The Key Differences Between Dry Top and Semi Dry Top Kayaking Outfits

As an avid kayaker of 15+ years, I’ve tested my share of dry tops and semi dry tops on rivers across the country.

While both offer solid water protection, they serve different purposes which I’ll unpack below.

Whether you’re navigating Class V rapids or gentle streams, understanding the nuances of each can help you stay warm, dry and safe out on the water.

A Quick Intro to Dry Top Kayaking

Before diving in, let’s do a quick dry top kayaking primer. Dry tops are constructed from waterproof and breathable fabrics designed to keep your entire torso dry while kayaking.

They feature latex gaskets around the wrists and neck to seal out water. Some even have a relief zipper to let air flow on hot days.

I always wear a dry top for extreme whitewater kayaking. Having a bone-dry upper body gives me warmth and comfort in icy river conditions.

The snug fit also doesn’t impede my mobility, allowing me to perform Eskimo rolls with ease.

best dry top kayaking
best dry top kayaking

Semi Dry Tops Offer More Flexibility

Semi dry tops provide solid water resistance but aren’t 100% dry like their name implies.

The fabric is coated in polyurethane (PU) rather than a breathable waterproof membrane.

You’ll also notice looser wrist gaskets that let some water seep in.

I wear a semi dry top for mild rapids and warmer weather paddling. The increased ventilation keeps me from overheating on 80+ degree river trips.

And the looser fit grants more flexibility for leisurely paddling. If I do capsize, the top still blocks 90% of splashes and spray.

The takeaway: Semi dry tops offer better comfort and airflow at the cost of maximum dryness.

Key Differences at a Glance

Here’s a quick table summarizing the core differences between the two types of tops:

FeatureDry TopSemi Dry Top
FabricWaterproof breathable membranePolyurethane coated
Wrist GasketsTight latexLoose neoprene
Torso FitSnugRelaxed
Water Protection100% dry90% dry
PurposeExtreme rapids paddlingMild rapids and warmer conditions

The Best of Both Worlds

For versatility, I recommend getting one of each top to suit different paddle conditions. Use the dry top for winter paddling or Class IV/V rapids.

Bust out the semi dry top on mild streams or warmer summer trips.

Combining dry and semi dry tops ensures you get maximum protection when you need it and superior comfort when conditions allow.

No single top can perfectly balance dryness, breathability, and flexibility.

Final Thoughts on Choosing Your Top

When shopping for a new kayaking top, think about the types of paddling you do most.

If you’re bombing down gnarly whitewater year-round, a high-end dry top is a worthy investment. Go for a semi dry top if you paddle gently flowing rivers and want better ventilation.

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