The two biggest choices you have to make when thinking about buying a spray skirt for your whitewater kayak are
1) whether you want a rand or bungee skirt, and 2)the composition and features of the skirt.
Bungee vs. Rand for the Cockpit
A bungee skirt is more common and skirts have been made with bungees since the beginning. Bungee cockpits are considered easier to get on and off a kayak. They are, by nature, very stretchy– which means they are easy to stretch around the cockpit of all different shapes. They are very good at keeping water out of your boat because the bungee is sewn to the outer edge, bottom side, of the skirt, which allows it to maintain its elasticity and yet create a tight seal.
A rand around the cockpit of the skirt is an extruded piece of rubber that is glued onto the underside, outside rim of the skirt. It is a thick piece of rubber so it does not stretch like a bungee, which makes it more difficult to put on the boat. On the other hand, because it does not stretch easily, it does not stretch out over time, meaning it keeps a tight seal longer.
Supratex versus Reinforced versus Kevlar
There are several types of skirt materials available on the market, and which one you decide on is based on your priorities.
Basic/Entry Level Skirt: The basic/entry level skirt is typically made of Supratex 4 way stretch, abrasion resistant neoprene. This will be the most economical choice. A Supratex skirt is also recommended for people who have trouble getting a skirt on a boat, as they are the easiest of skirts to stretch around the cockpit.
Reinforced: Upgrading to the next level is a skirt that has a rim guard reinforcement. A reinforced rim helps to protect your skirt from wear and tear, such as abrasion from your paddle rubbing against the rim. For a boater looking for a skirt that will last for several years, boating 20-30 times a year, this is a great option. A whitewater-reinforced skirt will last a lot longer than a supratex, and is much drier as well.
The Big Gun Skirt: Looking for the skirt that will last the longest, and stay the driest? A Kevlar reinforced skirt is what you want. These are the skirts which are reinforced with Kevlar so that they last under heavy hits and lots of wear. For the boater paddling 50+ times a year, or running harder whitewater where a skirt implosion would be bad news, this is the skirt for you. Of course, you get what you pay for, so the price of a skirt reflects the durability and construction of the skirt.
How does a spray skirt Implode?
When downward pressure is put on a skirt, it can implode (come off the cockpit). This tends to happen when dropping off a waterfall/steep drop, surfing in and/or through big holes, or running big crashing wave train rapids. A rand skirt will help avoid implosion because of the tight fit. Another option is to invest in a skirt with an implosion bar sewn into the skirt.
I’m Scared My Skirt Will Not Come Off the Boat
Probably one of the biggest challenges for newbies is getting comfortable with a spray skit securely closing off the cockpit area. If you are correctly trained in the first 15 minutes of kayaking with how to properly release a spray skirt, your stress level will diminish to almost nothing. But for some, it is still in the back of their mind.
How to get comfortable releasing your skirt
The “what to do” is to practice taking the skirt off. Get training in all the methods for removing a skirt, not just using the grab loop. Initially walk through releasing the skirt on dry land, then head to the water and practice being upside down and removing the skirt. It is not intuitive. But once you are comfortable with the options , you won’t think about it again. For those who are fixated on the grab loop, and worrying about whether it can be found when upside down, get a tennis ball or something that can be attached to the grab loop (preferably not a carabineer).
The “what not to do” is to have additional cords or straps on your skirt thinking that they will help you. They are a liability. Anything a stick or a branch can snag can set up a deadly situation. If you have young kids, rather than buying a skirt with additional straps on it, start out with a loose nylon skirt and work up to a neoprene skirt.
If you are new to the sport, this seems like a number of things to consider when shopping for a spray skirt. Here at Endless River Adventures we make it our business to help you choose the best gear for your personal needs. Stop in for more information about your choices in finding the best spray skirt for you, as well as how to care for your skirt. We are proud of our industry partners and we feel we carry the best of the best. The bottom line is that if you choose the right skirt and care for it properly, it will help to keep you dry for a long time.
Final Thoughts on Skirts: Whitewater skirts are made out of neoprene. There are some maintenance tips that will help you get more time out of a skirt. You can reference our neoprene tips article for just the information you need!
We look forward to helping you. Happy Paddling!