Even in summer the benefits of a drysuit for northern UK paddling are like wearing overalls to get stuck into a messy job; you know you’re covered. You can wade in as deep as you like and take all the splash that’s going without risking getting chilled should your underclothes get soaked when a waist or limb seal leaks. And for me, nervous of the deep and often paddling alone in the northwest (even if it’s rarely more than a mile from shore), it’s an added layer of security.
My old Crewsaver Hyperpro drysuit (left) cost only £180 and did the job amazingly well. But even at only 2kg, it was heavy enough to need internal braces and was often too hot and sweaty for fast paddling, even in a northwest Highlands summer. In fact I wonder if it was more of a jet ski-ing suit not suited to paddling? When it comes to exposure, should you fall in, being wet from trapped sweat is nearly as bad as being wet from seawater. Once pressed against your body by water pressure, I’m told the actual benefits of a drysuit in slowing down hypothermia are only measured in a few extra minutes. To be agile enough for paddling, drysuits are not immersion or survival suits (right) made to snuggly bob around for hours until the RNLI find you. In such a scenario it’s the fleece underneath a regular paddling drysuit that can make a difference and I have a Gul one-piece (left) for those chilly days. At anything above single-digit temps it’s just too warm, but if anyone remembers romper suits from their toddling days, they know how comfy it is to wear a onesie over their nappies. They go for about £25 (try amazon); well worth it in my opinion and handy on a winter’s motorbike ride too.
Whatever clever membrane fabric the Crewsaver used, it was better at keeping water out than venting my steam. And anyway, I’ve never experienced the magic of breathable membranes which I believe work under a much narrower set of parameters (temperature gradients, fabric saturation and cleanliness) than we imagine, even if they’re surely better than wrapped in bin bags and duct tape.
Before the Hyperpro I briefly owned a nice and light Kokatat Tropos dry suit (left) which I sold in haste and which closely resembled this Packsuit. Kokatat don’t use the Tropos fabric anymore so maybe it’s just as well I flogged it. The closest thing they now sell is the Hydrus fabric 3L for around £680 in the UK.
As often happens with gear for a given activity, it takes a bit of trial and error to find what actually fits your needs, rather than the full-on expedition stuff you think you need – or what’s going cheap at the time in your size. I’d often wondered what exactly a semi-dry suit was – a half-arsed fabric that sort of keeps water out? Sven at Packrafting Store explained: it’s a drysuit with a comfier neoprene rather than latex neck seal. Latex (as on my Hyperpro) seals very well but worn all day it gets uncomfortable. Apart from some sad celebs and Tory politicians, no one likes being auto-asphyxiated for fun. I recall reading some guys who paddled South Georgia island in the South Atlantic fitting ‘venting hoops’ into the latex neck seals of their top-of the range Kokatat drysuits during less stormy episodes to stop them choking or boiling over. Unless you expect to be frequently immersed or hosed over in storm- or whitewater conditions, a clingy latex neck seal is less useful than on the wrists. Meanwhile for the feet Sven confirmed what I felt: integral latex socks are the way to go; heavier than taped fabric versions but much easier to repair, more robust for walking plus reliable and better than ankle seals in keeping feet warm. Full latex socks, latex wrists and neoprene at the neck; the best all round combination of drysuit sealage for my sort of paddling.
The Crewsaver had a horizontal back zip, the Tropos was front diagonal while the Anfibio is front horizontal. The back zip may look neat (right) but when tired or cold I found the articulation required to unzip myself was quite an effort. It does mean you can open it on the water to vent off while guarding against frontal splash, but it would be hard to zip up in a hurry. Front diagonal doesn’t seal so well with spray skirts they say (not an issue with me with IK&Ps) and so it’s hard to find fault with the front horizontal format.
I found the Packsuit easy to get into, light enough not to sag and the zip easy to work and ascertain that you’ve sealed it properly. The Anfibio suit uses a light, plastic TiZip Masterseal dry zip (left and below) that’s lighter and easier to slide than the usual chunky brass YKKs I’m used to. Wax or silicon spray is all the TiZip needs, as with YKKs.
Anfibio’s Packsuit can weigh as little as 800g in smaller sizes. My XL version was custom tailored and with the latex sock and the relief zip options weighs 1332g and rolls up to about half the volume of my Hyperpro. Weight is saved with no cuffs covering the latex parts which are said to be vulnerable to UV. A regular dose of 303 (right) should see to that. There are also no pockets or other features, just what you need to keep you dry.
Best of all, on our four-day paddle around the Slate Islands I found the Anfibio Packsuit unobtrusive to wear. Unlike with previous drysuits, I rarely felt the need to peel off at the slightest stop and the relief zip was a no brainer, enabling on-water ‘defuelling’, just like a B52 on a long-range mission Wearing just a shirt and runner’s leggings, I never felt hot on the water nor got chilled, and during a downpour on land one evening was happy to wear it right up to the point we scurried for our tents.
Sorry to say I forgot to do an immersion test but will get round to that. I did find that the stretching made the inside coating peel off the neoprene neck seal – see picture below – but don’t know what this coating is actually for. It’s certainly not waterproofing so doesn’t really matter. Other than that, no issues.
I received the Packsuit in return for editorial work on the Packrafting Store website. It costs from €399 with tax and in my custom spec would have cost €530.
Another good lightweight drysuit I’m told is a Stohlquist EZ for $500.