Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit Review

A 22-ounce waterproof dry suit designed for packrafters with an eye towards saving weight and bulk on longer expeditions.

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

There's not much about the Alpacka Stowaway that's not to like. It is far more protective for cold weather / cold water whitewater packrafting than splash top-and-pant or rain jacket-and-pant combos if you have to take a swim, and that means it significantly increases your margin of safety when running hard, cold water in remote environments. The suit is purpose-built for multiple use, and functions adequately as a trekking rain suit as needed without compromising its core function of immersion protection for packrafters. Latex cuffs at the wrist and ankle are completely resistant to water entry, even on long swims in rough water, and the neoprene neck gasket is waterproof enough while providing superior comfort to the awful strangling of latex gaskets found in traditional drysuits. The neck gasket and waist-level split zip give some ventilation options, and the use of "backpacking rain gear fabric" that is breathable enough and supple, combined with a comfortably articulated design, make the Stowaway a joy to wear. The only - and we mean only - serious limitation of this dry suit is the balance between its cost (USD$720.00) and its durability. We'd prefer that some weight be added back so that our investment is protected. Maybe in the form of reinforcing patches. Maybe in the form of heavier material used in the legs. Maybe in the form of a three layer fabric that remains more durably breathable over the long term. Options abound, but make no mistake: you think about these things every time you portage around a woody logjam or scramble down the bramble-choked hillside to the put-in...

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by Ryan Jordan |

Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit Review

Scope

This review presents a summary of features, specifications, usage context, field immersion testing and use, limitations, and strengths of the Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit based on my experience with it in the context of both wilderness and roadside packrafting for the past three months.

Features

The Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit is uniquely characterized by the following features:

  1. Waterproof-breathable fabric;
  2. Latex gaskets at wrist and ankle cuffs;
  3. Waterproof split zip for ease of entry, exit, ventilation and "relief";
  4. Adjustable neoprene neck gasket for comfort and ventilation;
  5. Compactibility and light weight.

Specifications

  • Weight: 22 oz (manufacturer's claim) / 22.6 oz (BPL measured weight)
  • Stowed Size: 7" x 12" (manufacturer's claim, BPL verified)
  • Body Fabric: 3 layer waterproof-breathable Pertex Shield 20 denier ripstop nylon; 20,000 g/m2/24h (JIS L 1096)
  • Wrist and ankle cuff gasket material: Latex, tunnel type, sewn-in
  • Neck gasket: Neoprene, adjustable & securable with hook-and-loop closure
  • Entry/Exit: Tizip Superseal, split zip style at waist
  • Manufacturer: Kokatat
  • Sold By: Alpacka Raft Company
  • MSRP: USD$720.00
  • Warranty: Three years for manufacturing defects / waterproofing failure

Usage Context

For roadside packrafting, day-tripping, or other types of trips where I don’t have to haul a lot of gear on foot over long distances, a conventional (and heavier) dry suit is usually a better option for me than an ultralight drysuit like the Alpacka Stowaway. These things are expensive pieces of equipment that we want to last a long time, and sometimes, durability trumps weight.

But there are times when an “ultralight” dry suit fills a particular need, especially on long treks where weight matters most, and in conditions where I spend a lot of time packrafting in cold, wet, and windy conditions.

A dry suit layered over warm clothes is not just a luxury on a cold and rainy day, but an essential item when running any sort of whitewater in winter conditions (i.e., water temperatures near freezing and air temperatures below freezing, with the predominant form of precipitation being snow).

But a dry suit for packraft trekking has to serve multiple uses as part of my overall layering strategy. First and foremost, it must serve as storm clothing when I’m trekking in especially inclement conditions. Second, it must serve as a layer than can integrate with winter insulation, including my insulating jacket and pants, and my insulating quilt. The “uni” nature of a dry suit makes it an exceptional piece of apparel for retaining heat, and I want to capitalize on this as much as possible when integrating it with my clothing and sleep system.

