Drysuit on expedition?

It is my sober expectation that the answer to the question of to drysuit or not to drysuit is “it depends.” I’m curious if anyone has specific guidelines or random thoughts for bikerafting and/or packrafting expeditions (let’s say… week+). Of course, there’s the “dress for the water temperature” axiom, but that’s set against the immersion risk. Both of the Lost Coast bikerafting iterations, Andrew Skurka’s Alaska-Yukon, Alastair Humphrey’s Iceland crossing, and others have chosen to go sans water-specific suits in favor of waterproof-ish hiking clothing.

But my main question is… If you do go the drysuit route, which are the top options? For the sake of discussion, assume we’re talking bikerafting and a 90 L pack isn’t an option. As per usual, it seems to be that magical unicorn of lightweight vs. durable. The idea of cycling in a drysuit gives me nightmares so I’m assuming separate clothing on land/water. Perhaps there’s something I’m missing.

Thoughts: 1) I’ve paddled in a Kokatat Expedition suit, but it seems on the bulky side. 2) The Aquatherm suits by Reed/Chillcheater intrigue me. I have a spraydeck and sea sock made of the Aquatherm material for my TRAK kayak and love the feel of it, but they don’t seem to get much attention/press/commentary… at least not in the U.S. I’ve never talked to anyone who has actually used their paddling suits… especially on mixed expeditions.

I waiting to see the Alpacka Dry Suit, which should be great for the 'Rafts.

The Reed site has this to say on their their dry suits…

“Finally this dry suit has been designed for surface paddling, it will keep you dry if you should occasionally come out of your boat and go into the water. It is not a DRY SUIT. This paddle suit is not designed as a submersion or white water rescue suit.”

Yes, it does depend. For cold weather trips I almost always wear Kokotat’s Supernova. It has a neoprene neck, so veru comfortable though not completely watertight. I certainly wouldn’t want to go on a swim in heavy rapids with it. Many of my packraft outings have a canyoneering component to them and the drysuit is nice for wading and swimming the many watery potholes found in these narrow canyons. If I get a bit warm and there’s no chance of flipping the boat and swimming then I’ll usually unzip the suit and pull it down, tie the arms around my waist and just wear the suit on my legs. One problem with the Supernova is that the built-in booties are not really designed to be hiked long distances in. They can easily develop holes from all the friction generated while hiking long distances.

If there will be lots of rapids on the packraft portion, or if the canyoneering involves heavy flowing water then I’ll wear a more watertight drysuit like the Kokotat Tropos (if it’s really cold out) or a wetsuit (if it’s not too cold out). Unlike the Supernova, the Tropos has a latex neck which provides more safety than the neoprene neck while swimming whitewater or getting pounded while on rappel in a waterfall. It’s less comfortable than the neoprene so the conditions have to be a bit more extreme for me to choose this one over the Supernova. The Tropos also does not have built-in booties. This is nice for hiking long distances as you’ll not wear holes in the booties. However, it does mean you’ll likely be hiking in neoprene booties which aren’t as comfortable as regular socks.

For me it all boils down to how much hiking I’ll be doing, what the water is like on the canyoneering segment, what the water is like on the packraft segment, air temps, water temps and so on. It’s not always an easy decision! Hope this helps…

Not packrafting specific, but a nice gear checklist for winter paddling over at paddlinglight.com. …and a vote for Kokatat’s Meridian suit.