The Inuit know a thing or two about staying warm and dry afloat. The modern spray skirt evolved from the ancient Inuit design for their summer spray skirt the akuilisaq (a-cool-y-sack), the modern spray cag descended from the Inuit tuilik (to-y-leak). Other than changing the materials from the original seal skin, the designs have remained very similar. The tuilik seals the paddler into their kayak. Traditionally strings are pulled tightly around the wrists and face and cockpit creating watertight seals. Modern versions have replaced the cockpit strings with shock cord to allow for greater ease of exit, this becomes especially important for people who do not have a reliable self recovery using a roll.
Image courtesy Jason Sexton
There may be more out there, but there seem to be three leading manufacturers of tuilik; Brooks, Reed and Comfort Paddling.
Brooks have been making tuilik for the longest. Originally a dive equipment company out of Canada, Brooks used their experience with neoprene to construct a modern version of the tuilik from 3mm neoprene. The wrist closures are hook and loop straps, the face closure uses a draw string with a toggle that goes behind one’s head, and the cockpit closure uses a heavy weight shock cord, which is knotted to length. The tuilik come in a series of standard sizes. The Neoprene material offers considerable flexibility in cockpit sizes, mine is able to shrink to fit small ocean cockpits and can at a stretch fit onto my NDK explorer keyhole cockpit.
Reed is a UK based sea kayak equipment manufacturer. They have established the use of a specialized thin, insulating and flexible, water proof material branded Aquatherm. The tuilik are custom made to order, fitting both the paddler’s body and the cockpit rim. Reed makes two styles; one a more traditional tunnel version and a second that fits the torso snugly and then turns into a flat spray skirt. The former allows greater freedom of motion which is nice when rolling, the spray skirt version decreases the amount of standing water that can get caught in the tuilik while paddling. Reed sells an adapter to convert between ocean and keyhole cockpit sizes.
Comfort Paddling is another Canadian based company. The Comfort Paddling tuilik is constructed using a waterproof breathable fabric with integrated latex dry-suit cuffs for the wrist and soft neoprene surrounding the face. The face closure is shock cord which is tightened under the chin. The cockpit rim has a soft neoprene ring with internal shock cord and toggle to tighten it. Each tuilik is custom made and can come with bib dry pants that connect using a soft neoprene tunnel system under the tuilik. Comfort paddling also sell fleece hooded tops to wear under their tuilik making them very cozy. As the company name suggests the tuilik is designed to be extremely comfortable to paddle in.
Each of these three modern interpretations of the traditional tuilik come with advantages. The Brooks neoprene version is the most insulated and hence can be the warmest. The Reed tuilik is the most liberating, offering the least resistance to motion making it a great rollers tuilik. The Comfort Paddling tuilik, being breathable, allows four season use, the other two brands tend to get very warm on hot summer paddles.
Along with the advantages come disadvantages. If you are using the Comfort Paddling tuilik and pants as a dry suit the hood must remain up to prevent water entering around the head and face. On hot days it is nice to be able to lower the hood but this would then allow the pants to fill with water during immersion which could make it impractical to reenter a kayak. The Reed tuilik relies upon precise measurement and custom fitting this makes it hard to transfer between kayaks of varying cockpit sizes, it also can make the tuilik challenging for some people to put on over their head due to the fitted neck area. The Brooks tuilik is the heaviest of them all and can over time start to become saturate and hold water, this makes it get progressively heavier throughout a rolling session.
I own each of these three brands and use them all at different times. The optimum tuilik depends upon the type of kayaking you are partaking in, and the weather and water conditions you experience.
You can read about each tuilik on the manufacturer’s web sites using these links:
If you are interested in making your own equipment, Qajaq USA provides access to templates and instructions to construct a neoprene tuilik, simply and cheaply. You can read about it by following this link.