Are DryRobes All They're Cracked Up To Be?
Sorry to all the loyal DryRobe fans out there but in my humble opinion as a serious outdoor swimmer... no, they're not.
When they came out DryRobe took the outdoor swim and water sports scene by storm, so to speak. In reality, a DryRobe, to be brutally honest, is just a big coat. And unfortunately, is one which doesn't perform all that brilliantly in extreme conditions given the high price tag.
Without taking anything away from the creators of this iconic piece of winter swim kit - they did identify a niche and exploited it brilliantly - in reality in my experience using this and a wide variety of kit, if you use the coat in extreme conditions it falls below the very high price tag expectations.
The outer shell of the DryRobe appears to be waterproof and windproof. The seams are taped and at first appearance it does look like it will perform accordingly.
It is certainly windproof, without a doubt, and keeps you really warm in high wind or when the conditions are cold and dry.
However, I have found it is certainly not waterproof when exposed to prolonged rain and mist, ie. the type of weather you get in Wales! In fact it starts to let water permeate through the nylon shell fairly quickly, causing dampness on the inner lining and especially at certain points like the cuffs and bottom hem.
The lining is an artificial pile type and is very, very warm. It also can absorb a certain amount of water when it gets wet and retains its warmth qualities. The original concept of course was that you get changed under the DryRobe, the lining material is nice on the skin although I wouldn't advise using it as a towel because it will retain the damp for some time.
After using the full arm length version for several years I wish I had bought the short arm length version for a couple of reasons.
1) When I'm getting out of the water in the winter I need to get warm quickly but the long-sleeve cuffs are rather narrow at the wrist, which means cold damp hands stick to the lining as they go through the cuff and this results in difficulty putting the coat on - you can't get your hands through the cuffs that easily and the lining rides out of the sleeve. Putting gloves on first helps them slide through but this defeats the purpose because you lose dexterity in the fingers; and while you're messing around putting gloves on, your body is exposed to the elements.
2) When it's raining the water dribbles down the outer arm and accumulates at the end of the cuff. The inner lining tends to ride out of the arm and then the rain water soaks into the lining at the end of the cuff and before you know it the ends of your sleeve ends are soaking wet.
On a coat that was over £120 several years ago you would expect to have heavy-duty, durable zips. At first appearance the zips do indeed seem to be heavy duty and come with strong looking zip pulls.
However I have been frustrated over and over again with the difficulty of doing the zip up which always seems to get snagged at the worst possible time: when I need to enclose myself in the jacket to warm up.
The same can be said for undoing it, often the zip gets snagged and it's really annoying trying to get the thing off. Not every time, but often when you really don't need it, these things do happen.
Recently, the main zip has broken a tooth and now I have to take real care doing up/taking down the zip.
The outer pockets are excellent and the zips are strong with really cool useful zip pools that are big loops and easy to get your finger through even with cold wet hands or gloves on.
There's an inside chest pocket which seems to be rubberised and is presumably designed to keep a phone because it comes with a slot for headphones. The tiny and fiddly zipper on this inside pocket broke off in no time though, rendering the pocket useless - because of the design, the pocket opening is down the side of the pocket, meaning once the zip goes anything in that pocket will fall out.
There's another pocket on the inside down near the thigh area which is useful for storing gloves or a hat.
The hood is ample in size and functional and fully lined and does keep your head nice and warm. The zip comes right up under the chin.
In extreme wind however, my experience is the lack of a drawstring means wind can actually blow the hood back over your head or at least allow in some unwanted ventilation. A simple drawstring would be useful, but alas, it does not have one.
Value for Money
I'm constantly in awe of how well DryRobe have marketed their product:
Whenever I go to an outdoor water sports or open water swimming event everyone has them! It's like a badge of honour or some kind of membership item that you're required to have or you're not one of the tribe!
It's all marketing of course - it's just a coat.
Since having my DryRobe I must admit I have used various alternatives: a quilted poncho, a down filled body warmer, a trusty surplus army jacket with quilted lining. Frankly all are just as good or better, although perhaps not as stylish!
Not fully waterproof in prolonged rain
Zips get stuck
Inside pocket zip is too small/breaks
Full length cuffs snag hands
If you're not short of money and if you're not an 'extreme' swimmer' or someone who will use the DryRobe in really disgusting weather conditions, then this piece of kit looks great and will be fine. It will serve you well.
However, if you're looking for value for money and/or class yourself in the more 'extreme swimmer' category, and/or expect to need the kit to perform every time, in foul weather, then I would consider using the money on an alternative piece of kit or getting a similar item for much less money. There are many DryRobe style products by other famous brands on the market now and some of them are 50% of the cost.
All in all, whilst I do like my DryRobe, I am disappointed with it.
Not because it is a bad piece of kit, it's a good bit of kit overall; but because the performance to cost ratio has not matched my expectations and it has let me down when I was counting on it.
That said, I did get it several years ago when they first came out, so maybe DryRobe have improved the design over the last few years. Or maybe I am just a crazy sea swimmer they had not factored in when designing the early models!
For me though, at that price band, it's a case of 'once bitten twice shy' - my DryRobe zip is on it's way out now, when it goes I won't be getting another one.