If you could only stay warm, maybe you’d boat a little more this time of year. We tested the following garments using cold evenings, high-pressure showers and full bathtubs, not to see how they work but to feel how they work early in the boating season.
Mustang Integrity Flotation Coat and HX Bib Pant
In A Nutshell: This is the definitive suit for the hardiest coastal boaters. The jacket and bib have closed cell flotation (known as Airsoft foam) and reflective stripes — serious enough for a Deadliest Catch episode.
Our Experience: A gale can’t penetrate this outfit. The Airsoft foam makes it as thick and protective as a hockey goalie’s gear. Hard spray just bounces off like pucks. With only a flannel shirt underneath, we were sweating on a 49-degree evening. The suit floated us in a bathtub test, but we found that every seal (ankles, wrists, neck, jacket waist) needs to be cinched really tight to keep the suit from taking on water — do not use it in place of a life jacket. We wish the hood were standard.
Bottom Line: $349+ (jacket), $374 (bib pant), westmarine.com
Innovative Designs Arctic Armor Suit
In A Nutshell: The heart of the Arctic Armor suit is a material called Insultex. The suit has three micro-cell thermal layers of the stuff to trap air pockets and warm them with your own body heat. The jacket and bib are flexible, not bulky, weighing only six pounds total.
Our Experience: You’ll find ice fishermen wearing this suit, so 49 degrees during our test was steamy. The light weight and flexibility meant we didn’t feel like the Michelin Man. The Insultex is also buoyant, and during our float test we thought it might buy a couple of minutes in an overboard situation, say when boating a fish, but as with the Mustang, every seal needs to be tight.
Bottom Line: $319.99 (whole suit), idigear.com
Gill OS2 Jacket and Trousers
In A Nutshell: By far the least bulky of the coats and pants, the OS2 was made for offshore sailors who need mobility and want to be impervious to spray and rain. It’s the most casual of the jackets, though not as warm by itself.
Our Experience: Warmth in this case is all about smart layering, which is why we also sprung for the i4 fleece jacket. We needed it and the OS2 at 54 degrees. The best features of the OS2 are the thick collar (so high it warmed our earlobes), full-fleece pockets for hand warmth (others have only partial fleece) and adjustable inner and outer wrist cuffs for a tight seal. Bonus points for the hood that stows inside the collar.
Bottom Line: $279 (OS2 jacket), $199 (OS2 trousers), $95 (i4), gillna.com
Cabela’s Guidewear Insulated Jacket
In A Nutshell: It’s a two-piece jacket, one price. The inner jacket is fleece-lined and has neoprene on the outside to shed water — and is as light as a sweatshirt. The outer Gore-Tex jacket hangs below the waist and fits over the fleece with enough room (and pockets) to hide portable electronics or a toddler from the elements.
Our Experience: The inside jacket alone is all we need on coolish spring boating days. Add the big outer coat, with its elastic wrists, double-zippered front and Velcro seal, and if you’re still cold, then it’s too cold to boat. We wear the jackets separately (as a spring coat and raincoat) until the really nasty weather hits.
Bottom Line: $219+, cabelas.com
Forgot the Arctic Armor?
Someone will be cold in the boat this spring, guaranteed. The Mambe Boat Blanket is for such moments. Nylon covers one side to shed spray or light rain. Thick Polartec fleece on the other side can warm two people entirely or four pairs of shivering legs. It also has a receiver for a boat heater hose (common on ski boats). $129, mambeblankets.com
For the Dogs
Keep the toes warm, and the rest of your body will thank you. These Darn Tough socks stretch over the calf and have a little cushion over the sole. They’re made with the warmth of wool, without the heft. We got the bottoms damp, and water didn’t seep through. $16, backcountry.com