Friday 24 June 2011

Review of Kokatat Tropos T3 SuperNova Angler Paddling Suit

I've been wanting to purchase a dry suit for some time.  I was sick of struggling with latex ankle seals on my two piece suit and always felt that one day I would pass out trying to get the dry top back over my head after a sweaty paddle!  Then after 2 years my trusty Palm dry pants delaminated (as everyone said they would) and started to leak.  That was it.  For a time, I switched to the comfort of some breathable 4-ply chest waders from Orvis with sown-in socks.  These remain my most comfortable clothing to wear when kayaking, as you stay bone dry, pretty much puncture proof and in warm weather your top half can be just a tee shirt.  However in terms of safety they really don't do anything to help you survive being in cold water for any length of time, as even with a tight belt water quickly enters.  This means I can't use them when I'm close to my limits in rough conditions, which in turn means that I get even less opportunities for time at sea.

I spent many weeks trying to find a good drysuit that would stand up to what sea kayak fishing dishes out: hooks, spiny fish, and constantly sitting in a pool of sea water or dangling your feet over the side while fishing.  It turns out there is just one purpose-made drysuit on the market for kayak anglers, the Kokatat Tropos T3 SuperNova Angler Paddling Suit and this was the suit I eventually chose, as I had heard so many good reports of their quality and after sales service (note that this suit has since been replaced by the Hydrus 3L SuperNova Angler Paddling Suit with Relief Zipper and Socks)

I got mine from Kayak Academy, as they were having an end-of-season sale of old stock.  After delivery from the USA and customs charges, I paid around £350 which I thought at the time was a bargain. 

The suit itself is pretty minimalist.  There's no pockets or hood, and I feel it's missing at least a sunglasses / camera pocket on one arm.  It has added Cordura fabric down the tops of the legs in theory to stave off stray hook points and spiky fish, but to be honest the whole suit feels far less puncture resistant than my 4-ply breathable waders.  As you can see below, things get up close to the suit!
Catching, dispatching, unhooking and gutting fish between your legs.  Yes, you need that extra protection!
 The big plus points for the suit are firstly the across-the-chest zip - this makes getting into and out of the suit a breeze.  Secondly the relief zip - big relief after coming all the way back to shore!  Not quite sure why the relief zip has to be horizontal, it would be easier to use if the zip were vertical or even diagonal.  But then again, frankly any form of relief zip is extremely welcome!
Both zips are really well made, heavy duty brass that look like they would stand a few years use.  Third plus point would be the sown-in socks, which are a massive improvement over anything involving latex, or at least they would be if they were watertight.
But even if my suit's sown-in socks had functioned as they are supposed to, I would still prefer it if they had been made using 4-ply material or had some additional fabric protection on the sole (similar to the sown-in socks on my waders, which are brilliant).  These socks feel as though they would puncture if you stepped on the smallest grain of grit.  They might not - I didn't ever test that theory as I always wear mine with some heavy duty Orvis wading boots.  But even so, I'd be a bit more relaxed about them if they were more robustly made.
Added to all this are the usual latex seals on the wrists.  Although it doesn't show in the photo, the latex is of a nice quality, heavyweight and well lubricated.  I'm not a fan of latex, regarding it as a necessary evil, but these seals are some of the best I've seen.

But I am much less impressed with the neoprene APT (punch through) neck seal.  This neither seals as well as its latex equivalent, nor does it really add to comfort levels.  I still feel absolutely strangled and the jury seems out on whether or not you can cut the neoprene to make it bigger.  Given the design of the neck (which has a velcro fastening in case you wish to tighten it still further) it doesn't look as if you can.  I was advised to put it over a saucepan overnight, which I tried but I still find the seal too tight to be comfortable.  It actually starts to chafe my neck after a few hours, as neoprene has a nasty habit of "gripping" facial bristles like velcro.  Personally, I'd be happy with a loose neck I could tighten up in some way to prevent splashes going in.  Sit-on-top kayak anglers don't really need something this tight, after all they are fishing, not practising Eskimo rolls all day.

Kayak Academy add comprehensive instructions on the care of drysuits to the package and include a little maintenance kit.  I think this is a nice touch and gives me the impression that they care about the products they sell.