Field Immersion Testing

I tested the Alpacka Stowaway dry suit in a number of immersion scenarios in water temperatures between 35 deg F and 55 deg F, and air temperatures ranging from about 15 deg F and 50 deg F:

  • Deep wading up to my chest while steelhead fishing;
  • River swimming with and without a PFD;
  • Whitewater paddling up to Class III whitewater in an open (undecked) packraft (or a packraft with the spray deck rolled out of the way);
  • Submersion as a result flipping my packraft while river packrafting;

Test locations included the Schumaker Canyon stretch of the Grande Ronde River (Washington State), the Bear Trap Canyon stretch of the Madison River (Montana), and the "Mad Mile" stretch of the Gallatin River (Montana).

My observations include:

  • No water entry via gaskets at wrist or ankle cuffs when gaskets were in contact with bare skin;
  • No water entry via gaskets at wrist or ankle cuffs when gaskets were in contact with a waterproof shell layer (such as a Gore-Tex sock);
  • Very slow wicking of water through wrist and ankle cuffs when gaskets were in contact with a non-waterproof layer, such as knit socks or fleece gloves;
  • No water entry via tightened neoprene neck gasket when combined with a neoprene balaclava with skirt over the gasket, in immersion scenarios where neck was intermittently submerged;
  • Nearly imperceptible water entry via tightened neoprene neck gasket when combined with a neoprene balaclava worn underneath the neck gasket, in submersion scenarios where neck was continuously submerged for periods of 10 seconds or more;
  • Noticeable but slight water entry via tightened neoprene neck gasket when combined with a neoprene balaclava with skirt over the gasket, in submersion scenarios where neck was continuously submerged for periods of 10 seconds or more;

Limitations

  • Ultralight fabric is prone to abrasion wear on sharp river rocks and punctures while bushwhacking, and near wood;
  • "Uni" (one-piece) suit design has limited ventilation options relative to rain jacket and pants combo when used in contexts other than packrafting (e.g., trekking).

Strengths

  • Gaskets and split zip combine to make a dry suit that resist water entry at a weight lower than any other uni-suit on the market;
  • Neoprene neck gasket is more comfortable and provides an important ventilation option relative to latex gaskets found on conventional dry suits, without significant compromises to water entry resistance;
  • Latex wrist and ankle gaskets are flexible enough to be comfortable (they don't restrict circulation even when worn for long time periods) while being tight enough for reliable water entry resistance. I wore my dry suit for long periods of time - at one point, for 56 continuous hours (including two sleeps) - with no ill effects or perception that I was ... fermenting inside (ahem).
  • Split zip design offers flexibility for ventilation while trekking by allowing the top part of the suit to be worn "down" (with the arms tied around waist), or the bottom part of the suit to be worn "up" (with the legs tied around the waist);
  • Supple fabric and articulated fit allow for flexible layering options without bulk or hindrance to athletic motion of paddling / walking;
  • Extremely light and compact for the amount of function it provides.

The Video

See below for the in-depth video review of the Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit.

If the video does not display below, refresh this page by clicking this link.

Conclusion

The Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit will occupy an important part of my non-summer-season wilderness packrafting kit, and for most of my wilderness trips in inclement conditions, will replace one of the following other systems that I've been previously using:

  1. Waterproof-breathable rain jacket and pants. This combination has brought me dangerously close to debilitating hypothermia more times than I care to recall while on wilderness trips. In spite of the utility of this combo for trekking, I'd rather have the security of a dry suit while packrafting a cold river in the rain or snow than the versatility of a two-piece rainsuit for trekking in inclement weather. The weight penalty of taking the drysuit vs. my ultralight rain jacket and pants is about 12 ounces.
  2. Splash top and pants. For trips where I spend a fair bit of time both in the water and on the trail, I have been taking an 11 oz splash top (neoprene waist, cuffs, and neck) and 12 oz splash pants (neoprene waist and cuffs), which provide more "splash" security than my raingear for paddling whitewater, but remain woefully inadequate for cold swims. The weight penalty of bringing the Stowaway dry suit is virtually zero, while offering better protection against swims.
  3. Conventional dry suit. My "guiding" dry suit, a traditional model with latex gaskets, durable fabric, sewn-in booties, and a burly diagonal entry zip, weighs 58 ounces and is now relegated to roadside use, "fly-or-horse-in-raft-out" trips where little or no trekking is required, and short (day or overnight) guiding where the weight of my gear is not so obscene. The Stowaway saves more than two pounds of pack weight, and is far more comfortable to wear while trekking.

