Previously published in BWS by Andrew Cross.
When sailors think of dry suits, an image of frostbiting in dinghies comes to mind, so too does the notion that they are ill fitting and difficult to put on and take off. That may well have been the case some years ago, but dry suits on the market today for cruisers are more comfortable and user friendly than ever, and you won’t look like you’re heading out for a chilly winter’s sail anymore either.
Modern dry suits for sailors look and act more like a set of foulies, and can be just as comfortable while keeping you dry. And while comfort is a plus—because it means you’ll wear it—the real benefit of a dry suit is in its safety; with the premise being that if you are comfortable, dry and warm while on deck, you are going to move around easier, stay more focused and your body’s temperature will be more consistent.
Also, you don’t necessary need to be crossing high latitude oceans to need a dry suit. They are practical and well designed for light to heavy downpours or times when sea spray is unavoidable, no matter where you are. And if you’re not a fair weather sailor and want to spend more time cruising, a quality dry suit might be what you’re looking for to get you off the dock a few more days each year.
Here are three of the latest dry suits to help keep you warm and dry while cruising all year round in any latitude you choose.
Musto – HPX Gore-Tex Ocean Dry Suit
Forget what I said above about not needing to go to high latitudes, this suit will make you want to go there. The Musto HPX Ocean Dry Suit is a serious ocean going piece of foul weather gear.
Constructed of durable yet breathable GORE-TEX® PRO with Ocean Technology®, it has stretch fabric that covers the shoulders, upper back, sleeve area, elbows, base of the hood and hood pod to allow for maximum movement on deck. Seat and knee patches, indicative of traditional foulies, are built in as well.
The HPX Ocean should be a serious consideration when planning for cold water sailing—extreme latitudes or not—as it is rated to provide two to three hours of survival time in 41-degree water.
One of the problems with traditional sailing dry suits is the inability to layer underneath. Knowing that this suit will be used in cold water and air temperatures, there is a generous amount of room built in for layering and the tall fleece lined collar will keep you warm around the neck seal. Also, a visor integrated into the hood will keep spray out of your face. The neck and wrist seals are lightweight yet durable Latex, and a diagonal front waterproof zipper allows uncomplicated access to the suit.
A feature unique to the HPX Ocean suit is that it has an oral inflator to allow the wearer to put air into the suit for insulation. Similar to how a PFD inflator works, you simply blow into a tube and the suit partially fills with air. Not only does this provide insulation from the water and weather outside, but I’m sure it would provide an increased amount of buoyancy as well.
Overall, the Musto HPX Ocean gets a nod as probably the best dry suit for serious ocean sailing, especially in higher latitudes.
Neil Pryde – Elite Curve 3D Dry Suit
While the Neil Pryde Elite Curve 3D Dry Suit certainly skews more towards the performance end of dry suits, the focus is on comfort while sailing in less than comfortable conditions, which makes it perfect for cruising oriented sailors too.
Constructed with four way stretch breathable material, the Elite Curve has a innovative body mapped zip technology that allows the suit to hold a contoured shape. The form of the suit is pre-bent, which means it will be more economical while sitting.
The diagonal zipper across the chest is unique in that it is actually two zippers: one to close off the suit to water and the other to cover that zipper so it won’t corrode or snag on anything.
Not a bare bones suit like many dinghy dry suits, the Elite Curve’s neck and wrist seals are comfortable once they’ve been broken in and the fleece lined fold down collar provides extra warmth. It also has a drawstring around it, so you can cinch it up for a snug fit. The right leg has a handy pocket and Velcro wrist and ankle straps tighten up around your gloves and boots. Also, instead of going with Latex booties, the waterproof material continues down as the socks and won’t be prone to tearing. Reinforced knees and seat are gusseted for flexibility.
The Neil Pryde Elite Curve 3D dry suit will be a good choice for day and coastal sailors who are looking for better protection from rain and spray than traditional foul weather gear.
Ocean Rodeo Ignite Dry Suit
Full disclosure on this one: I’ve got more experience with the Ocean Rodeo Ignite Dry Suit because I own it, and have been able to test it while cruising the Pacific Northwest this past fall and winter.
Ocean Rodeo—from Victoria, British Columbia—is best known for their full line of kiteboarding gear, but they have recently jumped into the sailing market with a line of foul weather gear/dry suits that are truly revolutionary.
Right away you’ll notice that what appears from the outside to be a two-piece foul weather suit is actually a one-piece dry suit. Built of three-layer fabric called Ventor TryPly, it works very well to keep water out while also allowing body heat to escape. But what is truly unique to the Ignite is that it has two modes for the wearer: full dry mode keeps you 100 percent dry, as the elliptical “Captive Zip” entry system and neck gasket can be pulled up and over like a hood. And if you’re sailing in more modest conditions, you can wear it in standby mode with the neck gasket and zipper tucked inside the jacket. This level of adaptability, coupled with the “relief zipper” at the crotch, makes it a suit that can be worn for hours on end in complete comfort.
The high collar has a fleece lining to keep the face and neck warm; it’s not as robust as your typical sailing foul weather gear, but it works nonetheless. A removable hood with neoprene lining is comfortable, warm and has a reflective patch on top. The knees are not only reinforced, but are padded as well, which is one of my favorite parts of the suit. Built in booties continue from the legs and fit comfortably in boots or shoes. Velco straps cinch tight around wrists and ankles. And elastic suspenders and waist strap keeps the suit up and snug.
Overall, the Ocean Rodeo Ingnite dry suit is great for coastal to offshore cruising and works well while kayaking or standup paddleboarding, too.