So having got my shiny new drysuit all the way from the USA I was eager to test it out.  On my first outing it was surprisingly hot.  The air temperature was over 20°C, while the surface water temperature was around 8° or 9°C.  That made dressing for immersion difficult.  I decided on a Polartec top and cotton trousers with wool socks.  But with a PFD on I did get hot.  Very hot.  Luckily, having a new drysuit, I could just take a dip in the sea to cool down.  It's incredible how cold the North Sea is!  After a few minutes you can feel it squeezing the breath out of you and I wouldn't fancy being in it for long even with another layer on underneath.  Happily I am able to report that none of the zips leaked and even the neoprene neck seal that is not claimed to the be watertight was very effective.

However, my worries started on getting back to shore and taking my suit off.  I had spent some time fishing with my feet over the edge of the kayak, and noticed that my feet were getting very cold.  Really quite surprisingly cold.  Then on taking off my suit, I noticed the bottoms of my trousers were wet.  On both feet!  Now as I was wearing thick black wool socks, I couldn't really tell if they were wet or not.  They certainly felt damp, but then they do whenever I take my shoes off!  So I put it down to perhaps my trouser bottoms getting wet from the early morning dew on the grass before I had put my suit on, and then due to the low temperatures in the water, not drying out.

Unfortunately it wasn't that.  On my second trip, I made sure I was bone dry going into my suit.  And sure enough, after 9 hours at sea back at the car park, my trouser bottoms were again wet and this time I realised my socks were wet through too.  It looks like it was just wicking up through the sock:
But worse was to follow - I suspected the suit's fabric was porous, after all it was leaking in both feet, so it wasn't some random puncture.  That meant only one thing, as I had been sitting in a puddle of sea water all that time - yep, I bent over and asked my fishing buddy if my arse was wet.  Affirmative.

Not happy, I contacted Kayak Academy, and after a little email exchange of about a week, they eventually sent me a return authorisation code to return the suit to Kokatat.  Naturally I will have to bear that cost and be without a drysuit during the high point of the kayak fishing season.  Back to my chest waders and limited opportunities to go to sea.

I admit to being baffled about how these leaks occur.  It's almost as though the 3-ply Tropos fabric isn't completely waterproof after prolonged contact with water - but surely no one would make a drysuit out of a material like that?  Kayak Academy didn't offer much in the way of explanations about what could be the cause other than suggesting it was sweat.  I checked the sock seals and the person who tested them has left their initials, but perhaps they just do a quick immersion or pressure test which might not find such a slow leak?  I tried the test suggested by Kayak Academy (to fill the foot with water and look for the leak on the outside) but this seems to work only for puncture type leaks as I couldn't see any patches of damp starting to appear.  Maybe if I had left them filled with water overnight it's possible I might have found it slowly seeps through the fabric or seams.  I haven't tried this because even if it is the case, it would then mean that no repair job is possible.  As you can see, I'm beginning to worry that the fault might lie in Kokatat's choice of fabric and number of fabric layers in critical areas, and that they'll return the suit claiming it doesn't leak.

I'll post an update to this blog entry once I get it back and can give you a report, no doubt long after the fishing season is over.  :-(


I must extend my thanks to Rob Appleby whose comments below inspired me to realise what was going on.  It seems my dry suit does not leak after all.  And yes, the wet trouser bottoms were caused by sweat, well not sweat so much as water vapour.  You can read the comments below to get the full story, but essentially I didn't immediately return my suit to Kokatat as I wanted to have a drysuit to fish the season out.  I figured I could return it after the season had come to an end.  But as the water and air temperatures warmed, I noticed that I stopped getting wet trouser bottoms.  This was very puzzling to me, as I was definitely sweating more and more in the suit as it got warmer!  So how come my trouser bottoms and socks were no longer getting as wet?  Had the suit miraculously cured itself?

Not a bit of it!  I sussed it out while responding to Rob, who mentioned that he often had damp feet after kayaking wearing the same suit.  At that point I remembered a distant lesson in my construction technology classes about how to avoid dew points within building fabric.  Essentially, a dew point occurs wherever a surface temperature is cool enough for dew to form on coming into contact with water vapour (it's more complicated than that, but you get the gist).  The colder the conditions are when you fish (especially if you have your feet actually in the sea for long periods!), the more the warm moist air from your body is likely to condense on the inside of the suit.  It makes perfect sense: the warmer weather just means that the dew point doesn't form and the suit breathes as it should, hence no interior condensation and much drier feet, as your feet don't sweat that much even in summer (our sea is never that warm!).  So although I was right to claim my feet weren't sweating, as it was freezing out there the first few trips we did, the cold water caused the warm moist air around my feet to condense on the inside of the suit.  Hence both feet seemed to have the leak.  Then water temperatures rise, and guess what?  No leaks, or rather, no condensation, despite me sweating more!  Counter intuitive perhaps but it makes sense.