My only recommendations (my personal preferences, really) are:

  • I would happily accept an additional 8 ounces of weight (keeping the dry suit under two pounds) for a more breathable and durable three-layer fabric (e.g., eVENT). Trying to baby a $720 "investment" while portaging around a woody strainer or tramping down a laurel hillside to a put-in is not terribly appealing to me. A more durable fabric would have tipped this dry suit into a "Highly Recommended" review rating. I would love nothing more than to simply own one dry suit!
  • The willowy green color clashes with my boats, which are blue and red. A dry suit with punchier colors make for more exciting whitewater photography!

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me by the manufacturer with no obligation or agreement whatsoever to review the item and is owned by the author.


Citation

"Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit Review," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/alpacka_stowaway_review.html, 2012-12-18 00:00:00-07.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit Review


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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit Review on 12/18/2012 12:59:02 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit Review

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit Review on 12/18/2012 16:14:13 MST Print View

Ryan,

Great job on your comprehensive and balanced review!

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Separating the top and bottom on 12/18/2012 18:43:39 MST Print View

If the bottom is most at risk of abrasion I wonder if the top and bottom could be separated? Getting your bottom half wet would be bad but not as bad as getting completely wet.

joe newton
(holdfast) - M

Locale: Bergen, Norway
Good job on 12/18/2012 21:41:04 MST Print View

Great review and superb use of the video medium. A glimpse into the future of BPL gear reviews?

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
neck gasket on 12/18/2012 22:41:28 MST Print View

I'm impressed the neck gasket shipped so little water during a WW swim. My experiences with such things have been rather different.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
neoprene neck gasket on 12/18/2012 22:54:10 MST Print View

Dave --

It's finicky, and takes some practice to secure properly (as with anything, I suppose, right?).

It's helpful to have a second person crank on it tight so you know what your limits of comfort are. When you find the limit, that's how tight you want it.

When watching others secure the neck gasket, they invariably (instinctively, perhaps?) made it too loose. When I'm helping someone else, I tend to choke them first, then back off. I suppose that's because I come from a whitewater latex tunnel rock-n-roll background rather than a zip-t trail hippie background (ah sorry! couldn't resist!).

Anyway, when I swam (sans PFD), my neck spent a bit of time below the surface and yes, water seeps in. Probably wicks along the inner surface of the neoprene.

But when I swam (even whitewater) with my whitewater PFD (I'm wearing that one in the swim segment in the video) - you can see how high that makes me ride. So when I was in whitewater, I just bobbed up and down and went under the surface intermittently only -- so not a lot of opportunity for water entry there.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Good job on 12/18/2012 22:56:06 MST Print View

Joe -- perhaps. Experimenting. I like doing video reviews in combination with a written summary type review that hits the high points like this. We're looking at refining and standardizing our reviews further so this is one of those experiments.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
UL Drysuit Fabrics on 12/18/2012 23:44:40 MST Print View

I know I mentioned the desire to have a 3L WPB fabric in a UL drysuit, but I also hope Alpacka takes a look at the new 2.5L eVENT.

I have the Westcomb Focus LT Hoody that uses this fabric and it may just be my favorite WPB fabric in terms of feel (and I'm sure I won't be disappointed by its breathability).

It's only a little stiffer, which I think is good for a garment that spends a lot of time wet. Having the garment plastered next to your inner layers, which is what happens with really supple fabrics, doesn't bode well for breathability, or insulating ability.

2.5L eVENT with a stiff-ish taslan face fabric just may be the perfect fabric for this application. It would be worth the extra $100 over the Pertex used currently in the Stowaway...

Edited by ryan on 12/19/2012 00:09:23 MST.

peter vacco
(fluff@inreach.com) - M

Locale: no. california
very cool review on 12/19/2012 07:22:55 MST Print View

Thanks Ryan !

this is sooo cool. a pakboat + dry suit combo opens up all manner of possibilities for northern lunacy.
there's just about nothing a guy couldn't get across with them, and a sense of humor.
it would be nice to fall thru bad ice (which occasionally happens and there's not much to be done about it), and it not be quite so interesting an experience.

it does however sort of have the aroma of "gear bloat" to it though.
i can see the "i need a backpack, and an alpacka, and a pakboat, and a sled, and a new drysuit, and a parka .... looming on the horizon.

nice work Ryan.

cheers,
v.

ps... RHIP .
one can not help but notice that our Ryan gets the alpha cool drysuit review, while others handle the more prosaic subjects, like "menstrual distress at high altitude", "green phlem, and tarp camping", etc ...
ahh.. it's good to be the king.

