A good dry cag is an essential mainstay in many a paddler’s gear bag.
When combined with a good pair of bottoms in the winter, or some paddling shorts in the summer the dry cag offers all year round protection from the elements.
The name dry cag comes from an abbreviation of the word cagoule and the latex seals on both the neck and wrist openings, which create a watertight seal that then helps keep you nice and dry.
The Canoe & Kayak UK test team have been busy putting seven of the leading dry cags on the market through their paces, to bring you the low down so you can make an informed choice if you’re looking to buy a new cag, and to give you a few handy hints on caring for your cag once you’ve shelled out at your local canoe shop.
The 6 Best Dry Cags
1. Palm Switch Dry Cag
Palm Switch paddling top was designed by Palm as a high performance cag ready to take in any whitewater that comes its way.
It features latex and adjustable neoprene seals on the neck and wrists seals.
It has an adjustable neoprene outer and fabric, Palm’s own XP100 material, inner waist seal, which gives really great performance in tough conditions.
A zipped front meshed pocket and reinforced elbows finish off the package nicely.
The moss and grey colour-way of our test cag, looked good on the hanger but the test team weren’t too keen on it as it has a tendency to ‘camouflage’ you when on the river.
It does have reflective piping, but if we were buying one we’d opt for the blue version.
Once on the Switch is on it’s comfortable and the articulated cut provided plenty of freedom of movement.
It is constructed with Palm’s own XP100 breathable material that they’ve developed specifically for use in water-sports, but as it’s a slightly lighter weight that their XP150 material, you may need an extra thermal under there in really cold climes.
We were impressed with the Switch, it’s pretty much fifty quid cheaper than every other cag on test, but it has a range of nice design touches and its performance was pretty much on par.
For that reason it’s a deserved winner of our CK Value For Money Award and if you’re on a budget it could definitely be the one for you.
2. Yak Rapid Dry Cag
The Rapid is constructed from fully taped and breathable Medium weight four-way stretch waterproof fabric.
It has inner latex seals on the neck and wrists with stretch neoprene seals over the top.
The cut has been designed for a paddling performance fit and features a seamless underarm design.
Both the outer waistband and the inner waits tube are made of neoprene.
It has two front pockets with water resistant zips and comes with a handy repair kit.
The brown and yellow colour way on test cag certainly gave a passing nod to the ‘snow-sports’ crowd and it kind of had the same effect as marmite on our testers. They either loved it or hated it.
Once on it was pretty much a thumbs down from everyone.
It’s not that it’s bad it’s just that when compared to all the other cags on test, all of which are a comparable price, or cheaper, it didn’t come up to the mark on fit or design.
We feel a bit like we’re constantly giving Yak a ‘could do better’ mark, but that’s just it, they could.
They have some pretty handy paddlers on their team to get feedback from, so it’s hard to understand why their cuts, features and finishing are always just off the mark.
3. Palm Naiya Dry Cag
Palm has lead the way with the development of gear specifically designed from the ground up for women.
From the original Canyon S Buoyancy aid to their current range of cags and dry-suits, they’ve pioneered female specific kit.
The Naiya is a high-performance dry cag that features a cut that’s designed to fit the female form.
Constructed from Palm’s three-layer XP150 breathable material it boasts lots of nice touches and the attention to detail that we’ve come to expect from Palm.
The cut is articulated to give plenty of freedom and has no underarm seams.
The elbows are reinforced with padded Kevlar, to take the sting out of any close encounters with passing rocks and the shoulder area, where your buoyancy aid straps rub, is reinforced with Cordura.
There are natural latex seals on neck and wrists and these are protected by outer adjustable neoprene seals.
On first look our testers liked the colours of the Naiya and felt that it was a good bright option, easily seen when on the river, but kept away from the overtly ‘girly’ pink and baby blue option.
Fit wise the Naiya was spot on and accommodated the womanly form nicely and still gave great freedom of movement.
It is a technical bit of kit and although the gripper on the inner waist-band can be a bit of a wiggle to get on, the grip likes to snag on long hair, once it’s on it forms a comfortable and dry system.
