Review: Shawty Women’s Drysuit by Immersion Research

Maria Kallman tests IR's new suit on the creeks of New Zealand

Maria Kallman setting up for a boof in New Zealand. Photo by Brad Elliot
Maria Kallman setting up for a boof in New Zealand. Photo by Brad Elliott

Shawty Women’s Drysuit by Immersion Research

(ImmersionResearch.com, $900)

By Maria Kallman

Prior to wearing a Shawty, I would describe my relationship with my drysuit as love-hate. The love part stems from growing up paddling in an era before drysuits were ubiquitous, and then re-kindling my paddling career on Colorado's cold creeks. I will always remember what a game-changer my first drysuit was, eight years ago. But despite continued deep appreciation for the warmth, I came to secretly dread putting my drysuit on. It was a chore: I had to pull a contortionist move to get my head through the neck gasket, and my long torso caused uncomfortable tugging where the torso met the legs of my suit while the legs bunched up at the ankles like a clown. The material was heavy, especially when wet, and the zippers were hard to close. I felt clumsy and ugly. I thought that's just the way the world of drysuits worked — until I met the Shawty.

I took the Shawty on a recent paddling trip to the South Island of New Zealand. I quickly learned that paddling there entails a few tricky components: crystal blue water deep flows through beautiful, steep boulder gardens in the wilderness, often above scary sieves; long portages require bushwhacking through the jungle and crawling over house-sized boulders with a loaded boat when said sieves are too scary or don’t go; and finally there are the sandflies, which cause the itchiest, longest-lasting, most bothersome insect bites I've ever experienced. The Shawty excelled in helping me navigate each of these challenges, with comfort and style.

Maria Kallman (left) sporing IR's Shawty drysuit while watching a fellow paddler's run in New Zealand. Photo by Richard Young
Maria Kallman (left) sporting IR’s Shawty drysuit while watching a fellow paddler’s run in New Zealand. Photo by Richard Young

Every time I put on the Shawty, I was impressed by the fit. It accommodated my long torso and broad shoulders easily, allowing for complete freedom of movement. My first thought was, “Finally, a women's-specific piece of gear that's not cut too narrow in the shoulders!” The waist buckle allowed the bottom half to be worn with the top half tied around the waist while hiking, without feeling like it was falling down. It also made the fit feel really custom.

The lightweight feel of the material was as impressive as the excellent fit. Even while hiking, I got good leg protection while not getting way too hot. When I did carry it inside my boat during long hike-ins, it was light enough not to feel like another piece of gear was weighing me down. And while paddling, the material felt minimalist, while still keeping me completely dry!

The third impressive feature of this suit was the astonishing durability of the fabric. After my very first New Zealand portage, sliding on my butt down dirt and rocks and thrashing through thick jungle foliage, I fully expected the suit to lose some of its waterproofness by the end of the trip, especially in the feet. But the abrasion-resistance was so impressive that none of these outcomes occurred, and I was as dry after three weeks of hard wear and tear as I was on Day 1.

One possibly controversial design decision on the Shawty is its front relief zipper. When women ask me why I choose a front zipper suit, I am always happy to discuss its advantages over the rear drop-seat. Growing up racing slalom, I feel that a firm tight fight in the seat is critical for boat control and comfort, and the best way to achieve this is to avoid a long zipper between you and your boat. It's lighter, too. Opening and closing a several-inch-long zipper right in front of you is much easier than a two-foot-long zipper behind you, and you don't have to worry about untucking the majority of your layers. Finally, once you have a funnel that's the right size and are used to using it, the concern over accidentally peeing into your drysuit goes away.

With regard to fit and functionality, women's gear has come a long way in the past five to ten years, and in my opinion, the Shawty is at the head of the pack.

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