It’s been about a year now since I made a choice between getting a new dry suit or Kokatat Gore-Tex Whirlpool Bibs with a Rogue dry top. Off the top of my head, I saw some advantages to going with mix-n-match over locking into a one-piece dry suit. With Canoecopia coming up this weekend here in Wisconsin and lots of folks taking advantage of the discounts to get the more pricey gear they need, I thought now would be a great time to let you know how that choice worked out.
Let me say right here that Kokatat’s Gore-Tex gear has been sturdy and comfortable all season and looks to last many more. Considering how much I was on and in the water last year between symposia, summer excursions and of course my 100 Miles to Winter paddle, which had me out in every condition Wisconsin weather could toss at me until the lake froze solid. (And that’s saying something!) In the past I’d always been a fan of old school thick dry suits because they kept me warm in the nastiest of winter weather. Experience has taught me though, that I could actually stay warmer in Gore-Tex if I just learned to get my layers right… but that’s another story!
First, here are some of the reasons Bibs with a separate top can rock;
1. Choice. Changing tops depending on conditions.
2. Still dry. Spending a few moments getting the seal right between the bibs and a proper dry top mean you’re still essentially wearing a dry suit. Now, I’ve been told that if you stay in the water long enough, the seal will slowly allow some seepage.. but I’ve not been in the water long enough to see that happen personally.
3. Standing in cold water. As a coach and rolling instructor I stand in the water a lot. The air is hot, the water is cold. Bibs are great because they protect me from the cold water, but allow me to wear a light paddling top.
4. Comfort. Just between you and me, 90% of the time I wear my TecTour Anorak top, rarely do I wear the dry top. If I’m on inland lakes and don’t really face much risk of swimming, the Anorak provides a dry paddle in nearly all conditions, without the skin-tight neck gasket to deal with. I’ve also found that the bibs design seems to respect people with wider middles. drysuits seem to be cut for the V-shaped people among us.
5. Options. For some of us, sending in our dry suit for repairs, means we’ve lost our dry top as well. A tear in our top, means the whole suit is gone. With the combo you never lose both. You don’t want to lose your only dry top because of leak in your sock!
6. Price? Well, you’re not going to save much when you compare a top and bibs to an equally made dry suit, however you can buy one bit at a time which may be a saving grace for some folks.
1. Nothing. Well, that wouldn’t be fair would it? So let me tell you a story.
Now, the first day I tried my fancy new bibs I took a drive on a cold day over to Lake Wisconsin a few miles south of me. We say Lake Wisconsin, because it’s a dammed up section of the massive Wisconsin river. Being a river though means we can usually find a bit of open water in the area. Anyway, I spend a couple of minutes at the boat landing working through the process of connecting the bib’s seal to the dry top seal. (Basically a process of rolling up some fabric together.) When I had the way I thought I should, I jumped into the lake and swam over to a buoy. Hanging onto the buoy, with cold water lapping up at my face, I suddenly realized that an ice-cold trickle of water was running down my back.. Yikes! I quickly made a dash back to the shoreline. By then I had a nice big wet area where my insulating layers beneath had soaked up the water. For a moment, I was ready to call this whole “bib Vs dry suit” thing a total fail.
After that experience I went back home and actually read the procedure for connecting the bibs to the tops. Being a freshly minted Kokatat Ambassador, I also asked the experts! As if that weren’t enough, I also watched a (blurry)Youtube video. Most importantly I practiced by wearing the gear paddling… a lot! I’m a firm believer in getting the right information and practicing. (Well, if jumping blindly in doesn’t work anyway.) In time, I learned to roll up the seal fairly quickly. With some experience under my belt (or over), I learned that although it’s not quite as quick as just zipping up a dry suit, it’s still a reasonably quick procedure that as I said..gives me choices. All in all, that’s what I was hoping for in the beginning when I chose the Kokatat Whirlpool bibs in the first place.
So, Do You Need A bib?
Maybe the real issue here is that you shouldn’t let anyone tell you that you have to choose a dry suit or that the bibs won’t do the job as a blanket statement. That’s probably not a fair comparison. The choice may be more of a matter of lifestyle. If I were going to be days on the open ocean or great lakes, I’d wear a one piece dry suit just to eliminate one possible point of weakness. However, considering how I experience paddling 99.9% of the time, I find the Bibs with a nice top to not only fit me well, but fit ME well too.. Make sense?
See you at Canoecopia!