As we started to prepare for our Yukon River Expedition, we knew that we were going to require full dry suits. While people have paddled the Yukon in everything from wool pants and flannel to jeans and a t-shirt, we wanted to be prepared for the worst case scenario. This was especially true as we were paddling the river at very high flows. Being so far from help and with waters that had literally been frozen over just a couple of weeks before the start of our trip, wearing improper attire was simply not an option. Not only would it have been reckless, but it could have potentially ended the expedition in disaster.
As we started evaluating suits, we looked at products from NRS, Stohlquist, and Kokatat. The usual suspects were evaluated, eVent, Tropos, Eclipse.
Fortunately about the time we started shopping for dry suits, Kokatat had just debuted their Lightweight Gore-Tex Paddling suit. This instantly appealed to us for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost was the neoprene neck, which by its definition moves the suit out of dry suit territory into paddling suit territory. Yes, the neoprene neck will let water in while a standard latex gasket will not, but in practice, it is a spoonful or two at most, especially with a PFD on and the comfort… oh the comfort!
We were also attracted to the lightweight Gore-Tex fabric. The paddling suit is made of a waterproof and breathable 3-layer Gore-Tex Performance Shell fabric. This Gore-Tex is like that used for high-end shells and jackets, but it is lighter in weight than the Gore-Tex Evolution fabric Kokatat builds the rest of their Gore-Tex dry suits from.
Usually I am a sucker for heavy things, but this is one instance where, for our uses, the more modern lightweight Gore-Tex actually is a better choice. In my experience it breathes better and allows me to control my warmth with layers a bit more effectively.
The suit is reinforced with Cordura in both the knees and seat, both high wear areas. This was especially welcome and something we really liked about Kokatat’s Angler Suit, so it was nice to see here.
The Kokatat Lightweight Gore-Tex Paddling Suit comes standard with reflective tape on sleeves, which is always nice for visibility, especially early in the morning or at dusk.
In addition it comes with the standard latex wrist gaskets with adjustable neoprene over-cuffs at the wrists and ankles (ankle over-cuffs cover the top of your booties to keep gravel out), waterproof-breathable dry-socks made of 3-layer Gore-Tex fabric, a relief zipper, and a front entry water-sports zipper that runs diagonally across the chest of the suit making it easy to get in and out of. Female paddlers also have the drop-seat model available.
The zippers are a new water sports plastic zipper introduced in 2011 that Kokatat put years of development and testing into. This is the most reliably waterproof plastic water-sports zipper yet.
So, how did it perform? The short answer is Amazingly well!
The suits really were lightweight and that neoprene neck gasket was a joy. They breathed very well and due to the lighter fabric used in their construction were very flexible and didn’t prohibit movement at all. The Cordura reinforcement on the knees and seat were a godsend and put to use frequently as we would perch on a log and have lunch or get down on our knees on gravel beaches to pull gear out of the kayaks. That doesn’t mean we weren’t careful in our suits, but we definitely didn’t worry like we were walking on eggshells, afraid we might put some pinhole tear in our suits.
There were some points, where the sun came out, and we started to overheat, but because of the breathability of the fabric and our ability to easily and effectively control layers this was a non issue.
In addition, the plastic zippers, while I had my doubts about their ruggedness, performed perfectly and were much easier to get in and out of than the traditional steel zipper.
The relief zipper is always a nice feature and when you are paddling for 14-16 hours a day, it becomes a real life saver, enabling you to jump out, complete your business, and get moving again. We had both a male and female on the expedition and so were able to test both the standard and drop-seat models. Both parties were very happy with their choices!
Kokatat quality is legendary and these suits are no different. Extremely well made and as with all of their suits, they come out of their Arcata California manufacturing facility. All Gore-Tex suits go through testing after manufacture to ensure that they are 100% waterproof.
Overall, the suits absolute met all of our expectations and we wouldn’t have been caught dead on the trip without them.
As long as you aren’t practicing multiple rolls in a kayak or going for a long swim off shore, the neck on the Kokatat Lightweight Gore-Tex Paddling Suit is probably good enough for your paddling needs. While you may get a spoonful or two of water down the neck each time your head and/or neck go under water, the added comfort was worth it for us.
For people like kayak fisherman who paddle hard in wide kayaks and for those who know they tend to sweat more than most, we recommend Lightweight Gore-Text Paddling Suit over both the Kokatat Tropos Super Nova Paddling Suit or the Kokatat Angler suit. The Gore-Tex suit simply breathes a bit better in our opinion.
For more information about specific specs, please visit Kokatat online. If you are interested in purchasing a Kokatat Lightweight Paddling Suit, check your local paddle shop or they are also available at REI.