The latest crop of drysuits boast burly improvements with comfort always in mind
TEXT AND STRESS TEST BY JOE JACKSON
[The following originally appeared in the 2013 December issue of Canoe & Kayak, available on newsstands now.]
NRS used its new proprietary four-layer waterproof-breathable Eclipse fabric to create the sharp new Crux. We were impressed with the stylish pant cut paired with design details like Velcro over-cuffs that protect the wrist gaskets and secure your booties at the ankle. The micro-fiber exterior is smoother than the other suits on this list, so its almost silky finish causes less friction while you work. Sharp lines and a minimal, smooth-paddling lightweight feel introduce a new contender in the high-end field.
Like taking a fashion diva out on a date, IR’s new Supermodel drysuit is not cheap. But, we think, both are totally worth it. Smart design changes—like lighter, more supple waterproof-breathable nylon fabric throughout and fabric booties as opposed to latex—warrant the $350 premium over its close relative, IR’s Arch Rival. We love the extra space in all of the right places, providing a comfortable paddling fit. With the Supermodel, there's no reason to order a boxy, oversized suit. Well-thought design, a tailored fit and understated tones whisper this model's clear whitewater goals.
The front-zip Amp is almost entirely cut from a four-layer proprietary waterproof-breathable material. Each layer offers a distinct utility, and it's worth taking a moment to appreciate this moisture-wicking dream team. We are particularly excited about the relationship between the hydrophilic laminate in the second layer that pulls moisture off your body and the hydrophobic fourth layer that keeps exterior moisture out. It’s not all about the fabric; the Amp is packed with cool features like rugged knee pads, and anti-slip panels that keep the suit well connected with your sprayskirt. Lightweight feel and heaps of technical features, plus a reasonable price, make a strong case for amping up.
Level Six’s three-Layer Emperor is the lovechild of its hearty Reign drytop and drypants. The overlapping tunnel as well as the Dual Cinch System (DCS) waistband will keep you well connected with your boat and minimize water seepage. Don’t let all of the emphasis on strength make you think the Emperor is a despot; comfort features like fleece-lined pockets accessible in your PFD show that this drysuit has a soft side as well. A feature-rich design does mean the Emperor has a slightly heavier load on your shoulders, but we'll take all the added Cordura protection in the contact areas (including the shoulders) at that price.
This four-layer suit lives up to its name. It is positively burly. On top of the reinforcements you’d expect in the knees, elbow, and butt, Bomber Gear took it a step further and reinforced the shoulders with beefy oxford nylon. The thick back-entry zipper along the shoulders was challenging to zip and took a little getting used to—you need to be a yogi or have a buddy help zip it up—but the zipper was satisfyingly water-tight and nicely out of the way once sealed. And though the conical wrist cuffs can be a challenge for the thick-armed, our money is on this Bomb dropping for many, many snows, seeing as it stood up to our test of prolonged winter paddles.
Kokatat Custom Gore-Tex Meridian
Starts at $1,006; kokatat.com
Kokatat now offers customers the opportunity to customize their drysuits in a staggering variety of ways. Using a user-friendly online tool they call Gizmo, paddlers can add accessories such as a drop-seat entry and suspenders, and fine-tune both form and function of three popular models—the Meridian (pictured), Meridian Expedition, and Front Entry. (By Christmas, Kokatat plans to offer its rear-entry Icon suit, shown in the video, to the program.) With dozens of color options you can show serious flair, if that’s your thing. The real advantage is performance. Less empty space in the suit means more warmth, and for hard-to-fit paddlers a custom suit can be a revelation.