This should be an easier topic to discuss than it is, but here we are talking about the sailing clothing to keep your backside warm and dry, and the number of choices and the terminology can make it a little overwhelming. For this discussion, I’m going to skip the neoprene genre in lieu of a full post on that topic later. So let’s break it down from warm to cold.
For those who prefer a snug fit, there are “impact shorts” or “hiking shorts” that are usually some sort of form-fitting shorts that have extra closed-cell foam padding on the backside and legs. If you don’t want to show off your “assets” you can wear them under another pair of shorts, or you can opt for what we’ll call “regular” shorts with optional padding in them. The advantage of the more form-fitting ones is that the padding is exactly where you need it and doesn’t have the chance to move around while working from one side of the boat to the other. In any case, if you are hiking a lot, the material they are made of is important. The cloth should be durable and water repellent. One of my first moves, when I have to layer up for a colder temp, is to add my base layer polypropylene bottoms underneath a pair of sailing shorts. The shorts protect them from the deck, and then I get the added benefit of the warmer layer.
Trousers is a pretty broad term. It covers everything from a pair of waterproof pants to farmer-john style “bib overall” and even the fashionable “salopette” style outfit. In any case, just like with shorts, the material should be durable and waterproof. Potentially reinforced at key locations if you are on the foredeck a lot. Also, most of the different manufacturers have a warmer weather one and one with more insulation for colder climates. Let’s go through them.
The most basic bottom is a waterproof pant. These are great if you are casually sailing in a colder climate and don’t expect to be beaten by rain or having to take spray on the rail all day. Reason being is that water tends to find its way into the waistline and nobody likes that. I use these mainly for layering up on cold cruising days.
Bib Overalls or Hi-Fit trousers are often a better choice for wet sailing than waterproof pants. Straps go over your shoulders like suspenders, and the material typically goes up to about mid to high chest making it more difficult for water to find its way up under a coat and down into your underwear. These are great for big boat wet sailing. Many small boat sailors find them a little bulky to get around a boat in and opt for a more form-fitting neoprene option.
Salopettes are typically the next step past bib overalls. They are almost like a “sleeveless onesie” and offer additional warmth and protection from the elements. I see some small boat sailors opt for these as they can be a little more form-fitting than the bibs. Some of the nicer ones have more pocket options and reinforced knees and seat areas.
Just like with the different tops, there are usually different “levels” of these garments offering different upgraded features. Zippers, reinforcements, type of material used, and seam taping are all upgrades that might come with the next better option. These levels are often called things like Inshore v/s Offshore or Costal v/s Ocean. Some manufacturers have lines specifically for racing as well.
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