Thursday, January 9, 2014

Gear review: REI Allstar Suit

REI brand makes some of the best paddle clothing in the world, unfortunately they don't know it. Most of my favorite paddle clothing is currently made by REI, but REI doesn't have a paddling brand, like their Novara Bike Brand.

With the exception of my Kokatat GMER drysuit, and my OR Seattle Sombrero, all of my paddle clothing is made by REI. My favorite warm weather paddling shirt is the long sleeve tech T. Super fast drying time, and UPF 50+. I paddled the inside passage wearing the REI power dry mid weight base layer - it replaced capilene 3 which I wore for years, the REI has a better feel against my skin, and is less expensive. My favorite paddling jacket, isn't even a paddling jacket. It is the eVent Shuksan jacket. It breathes amazingly and is super comfortable under a PFD.

So I was excited to see that REI was making a one piece power dry suit, called the Allstar suit. It is made out of the same midweight material as the tops and bottoms I know and love. When I saw it I thought it would be the perfect 'under dry suit' layer, and Santa Claus was nice enough to let me give it a try. I wore it once on a cold day, so I could get a feel for it, and it felt much like the base layers I know and love. Instead of a half zip, it zips to about my belly button, which is how you get in and out of it. It also has a zipper that goes mostly around my waist, there is a tab about 6 inches across in the front where the zipper starts and stops, which prevents me from taking the top and bottom apart, but allows me to sit on a toilet. It is warm, and comfortable all day long, it may be a little warmer than the individual pieces.

today, as the polar vortex retreated I headed to my local lake to paddle. The air temp was 40 degrees, and the water temp was probably similar, as a large portion of the lake was lightly frozen. I slid into my drysuit, and instinctively reached to my back to smooth my layers and didn't have to. There was no open gap between top and bottom to come open and get pressed against cold Gore-Tex. I slid my drysuit on, leaving the collar of the all-star suit unzipped so it wouldn't interfere with my neck gasket. I zipped up my drysuit and that was truly the last time I thought about it, which is exactly what I want in base layers. It wicked well, it insulated in the cold kayak well, and I didn't realize I was wearing it, until I got out of my drysuit, and into clothes.

My only complaint is that I normally wear a size medium bottom, and a size large top. I got a medium all-star suit and the top fits tighter than I am used to - "Next to skin" - But I guess I can make a sacrifice. Really I just don't like the way it makes my mid 40's stomach look, that is a body problem, not a clothes problem!

This will, without hesitation be my favorite cold weather base layer under my drysuit. If you wear a drysuit on a  regular basis, I highly recommend it.

So now that REI makes all my favorite paddle clothes, I think they need to spin them off into their own brand, which means they will need a name. I think they need something Alaskan, Kahiltna? Kenai? Something like that.

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