Ease of Use
This is a big one. The zipper is really hard to use. When I first looked into getting one of these suits, I asked around, and pretty much everybody said, “It’s hard to use at first, but you kind of get the hang of it.” That’s true — you kind of get the hang of it. But the “kind of” modifier is key. It’s still a pretty big pain, and much more challenging to use than a conventional drysuit zipper (front-entry or rear-entry).
Starting the zipper involves a delicate dance where you thread the drytop zipper into the start area and then push it about an inch down, keeping it exactly straight before you can start zipping. With warm hands, this is a minor annoyance. With cold hands, it’s frustrating, and with cold hands while trying to hold your skirt out of the way so you can see what you’re doing, it’s borderline impossible.
Closing the zipper is slightly less difficult, but I still have trouble with it on a day-to-day basis. The best trick I’ve come up with is to pull the zipper as far toward closed as I can, change strategies and try to push it closed, then switch back to pulling. Repeat process as needed. The difficulty can be mitigated a bit with zipper lube, but there’s only so much a tube of lube can do.
Once you’re in the suit, the waist-zipper is a major obstacle for putting a skirt on. It’s covered by a flap, so it doesn’t catch the skirt, but it’s big enough that it’s pretty hard work to wiggle the skirt tunnel up and over the zipper. When using it as just a drytop, this problem is worse — the zipper sticks out further (even tucked into its protective pocket) and I find myself having to reach up through the skirt tunnel to pull the drytop down rather than just being able to pull the skirt up over it.
Zipper-related issues aside, the waist-entry style is quite nice. Entering a drysuit by putting on pants and then a drytop is much easier than the standard left arm, right leg, left ear, left leg, then nose contortionist procedure required by conventional dry suits.
This is unfortunately another major pain point with the Idol. Standing around, rafting, etc., the zipper poses no comfort problems. If anything, the drysuit might be more comfortable than a conventional one, since there’s no zipper to interfere with your upper body. The problem comes when sitting in a kayak.
How badly this problem impacts you depends on your torso dimensions and what boat you paddle. But for me, every single backband I’ve used with this drysuit has created a pressure point between the zipper and my lower back. That’s across multiple brands and types of boats — LiquidLogic, Bliss-stick, and Dagger whitewater boats, and a Perception sea kayak. It’s not a deal breaker, especially for shorter days, but it’s bad enough that a long day on the water leaves me with an irritated rash on my low-back.
This situation is actually worse when using the Idol as a drytop without the pants. The upper half of the zipper is bulkier and more mobile when it’s not wed to the lower half, so it rubs even more between your lower back and backband.
This drysuit really shines on long multi-day trips, especially ones where the temperatures vary a lot and you might be doing some hiking. I took mine on a 10-day Grand Canyon self-support this past winter and loved it. For those who haven’t been, the Grand in the winter can span a huge range of temperatures, and the water is always cold.
We’d go from paddling 40-degree air and water in the shade to sweating at a sunny lunch stop up on the bank pretty much every day. With a conventional drysuit, you’d either suffer through it and stay in your gear getting sweaty, or you’d take the top half off and let the arms dangle.
Most of us have been doing one of those two things for years, but neither option is ideal. The Idol allows you to take off the top, hang it up to dry, and give your layers a break to air out without taking the whole suit (and your shoes) off. On trips that involve long days on the water, especially in sunny climates, this is really a lifesaver.
It’s also really nice being able to go on a hike with your drypants still on without staying in your full drysuit or dangling the top half. We did a number of hikes on the Grand this winter where I was really glad to be able to wade through pools in my drypants and not have to stay in the full suit.
A standard men’s drysuit relief zipper is hard to beat for convenience, but it poses a bit of a problem when you have to go number two. The Idol totally solves that problem. I’m a morning guy myself, but I could see this being really valuable when traveling to countries like Nepal or Peru where stomach problems are not a question of If but When.
The Kokatat Idol’s SwitchZip is a great idea, but the execution is less than ideal. When I first reached out to people about the suit before deciding to buy one, the answers I got were from Kokatat team members who all said that the suit was great, but they weren’t getting rid of / replacing their regular drysuits with it.
Right now, the Idol is my only drysuit, and their reasons for still making use of their regular drysuits are clear. Comfort and difficulty of use make this a poor choice for a day-to-day drysuit, and I can’t really recommend it for the everyday kayaker. That said, for long multi-day river trips, especially those with hiking, it’s great. Unfortunately, most of us can’t justify owning multiple drysuits, and the Kokatat Idol has too many drawbacks to be a one-suit-quiver for most paddlers.