I’ve paddled for many years, mostly on the river Tay where I honed my skills with help of some pretty handy people from Perth canoe club. With a solid base I gradually progressed to local Perthshire runs, opening my eyes to what was possible in a kayak. I now regularly enjoy pushing the grade of my paddling to class 4/5 and tend to get out twice a week to keep me sane. Paddling has brought me all over the world, from India to Iceland, and over time I have come to appreciate quality equipment.
Even though I’ve paddled for a long time, my slalom experience meant that semi dry cags and neoprene shorts were initially the norm. I only recently experienced the luxury of a dry suit when five years ago I bought my first dry suit with the prospect of a brief visit to Iceland that October. I pushed aside the slalomer’s stigma against dry suits and got a new Immersion Research Arch Rival front entry dry suit. My first dry suit was a revelation! It opened my kayaking up to harder grades on cold, mind numbing Scottish winter days (when the paddling here is at its best).
I swithered for while between a L and XL with my tall skinny stature. I found I would be too tall for the L yet too skinny for the XL. With help from the Immersion Research customer service team I decided on the XL size (although if you have more time and money to spare, you can get sleeve and leg lengths modified). I received the XL dry suit which I found to be a good fit apart from the seals. I told this to Immersion Research and they happily put smaller seals on it which made a huge difference. I very quickly put a hole in the knee after running and tripping on the bank during a spate of carnage on a tree infested, fence interspersed Scottish ditch. This was expertly fixed by Immersion research and remains one of the toughest parts of the suit.
The suit lasted for a tough 5 years and with a second Iceland trip looming I started the process of hunting for a new suit. My trusty suit was sold on and with a bit of TLC the suit is still seen paddling around the UK with it’s a very happy owner. The website www.immersionresearch.eu makes it super easy to buy online, the service is very quick and accommodating. You can tell it is run by kayakers who don’t want you to miss a single day on the river.
My second IR Arch Rival dry suit was decided on very quickly as my previous good experienced with my first meant I set out getting an almost identical replacement. As I knew exactly what I wanted I was able to request an XL with smaller seals and so it arrived ready to get straight out on the river with. The front zip works well for me as it’s easy to close by myself which with my poor shoulder flexibility (I would guess that it’s a common issue for a number of kayakers). It is a common assumption that the front entry zip is irritating and could be uncomfortable whilst carrying boats but I found this not to be the case, allowing for no restriction across the shoulders.
The new Arch Rival suit has had a number of improvements compared to the older suit. It has reinforcing on the knees and bum (which would likely make it hard to rip in a similar way to the damaged knee on my old suit). The wrist cuffs have changed from a Velcro closure to a full neoprene cuff which is really well fitting and takes way the annoyance of them Velcro bursting open on impact off larger waterfalls. I have now had my new suit for just over a month now and I’m really happy with how it performs. It’s even better than my previous suit! It’s not restrictive at all and gives me plenty of room to fit extra layers underneath. I have used it in Iceland for two knackering weeks of full on kayaking, racking up lots of air miles on park and hucks with the odd river trip. The sharp volcanic rock in Iceland means you can hardly drag your knuckles over it without cutting your finger open. It’s a place that is tough on your gear! With the two weeks there, I haven’t fund a graze on the suit and the latex feet are also holding up great to time spent lapping difficultly accessed drops with complex portages and climbs. I’m also not immune to the odd swim, so I’ve used it where it counts!
It’s clear the suit is designed for a white water kayaker. If its tough enough to survive Icelandic rock, yet breathable and light enough to walk distances comfortably in, then it fulfils my requirements easily. It suits me perfectly. I’d imagine it would suit a lot of other kayakers out there too. Especially the ones looking for the kind of adventure where confidence in your equipment makes a tough experience slightly less stressful. I believe they are the best value suits on the market and perform equally as well as more expensive competitors.
3-layer waterproof/breathable shell with 100% nylon Taslan face fabric treated with C6 DWR (durable water repellent) finish
Front YKK® AquaSeal® entry and relief zip
Seat and Knees reinforced with abrasion-resistant Devil’s Club nylon Taslan 3-layer 240g/m² fabric
Latex neck and wrist gaskets with neoprene over cuffs to aid in dryness and gasket preservation
Adjustable webbing belt to keep your suit snuggly on your hips
Low maintenance latex socks
The reinforced bum and knees make for a hardwearing dry suit.
The Velcro waist and belt combo gives a great seal and loads amount of adjustment.
The protective neoprene cuffs and neck are well fitted.
With the winter starting to draw in and forecast looking wet, I can’t wait to test the suit further on new and exciting rivers. In another five years (or maybe even longer) Immersion Research EU will likely be my first stop when looking for a new suit.
Words and pictures: Fraser Gillies.