Monday, March 26, 2007

Cold? 2 - No more - the Palm Sidewinder Drysuit

The idea behind blogging is uncomplicated direct publishing, resulting in short and quick reports, with no delays. It used to work for me this way, but lately I am afflicted by an increasing number of unfinished drafts of posts. Tired after work or spending the evening with all either kind of (often seakayak related) buzz.. Grrrr… The following post on the drysuit is one of the long time unfinished ones. As I am publishing it, “winter” (what winter?) is definitely over, sun is back and temperatures are getting really pleasant. So: posting now about a drysuit, a piece of winter gear? Isn’t that a bit late? At least the participants of the NKB-coldwatertraining know better! As a matter of fact the coming period is from the view of hypothermia the most dangerous of the whole year: with the warm air temperature it is tempting to paddle lightly dressed, but the water is still very cold…

After a period of doubt, a year ago I decided to buy a drysuit. In the Dutch touring and seakayaking scene drysuits are not very common, most kayakers wear neoprene wetsuits in combination with anoraks, also in winter. So did I. But soon the Drysuit became one of my absolute favourite pieces of gear. It’s comfortable, it’s practical, it’s ideal! I’ve used it intensively on all kinds of kayak activities: on shallow waters around Woerden touring and training with the local kayak-club, on single and multiple-day seakayak-tours in spring and winter, during severe white water runs (ending up “swimming” in WW-IV…), endless rolling sessions, coaching surf classes (which means standing hours in the water) in late autumn, and so on. It’s a incredible versatile piece of kit. It opens totally new dimensions to kayaking: no fear for outdoor rolling sessions in winter! One of the highlights was floating like Bibendum in cold water surrounded by ice…

The Drysuit is a Palm Sidewinder Classic. It’s the basic version of the Sidewinder Torrent about which Erling has written an extensive review in the UKseakayakguidebook. The reason why I preferred the basic version:
- The Classic has the entry zipper over the shoulder, the Torrent has the zipper on the back. I find the zipper over the shoulder better reachable and easier to operate without help;
- The Torrent offers sewn-on booties. Sure dry feet are more comfortable, but I am worried about the vulnerability: my experiences with Goretex socks and shoes are not good. So I prefer latex cuffs on the legs…
- The Classic is about 50 euro’s cheaper (I agree: a very Dutch argument!)
Other differences between the Classic and the Torrent:
- The Torrent offers a separate Relief Zipper, the Classic not. But the zipper of the Classic opens so deep you don’t need one! (Presuming you are (1) male and (2) a bit flexible).
- The Torrent offers a double waist seal system for the sprayskirt. That’s a nice future, I would really have liked it. But with a tight fitting neoprene spray skirt leakage of water in the cockpit is limited and in a drysuit you don’t mind a few drops of water in the cockpit.

In the kayakshop I choose this real British design of a renown British kayak outfitter, so I was a bit disappointed when I discovered (back at home..) a label “Made in China”. That’s globalisation… Perhaps I should be happy with that. I am not quit sure if the Drysuit would have had the same built quality when it was made in Brittain. It’s a complex construction with a lot of different panels, used materials (a mix of Palm XP 150 and Cordura fabrics, Neoprene cuffs, latex seals, Velcro adjusters, Zippers and so on). The finish is perfect, the Chinese have shown real craftsmanship! After a year of intense use it still doesn’t show any sign of wear. All seams are still waterproof.

Some practical experiences:
- With a warm core, uncovered extremities are also less sensitive for cold: hands and feet keep longer warm. Paddling in neoprene I always had to use gloves or poggies in winter: now It can be much colder before I feel the need…
- Don’t expect miracles of the breathability of a drysuit. I think the Palm XP 150 material performs well in this aspect, but with the lower part of your body locked in a closed kayak cockpit and the upper part for 80 % covered with a Pfd there is hardly any way for humidity to get out… After some hours paddling clothing you wear under the drysuit get damp. But with technical underwear and a layer of thin fleece that’s no big problem. Just bring along an extra set fleece on a multiple day trip.
- Once or twice I had some water-leakage along the latex cuffs: my fault with inaccurate dressing up, resulting in the end of the sleeves of the fleece shirt trapped in the latex seals.
The “minor points”:
- For real sporty kayak-sessions the combination of a drysuit with fleece underwear is (to) hot. For touring it’s ideal. Just stay paddling on the “below sweat-zone level”. And when the sun really comes back drysuit-time is over. (Last year that lasted until June!).
- On multiple day-trips with the chance of changing temperatures the drysuit option lacks flexibility…

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