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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Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit Review
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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.