28 May 2010
Aquatherm is a unique fabric used by Reed Chillcheater to make kayak spraydecks and clothing.
Like no other fabric on the market it addresses a couple of very important features.
The fabric is firstly waterproof but also breathable.
Many fabrics have achieved that (Gore-Tex for example) but what sets Aquatherm apart from the other fabrics is its elasticity.
Almost as stretchy as Lycra the fabric is coated with a unique rubber-like membrane that makes it waterproof and windproof.
What ultimately distinguishes it is the ability to dry very fast compared to other fabrics.
Since the outside of the fabric is smooth (no knit) the rubber sheds water like nothing else.
The face fabric does not saturate with water that would take a long time to dry.
After a few minutes my Aquatherm gear is touch dry.
So what's the big deal of keeping the fabric dry; isn't it enough that water does not get to your body?
You might have noticed how a wet garment chills you when saturated with water if the air is chilly and there is a bit of wind.
Think of a wet T-shirt in a bit of a breeze...
The evaporative action (fabric drying) uses an incredible amount of energy (heat) and that translates to heat loss and therefore the cooling effect.
Just like a "swamp cooler" works on that principle to cool the air, the wet fabric is cooling your body.
Sounds desirable in the heat of summer, but it can prove to be a real bummer (often more than that) when temperatures are in the low teens (centigrade).
With winter approaching, fellow novice paddlers are seeking recommendations on suitable paddling attire.
While I also own a Gore-Tex paddling jacket I always reach for the Reed gear.
Aquatherm tops are excellent for rolling too since they are so much less bulky than a jacket.
Even though they don't keep me dry when rolling (water still goes down my neck) they are excellent for cruise paddling.
In a jacket (unless it's a "dry" top) the sleeves fill up with water and rarely drain..
Being breathable they keep the "steam" that I exert from my body away from my skin keeping my underlayer (when cold) dry.
I find Aquatherm suited for mild weather (read Queensland winter); if necessary I layer with a thin fleece underneath.
Reed also makes spray decks.
If Aquatherm is excellent to keep me warm as a garment, it excels to keep me cool when used in a spray skirt.
How can that be?
As mentioned, the fabric "breathes" and prevents the steam to build under the enclosed deck.
Since I have been using Reed spray decks I have been much more comfortable when paddling in the heat of summer (30C-86F). I no longer feel the little rivulets of sweat drip along my legs...
I am not sure how warm the skirt would be in really cold waters (Qld ocean temps rarely drop below 20C) but its perfectly suited for my paddling conditions.
Now the bad part; there always is one :-)
User reviews say that Aquatherm skirts are not as durable as good quality neoprene skirts.
Despite the manufacturer claiming that they are 5 times more abrasion resistant than neo, I have not found that.
The fabric is rather thin and its fairly easy to puncture when assisting rescues and sliding the rescued kayak over the cockpit rim. I am not the only one lamenting this problem.
Furthermore, a couple of skirts have delaminated prematurely.
While Reed does offer a 12 month warranty against manufacturing defects, it is the fabric in some skirts that failed, in some cases before warranty ran out.
Reed is happy to replace them only within the specified warranty period.
I was hoping that my skirts would last longer than 12 months and that I should not need to replace them soon after.
Interestingly enough only some skirts are effected by this.
Could it be that there was a bad batch of fabric and that the local retailer got the bulk of those defective skirts?
Will I replace the Reed skirts with the same one?
Yes. I will give Aquatherm another go and hopefully my problem was isolated.
The fabric is just too good to go back to neoprene.