We’ve come a long way since the rain-jacket-adaptation drysuits of the late 1970s. The first leap towards a more inclusive drysuit offering for paddlers was in 1995, when the first women’s-specific suit hit the market. In the almost three decades since, we’ve seen bolstered efforts from paddlesports apparel brands to release at least one women’s suit in each of their lines and create progressive products catering to multiple body types.
This positive shift has given me renewed energy to find the perfect drysuit. As a female whitewater kayaker, I’m already in the minority. Pair that with my swimmer’s build—I’m 5’10” with broad shoulders and skinny legs—and I’m left with a pretty atypical physique.
After narrowing down five top contenders from industry-leading brands, I took to the water with friends to test them for comfort, fit, breathability, durability, waterproofness and weight. Here’s how they measured up.
Women’s Helix Latex Gasket Dry Suit
$1,099.99 USD | mustangsurvival.com
The Helix from Mustang Survival is a suit for true water babies. This multipurpose piece of kit is suitable for whitewater, sea kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding and sailing. The design features removable knee pads with adjustable tabs, trimmable latex wrist and neck gaskets, internal suspenders and a rear diagonal zipper for entry and relief. The Helix’s wrist and neck over-cuffs feature a loose fit and cannot be tightened; this is to allow for easy adjustments and repositioning of the latex underneath.
The fit of the Helix is a little different from the others. This suit is spacious around the hips and upper thighs, with a snugger fit on the legs and arms—a better fit for someone wide in the hips and narrower around the shoulders.
While some whitewater kayakers might miss the snug fit of a neoprene waistband holding everything together, other multi-discipline paddlers will love that this suit delivers the same waterproof-breathable protection without the additional bulk and complexity of a tunnel.
Women’s Idol Dry Suit (Gore-Tex Pro) With SwitchZip Technology
$1,459 USD | kokatat.com
Kokatat has been an industry leader in drysuits since the late ‘80s, and it’s rare to be at the put-in and not see flashes of its distinct wavy logo peeping out from a gear bag.
Kokatat’s Idol, first released in 2015, is the only suit in our lineup that does it all: it’s a drytop, a drysuit and dry pants all in one, thanks to its innovative SwitchZip technology. For many, this versatility will be worth the slightly higher price point, about $160 more than Kokatat’s other Gore-Tex one-piece suits. Besides the obvious lure of its three-in-one capabilities, its highly breathable Gore-Tex Pro membrane, a limited lifetime warranty, and the fact Kokatat’s suits seem to last forever are three more reasons paddlers love ‘em.
I found the women’s large Idol to be roomy in all the right places for a tall woman with an athletic build. The feminine design and fit allow me to move freely without tugging, and I’m not left with folds of extra fabric on the chest—a problem I’ve encountered many times while drysuit shopping.
While the SwitchZip hardware is a little bulky for my liking—I found it challenging to pull my sprayskirt over top—once in my kayak, it’s almost undetectable. Not into SwitchZip? No problem. Kokatat has seven other women’s drysuit models to choose from.
Women’s Axiom Gore-Tex Pro Dry Suit
$1,295 USD | nrs.com
NRS’ new Gore-Tex Pro line launched this spring to much hype from the paddling community. Gore-Tex Pro is a highly breathable, three-layer, 28,000 mm waterproof membrane and its integration in the all-new women’s Axiom takes this suit to the next level and makes it a real top contender in the market.
The new Gore-Tex integration might not even be the best part of the Axiom. I loved the neoprene volcano-style over-cuffs on the wrists and neck. They look sleek, keep the water out and your latex gaskets will last longer with the added protection. Likewise, the ankles are purposefully elasticized to create a sleek appearance and reduce excess bulk. The Axiom also features a front-entry design. Great news, I’m sure, for those who hate asking for zipper assistance when changing.
Currently, the Axiom is the only NRS women’s drysuit constructed with Gore-Tex Pro. Coming in a couple of hundred bucks cheaper, NRS’ two other women’s drysuits still use its beloved, in-house, four-layer Eclipse waterproof membrane.
Freya Dry Suit
$1,200 CAD | levelsix.com
The Level Six Freya is ideal for paddlers who want to look great and stay dry without breaking the bank. Named for the Norse goddess, this suit has an overall relaxed fit, with the option to cinch up around the waist and ankles if needed. Despite being tailored for paddlers up to six feet tall, I found the legs of the large size—designed to fit those with a 30- to 31-inch inseam—just a little short. For atypically sized paddlers, it’s worth paying close attention to the measurement of the inseam and the torso to spot where the fabric has been most generously distributed.
Level Six uses its own brand of waterproof membrane, called Exhaust 3.0, which is a tough waterproof-breathable nylon with a 10,000 mm waterproof rating. The Freya feels more robust than its competitors—which could, in part, be attributed to its additional comfort features. The suit includes cozy fleece-lined pockets just below the waist, a front-entry zipper, a rear-relief zipper, a double tunnel, and a buckle waistband system. This suit also comes in some rad, not-so-typical color combinations: a muted merlot (shown here) and a steely blue. It’s a refreshing departure from the teal and purple colorways permeating women’s outdoor gear.
Aphrodite Dry Suit
$1,259 USD | immersionresearch.com
The Immersion Research Aphrodite was the dark horse of the lot for me. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of a Gore-Tex suit, so I all-too-quickly dismissed Immersion Research’s Aphrodite as it didn’t check this box for me. It turns out, I was wrong.
Not only does this suit offer an impressive 30,000 mm waterproof rating, but its shell is also made entirely from recycled plastic water bottles. Alongside a light carbon footprint comes a light product, too. This naturally hydrophobic fabric weighs 3.5 pounds, just barely heavier than the NRS Axiom suit.
The Aphrodite’s strategically placed clamshell zipper on the butt functions as both an entry and a relief zipper and is surprisingly easy to use. Don’t be deterred by the zip placement–it’s less bulky than you would imagine and is undetectable in look and feel once you’re sitting in your boat.
The Aphrodite fits with ample room around the shoulders, hips and thighs. For me, the size large is plenty long enough in the legs and sleeves to fit comfortably without hindering movement.
The right women’s drysuit is the only investment that will double the length of your paddling season. | Feature photo: Daniel Stewart