Paddling drysuits and dry tops are made of waterproof shell fabrics that have limited insulating value of their own. Instead, they are designed to keep dry whatever layers of insulation you wear under them, the same way a raincoat protects your fleece layers on land.
Though several times the price of wetsuits, drysuits can keep you much warmer. Worn over appropriate insulation layers, a drysuit greatly extends your survival time, even in icy waters. Equally important, the longer you stay warm and mobile, the longer you retain the ability to assist yourself or others.
A dry top is often worn over a fleece top and a farmer john wetsuit. Properly sealed with its own waistband or into the double tunnel of a sprayskirt, a dry top waist will stay surprisingly watertight in the event of a swim. Because they are sealed, with no air circulation, they may be too warm and sweaty for some conditions, even when worn over minimal layers.
Suits or tops made of waterproof-breathable fabrics such as Gore-Tex® are more comfortable, particularly for prolonged wear and/or warmer weather. You can also custom order Gore-Tex drysuits with options such as built in socks, relief zipper, a drop seat, or pockets.
When selecting size, allow room for adequate layers of insulation underneath. Check that the cut and size are right by moving your body through the full range of paddling motions – including braces and lay-backs.
Rinse the garments in fresh water after use and be sure they are thoroughly dry before you store them. Use a product such as McNett's Wetsuit/Drysuit shampoo to safely clean them.
The latex seals, or gaskets, of drysuits and dry tops must handled with care as you put on or take off the garment. They should be wiped down with 303™ Protectant or Seal Saver every four to six weeks if the garment is in storage, and more often when it's in use.
Even with these precautions, the seals will typically need replacement several times over the life of the garment. You can have a diving equipment shop install replacement seals for you, or you can do your own drysuit gasket repair.
Keep the waterproof zipper of your drysuit free of dirt to prevent wear and jamming. Do not store the suit with a fold across the zipper – hang it instead. And store your garment with the zippers open.
A crayon-like wax applicator, such as McNett Zip Care, can be used to lubricate the zippers. Apply a very thin layer, just enough to ease the action of the zipper. Too much wax will simply trap grit, shortening the life of the zipper.