Latex Free Gaskets
If you paddle in cold temperatures, you’re familiar with dry top and dry suits, so you’re also familiar with the often-cursed wrist and neck gaskets found on these garments. For the most part, these gaskets are made with latex because nothing is quite like it. It’s cheap, easy to glue or tape, and has a remarkable ability to stretch many times it’s original size and then retract back over and over and over again. And despite the fact that sometimes they can feel constricting and make getting in and out of your dry top a struggle, most people find latex gaskets tolerable and they do a pretty good job of keeping water out of your suit or jacket.
If you have latex allergies, though, these gaskets are a non-starter. As a result, we get many calls from customers looking for a decent latex gasket replacement that will allow them to paddle in cold temperatures with their latex-tolerant friends without getting a radiation-like burn around their neck and wrists. This article will help explain the options available, and discuss the pros and cons of each.
To make a long story short, currently there is nothing quite as good as latex for dry suit/jacket gaskets, despite a real need for such a thing. I’ll also point out that there are only a handful of companies making latex gaskets in the world, with most (if not all) gaskets found on kayaking garments coming from one company in England. I point this out because I can say with a high degree of certainty that all kayak gear manufacturers are looking for great latex alternative, and the minute it’s available, we’re all going to be offering it. Basically if we (or any other gear maker) don’t have latex free gaskets, none of us do. In any case, on to the solutions.
No, not like the foam neoprene found a spray skirt or wetsuit. Neoprene is actually a common rubber found all over the place in things like tires and floor mats.. and gaskets. These gaskets look very much like their latex counterpart, but don’t have quite the same amount of stretch, and they are a little stiffer than latex. These can be glued-in just like our standard gaskets, and do a pretty good job. The downsides are that they are easier to tear than latex, and because they are stiffer, they can cause irritation just through friction. They also aren’t quite as dry simply because they don’t rebound as well as latex. Nonetheless, these are readily available, and we usually keep them in stock at IR. Any IR dry top or dry suit can be retro fitted with these upon request, and we can convert most other brands of gear as well. Note that we have some customers mention they are also allergic to neoprene, but they are referring to experiences with the wetsuit/spray skirt type of neoprene, and in many cases what they are experiencing is a reaction to the solvent-based glue used to adhere the fabric covering on the neoprene foam. Just because you have had a bad reaction to the foam-style neoprene does not rule out the possibility that these gaskets will work for you.
The holy grail. These are completely hypoallergenic and feel almost identical to latex. They also can be taped or glued into a garment. We have seen samples of these and were blown away. The problem is that we can’t get them. Or more accurately, the manufacturer (as of the writing of this article) can’t seem to get all of the kinks worked out in production. We have been waiting for a couple of yerars on these, and we’re wondering if they will ever come. But as soon as they are available, we will make it well known.
Silicone is also totally hypoallergenic and has even better stretch than latex, making it a fantastic possibility. Even better, there are companies already making silicone gaskets. The problem is that nothing sticks to silicon except more silicone, which is a lousy adhesive. The companies that sell these gaskets also sell a two part plastic ring/clamp set up that is used to cinch down on the edges of the gasket, and then in turn you can sew or tape this ring to your garment. This works ok in dive suits, but it’s awful for kayaking. The rings are clunky and sized large enough to fit over your head and hands, and generally are unbelievably annoying in use on the river.
Yes, like the neoprene foam used on spray skirts and wetsuits. We actually make a class of garments called “semi dry” tops which feature a neoprene foam neck seal and latex wrist cuffs. Most people find the latex neck seals to be far more aggravating than wrists, and these type of garments offer a comfortable compromise. But the neoprene neck seal used on these types of garments really cannot be called ‘dry’. It will keep water from pouring into your garment, but really it’s more of a tight-sealing thermal barrier. Nonetheless, many paddlers find this type of garment to be perfectly adequate for three season paddling, and they are a staple on the east coast. Upon request we can make a wrist seal that works the same way.
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