A great bit of kit and a great choice for female river runners looking to get out on the water in all seasons.
4. Nookie Assault Cag
The Assault cag is constructed from breathable Xtetra4 fabric and has Latex neck and wrist seals with Neoprene O-ring outer cuffs, and features an athletic cut for a better fit when sitting in a kayak.
It has a Neoprene Deep Ti Glide fully taped inner waist and fully adjustable outer waist, with Nookie’s OPUS power up system to get a great fit and seal.
There are also some really handy ‘Spray-deck’ clips inside the tube to prevent your deck from slipping down.
The elbows are reinforced with Enduro Mesh, a material developed for the rigours of the motor biking world, and also have removable foam padding for added protection from impacts.
The fit on the Assault is excellent and our testers felt it was the best fitting cag in the test.
It is a very close fit and there is no spare material anywhere to flap about and catch water, but it gives superb freedom of movement without riding up.
The waist tube sits just right and there’s no bunching.
It is clear that Nookie have put a lot of thought in to the shape of the Assault.
The team also really liked the Xtetra4 fabric.
It feels really light to wear compared to the other cags, but seemed to be more than a match for the cold of a UK winter.
Combined with the cut this makes the Assault really nice to wear.
The elbow protection sits exactly where it needs to be and the other neat little touch was the spray-deck clips.
Our decks always end up riding down a bit, and this simple feature makes that a thing of the past.
The only thing that stopped this getting the Best in Test award was the colour.
The flat gunmetal grey looks very cool, and it does have some reflective piping, but we still like our cags to be a bit more visible.
If it was orange, red or even it would have taken it, but still gets a very well earned CK Recommended award.
5. Palm Sidewinder Dry Cag
A high performance three-layer cag featuring Palm’s XP150 fabric.
The Sidewinder also sports Palm’s articulated sleeve design, with no under arm seams, a twin waist system featuring asymmetric cut for improved fit and reduced bulk.
The inner waist tube is lightweight XP100 material, and both tubes have gripper elastic, which prevents and riding up.
Double cuffs on the wrists, with latex inner and SCS metal neoprene outer, and a latex neck seal with Smooth-skin™ lined adjustable outer for comfort and to prevent chaffing.
There is ‘Stretch Mesh’ drainage on cuffs and neck. And the elbows have padded Kevlar reinforcement to fend of any impacts.
The shoulder area is reinforced, where your BA straps sit with hardwearing Cordura material and double water resistant chest pockets with YKK zippers finish the whole thing off.
This is a seriously technical piece of kit and its clear that the designers at Palm have done their homework on what is really needed in terms of performance and fit from a dry cag.
The fit is great and gives a full range of movement.
The waist system can be a pain to get on, but once in position it does a fantastic job of keeping the wet stuff out.
It is a piece of kit that’s perfectly designed to take on the demands of a UK whitewater river environment, and will certainly keep you dry and warm in the harshest of conditions.
It was a close call between the Sidewinder and the Assault for our over all winner, we did slightly prefer the cut and feel on the Assault, but the Sidewinder’s excellent hi-vis colour and host of technical features gave it the edge to take the Best in Test award!
6. Peak UK Creek Dry Cag
As its name suggests, this cag has been designed by Peak UK to take on the rigours of the most demanding of river environments.
It is built from highly breathable and durable four-ply X4 material, with Cordura reinforcing at the shoulders and elbows, and has an articulated cut with bent elbows.
Latex seals on the wrists and neck with neoprene seals, with mesh drainage system, over the top for added protection.
The double waist tube system is Peak UK’s Aquaout 3 design, 15cm wide flat-locked construction with a mix of 2.5mm and Velcro loop neoprene with unique injection moulded hook tabs for tightening.
The Creek also has the ability for you to add optional ‘Creek Pads’, a set of five high-impact pads. Made from flexible motorcycle standard material.
There are elbow, shoulder and spine pads which Velcro into position.
These add an additional £30 to the price but make the Creek a formidable suit of armour for serious descents.
This is a heavy-weight piece of kit and will appeal to those who spend their time on the water seeking out steep whitewater runs in harsh environments, such as Scotland and Wales or further a field in places like Norway.
