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Tropos semi dry suitTropos Super Nova
Review: A semi-drysuit by Kokatat
& Polartec Drysuit Liner Field testing by Tom Holtey

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The Tropos Super Nova is a semi-drysuit made from a waterproof breathable fabric called Tropos. It is just like a regular drysuit in many ways, with a waterproof entry zipper. A semi- drysuit is an excellent alternative for those paddlers reluctant to get a regular drysuit, for reasons of cost or comfort.The Super Nova comes standard with built in waterproof socks, latex wrist water tight gaskets and a relief zipper for men or drop seat for women.

The reason they call the Super Nova Paddling Suit a "semi-drysuit" is that the neck gasket is made of neoprene rubber (wet suit material with lycra fabric laminated on both sides). This neck style is called a punch through neck. Standard drysuits have waterproof latex rubber gaskets at the neck, wrist and ankles. Both types of neck gaskets are tight fitting to prevent leakage.

Polartec drysuit linerRemember, a dry-suit or semi-drysuit protects the wearer from cold by keeping their insulation layer dry. Warm insulating clothes MUST be worn under a dry or semi-drysuit. A drysuit or semi-drysuit alone will NOT keep the paddler warm and protected from hypothermia. See also Cold Weather Clothing & Paddling Tips and Watersports Clothing: A Buyers Guide For Kayakers

The Super Nova Paddling Suit does a good job of protecting the wearer from getting wet. However... The neck gasket will leak a little bit. If you were to spend a significant time in (or under) the water you will find that some water will soak into the suit from the neck. (But not from the wrists.) This leaking would happen if you were practicing rolling, rescues, swimming, or capsized for a good deal of time, maybe an hour or more.

Under normal circumstances the suit will work out well. But if you had to swim for an hour or so it may get too wet inside, and the Super Nova would not be as effective as a regular drysuit with a latex neck would be in the same conditions.

The Super Nova Paddling suit will build up perspiration inside like any drysuit or splash wear despite the breathable fabric. (Breathable fabric, of any kind, will allow more moisture to escape than non-breathable fabric.) I always wear wicking underwear, long or short, and quick drying fleece under a dry or semi-drysuit. This helps the moisture pass to the outer layer.

Deep water reentryIn my testing of the Super Nova I used the Kokatat Polartec drysuit Liner. It is a jump suit that is ideal as an insulation layer for a drysuit. The one-piece suit will not have any gaps at the waist, or bunching up around the middle. Polartec is a high quality fleece and one of the brand names worth looking for. The liner is comfortable and easy to get into/out of.

The neoprene neck gasket of the Super Nova seems rather durable, but over time it may stretch out a bit. Only time will tell if that becomes a problem or not. I imagine that it would be easy to repair just like a latex gasket, and in fact I believe the suit could be "up-graded" to latex.

I tried the Super Nova first on a lake. I burped (let out the excess air inside from the neck gasket) the suit and swam for the bottom, no PFD on. I noticed that the neck did leak, but not too much to worry me. I was still not all that confidant, but after several short trips paddling and Eskimo rolling with it on I was ready to give it a go on the Maine seacoast in October.

In Maine I attended a workshop on sit-in-side kayak rescues skills and capsize drills in surf and tidal currents. Needless to say I "swam" allot and was on the water all day. I had no problem with the Super Nova, yes I was a little wet, maybe a tad wetter than I would have been in the old style coated nylon Kokatat Multi Sport drysuit, but I was warm and comfortable, in fact I was even over heated at times. Water temperature was about 50, maybe a degree or two lower, and air was also about 50, maybe a degree or two higher. I wore a pair of long Patagonia Capaline underwear, the Kotatat Polartec fleece drysuit liner, a pair of fleece socks with wicking socks under, as well as neoprene booties, neoprene gloves, fleece cap, and a helmet to top it off.

The neoprene neck gasket of the Super Nova appealed to me, as I have had some bad neck irritation with latex neck gaskets. This may be more of a problem for men, due to facial, or maybe I should say neck hair, shaved or not. The neoprene neck does not absolutely prevent a rash, as I did get a neck rash on my first full weekend with the Super Nova. It was not as bad as I had in the past with the latex neck gasket. Since then I have done several full day trips with little if any neck irritation.

Men's Woman's with drop seatI love the built in dry socks and will want this feature on any suit I get. I highly recommend this feature to any one shopping for any type of dry or semi-drysuit. A relief zipper (or drop seat for women) is well worth it too.

A standard drysuit is very waterproof, however, you will still get wet in side it from your perspiration, so it is important to wear wicking synthetic fabrics, even if the suit is made of a breathable fabric like Gore-Tex. Latex gaskets can be fragile and easily split, leaving the suit useless, but reparable. (Zippers to can be problematic too.) So, take good care of the suit following all the care and use instructions from the maker.

If you are into extreme paddling, cold water, channel crossing, bad weather, big waves, strong currents or hairy white water, than a regular drysuit with a latex neck is the way to go.

Like any paddling garments proper fit is important. Once you have a suit on simulate paddle strokes in a seated position, just as you would be in the cockpit of your kayak to be sure. Follow the Kokatat sizing instructions if you cannot try the suit on in person. I found the sizing and measuring advice to be very good and got a good fit, just a tad tight in the shoulders of the Polartec drysuit Liner, but not enough to create any paddling discomfort.

The Tropos Super Nova semi-drysuit is a good choice for many casual kayakers who need the protection a drysuit offers with a more comfortable neck and at a lower cost. It is good thermal protection for less money.

By wearing a semi-drysuit you will protect yourself from the elements during normal paddling. This extra protection will give you a head start against hypothermia if trouble should arise. The use of a wet suit, in some conditions, or lack of protective clothing, will allow the paddler to be slightly chilled during paddling, leaving no extra margin of safety in cold weather.

The Super Nova's features of dry feet, relief zipper or drop seat, breathable waterproof fabric, sealed wrists and an easy to push through neck gasket are too good to pass up, if the alternative is an outfit with scanty protection for the climate. A Tropos Super Nova semi-drysuit is an excellent alternative for those paddlers reluctant to get a regular drysuit, for reasons of cost or comfort.

Note: Do not confuse the Super Nova with the Kokatat Nova Paddling Suit (also made of Tropos fabric). The Nova Paddling Suit has neoprene neck, wrist and ankle gaskets, and does not offer the protection of the Super Nova. It is simply a very nice breathable splash suit.

The Super Nova Semi-drysuit can be found through this link.
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