Daryl Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
Condensation on 12/19/2012 10:11:10 MST Print View

Please forgive me if this was addressed in the video. My computer's sound isn't working so I could only watch the visual portion of the video.

Doesn't condensation build up inside the suit?

I think I would be soaking wet in no time with a fully enclosed suit...even a waterproof/breathable one.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Condensation on 12/19/2012 15:18:56 MST Print View

@Daryl, Yes condensation does buildup in a breathable drysuit. It is still better than any other option. Anything more breathable would be unsafe in cold water paddling.

I often go all day wearing a drysuit in the winter. The condensation does build up, but I'm still dry enough to be warm.

I also tend to take breaks when possible and open it up to air out.

Regarding the price:
I have worn out two drysuits and being that this one is probably less durable than the drysuits I wear, I'd be afraid to pay that much money for one.

The only consideration is that you tend to not wear one for long periods of time when packrafting so wear may not be an issue?

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
dry suit wear on 12/19/2012 18:52:48 MST Print View

Stephen brings up a good point regarding wear/durability in the context of packrafting vs. say, kayaking.

A packrafting dry suit may be subject to more wear than a regular dry suit because it will be used more for:

1. Non-paddling activities (rain gear, bushwhacking, etc.).

2. More packrafters exit their boat in flips, so swimming involves more banging/scraping on rocks, desperate lunges in tamaracks, scrambling to the shore, and other epic panics. Kayakers tend to eskimo roll back into leisure. (this doesn't apply to the select few who've mod'd their boats with thigh straps and have mastered the eskimo roll in a packraft).

For "hard" whitewater (this is whitewater where I know I'm going to be swimming a bit), even on a wilderness trip, I may opt for a more durable dry suit. Then again, I may not be doing that type of water on a wilderness trip due to risk of something bad going wrong in a remote environment.

The scenario where I think the Stowaway will shine are long packrafting treks with moderate whitewater in foul climates or shoulder seasons. For me, this is springtime in the Northern Rockies when the rivers open up through the end of "cold water (runoff) season" -- late March through mid-July -- Bob Marshall Wilderness and Teton Wilderness ski-rafting and trek-rafting come to mind.

Also - for travel. I'd happily toss the Stowaway into my checked airline bag with my packraft to run the occasional roadside whitewater on a business trip. It's half the bulk of my regular drysuit.

James Brady
(superpenguino) - M
Re: UL Drysuit Fabrics on 12/19/2012 20:00:13 MST Print View

Thanks for the superb review, Ryan. Probably one of the finer gear reviews on the site, if not the entire web, right now.

Any chance that the Focus LT will be considered for a review? I hear Westcomb puts out some quality gear, but finding unbiased evaluations of their newest jackets surprisingly has been next to impossible

Thanks,

-James

Edited by superpenguino on 12/19/2012 20:24:06 MST.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Re: UL Drysuit Fabrics on 12/19/2012 20:42:34 MST Print View

Yes, Focus LT Hoody review in the queue. Here's the short version: superb breathability; excellent fit, styling, detail finishing; decent hood; great wrist cuffs; good articulation; but - 9.2 oz...size M. Definitely not the ultralight jacket we were all hoping for.

Sparky Millikin
(smillikin) - MLife

Locale: Vermont
Use for Nordic Skating??? on 12/20/2012 15:15:32 MST Print View

Ryan
In Vermont we're doing a lot of Nordic Skating on lakes when conditions are good i.e. no snow and smooth ice. Do you think this suit would stand up to sudden falls through the ice without getting punctured?

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Use for Nordic Skating??? on 12/22/2012 00:25:27 MST Print View

Sparky:

Yes, absolutely.

However, even if it did get punctured, you are going to slow water entry enough so that you have time to crawl out.

Good application of this dry suit.

My concern would be the breathability. I think cardio nordic skating in this thing would be miserable.

