For my sort of paddling integrated latex socks, latex wrists, neoprene at the neck plus a front entry zip and a relief zip add up to the best all-round combination.
Even in summer the benefits of a drysuit for northern British paddling are worthwhile. 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 chunky old Crewsaver Hyperpro drysuit (left) cost only £180 and did the job amazingly well. But even at 2kg, it was heavy enough to need internal braces and was often too hot and sweaty for active paddling. I don’t tend to get cold easily but wonder do if it was more of a sailing suit less well suited to energetic paddling.
When it comes to exposure, should you fall in, being wet from trapped sweat is nearly as bad as getting 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 (above right) made to snuggly bob around for hours until the RNLI find you. In such a scenario it’s the fleece underneath 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 and many outlets throw them in for free with the drysuit.
Whatever membrane fabric the Crewsaver used, like many sub-Goretex fabrics it was more waterproof than breathable. As it is, I’ve never experienced the true magic of breathable membranes which work under a much narrower set of parameters than we imagine (temperature gradients, fabric saturation, and cleanliness), even if they’re surely better than being wrapped in bin bags and duct tape.
Before the Hyperpro I briefly owned a much lighter Kokatat Tropos (below) which I sold in haste and which closely resembles my Anfibio Packsuit. Kokatat are known for their high-end Goretex expedition kayaking drysuits, but they don’t use two-layer ‘Tropos’ membrane fabric anymore so maybe it’s just as well I flogged it. The closest thing Kokatat now sell is the better breathing three-layer Hydrus 3.0 Swift Entry which goes for over £700 in the UK.
I’d often wondered what exactly a semi-drysuit 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 a latex neck seal. Latex (as on my Hyperpro) seals very well but worn all day gets uncomfortable. I recall reading about some guys who paddled South Georgia in the South Atlantic fitting ‘venting hoops’ into the latex neck seals of their top-of the range Kokatats during less stormy episodes to stop them choking or boiling over. Unless you expect to be frequently immersed in storm- or whitewater conditions, you may prefer a neoprene neck seal. The rationale is that because the head and neck are usually above the water when wearing a buoyancy aid, the seal here is less critical than on submerged wrists or ankles/feet.
Relief zips; responding to Nature’s call
Presumably you won’t be paddling in tropical so, at the very least, the need for a slash can become paramount, especially as the years pile on. Get a suit with a relief zipper or, as I did with the Tropos, pay an extra 100 quid to have one fitted later. A woman could use a front relief zip with a SheWee, otherwise women-specific drysuits feature a dropseat zip across the back of the hips for the same purpose. note the waist drawcord or seal too; also helpful to retain body heat.
Integrated socks or ankle seal?
It’s a drysuit so you want to be dry, and that includes your feet. Far better to have socks integrated into the suit than ankle seals and then find another way of keeping your feet dry or at least, warm. Looking at drysuits again recently, I see that nearly all come with integrated feet feature laboriously made of sewn and taped membrane fabric, yet the benefits of any breathability in the feet are minimal, while the membrane will eventually fail and be difficult or expensive to repair or replace.
Sven at Anfibio confirmed what I felt: integral latex rubber socks are the way to go; they may be heavier than membrane versions but are much easier to repair, more robust for walking as well as reliable. Wear some thick socks and a pair of wet shoes on top and the feet will be dry and warm.
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 IK&Ps) and so it’s hard to find fault with the front horizontal format.
I found the Anfibio Packsuit easy to get into, light enough not to sag and the zip easy to work and check that that you’ve sealed it properly. The Anfibio suit uses a plastic TiZip Masterseal dry zip (top of the page) that’s lighter and easier to slide than old-style brass YKKs. 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 socks and the relief zip options at 1332g and rolls up to about half the volume of my old Hyperpro. Weight is saved with no cuffs covering the latex parts which are said to be vulnerable to UV. A regular dose of 303 Protectorant (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 Packsuit unobtrusive to wear. Unlike previous drysuits, I rarely felt the need to peel off at the slightest stopover, and the relief zip is a no brainer, enabling on-water ‘defuelling’, if necessary, 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.
I’ve yet to do an immersion test but have found that stretching made the inside coating peel off the neoprene neck seal 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 Anfibio Packrafting Store website. It costs from €419 with tax and in my custom spec would have cost €550.