After wearing a Kokatat Dry Suit for 15 days in the Arctic, it’s no wonder why Kokatat is the leader in the paddlesports attire field. This suit performed superbly, as expected: it kept me dry and warm, it was easy to put on and take off, and it was plenty comfortable.
A group of friends and I embarked on a 15-day journey down the Kongakut River in the far northeastern corner of Alaska from the Brooks Mountains to the Arctic Ocean in packrafts and inflatable kayaks. Granted, we didn’t hit much (if any, really) whitewater. At most we paddled through a very mild Class III. So, the risk of getting totally immersed in the water was slim – though, it did happen to 3 of the 4 packrafters. Ironically not to the one wearing a full dry suit (me)! The others on the trip were wearing various combinations of dry bottoms, dry tops and neoprene. As long as they stayed in their boat, they remained plenty dry, save their feet. Another score for the dry suit with booties: dry feet snuggled in toasty wool Teko socks for the whole trip.
We encountered some massive ice walls lining the river on our first day and the photography opportunities were awesome. Sadly, the comfort of the group was not awesome and the cold started to bite those with wet feet. ‘Twas a shame to have to rush past all this amazing ice.
Getting in and out of the dry suit is simple. The large diagonal zipper goes from the right shoulder to the left hip and after pulling the suit on like a pair of pants, arms and head easily pop into place. The only bummer is a second person is needed to finish closing the heavy-duty waterproof zipper where it goes over the top of the shoulder. Attempting to do this on your own and pulling the zipper at an odd angle could compromise its waterproof nature. The same is true for getting out of the suit, though if you’re careful and gentle with the zipper you can get yourself out in a pinch.
The only aspect of the suit that really takes some getting used to is the comfort of the tight neck gasket. The wrist gaskets are no problem, but the neck gasket was very tight the first time I put the suit on when it arrived in the mail. Better that than too loose! As recommended in the hang-tag on the suit, I wrapped the neck gasket around a pot that was slightly larger around than my neck and checked it regularly over the course of a day and a half to make sure it didn’t stretch out too much. Still a touch tight at the start of the trip, it settled nicely and by the third day I hardly noticed it at all.
Layering under a suit like this can be tricky, but I managed to do pretty well. Suspecting I could more easily purge excess heat by getting in the water, I overdressed slightly and it turned out to be perfect. I wasn’t paddling hard and while we had mostly good weather, the Arctic did throw a few little squalls our way and the extra layers were very comforting. Only once did I not wear enough and during a break I was able to unzip and pull on another layer. Since I always seem to be right between a medium and a large, I went for the bigger suit and that provided plenty of room for extra layers without feeling cramped.
And finally, the true beauty of the dry suit was in how easy it was to get ready to get on the river (put suit on over existing clothes) and getting off the river (take suit off). Others in the party had to peel off neoprene or strip down to bare skin to put on their comfy camp clothes.
Now I just need to find another trip to put this Kokatat Meridian Dry Suit to use again.