The team liked it and could see its appeal in those kinds of places, but its heavy-duty construction is maybe a bit full on for every day river runners and the cut, although good, with plenty of movement, wasn’t quite up to the Palm and Nookie marks.
It is warm though, and as we’ve said above, if you opt for the pads it provides some serious protection just where you need it if you find yourself skittering down some steep slab of slightly wet granite upside down.
It is hardcore for sure.
Some Useful Information on Cags
Practically all-modern dry cags feature a double waist seal system.
This is to create a seal over the waist tube of your spray-deck to prevent water flushing down it while running rapids, rolling etc.
Caring For Your Cag
Although most dry cags are built tough, as with all paddling equipment they do require a certain level of care, especially the seals, to stay in top condition and keep you dry and warm season after season.
Rinse & Dry
We’ve all done it, got off the river after a long day on the water. Changed in a freezing car-park and then screwed up our sopping kit and stuffed it in to a dry bag, where we then leave it to sit until a week’s time when we’re going paddling again.
This is bad for your cag, very bad indeed.
What you should do is carefully fold your cag up and then when you get home give the cag a rinse in fresh water, this is doubly important if you’ve used it in salt water, and then turn it inside out and hang it up inside to dry.
Don’t hang it in direct sunlight, as this can damage the latex seals.
Once your cag is dry give it the once over and brush of any grit or dirt, then turn it back the right way round and store until your next paddling trip.
Lube It Up
Latex seals also benefit from regular application of a silicone protectorant, such as Seal Saver, which can be purchased from most good canoe shops.
Wear & Tear
Dry cags have a tough life, not only do they have to put up with the demands of the river environment, water, rocks, mud, undergrowth etc., they have to cope with what’s going on inside too.
When we paddle we exert ourselves, when we exert ourselves we sweat and give off heat.
This can make the inside of a cag a pretty steamy place, a paddler may complain of getting damp in their cag, but unless they’ve been unlucky enough to have holed it, its usually from perspiration.
It is also not uncommon from the acids and salts we produce when we sweat to attack the cags fabric over time. A quick rinse with fresh water after use will help prevent this.
Take special care of the latex seals when putting on and removing the cag too, most accidental damage to seals occurs during these procedures and due to their delicate, and perishable, nature latex seals are not usually covered by any manufacturers warranty.
All the cags we tested are made from breathable materials, but the environment we play in and with the additional equipment that we use in conjunction with them, it frankly makes this area a bit of a nonsense.
The layers we add around them – buoyancy aid, neoprene spray-deck etc. all reduce the area of the cag that can effectively breathe.
Combined this with the fact that no fabrics (except some ultra light membrane stuff) can breath at the rate we as paddlers work at and you are never going to get a dry cag where breathability is great – fact.
Tests on fabric breathability are generally lab based, with static conditions where the inside and outside temperatures are at perfect levels (not what you’d find on the river or ocean) and in many cases are based on garments where air flow can take place, both outside and in, and dry cags don’t do this.
Combined with the adverse conditions that we use them in the best policy when considering cags, in our opinion, is for water-proofness, good quality weaves, durability and the ability to be active and move.
Warranty or No Warranty
Looking at a few of the more popular paddling forums it seems like many of us have some pretty unrealistic expectations with regards our paddling equipment.
If we follow the care guidelines above, it is certainly not unreasonable to expect a cag to last for many seasons, even with heavy use.
Most manufacturers take warranty claims very seriously and will exchange or repair any product that is faulty without question.
If however the problem has resulted from reasonable wear and tear (for instance tearing on a rock), or improper maintenance or care (leaving it in a bin liner for six-month’s between surfing trips), then they’ll happily repair it for you, but with a minimal charge.
If you’re returning a cag, or any other piece of kit, to a manufacturer for any reason it’s only polite to give it a rinse, ensure it’s dirt free and dry before packing it up.
So there you have it.
The best dry cags alongside some tips on selecting the right one for you and taking care of the dry cag that you do choose.
Want more reviews like the above? Check out our other clothing and footwear reviews.