I’m not your typical kayaker. I don’t throw brown claws off stouts, and I don’t have even a single neck tattoo. I don’t travel the world paddling, and I’m not sponsored by Immersion Research. I mainly run class III/IV rivers, such as the French Broad, Nolichucky, Ocoee and Chattooga. I paddle year round, in any weather and at most all water levels. I paddle a bellyak, which is a kayak you ride on your stomach.
As you can see, it’s a wet ride. I’m completely in the water a lot of the time, and always just above it. I don’t have a sprayskirt, so I’m fully immersed. When it’s 32 degrees outside, snowing and high water…gear becomes not only a matter of comfort, but a crucial part of being safe and making it to the takeout smiling. I’ve been wearing the new Arch Rival Drysuit from IR for the past month, and here is what I have to say about it: Drysuits really are dry, and being dry equals being warm. And being warm equals being happy. Happy and paddling=priceless.
Compared to a wetsuit or wetsuit/drytop combo, or any other number of combinations I’ve tried in the past, the drysuit is like upgrading from a horse and buggy to a new minivan. It’s so easy to get in and out of, eliminating getting stuck in wet gear at the take out or having so many layers on your range of motion is compromised. For those of you considering “do I really need a drysuit?” The short answer is yes. You don’t know what you’re missing. Being dry instills confidence, and confidence allows you to progress your skills. It’s a $750 investment. But think of it this way: it’s life insurance, and fun assurance all packed into one tidy little package of awesome, and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
The Arch Rival has a front zip, which I was skeptical about. I thought the zipper would inhibit my range of motion. The zipper isn’t metal like on some lower priced suits, it’s a flexible rubber that is totally dry. The front zip is the easiest style to get in and out of as well. There is also a zipper cover, which eliminates the zipper getting caught or interfering with any of your other gear. I didn’t notice the zipper at all, which proves it’s effectiveness to me. There is also a relief zipper, which you don’t notice until you need it and then when you do…relief.
The fabric is breathable, eliminating the clammy feeling of lower priced suits, and the cut allows for a full range of motion with no extra fabric or straps getting in the way.
The Arch Rival has rubber booties. At first I thought this was a downgrade from the Double D with fabric booties, but there are benefits. I wear a thick wool sock and the rubber booty pulls snugly over my foot, allowing me to wear any number of river shoes, depending on the weather and terrain (Astral Brewer mainly, unless it’s really cold then I wear the NRS Sasquatch shoe for the extra warmth the layer of neoprene provides).
I did put a small tear in the booty while hiking through briars recently, and I didn’t notice it until my foot filled up with water. Knowing this, I now either wear high top river shoes when I know I’m near briars, or put a neoprene sock on the outside of the rubber, which also adds a nice level of insulation on colder days. The benefit of the rubber booty is that it’s easy to fix the hole with a bicycle tube repair kit. No need to send the suit off to have another booty installed.
As with any piece of gear, the best compliment is not noticing your gear…because it’s doing it’s job so well it doesn’t get in the way of your paddling. IR has thought through every design feature, and as a result the Arch Rival is one of the best suits available. If it will keep me dry bellyaking, I’m sure it will keep you dry kayaking.
– Adam Masters owns, operates and designs at Bellyak in Asheville NC.