I am so pleased to have found what I think is the cause of my mysterious "leak", and I wanted to put up the explanation in case anyone else has a similar experience and thinks their suit is leaking.  I will obviously keep a close eye on this, but I think this is the correct explanation.  I'll try and give the suit a long day's fishing with my feet in the water, but as the water is nice and warm now, I'm betting my feet will be dry until next winter!


  1. My greatest fear and the reason why I do not have a kayak yet, is that in a possible turnover, my reels will be submerged. I know what saltwater can do to a reel...
    The suit is my second fear as it must keep me warm, dry and also, must not cause skin irritations.
    Since you (an experienced one) have problems finding a good one, I can only imagine how much of a problem would that be for me...

    Excellent article (and honest).

  2. Hi Dim - yes, when you kayak your reel is often submerged by waves, or lying in a puddle of sea water in your kayak, or in the sea itself! It helps if you have a fully waterproof reel or a cheap reel that you can throw away at the end of the season. If you get turned over, you quite often lose tackle, including reels. But to be honest, you only get turned over when you start and don't know what you are doing!

    Drysuits are a problem - it's hard to find one which is cool enough in summer but strong enough for fishing. Wetsuits are an alternative - I wrote an article discussing the benefits of both you might find interesting, try looking through the 'How to get started' section.

    Tight lines.

  3. Hello, nice article. In Spain we use neoprene body all year round, winter wader and add windproof raincoat but do not prevent 100% humidity.

    Dry suits are a good option but are quite expensive, I will be updating the article yet, if it corrects the defect of the suit I might decide to buy one.

    Greetings from the south.

  4. Hi Dani - yes, neoprene is popular here too and cheap. Drysuits are more comfortable and less hassle back at the car, but they're also expensive and easily damaged by hooks, etc.

    I wish someone would make a drysuit as strong as my 4-ply breathable waders on the bottom half, with a 2 or 3-ply top half, with quality zips in the all right places!

    Unfortunately no one does. Yet!

    Tight lines.

  5. I think you've been rather unlucky, speaking from my own experiences with that drysuit. Hopefully the replacement will come up trumps.

  6. That's great to hear Rob. Guess it serves me right trying to get it on the cheap in a sale from the US!

  7. To follow up, my socks (I normally wear two pair of thick woolen socks) get quite damp at times, especially after 5-6 hours on the water. Since reading your post I've paid a little more attention, though it is purely down to sweat. Not wet, but certainly very damp.

  8. Thanks for that Rob - I really appreciate it. I arranged to send the suit back, but decided to wait until the end of the season to do it, otherwise I'd have nothing to kayak in!

    But since then I have carefully checked my trouser legs and my socks each time I kayak, and while my socks are always damps as you say, the last two trips there was no damp on the trouser bottoms. I was wearing pale green Ventile trousers, that really show damp patches as dark green, so I would definitely have seen it. So I'm really puzzled now.

    It's warmer, much warmer now than when I first did the review, and I'm definitely sweating more in the hot weather than I was back at the beginning of June. To be sure I'll have to fish for a day with my feet in the water to find out whether I've made a mistake. I've also toyed with the idea of just using my dry suit to wade and fish in from the beach.

    If what I saw was sweat, then it would explain why I couldn't find a leak! But what I can't understand is why sweat would be more a feature when the water is icy cold rather than now, given I just wear the same socks? OMG, while I was typing that I think I've just sussed it! It might be just down to the dewpoint. Lower outside temperature causing the water vapour to condense. Bugger!!

    OK, I'm more than happy to declare I was wrong and I'll add an update to the review stating that I may have made an error. I don't want to give false impressions and that review does get a lot of hits!

  9. Good to hear that your suit has turned out ok. After I'd said sweat I did think otherwise myself as the socks didn't smell of anything!.

    My suit is now over 4 years old and it's starting to look a little tired. I'm hoping to get another season or two out of it then I'll be upgrading to the latest model.

  10. I purchased one of the tropos dry suits early on. It did not work and sweat would soak my fleece and I would freeze. Sold it, got a real Kokatat Gore Tex dry suit and never looked back.

    Save your money and get the real Gore Tex. Maybe some one will come up with fabric better than real Gore Tex but so far I have not seen it.

  11. Sure - but who makes a kayak angler's Gore Tex dry suit? You need hook and spiny fish protection in the upper leg region - otherwise your dry suit will be a wet suit in no time! No one does a suit like that yet.


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