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.
The Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit is uniquely characterized by the following features:
- Waterproof-breathable fabric;
- Latex gaskets at wrist and ankle cuffs;
- Waterproof split zip for ease of entry, exit, ventilation and "relief";
- Adjustable neoprene neck gasket for comfort and ventilation;
- Compactibility and light weight.
- 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
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;
- 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).
- 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.
See below for the in-depth video review of the Alpacka Stowaway Dry Suit.
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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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.