The biggest recent advance in kayak clothing is in the zip department and it’s great news for us. Finally we have very flexible waterproof zips that can offer a proper dry closure system. What this means in practice is no longer do we need to endure being colder and wetter than our two-legged companions.
Chris Reed at Chillcheater is an invaluable resource for anyone needing garments out of the ordinary. Based in North Devon, Chris has the ability and enthusiasm to customise any garment from his range. In addition, he loves to produce bespoke products and we work closely together to develop suits and trousers specifically for amputees. These have a dry zip in a short leg (on the prosthesis side) that allows the “donning and doffing” of the prosthesis in seconds. I can now paddle all year round with the same comfort levels as my friends and clients, thanks to his hard work and patience.
There are other UK-based clothing companies that can make alterations to their clothing for a fee. Nookie were very helpful in the early days and adapted a dry-suit for me (despite cutting the wrong leg off initially – we did laugh!). Typhoon are based in the North-East and offer some tailoring although I haven’t seen any of their work yet.
Pretty much everything else you can obtain off-the-peg. Wetsuits are pretty easy to alter yourself and if you can use a sewing machine you’ll be able to do a tidy job. Neoprene glue like BlackWitch is handy for tidying up cut edges. When buying shorts, make sure they are baggy enough for the socket to come out of the bottom of the leg. You will need the top of the socket to come out of the bottom of the shorts leg.
It can be a bit of fun to get hold of some Gore-Tex camo trousers and make something yourself. My attempts won’t win any awards for style but they dry quickly and are durable.
If you’re lucky, you may find some kayak shops have the odd boot or shoe that will save you throwing away the one you don’t need. Should we have a shoe-swap page?
Care and cleaning
Carry a piece of sleep mat or similar foam to sit on during lunch stops. It will prevent your expensive clothing from tearing on stones/rocks. Clothing can get trapped between your hard-shell socket and the surface you sit on. If you have a zip closure for your dry-suit leg be sure you don’t damage the teeth when you sit down – it will be open and vulnerable. Protection for your clothing is vital.
Salt is very corrosive and hostile to most fabrics. Some of your garments will probably have been tailored just for you. Getting replacements will not be cheap and will take time. Look after your kit and it will last longer. After paddling I always start by giving everything a thorough rinse with tap water. Then I soak almost everything (except my dry-suit) in a tub full of water and disinfectant called Zoflora. It kills the bugs and smells that can lurk in neoprene and other fabrics and the citrus scent is okay. I rinse breathable garments separately.
Use a good, strong drying line in a well-ventilated area. This can take a long time in the UK so a covered area is useful. If you cannot resist using a tumble-drier make sure it’s on a low heat setting. A dedicated drying room would be luxury!
Pay special attention to all zips. Sea water is going to attack these and failure to rinse and lubricate will result in total seizure if left for very long. Lubricate zips on boots, buoyancy aids and other ordinary zips with silicone spray. You should follow the manufacturer instructions regarding zip maintenance on dry-suits and other specialist zip closures.