Drysuit Care & Feeding
Whether you paid for it yourself with your hard-earned dollars, or you pulled it from a cache at work, your drysuit is probably the more expensive piece of PPE in your gear bag… and you should be bringing some solid drysuit care skills to the table because of that.
With a multitude of fabrics, metals, plastics and rubber, these technological marvels have come a long way since the days of seal skin onesies.
(…we don’t think there ever were seal skin onesies, but it’s fun to imagine, so…)
Our repair tech, Al, has been fixing drysuits for dirt bag paddlers since the days of seal skin onesies. Apart from not rolling around in the rose bushes with your drysuit on, here are a few more dos and don’ts from Al to keep your drysuit in tip top shape.
Wear & Care
One of the first things to take a beating on a drysuits is the feet. Put-ins are littered with sharp little rocks and broken glass whose greatest desire is to poke pinholes in your socks.
When changing into your drysuit, take care to stay on top of some kind of dirt-free surface while stepping into and out of your suit.
Many paddlers carry a piece of foam pad in their gear bag specifically to stand on while they change. You could also get something like the CGear Personal Sand Free mat or an NRS Change Pad to set you apart at the put in (or you could just cut up that old yoga mat you bought on sale and never used).
Latex socks can be grabby on bare feet. Having a sock on your foot or applying a bit of baby powder to the inside of your gaskets will make sure your limbs slide in without grabbing the gaskets. We have had people blow socks out just trying on drysuits.
Wear a light neoprene sock over the drysuit sock on the inside your boots. This will help keep sand and grit from getting in between your drysuit sock and boot. When sand gets in there, it can act like sandpaper, quickly wearing away at your socks.
Al says, “Wear a boot or shoe a size up from normal to allow for some extra insulation.”
New gaskets can be uncomfortable till they stretch out, but trimming gaskets is not recommended.
Not at all.
Don’t do it.
Instead, try stretching the gasket over a pot or drinking bottle overnight, or longer, to loosen them up. A ‘just a little too tight’ fit now will make a great fit in a week. A ‘just right’ fit now may let water in later.
Now, once you’ve got that perfect fit, you have to treat that @#$% with respect. Giving the gasket a gentle stretch while entering will put less stress on the gaskets and the glued seems. Though they are often referred to as ‘punch through’ gaskets, don’t actually just punch through.
Al says, “Be aware that watches, rings, sharp nails, UV, bug dope, and heat can damage a latex seal.”
High maintenance! you say. Well, yes and no. Giving the gaskets a liberal coating of 303 Aerospace Protectant is key to getting more than a season or two out of them. Spraying on some 303 and giving the gasket a little massage will go a long way to keeping your gaskets doing what they are supposed to do, namely; stay flexible, move with you, and keep the water out.
Al says ”303 is not an expensive product, so the more the better. 303 it when you put the suit away after every wear.”
Whether metal or plastic, zippers benefit from periodic lubrication. There are many products on the market, like Gear Aid Zipper Cleaner and Lubricant, which has a built-in brush to get in between those teeth.
While they all work great, our drysuit repair tech Al, keeps a chunk of paraffin wax handy for metal zippers. Check the canning section of your local grocer to get your own supply of parrafin. Al rubs this on the zippers, and then opens and closes them a few times to work it in.
In environments that are not sandy, petroleum jelly (ie: vaseline) works great. In a sandy environment, petroleum jelly will just clog your zipper with sandy paste.
Al says “Metal zippers are usually very trouble-free, but the core of the zip can break close to the zipper end if it’s not completely open before the user tries to get out of the suit.”
Fabric and shell
Cleaning your suit isn’t just something to prevent the spread of invasive parasites like Whirling disease. It will also prolong the life of your suit. Giving your suit a good old rinse outside to clean off any dirt or effluent, as well as rinsing out the inside to remove sweat and oils from your skin.
Use this time to inspect your gaskets and zips as well.
For a more thorough cleaning, stay away from laundry detergents or harsh soaps. Instead look for products like Nikwax Tech Wash. Many manufacturers strongly recommend hand washing over machine washing, which can damage zippers and gaskets.
We all love sunny days on the water. But while we are soaking in those sweet rays, so is our drysuit. And while it recharges us and lifts our spirits it slowly destroys our fabrics. With that in mind, UV products like 303 Aerospace Protectant are not just for spaceships.
A liberal dose of 303 helps slow the degrading effects of UV. Pay attention to where the sun hits you and apply some 303 to the shoulders, thighs – basically, wherever you want to keep colour from fading away in a season. 303 will also help maintain the suit’s most desirable feature… its dryness.
After washing, hang the suit to dry on a heavy-duty coat hanger with the zippers fully open. Reapply the DWR (Durable Water Repellent) you purchased (like Nikwax TX Direct Spray-On Waterproofing).
Storage & Transport
Whether it’s in a bag or on a heavy-duty hanger, storing your suit when you’re not wearing it may be the harshest treatment it gets, especially if it spends more time stored than worn.
When storing your suit, taking care not to bend or otherwise damage the zipper is paramount. Gaskets and fabrics can be replaced and repaired, but a busted zipper is not worth fixing.
Keep the suit out of sun whenever possible, and if you have to fold it, take care not to bend the zipper or pile heavy objects on the suit, and watch the great video below from NRS.
Al says, “Whether you’re wearing the suit or storing it, your zippers should be all the way open, or all the way closed.”
Long Live Your Drysuit
Armed with this advice, you and your suit should be ready to live a long and happy life together.
Here’s to you and your watery adventures!
And here are a few more helpful links:
NRS Drysuit Wear, Care and Storage
Olympic Outdoor Centre Drysuit Care and Maintenance
Kayak Academy Drysuit Top Repair and Gasket Repair
Photo credit in Fabric and Shell section (of swimmer jumping into river) taken by Ashley Voykin, of Reta Boychuck.