Living in Fort William as a kayaker means one thing – a good, comfy and durable dry suit is a must! Lochaber has rain even in the driest months. In fact, we have an average annual rainfall of approximately 1777mm or 70 inches; a kayakers paradise. However, for those of us who feel the cold, a mean annual temperature of only 8.6 °C can be a enthusiasm-killer if you’re body isn’t guaranteed to be warm and dry whilst paddling, even in the summer months when you’re catching post-work Moriston laps until 10pm.
One weekend in January, 100mm of rain fell in 24 hours and this opened up potential for once-in-a-blue-moon ditches and spate runs to be ticked off in the guide book but it also reiterated my want and need for a new suit. Our group ended up on a chunky run of the Markie, near Laggan. It was great day but it involved a lot of standing around in the pouring rain, looking at everything ‘going aff’ and subsequently running away and finally walking up the glen of the Markie for a suitable put in for a log-flume type paddle with a final course of faff and carnage. In short this involved running up and down a saturated, boggy and muddy river bank for a head count and kit chase. Conclusion – I needed a new suit.
Previously I have dabbled with a leg entry suit (twice!) and another shoulder entry suit with a drop seat. Although the leg-zip suit was fairly innovative and relatively easy to get on, it was apparent that the ‘easy to pee’ design was in fact not so easy. Frequently I’d find myself on the river bank taking twice as much time as it should have done due to the butt wriggle I had to do to wriggle down my leggings (probably numerous pairs) and my pants, to then hoick them back up again with a guaranteed wedgie. As well as forever being envious of those who could strip down to their legs only in-between or after rivers, I was also weary of the placement of the zip being a prime target for mud and grit for the clumsy footed, bog-trampling and ‘lazy at thoroughly cleaning the suit when home’ folks amongst us. I’m afraid this is probably how both of mine died a death. Next design to try, the ‘excessive two zips but much easier to pee’ suit. Whilst I revelled in my new ability to pee in half the time and not have to butt-wriggle, I knew I wasn’t 100% comfortable with the drop seat zip being felt against the seat and hip pads or the unflattering bulky rear end!
I’d heard word on the grapevine about a new women’s dry suit from Immersion Research, made specifically to tackle the issues I’d had with previous suits and I was intrigued. I had to get my hands on one and scope it out. Being a company with designs solely focused upon white water use, I was optimistic that this new ‘Aphrodite’ suit would be the bees knees it terms of fabric, it’s new clam-entry design, full movement available and pee-ease, simply because they’d had female white water paddlers in mind for its design (fancy that!).
I bit the bullet and ordered the suit from IR Europe online after being advised I should go for the medium size based on my height. I was buzzed to open the box and see the amazing emerald ‘Quetzal’ green colour and to get my hands on the tough fabric of the suit. Immediately impressed, I get about trying it on. Wow – the clam-shell entry – well that was easy! No shoulder struggle to reach my zip or relying on someone to help. Just a simple in with the legs, arms through, head birthed and success! Comfortable and quick entry with a smooth zip around my hips to finish it off. Ideal.
Being fafftastic at decisions and slightly disproportionate in body size (I have a long torso but short legs), I was curious to see whether the small would be a good fit. I ordered a small to try on and I would keep whichever one felt best and send the other back. Although the small was a nice fit, I am slightly too tall for it because it was a slight shoulder wriggle to get into and I knew I would soon tire of this.
Having a lot of fabric to allow for free movement, I think this will also means it is an accommodating suit for various body shapes so I would recommend sizing is primarily chosen based on height. I’ve gone for a size Medium in the Aphrodite suit – I’m 5ft7 and a UK size 10.
My first day out in the new suit was perfectly timed for Storm Ciara and again it was a non-stop rain Lochaber day and I was so excited to have my new suit (thanks speedy IR EU shipping!). Leaving the house in the suit to load up the boats and then go check out what was running, it was great to see a beading suit again! On the water; I’m comfortable with the plentiful amount of fabric allowing for all round movement, no restrictions and in the boat, the zip fits flush against my back band so you don’t feel it.
Initial thoughts; it seems like a really tough suit, with multiple layer fabric where you need it (knees and bum). It also seems to have extra thick socks that should prolong the life of this suit if doing a lot of walk-ins. The neoprene cuffs on the wrists and the neck are snug and protect the latex seals and means there’s no Velcro to pull at my hair.
As someone who needs to pee twice before getting on a river, probably once whilst on the river and again straight after getting off the river, I can very happily say that this new suit has passed my easy pee test! Hooray! Quick to unzip, easy to drop down and no wiggle dance required to sort out the pants. Bonus feature; if you accidentally stack it on your bum (not necessarily when taking a pee but I’m thinking about the super-slidey get on for the Upper Spean!) it’s pretty unlikely you’d get any mud or grit onto the zip as its high and hidden just under the spray deck.
Kayaking done, I take off the top half of the suit, able to sit in the car and eat my macaroni pie with no risk of spillage. Back home, kettle on, suit off and hung up to dry, happy days. It’s refreshing to be wearing an new dry suit that really has been designed for women, rather than just being an adapted men’s suit!
Once I’ve tested the suit out for a couple of months, I hope to return with a follow up review. Thanks for reading and hope to see you on the water!
Shell Fabric: 3-layer PCW 100% recycled polyester
Fabric Weight: 215g/m²
Waterproofness (mm h₂o): 30,000
Breathability (g/m²/24h): 4000
Weight: 3.5lbs (56oz)
Country of Origin: Vietnam
Words & Pictures: Penny Coles