Packrafting is so much better in a drysuit. No matter the conditions you stay warm and well, dry’ish. Most kayakers and packrafters haven undoubtedly heard of the benefits of having one, with the budget usually the biggest issue as most good lightweight packrafting ones are around the $1000 NZD mark. There is a trade off, as there is with everything.
In those warmer days you will probably get at least semi wet because you’ll be sweating inside. If you set up for a warm day with very little insulation you may get a bit colder towards the end of the day. Remember – ideally you dress for a swim or the time where you for whatever reason need to spend a lot longer in the water than planned! Whatever length that might be.
Most super lite drysuits come in a membrane version. That means there is not a lot of insulation, which would protect you from getting cold. All it means is that you will stay dry. Whatever you choose to wear under your drysuit, is actually the part that keeps you warm. Dry suits come in semi and full drysuit with or without feet attached.
Most, if not all, good ones have silicone wrist seals. The difference between semi and full drysuit is in the neck gasket – Neoprene vs Silicone. Both are reasonably dry if set up correctly. If you plan on swimming a lot I would go for a full drysuit (silicon gasket.) Because the silicon gasket needs to sit a lot closer and tighter around your neck it may require some getting used to.
There is a lack of good information around about how to put drysuits on, take them off and how to look after them properly. It isn’t hard, but if you know the how to’s your investment will last a lot longer.
I would recommend not use them as rain gear replacement or to hike in. If you absolutely have to do these thing, I recommend purchasing ones with socks attached so you have nice warm feet.
When putting your new drysuit on remove rings, watches etc from hands and arms.
Most drysuits have latex or silicone wrist seals which can be easily damaged so be careful when pushing your hand through them.
Your undergarment will move up your arm a bit unless you hold it or it has loops especially designed for that. Just make sure you tuck any loop or loose clothing away from the wrist seal or water will leak through.
For your neck seal, use your two hands and pull the seal gently apart before putting your head through it.
Use talcum after a trip on your silicone/ latex seals to look after them and extend their lifespan. A little bit of soapy water is a good trick to remove sweat, sun cream etc off the seals, which will wear them out quicker over time if you leave it on.
Remove excess air from your suit by crouching down and let the extra air out of your neck seal. You will likely need to put your finger into it if you have a latex or silicone seal. Leave a little bit of air inside, which will act as your insulating layer.
Before you take your new suit out the first time, we highly recommend taking it for a swim in a lake so you can figure out how it feels. You now have a big air bubble moving around in your suit which will, if things go south, be completely at your feet pushing your face into the water.
You should also (ideally in a pool) flood your dry suit completely and take it for a swim.
Most drysuits, especially the ones for Packrafting, are very light and only have a membrane which will not keep you warm. The gear you wear under it will be the insulation you need! Obviously you can adjust this to the outside/ water temperature. A drysuit worn over shorts and shirt will keep you dry, but you will be as cold as not wearing one if you fall in.
Make sure all zippers work and are fully closed.
Every time you are using a zipper (relive zipper for example), you need to remove excess air again.
General use – remember the ultra light ones are designed for being used for swimming or sitting in the boat. Be a bit mindful of where you sit down or if you are changing in and out of your suit, as small stones or sharp items can poke holes in it.
Getting out is easy – just reverse the getting in bit. Just be careful.
For storage, I usually close the zipper and tuck the neck and wrist seals to the inside of the suit. Fold the suit in half and roll up from your feet. That way everything important is protected and you can get a pretty small roll to put away into your pack when on a trip. I use a bit of rope to wrap around so it stays nicely rolled up.
After the trip, give it a bit of a clean. Look after your wrist and neck seals and just hang it onto a hanger – thats it!