Staying Dry on the Water


Staying Dry on the Water

Photos by Ralph Naranjo and courtesy of Ocean Rodeo

With the cold weather creeping in, many sailors are looking for ways to extend the sailing season. One simple solution is adding a drysuit like the Ocean Rodeo Soul to your kit. Ocean Rodeo-a manufacturer of gear and apparel for surfing, kiteboarding, stand-up paddleboarding, and sailing-was launched in 2001 with the goal of enabling its customers to enjoy the water year-round, even in its frigid homewaters of Vancouver Island, Canada.


Practical Sailor testers put the Soul through its paces last spring during a cool-weather sail, a SUP paddle, and a windsurfing excursion on the chilly Chesapeake Bay. They compared its performance, construction quality, and features to our reigning favorite drysuit, the Gill Breathable Pro, which was rated the highest for its warmth, comfort, and versatility in our March 2009 test of wetsuits and drysuits. Unlike a wetsuit, drysuits keep all water out, and unlike survival suits, drysuits allow more freedom of movement.

Testers found that the Souls breathable, lightweight fabric and user-friendly watertight zipper system made the suit easy to don and even easier to move around in. The waterproof, breathable Nylon 210 is coated with a membrane that allows water vapor to transit the boundary layer while keeping liquid water from entering the suit.

Getting into and out of the suit, without help, is a breeze thanks to the innovative TIZIP zipper system, which closes across the suits shoulders. Testers noted that the zipper system had the lowest pull load of any weve previously tested; however, as with all zippers, users should be sure to keep the teeth free of grit and lubricated with zipper wax. Theres also a secondary short zipper just above the crotch for bathroom breaks. In testing, both zippers needed a little extra tug at the end of the closure pull to fully seat and seal the opening.

The Soul drysuit is more akin to performance apparel than the conventional bag-type drysuits like the Gill. It has a more tailored fit than the one-size-fits-many bag suits, and it has a zip-off hood that can be worn over a hat or helmet. The suits jacket-style overlayer has a chest pocket, a harness access zipper, and a hand-warmer pocket. The ankle, wrist, and neck seals are made of soft Latex rubber and are tapered so thicker-limbed wearers can customize their fit by trimming them shorter.

Testers found the extra-large Soul to be a comfortable/snug fit for our tall, lean tester (6-foot, 3 inches tall and 175 pounds). He reported that a fleece underlayer could have been added but not much more, whereas, the looser-cut extra-large Gill we previously tested allowed for more layers to be worn underneath. Because of the tailored cut of the Soul, the company makes it in 11 different available sizes.

Its always best-when possible-to try on a drysuit prior to purchase to ensure it fits properly and can accommodate adequate base layers.

Staying Dry on the Water

The bottom line

The Soul gained high marks for dexterity and extra attention to details such as abrasion overlays and seam reinforcing. It makes great sense as the gear to wear in heavy weather. Its breathable nature copes with the perspiration built up during an episode of short tacks or a hasty effort to tuck in a reef.

However, the ultimate flexibility the Souls fabric offers comes with a potential tradeoff in durability. The Gill Pro was made of a heavier nylon, which offered less dexterity but more durability.

The only other downside testers noted was the surprise one has if they fail to fully close the zipper after using the handy pee port.

In the final call, testers ranked both the Ocean Rodeo and Gill suits a solid A for foul-weather and off-season sailing apparel. The Soul, which comes with a one-year warranty and retails for $849, may be the better choice for multi-sport sailors who prize freedom of movement, and the Gill Pro will appeal more to the budget-conscious shopper-it can be found online for about $600 and is available in a juniors size ($500) and a womens cut as well.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him by email at