While wearing a drytop and shorts with fleece might be adequate for low elevation warm-water summer trips, this combo could prove to be miserable or worse at other times and or locations. Regardless of how dry your boat/skirt is, if you have to get out of your boat to scout/portage, your lower half will eventually get wet. Even in nice weather, it doesn’t take much of this to get chilled. Now, throw some cool temperatures in, a breeze, rain or little Idaho summer snowstorm and the situation can get miserable in a hurry. More critical than your immediate comfort though is if you or one of your friends runs into trouble. At that point, you are in an entirely different ball game.
Erring on the safe side is always a good habit to get into but especially true in remote locations. Think of the worst case scenario then plan for it. A swim is one thing but what if you were pinned with a popped skirt, had a boat full of cold water and had to wait for assistance? What if you had to stand waist or chest deep for some time holding your friend’s head above water? Ultimately, you want to ask yourself if your clothing is going to keep you from getting hypothermic in long submersions. In questionable air and water temps, there is absolutely no question about it. The best thing to be wearing is a one-piece drysuit.
Benefits of a drysuit
Besides the safety factors and upped personal comfort level, there's another benefit to wearing a drysuit while self-supporting: you will have dry clothes on when you get to camp. Your paddling and camp clothes can be one and the same. Double duty! This means less clothing you will have to carry in your boat, which equates to saved weight and less bulk.
|Getting warm inside that suit?No problem. Roll, kneel or have lunch in the water. For me, it's easier to cool off than warm up. I gladly don my suit on everything but the hottest of summer trips.|
Shopping for a drysuit
Many people shy away from drysuits because of the expense involved and the inconveniences of urinating. However, many shops have them on their year-end closeout sales (I have seen them up to 40% off) and even at full retail, there are some reasonably priced suits available now. And every major manufacturer has offerings with relief zippers.
- consider a relief zipper mandatory. Without, one tends to drink less because of the hassle of urinating and as a result, becomes dehydrated. Dehydration offers its own set of problems including, but not limited to, shaky paddling performance and chills...countering the reason you were getting a suit in the first place: safety and comfort.
- built-in socks aren't necessary but they are worth every penny plus some. They keep your feet dryer and warmer; makes the suit easier to don and doff; and don't constrict your blood flow.
- a suit made with breathable material will extend its range of comfort
With a price tag ranging from around $500 to nearly $1000, a drysuit with all the above features will be your most expensive peice of gear...but, invaluable if you are serious about your comfort and safety. In many cases, a drysuit can easily be the difference between comfort and misery. In some cases, a drysuit could be the difference between surviving or not.
Absolutely can not afford a drysuit? An option that may be worth looking in to is a pair of bibs that mate to your drytop. Like true drysuits, bibs come in the standard nylon or breathable materials and with or without built-in socks and relief zippers. Sealing methods vary from neoprene body tubes to rolling the drytops skirt tunnel to the tunnel on the bibs.
The concept is good. However, submersion dryness varies and as such, bibs should not be considered as reliable as a true drysuit. And, because of the extra material around the mid section, bibs are not nearly as comfortable. Lastly, without a relief zipper, urinating will be even more of a hassle than it is with a zipperless drysuit.
Neoprene is another option to help ward off hypothermia in less severe environments...though is does not offer the same level of protection or any where near the comfort of a drysuit. And neoprene takes so long to dry, you'll likely be putting it on damp or wet the next day. Not a pleasant thought if you wake up to snow! You'll also have to pack camp clothes in your drybags (meaning extra weight & bulk) as opposed to already having them on under a drysuit. Neoprene is however, by far the least expensive and most trouble-free option. Neoprene can also be used in conjunction with your sleeping pad or as a stand-alone pad (placed under the shelter, if damp, so sleeping bag stays dry).
What about dry pants? Ease of use and low prices have made pants with latex gaskets on the ankles popular. However, I don’t consider these “dry pants” any kind of substitue to a drysuit. Their ability to keep water out in strong hydraulics and or long submersions is questionable. And if enough water got past the waist seal and in to the pant legs, your ability to effectively swim could be severely comprimised. There is at least one documented case of this contributing to a drowning.
Getting a lace caught on the brake pedal at a notoriously dangerous intersection caused me to ponder the pontential ramifications of shoe laces in kayaking. The Quickfit lace system on these Salomon trail runners tucks cleanly in to the tongue & is secure. Though not the best on wet rocks, I prefer the fit, comfort & versatileness of these shoes over that of any kayak specific shoes I have found.
Shoes are one of the most often over looked pieces of equipment in kayaking. For self-support, a solid pair is an absolute must and while it may seem like common sense, so is wearing them in the kayak. Shoes are worthless if they’re in a boat floating down stream without the paddler.
Constantly be asking yourself "what if". Imagine having to hike out. It is one thing to hike a few miles out of an urban area creek but a whole other animal to hike 15, 30 or more miles out of a trailless wilderness canyon. You are in dire straights without shoes! Good shoes will also allow quicker reaction times in emergencies.
