suit, check out the Kokatat Hydrus 3L dry suits available from the Kayak Academy.
Do Gore-Tex dry suits really work?
Do Hydrus 3L waterproof/breathable dry suits really work?
Yes. They don't breath quite as well as a Gore-Tex dry suit (when you are at a high activity level), but they are the next best thing.
Why buy a Kokatat brand dry suit?
If you are a woman, Kokatat is the only brand that makes dry suits in women's sizes, and they have done an excellent job of proportioning their women's dry suit to fit real women, not just super models. Kokatat is also the only dry suit manufacturer offering a waterproof drop-seat zipper for women's dry suits. Support companies that make gear for you.
If you want a Gore-Tex dry suit, Kokatat is the only brand making Gore-Tex dry suits. The reason why no-one else makes Gore-Tex dry suits is that Gore won't sell their fabric to just any dry suit manufacturer. Gore doesn't want their waterproof/breathable fabric to get a bad name, so they set very high standards for anyone who want to use their fabric to make dry suits, and Kokatat is the only manufacturer with high enough quality to meet Gore's requirements. This says a lot about Kokatat.
Kokatat leak tests EVERY dry suit they make before shipping them. It would be cheaper to only test one out of 10 dry suits or one dry suit from each batch of production runs, but then every once in a while a customer might get a defective suit. Is it worth taking the risk of buying an untested, possibly leaky suit from another brand just to save a little on the initial purchase? With a Kokatat dry suit, you are not a guinea pig -- the suit you buy will not leak.
Kokatat's Gore Tex dry suits use American made Gore Tex fabric, and the suits are made in Arcata, California. Want to help keep some manufacturing jobs here in the US? Here's your chance to do so while buying yourself the best product available. Even if you don't care about buying American, if you buy a dry suit made in Asia how long will you have to wait if you send it back to get a repair made?
Ko-ka-tat (with a long O) is from a northern Californian native American word for “into the water”.
What if I rip a gasket, can it be replaced?
Yes. We can replace gaskets for you or you can repair them yourself. Click here to go to our in-house repairs page. We stock all sizes of Kokatat replacement gaskets, latex dry socks, and the tools to make it easy to replace your own gaskets.
Click here for products and information on how to repair your gaskets and dry socks yourself.
What about two-piece dry suits?
In 2015 Kokatat introduced the Idol drysuit with a unique waterproof zipper around the waist that seals the top and bottom together. This is the first two-piece suit that is truly dry. Most two-piece dry suits have skirt-like pieces on the top and bottom halves that you fold together like closing a drybag to join the top and bottom pieces. The process of folding these pieces together is slow and awkward at best (especially the part behind your back), and the rate of leakage depends on how good a job you do at this, but no matter what you will get some leakage with this system. The Idol dry suit is a game changer because the zipper that joins the top and bottom is completely waterproof. The top can be worn by itself as a "drytop" (but no dry top is dry when swimming), and at camp you can take the top off and wear the bottoms as your rain/wind pants. To learn more go to Idol Drysuit
How do you clean a drysuit?
For washing machiens, please DO NOT USE a top loading washer. The agitator can break the drysuit zipper. ONLY USE a front loading washer. With front loading washers, use a very small amount of mild soap (link to dry suit soap), use the cold wash setting with extra rinse, then hang to dry. If you dont have a front loading washer, hand wash in a tub with cold water and mild soap and rinse with clean cold water two or more times to remove soap on both the inside and outside of the suit. If you've purchased a dry suit from us, the complemantray care kit we included has dry suit soap.
When you are ready to order a dry suit, take a look at our on-line store or call toll free and speak with our expert staff.