I’ll never forget my first time kayaking in cold waters wearing just a basic paddle jacket.

I capsized when a rogue wave broadsided me, the icy water pouring in through every gap and seam.

After struggling to roll up and scramble to shore, I vowed to get better cold water protection. That’s when I discovered dry tops and semi-dry tops for dry top kayaking.

Dry Tops Keep You Completely Dry

The defining purpose of a dry top is to keep you warm, dry, and safe in cold conditions.

Dry tops use waterproof fabrics and especially tight seals around the wrists, neck, and waist to completely prevent water from seeping in.

No matter how many times you roll, the dry top acts like a reliable dry suit to shield your body and the clothes underneath.

I’ve spent over 500 hours kayaking rivers and lakes in my trusty Kokatat dry top.

Whether paddling through rapids or getting tossed in steep seas, it continues to keep me bone dry.

The latex gaskets provide a tight customized fit, and the waterproof nylon exterior beads water even after years of use.

Semi-Dry Tops Are More Breathable

Semi-dry tops provide more flexibility and breathability for paddlers who don’t require absolute waterproofing.

They typically use moisture-wicking polyester or nylon fabrics that are coated with water-resistant finishes.

While not completely impervious, they can handle splashes and light spray with aplomb.

Last summer I took an inland lake trip wearing my Stohlquist semi-dry top. The looser neck and cuff seals allowed welcoming airflow on hot afternoons.

When some wake from a passing boat sloshed over the deck, only my sleeves got a little wet before swiftly drying out.

For calm, warmer waters, the semi-dry top offered versatility without the latex neck gasket strangling me.

dry top kayaking

Making the Best Choice For Your Needs

When choosing between dry tops and semi-dry tops, first consider the types of kayaking conditions you’ll realistically encounter.

Dry tops are meant for extended cold water paddling, keeping you dry and insulating when it matters most.

Semi-dry tops favor versatility and breathability over absolute waterproofness.

Also factor in cost, as dry tops demand a premium for high-end waterproof fabrics and gasket seals.

With the right research and realistic self-assessment, you can select the top suited for the majority of your paddling. Stay safe and comfortable out on the water by understanding these differences. With my dry top for hardcore adventures and a semi-dry for casual outings, I’m warm and dry for any kayaking conditions that come my way!


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