Wear the most secure, comfortable and supportive pair of shoes that will fit in your boat... and think twice about wearing sandals. Sandals do little to protect your feet when walking through brush and there has been at least one documented case of them causing fatal foot entrapment in the river bed. They can catch on boat outfitting too as proven by a friend of mine during a wet exit. His sandal got caught under the front edge of his kayak's seat breaking a bone in his foot in the process.
- On trips that I’m wavering on the need for a helmet liner, I’ll leave it home and wear a left over food bag if need be (bags you put bulk foods in work well). The plastic has little insulative power but keeps you warm by preventing evaporative cooling...and adding a barrier between you and the wind and splashes. YO! You'll look like a grocery store gangsta lacking bling but really...why would you care as long as it works? Along the same lines, these type of bags can be used on your feet as a VBL while sleeping (held on w/ rubberbands at ankles) and, in emergencies, can be used as pogies of sorts. Zip-locks or what ever, any kind of plastic bag will work. Be resourceful, think multi-use and save weight without sacrificing comfort. I have used all these methods with excellent success.
|At camp: wet paddling shoes over Gore-Tex socks over dry fleece socks. These Gore-Tex socks were tall and loose on top so I cut them down & added a bungee cord closure to keep debris out.|
I used to pack neoprene socks reinforced with Aqua Seal on the soles for warm camp wear. This worked out pretty nice but realized a few ounces could be saved by going another route. If I’m wearing my drysuit, which has built-in socks, I’ll just pack a pair of Gore-Tex socks in my drybags and call it good. Once at camp, I'll take my drysuit off, slip the Gore-Tex socks over the dry socks I was just wearing inside my drysuit then put my paddling shoes back on.
With the Gore-Tex socks, it doesn’t matter if the shoes are soaked. My feet stay dry. This method leaves me with dry socks to wear to bed as well. If I’m not wearing my drysuit, I’ll just pack a pair of synthetic socks in addition to my gore-tex socks. If it's warmer, I'll just go barefoot if I don't feel like wearing my wet paddling shoes.
For sandal afficionados, check out these easy to make 1 ounce flip-flops.
|"Does this outfit make me look fat?" My morning attire in cool subalpine: Western Mountaineering Linelite hybrid sleeping bag over 1 oz poncho VBL (the orange thing) over insulative layers I wore under my drysuit. On my feet are river shoes over Gore-Tex socks (see above photo). Minus the shoes, this is the same get-up I slept in inside my bivy shelter.|
The clothes you bring for camp wear depends on the locale, weather, time of year and whether or not you’re wearing a drysuit and have a sleeping bag that’s wearable.
In the hottest of trips, I will bring nothing more than what I wear inside my kayak. Typically though, I’ll bring a pair of synthetic shorts that I slip on once to camp. By the time the temps have cooled down in the evening, my wet river clothes are usaully dry enough to don again. Or, if I wore my drysuit, I already have dry clothes that were worn under. If these clothes aren’t warm enough, I just put on my hybrid sleeping bag (Rock Wren or Linelite). Further still, I can wear my poncho under the sleeping bag (as shown in photo on right) or over if it's sprinkling.
It may not seem like much but the above has served me well in a variety of early spring to early fall conditions (I'll pack a microfleece top & bottom in colder conditions. Have upgraded to lighter & warm down jacket and pants as of 2010). It's a highly versatile and systematic approach that allows me to keep my load light and compact. The hybrid sleeping bag has been key.
|It may look gay but who cares! This is a super cheap, super light, breathable and warm rainsuit that'll keep you dry for about 2 hrs in a steady medium rain...enough time for general camp chores. It's simply a pair of polypro or Tyvek disposable work coveralls found in the paint department of your local hardware store. If you can't find them with a hood, make your own from sil-nylon as I did with this simple hood pattern (do a Google translation). This get up weighs 7 oz and cost around $10...and though "disposable", should last several seasons with a bit of care...as long or longer than the Frogg Toggs Driducks. Guaranteed to generate camp discussion.|
Although rain suits are nice, they are not overly versatile. Ponchos on the otherhand have many uses. Besides being rainwear, a poncho can be used as a ground cloth; shelter for hanging river clothes under on a rainy night; extra shelter vestibule space; a dry area for cooking in the rain (if set high enough); changing pad; and if it’s brightly colored, a signaling device (notice how bright this red poncho is). I take a poncho every time. Depending on the conditions, it'll be a 7 oz sil-nylon Equinox Terrapin or generic .99 cent 1 oz plastic poncho as shown in above photo (translucent orange under sleeping bag).
While ponchos work great in light rain or shorter hard showers, for sustained use in heavy rain, a rain suit is more likely to keep you dryer. The suit is also less apt to snag on brush given the material forms against the body as opposed to hanging off the body like a poncho. That said, if I were going to be hiking around in lots of rain, I'd opt for a rain suit consisting of a hooded jacket and matching pants...something breathable yet waterproof, light and inexpensive. At less than $20 and weighing 10 ounces, the Frogg Toggs DriDucks fit that bill perfectly. While not as durable as garments made with heavier materials, they get rave reviews from many backpackers and reportedly hold up fine for those willling to exercise a little caution.