Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Kayak Angling Clothing: a three part review

Part 3: Will we ever get a perfect kayak angler's dry suit?

In the previous two parts to this article (part one, part two), I've looked at various options to stay dry and comfortable when sea kayak fishing in cold waters. The options I discussed are:
  • wetsuits
  • chest waders / bib with dry top
  • two-piece dry top & dry pants combinations
  • drysuits
In part 2 of the article, I came down marginally in favour of drysuits, given the particular requirements of sea kayak fishing. Given that sea kayak anglers generally paddle to their chosen mark and then spend time either on the drift or paddling back to start another drift, they are exposed to longer periods of wind chill and shorter periods of continuous paddling than sea kayakers, who are often paddling a coastal route with fixed breaks against time constraints dictated by tide and wind speed. The type of kayaks differ too. Sea kayak fishermen tend to fish from sit-on-top kayaks laden with expensive equipment, which means they are quite adverse to taking to the ocean in bad conditions and don't expect to Eskimo roll out of trouble in heavy surf or rough seas. Of course, if something unexpected happens and we end up in the water, we need to be safe. So we still dress for immersion - but not to the degree of being immersed several times a session.

Given our paddling needs it makes sense for sea kayak fishermen to dress for occasional rather than expected immersion. This lets us move down a notch or two from some of the strict immersion requirements to give us greater comfort levels. For example, latex neck seals can be very watertight but not particularly comfortable, and could be regarded as overkill for kayak anglers. Alternatives such as various types of neoprene neck seal are all less watertight, but perfectly adequate if you are only taking the odd tumble in the drink and in terms of the suit, they are much easier to get in and out of.

However, bear in mind that only you can make this decision, as it's ultimately your safety margin to decide what to do with. If you like to push the limits in terms of what sea conditions you will launch in then get clothing that provides the best protection possible.

Comfort in drysuits is generally measured by how breathable the suit is. But let's get one thing clear; the most breathable garment in the world will not stop you sweating. For example, if you exercise hard you will sweat in just a t-shirt. The question is whether your body heat can then dry off the moisture that has collected in the fabric. Some fabrics seem better than others at doing this, and some are more comfortable to wear when damp. In order to dry any clothing your sweat has to be driven out of the fabric in the form of water vapour. Creating water vapour requires your body to stay warm, which can be difficult if your damp clothes cool your body heat excessively after you stop exercising. Keeping your body warm is often best achieved by putting on layers after you stop exercising, and this is where breathability comes in. The layer above your clothing has to allow water vapour to pass through it, otherwise you will stay warm but damp, eventually resulting in discomfort.

Since the advent of Goretex, eVent and similar membranes, breathable waterproofs have become commonplace. How well they perform is debatable and quite often people's expectations of breathability seem to be on a par with their t-shirts! No waterproof membrane can provide that, but you can expect such membranes to allow a slow release of water vapour over time, provided your body heat is maintained. The more breathable they are, the quicker we can expect to dry out underneath them. Unfortunately while many membrane manufacturers claim that their fabrics are breathable, none to my knowledge provide hard data that indicate how much water vapour can pass through them over a given timespan in set conditions. If they did, we might be able to really open the market up to serious competition. As it is, you have to go by what others say or personal preference.

Goretex as a brand leader fetches a high premium and a suit made from it will add significantly to that suit's cost. Currently to my knowledge, only Kokatat offer a Goretex option on their dry suits. For hard-core sea kayakers the lack of options in this area is a bit of an issue. But for sea kayak fishermen, who perhaps don't need the maximum levels of breathability required for continuous paddling, there are more options. That is not to say the options are particularly cheap, and beyond breathability, there are other features that sea kayak fishermen should look out for. The features most relevant to sea kayak fishing are probably non-latex neck seals, sewn-in fabric socks, a relief zip and an easy access zip (i.e. not across the back). To this list you might want to add a hood and various pockets, reflective strips and the like, but they're not high up on my list of essentials. The only other feature that is worth looking out for is increased fabric protection over the groin, upper thighs and inner legs from landing fish that have treble hooks and / or sharp spines and teeth! An extra layer of nylon Cordura here is a help, it won't stop a strong fish wriggling with loose treble hooks from getting snagged up, but it might lessen the damage a little.

So what are the options? For the UK, the price range is pretty similar (suspicious, me? never!) across all the suits that fit the requirements listed above. I've listed five suits you might consider below, there are plenty of others.

Hydrus 3L SuperNova Angler Paddling Suit with Relief Zipper and Socks

Got all the essential features required, plus the extra protection along tops of legs against fish hooks that is not featured on any other drysuit. Lacks hood and has no pockets, but then a hat and decent fishing PFD sort that out. 3-ply material upper half, making it lightweight and breathable. Around £500.


Got all the bells and whistles, plus a rather clever way of getting into the suit via a zip that runs up the inside legs.  Don't know how comfortable it would be to walk any distance in, but no need for a relief zip.  Although this suit is already 4-ply, if it had better cordura protection over the upper thighs I'd go for it.  Wins worst colour scheme award.  £489.


Got some nice features, in particular dedicated pockets for VHF radios / phones, but a rear zip entry, 4-ply heavyweight fabric seems more aimed at the sailing / dinghy enthusiasts rather than the sea kayakers, and some of the pockets would be unusable with a typical kayaking PFD.  High quality reflective bands around arms.  Around £500.



Front zip entry, 4-ply heavyweight fabric, relief zip, non-latex neck seal.  Competitively priced drysuit that still looks OK with fish guts down it and is already a favourite among sea kayak fishermen!  Have heard one or two say that the suit does get a bit hot in summer months.  Around £375.

Palm Aleutian

Again a 4-ply drysuit with lots of pockets (with Palm's legendary hood!), some of which you can't use when wearing your PFD and lots of reflective bits.  Latex neck seals and rear zip entry unfortunately.  Around £480.

For sea kayak anglers, who prefer to go for a drysuit over the wetsuit option, there some relatively good suits on offer, although only one has been specifically designed for kayak anglers.  Protection against hooks, easy solo entry, relief zip, non-latex neck seals and sown in socks are all great features, but barring the first they are becoming standard across all drysuits.  Bear in mind there are also ways of mitigating the risk of a hook puncturing your suit when on your yak - a simple landing net being the most obvious.  The remaining features such as hoods, pockets, reflective bits and colour schemes are left up to you to decide.

Keep an eye out on the internet for American retail outlets selling big brand names at heavy discounts - such a deal can often work out much cheaper than purchasing the same suit in the UK (even after you've paid your shipping, VAT + collection fee).   For example, Kayak Academy are currently selling a slightly older version of the Kokatat Angler's paddling suit for around $450 / £278 (limited sizes / colours), which makes it a tempting choice.

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