Ryan

Paul Mountford
(Sparticus) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic Canada
Sizing on 12/24/2012 04:02:10 MST Print View

Ryan,

What size drysuit were you testing? If it is not to personal a question, what is you hight and weight? It would help with sizing perspective. Alpacka told me that for someone 6'1" and 200 lbs to go with a large, but I'm curious if that would be a tight fit.

Yours looks like it is a very loose fit.

Edited by Sparticus on 01/09/2013 02:01:08 MST.

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
replacing raingear? on 01/02/2013 00:09:29 MST Print View

I'm surprised you'd really use it to replace rain gear on a trip. I find almost all raingear gets trashed so quickly (granted, this is generally with lots of off-trail use in cold and wet parts of Alaska where raingear is needed much of the time) that I can't imagine risking the drysuit that way. I guess you could put it under cheaper raingear when walking, though, and probably reduce the weight of insulation you otherwise need to be comfortable rafting in cold conditions?

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: replacing raingear? on 01/02/2013 08:02:32 MST Print View

I think it would be fine for occasional trail or in camp use. If your trek involves a lot of hiking or some bushwhacking you'd better think twice.

Roman Dial
(romandial) - F - M

Locale: packrafting NZ
system on 01/16/2013 19:16:04 MST Print View

Nice review, Ryan.

Having had to bushwack in even the beefy Kokatat dry suit for days in devils club mixed with alder and bark-beetle kill, I found even the heavy duty drysuit gets hurt. But it is a nice, warm set up when walking through the car-wash brush of rainy coastal Alaska.

What I would like to experiment with is a superlight drysuit like Alpacka's but with a burly wind garment worn on the outside for protection. Maybe somebody here could suggest a material (Kevlar?). The burly wind garment (two piece/top and bottom) could also be used as simple wind gear for non-rain situations as it can get chilly walking around in adrysuit in simple wind, even the "breathable ones" because of the high humidity in the suit convects heat faster -- unless a vapor barrier suit is worn first.

This latter point suggest that it might be possible to go a step further and use the comfy Stephenson vapor barrier top and bottoms inside a superlight and maybe not so breathable (but cheaper) one-piece dry suit, again with a burly wind cover.

The vapor barrier keeps insulation dry from sweat, the drysuit from rain and river water, and the wind jacket keeps abrasion to the light suit at a minimum.

The scenario described above is a new take on the problem of how to dress for everything, land and water, while keeping insulation dry and not having to use waterproof gear for windy conditions.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Needed for flat water? on 03/03/2013 18:44:29 MST Print View

Although a good insurance policy in winter, is a drysuit necessary if one were to do 100% flat water, like a very slow, calm river?

Or could I get by fine with the things I already have: neoprene socks, farmer john wetsuit, appropriate base layers and insulation (fleece), rain jacket, neoprene mitts, and hat.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Neoprene on 03/03/2013 19:59:13 MST Print View

@Travis, The problem with neoprene is that it is heavy, especially a 3mm farmer john. I had considered a drytop and farmer john combination because it would be more durable over time than a drysuit, but the weight made it not a good option for me.

It might be fine if you don't mind the extra weight, but I'd combine it with a drytop for cold water.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Neoprene on 03/03/2013 20:05:12 MST Print View

Thanks Stephen. If I were to go out in winter, it'd be on a pretty rare basis. Most of the packrafting water here is either too dangerous in winter (Great Lakes), frozen over (small streams and inland lakes), or too far away. So the cost of a drysuit isn't really worth it.

I can deal with the weight of the neoprene as I'm not carrying it far or long. But if I decide to go out and try it, maybe I can pick up a used drytop somewhere.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Drytop on 03/03/2013 20:48:33 MST Print View

@Travis, you can fined reasonably good drytops in the $200 to $300 range. My expericance has shown that a farmer john wetsuit with a relatively inexpensive drytop can last much longer in adverse conditions, but as stated the combination is much heavier and not recomended by many in very cold conditions.
I am not of that opnion, because of the reliability aspect. Drysuits are much less reliable and so in rough conditions, the drytop/wetuit combo is safer.

Jon Turk, the famous arctic kayak expedition dude, wrote about the problem he had with drysuits and the reason he ended up with the farmer john wetsuit/drytop combination.
My experiences have been similar to his, but I'd have to say that for packrafting I'd stick with the drysuit only because my handicap required that I pack light.