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.
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.
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.
Here’s a quick table summarizing the core differences between the two types of tops:
|Semi Dry Top
|Waterproof breathable membrane
|Extreme rapids paddling
|Mild rapids and warmer conditions
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.
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.