Sunday, February 01, 2009

Kayak boys dress up...

Hans is going kayaking! What should he wear? Dress your kayak boy up on dressupgames8 ;-0)

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Jeff Alan has written an article on kayaker's essential dress in issue nr. 13 of Ocean Paddler Magazine. In recent times the dress code amongst Dutch kayakers is changing rapidly: on the Voordelta-trip last week I was surprised to meet 6 kayakers of which 5 were dressed in drysuits and only 1 in a neoprene long john three-quarters wet-suit. Which is quit amazing: only a year ago the rate drysuit-wetsuit would have been reversed! The combination of a neoprene long john, an insulating garment on the upper body, covered by a long sleeved paddle top has been the Dutch standard for years. Also in winter.

4 kayak boys - according to the latest fashion dressed up in Kokatat-Drysuits (nr. 5 joined later).

In his excellent article Jeff describes some pros and cons of drysuit and wetsuits. Where serious risk exists of coming in contact with hard abrasive objects like rocks, Jeff wears a wetsuit. The Achilles' heel of the drysuit is it's vulnerability to tears and punctures. Big advantages are the comfort and the high grade of dry insulation.

The Drysuit creates a new discussion theme for Dutch paddlers: what to wear underneath? Most agree with the principle of a combination of a garment with good wicking ability (= moving sweat away from the skin to the outer surface of the fabric) next to the skin, covered by an insulating layer. Number and thickness of the layers is a personal thing - in search for balance between roasting while paddling and sufficient insulation for the (unintended) swim. I swear to technical underwear (like Helly Hansen or Odlo) in combination with (depending on the conditions) a thick or thin layer of fleece.
The Merino wool solution of the Icebreaker garments is a welcome alternative for one day trips. The wool combines good wicking and insulation capacities, keeps you warm, doesn't itch, can hold a good amount of moisture before it begins to feel damp and smells less. This is almost perfect - but just almost: I experienced that (due to it's absorbing capacities) it takes much longer to dry Merino wool than to dry "technical" garment. On multiple day trips in cold and humid conditions this is in mine opinion a serious disadvantage of the Merino wool option: Merino wool is still humid next day, while the technical garments are dry..(the second disadvantage is the price tag...)


René said...

Hello Hans,

Being part of the group on the picture I can memorize that this was the first time I used the drysuit.

Although I felt very, very comfortable on the day, I now realize already that using a drysuite is not as easy as seems to be!

Choosing how to dress underneath is a compromise and a dilemma!!

Trying to reach an isolation like I had, until now, with a wetsuit, I dressed with a thin Kraft shirt, followed by a fleece shirt with on top a thicker fiberpell shirt (kind of the thick Helly Hansen dress).

Taking into account we had to work ourselves into a strong 7Bft.-headwind it was not a surprise to me that the fiberpell was wet on the outside afterwards.
The inside however was bone-dry. And the 2 layers underneath were also dry.
So it appeared having choosen the right combination for today.

Afterwards I had a discussion with another groupmember: at the last part of the trip he had become cold in his drysuit because the group paddled rather slow. Being an active paddler he had choosen to dress himself for powerfull paddling; meaning less isolation-layers.
Asking him how he would feel if immersed in water he answered that he should leave the water as quick as possible. Otherwise it would be too cold. But if, I asked, if you can't get out quickly? Well I assumed that could not be the case today, he said!
In other words he tries, he explained, to foresee every time the risks in the tour he was going to make before deciding how to cloth himself.

This made me think how difficult it is to choose what to dress for!
- If you put on enough clothes to withstand immersion in cold water it could be that you wil be warm and get probably moisture inside.
- If you cloth for active paddling you can not be immersed in cold water for an extended period.
- In summertime paddling while being clothed for immersion in coldwater can even be dangerous because of hot-shock. This is the dilemma in the areas where the seawater is, even in summer, very cold.

So, while being happy with my drysuit, I realize that clothing in a wetsuit is easier and in a way, in case of emergencies, maybe safer if comparing to a drysuit when you did choose the wrong isolation for the day.

Apart from the risk of a damaged drysuit: I think Jeff Alan to be wise, choosing a wetsuit in situations where the suit can get dmaged and leak.

This makes me also think that it could be a sensible thing to take an emergency drysuit-repairkit along.
Could "ductape" do the job??

Hans Heupink said...

Hi René!

Sorry it took some time to reply on your comment ;-)
The drysuit indeed leads to "new" discussions on what to wear underneath. But to some extent this was also an issue with the neoprene long-john: what to wear on your upper body under the paddling jacket: a lifa-shirt only? One or two layers of fleece? Same questions. After years of neoprene-practice most paddlers have developed preferences.

I agree the issue gets a bit more complicated with the drysuit. But don't dramatize it. In the 3 years I paddle a drysuit, the combination of winter-socks, fleece trousers, a thin Odlo (Craft/Lifa/etc.) undershirt and a standard fleece pullover has proven to be the perfect match for 90% of the touring situations: comfortable to paddle in - and warm enough for an extended swim. I've done quit a lot of cold-water-rescue trainings in this combination.

I disagree with the other member of the group you have spoken with: dress for immersion!

OK: I also make my exceptions: when I do an early season workout in the K1-racer on the calm waters around Woerden I only wear a thin layer of technical underwear under the drysuit.


Repair kit: Duck-tape doesn't stick properly on (coated) breathable fabrics. I've added a couple of Goretex-repair-stickers to my repair-kit.