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Old 02-09-2012   #1
Bountiful, Utah
Paddling Since: 1978
Join Date: Jun 2011
Posts: 11
Pros and Cons of dry suit in GC - March/April

Fellow boaters,

Id be grateful for any advice any of you would be willing to share about the pros and cons of wearing a drysuit (and what alternatives youd recommend) for a late March/early April Grand Canyon trip.

We launch on March 22 and anticipate wrapping up on April 4. Based on historical records our daytime temps should be quite pleasant (highs in the 70s and 80s, lows in the 50s). Obviously the water will be cold but it always is. Flows should be on the low side ranging from 7,000 13,000 CFS.

I realize this is a matter of personal preference but Ive never worn a drysuit while rafting before. I understand that its very easy to get chilled, and odds are that we will end up swimming at some point. On the other hand, I will be manning the oars for most of the trip, and I give off a lot of heat when I work out (when I run in cold weather in Salt Lake City I dont wear much insulation, just wicking layers).

Bottom line in your experience, does the benefit of having the drysuit for the rare occasions in which you get tossed in the river outweigh the hassle of wearing it with neck and wrist gaskets and inability to take it off while you row?

And if you vote against the drysuit, what river gear would you recommend for this time of year?

Thanks in advance.

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Old 02-09-2012   #2
Andy H.'s Avatar
Wheat Ridge, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,909
Originally Posted by Matthew73 View Post
Bottom line in your experience, does the benefit of having the drysuit for the rare occasions in which you get tossed in the river outweigh the hassle of wearing it with neck and wrist gaskets and inability to take it off while you row?
Yes. You should at least have it along just in case the weather turns lousy.

the bigger your boat, the less you'll need it, and if you want to ride on front when you're not rowing, you'll be glad you've got it.

Bring it and your regular splash gear along and decide on the trip.

Disclaimer - I've got a drysuit that just has a neoprene neck closure, I don't think I could stand a neck gasket.

Have a good trip!


Nothing in the world is more yielding and gentle than water. Yet it has no equal for conquering the resistant and tough. The flexible can overcome the unbending; the soft can overcome the hard. - Lao Tse
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Old 02-09-2012   #3
Wadeinthewater's Avatar
Walterville, Oregon
Paddling Since: 1977
Join Date: Mar 2009
Posts: 559
Originally Posted by Matthew73 View Post
Based on historical records our daytime temps should be quite pleasant (highs in the 70s and 80s, lows in the 50s).
This may not be the case and you should be prepared for otherwise. I have camped about a mile up the Little Colorado in early April. Over the 10 days I was there some of the days were as you describe. On others it was very cold and windy with snow falling not too far above us. Even on sunny but windy days the passengers stopping at the mouth of the Little Colorado looked fairly cold and miserable
Real adventure is only one bad decision away.
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Old 02-09-2012   #4
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 1,136
If you already own a drysuit, bring it! You will probably have some days where it will be used. But I would not buy one for a March/April trip.

With fleece and spray gear I can stay plenty warm rowing, now if you are a passenger, that is a different matter. A drysuit will only be helpful in a swim, the other 99.9% of the trip it will be overkill. Everytime you stop to scout, eat lunch, hike, take pictures etc, etc, etc you will say "Why am I wearing this?

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Old 02-09-2012   #5
mtriverrat's Avatar
Lewistown, middle of MT
Paddling Since: 1982
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 222
I sat up front 80% of the time and wore wetsuit over wool and splash gear. I'm not telling you that during the roaring 20 days and the day I swam I didn't get cold, but that was 2 out of 24 days. So if this girl can do it and you are rowing - I don't think the expense is worth it. We had almost exactly the same dates.
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Old 02-09-2012   #6
Fash's Avatar
Helena, Montana
Paddling Since: 2008
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 62
I agree with Rich, if you own one bring it. You never know when you might want one.

I was on the same trip with mtriverrat and while I brought a dry suit, I never wore it. I did swim once and wished I'd had it on since I was cold for the rest of the day (but I couldn't row after my swim so I wasn't able to warm up too much). I typically wore merino wool under splash gear and even when I was a passenger up front, I was fine.

A couple of guys on our trip wore their dry suits on some of the big rapids days (such as the day I flipped and swam) and it was nice when it came time to flip a boat back over since they weren't as concerned about getting wet. Just something to consider - it's nice to have some people who can get wet, if necessary, with fewer repercussions.
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Old 02-09-2012   #7
cataraftgirl's Avatar
Sandy, Utah
Paddling Since: 1997
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 3,120
Contact Kayak Academy.....rent a suit for the trip.
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Old 02-09-2012   #8
st2eelpot's Avatar
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Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 310
Dry suits (compared to wet suits). Babble.

I'm a male that's 5'8" and 160lbs. I don't retain heat at all. I wear my dry suit all the time and love it. I hardly wear neoprene anymore.

In my opinion here are some of the cons to a dry suit:
*delicate (gaskets are delicate, and you really don't want a tear the suit's fabric either)- If you tear a wet suit it still works just dandy.
*not only are the gaskets delicate, but being latex they're always breaking down- limited life span on those even if stored wonderfully. Note that sunscreen breaks down the latex more quickly.
*offers no insulation value by itself.
*going to the bathroom can be more of an adventure.
*offers no protection from bumping off of rocks (when compared to a wet suit)
*takes constant care- 303 the gaskets often, whether being worn daily or in storage. Also requires taking care of the zipper.
*prolonged wear can be a skin irritant if you've got sensitive skin (latex gaskets). However, the person I know with that issue also gets boater butt/assne (as opposed to acne) if they're in a wet suit for days.
*some people simply don't get used to the tight latex on the skin (though it does stretch over time)
*there is the often argued risk that it could theoretically fill with water and drown you (hence the listing above of not wanting to tear the material- it's no longer keeping you dry!)

*keeps you dry. (I don't have the pleasure of putting on wet boating gear every morning.)
*You get to decide how much insulation to wear- throw on another layer of fleece, or wear only wicking thermals. Boating in blizzards I've thrown a down jacket on under mine before.
*When it's super cold boating (winter boating, below freezing, blizzards, etc.) one can put on enough insulation and still be able to move. Imagine trying to raft/kayak in a 7 or 9 mil wet suit!
*wind the wind blows, it won't go "through" the dry suit like it does for a wet wetsuit.
some people argue that they increase floatation, though I always burp my suit to get rid of the extra air. (Gaskets can open up to allow the extra air out if it suit hasn't been burped, and in my experience is when it does this it lets water back in while the gasket is open).

If you borrow/rent one for your trip- I recommend getting the cloth booties. I can't keep my feet warm if I have the ankle gaskets and wet feet.

I do find my wet suits are usable for more sports (attempting to surf or scuba for example), whereas I don't use my dry suit for anything outside of boating.

My thoughts after a beverage.

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Old 02-09-2012   #9
Beaverton, Oregon
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 569
I'd say bring one if you have one. It makes the rainy days so much easier, and because the drysuit doesn't have any warmth of its own to bring to the table, you get to decide how warm you are based on the layers that you choose.

Also, I can get my suit down to the waist or on again in under 30 seconds, but I also wear one 100+ days a year. I've rowed with mine around my waist plenty.
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Old 02-09-2012   #10
Golden, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1999
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 321
Another pro - they make some of the side hikes more enjoyable in the offseason months, especially Silver Grotto, Shinumo Creek, Elves chasm, and Havasu. I don't think I would have been swimming in Havasu in March without one.

One big con is the sand takes its toll on the suits, especially the zipper. If you bring one, it helps to bring a spare toothbrush for cleaning the sand from the zippers and lathering it with 303.

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