Dry Pants vs Dry Suit
Ok, so the final question—how do the dry pants compare to a dry suit?
The Tempest dry pants have kept me drier than if I was just wearing shorts over long underwear or a wetsuit, but they don’t keep me 100 percent dry when I’m paddling. The pants work very well when you’re getting splashed while in a raft or canoe or wading in water up to your thighs—especially if they’re tucked under a very good dry top. The Tempest also blocks wind very well when you’re out of the boat.
But the fact remains that these pants won’t keep you dry like a dry suit will.
Don’t get me wrong—the Gore-Tex material and the pant’s sealed seams are both waterproof, but water can sneak in through the waist. The best way to prevent this is to pull the waist up high (about to the bottom of your ribs), and arrange your dry top and skirt tunnel over it.
I pulled the pants on directly over my base layers, then I put on my dry top tunnel, my skirt tunnel, and finally my dry top shell. The minute you go for a swim or otherwise mess with this arrangement, water will seep into your pants. While I’ve ended up with what feels like a couple cups of water in my pants both from sitting in the boat and from swimming, the pants never took on so much water as to make swimming difficult.
That said, the pants get pretty uncomfortable when they take on water—I would rather wear wet neoprene, so I don’t have water pooling in the seat and feet of my pants. The Tempest does dry quicker than neoprene, so if you’re camping, it will likely be more comfortable to put on in the morning than a wetsuit or other neoprene pant would be.
Now that I have a drysuit I love, I don’t wear the pants as often as I used to. I can wear the drysuit in air temperatures up to the 60s (with minimal layering) when the water temperature in still cold (50s or below). And if it’s really cold out (40s or below), I just add layers under the dry suit. I wear the pants when its chilly enough that I want my lower half to stay dry, at least initially, but I don’t mind a bit of dampness. I’ve also worn the pants with a shorty splashtop on a cooler, rainy summer day.
As I mentioned above, I chose to wear these pants instead of my old dry suit (which doesn’t have a drop seat) on a Grand Canyon trip in November since the pants are much more convenient when it comes to peeing. Generally the air temperature was warm enough (50s-70s) that the pants worked just fine, even though the water was cold. But during a January trip in the Grand Canyon, I definitely needed a full dry suit since both the water and air temperatures were cold (~50 and 30-55 degrees respectively)—I didn’t want to get even slightly wet.
At $295, the Tempest is definitely relatively expensive as far as dry pants go, but it’s still about a third of the price of a dry suit. Dry pants are a much more economical choice if you’re willing to accept some dampness, which I personally was before I bought the dry suit I have now.
If a drysuit is not in your budget, I’d recommend these pants. Kokatat also makes a less expensive version of the Tempest with their own Hydrus 3L material (see the Gore-Tex vs. Hydrus discussion in the GMED dry suit review), which costs about $175.
Other equally or slightly less expensive dry pants such as the Kokatat Swift ($139), the NRS women’s Athena ($174), and the IR Arch Rival ($150) come with latex ankle gaskets rather than socks. As I mentioned before, I much prefer socks to gaskets.
With a good dry top, the Tempest will definitely keep you warmer and drier than a wetsuit or long underwear during those cooler shoulder paddling seasons, and it will definitely suffice if you do not spend a lot of time paddling in the cold.
If much of your paddling is done in air temperatures 50-degrees and warmer, with the occasional 40 degree adventure, these pants should serve you just fine. But you should ask yourself before buying the dry pants: Do I tend to get cold easily? Do I mind being a little damp? How much am I really going to be paddling in snowmelt or cold conditions? Is my drytop good enough to keep water from entering from above?
With a dry top that is leaky or if you are flipping and/or swimming a lot, you will definitely find yourself with a puddle in the seat of your pants at the end of the day. The Gore-Tex is very waterproof, and will keep you dry if you’re splashed or wading. It’s also very windproof. But when it comes down to it, there’s nothing like a dry suit to truly keep you warm and dry when the water hovers around freezing.