SwitchZipped: Surge Paddling Suit bottoms.

SwitchZipped: Surge Paddling Suit bottoms.

Women's Surge Paddling Suit with SwitchZip Technology

(Kokatat.com, $850)

By Amanda Nichols

The Surge Paddling Suit is essentially a pair of lightweight drypants that attach via a waterproof zipper to a semi-dry top. Kokatat's innovative SwitchZip runs all the way around the suit just above the hips between a completely detachable Gore-Tex top and bottoms. What this amounts to is convenience and versatility on the water, allowing you to quickly tailor the suit to the conditions, which we found perfect for the Grand Canyon's fickle winter weather. It was easy to stow the pants during warmer days of flatwater and quickly pull them on before a big rapid. On chilly mornings, just the pants could be worn to keep your feet dry while loading the boat.

The same SwitchZip also doubles as a relief zipper, which our female rafters preferred over the Stohlquist Amp's funnel-dependent front relief zipper. But since the SwitchZip is secured by screwing on a heavy-duty bolt (video), testers found it to be slightly more time consuming than the NRS Crux's rear relief zipper.

A little morning yoga in the Kokatat Surge Women's Paddling Suit.

A little morning yoga in the Kokatat Surge Women’s Paddling Suit.

The fabric was the lightest of any of the suits in this review, which was nice for sunny days but required more layers when the sun dipped behind the canyon walls. The Surge doesn't have the rubber neck gasket of a drytop but instead has of a neoprene collar that cinches down for wet days. After a couple weeks on the river, traditional drysuit gaskets caused many of our necks to become badly chafed. Not so with the Surge. Its soft collar was much more comfortable with daily wear. But the drawback, of course, is a less waterproof suit. Eventually the collar was put to the test when one of our reviewers dump-trucked off a raft in Grapevine Rapid. It took a few minutes before the rescue was organized and she experienced some significant downtime. The suit performed as advertised and came out semi-dry; it was damp inside but not totally soaked.

Bottom Line
The Surge is a great choice for touring, canoeing or rafting where you may experience some splashes but won't be submerged very often. The highly breathable fabric and neoprene collar are best suited to working hard on chilly days of flat water, and the SwitchZip allows for easy conversions throughout a trip. Though the Surge is easier on the bank account than many full-fledged drysuits, female whitewater kayakers will want to invest in something a little more waterproof.

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