Immersion Research Lucky Charm Spray Skirt
Size Tested: Large Cockpit, Small Tunnel
Retail Price: $149.95 (CKS)
Reviewer Info: 5’10, 170 lbs, 29-inch waist
Test locations: Stikine; Robe Canyon; various creeks in Colorado; Little White Salmon; Skykomish; “Upper Death;” Top Tye; Norway.
Days tested: 85+
It’s a terrible feeling when that cold water starts seeping into your cockpit as your boat slowly sinks. Yep, your skirt just imploded. As if that isn’t enough, now you might have to swim and drink that dreaded bootie beer simply because your gear failed you.
I finally got fed up with skirt implosions during a waterfall hucking trip to Chile. After plugging a 20-foot drop on the Rio Gol Gol, my Snap Dragon bungee skirt tore right off my cockpit. Although I managed to make it almost all the way to shore in my boat, I ended up losing a paddle and almost going over the next rapid. This experience was enough to convince me that although my bungee skirt was perfectly adequate for playboating, I needed something a bit stronger for my creek boating exploits.
Bungee, Rand, and Implosion Bars
Before we get into the review of the Lucky Charm, I think it’s crucial to go over a few important details of spray skirt design.
Although most whitewater spray skirt decks are constructed out of thick neoprene and are often reinforced with kevlar in high-wear areas, what really sets skirts apart is the material used in the rand—or the part of the skirt that attaches to the cockpit rim of a boat.
Bungee skirts use a stretchy bungee cord material around the edge of the skirt’s deck in order to keep the skirt on your kayak. These skirts are typically easier to put on your cockpit due to their stretchy nature, but they also come off of the boat more easily than their tougher cousin, the rubber rand skirt.
Rubber rand skirts have a thick, hard rubber material to attach to the cockpit rim. This material is more difficult to put on, especially in cold weather, but stays put better due to the rigidity of the rubber, more contact with the plastic of the boat, and the higher friction material. Many folks now simply refer to rubber rand skirts as “rand skirts” and bungee rands as “bungees,” but the “rand” still technically refers to the material around the edge of the skirt deck.
One other important design to mention is the implosion bar. Many bungee skirts meant for creeking will come with a plastic bar inside of the cockpit material to keep the skirt from flexing inward and pulling off. I’ve yet to see anyone attempt to make a rubber rand / implosion bar combo skirt.
The Lucky Charm has a 4mm neoprene deck, and a slightly thinner 3mm neoprene tunnel. The skirt uses Immersion Research’s proprietary rand shape—a “three finned” design that they claim creates a drier seal and more friction between the skirt and the cockpit rim. Typical rubber rands are rounded, but this design features three protruding strips of rubber to grip the rim.
The Lucky Charm doesn’t have much reinforcement over typical high-wear areas near the front of the skirt, but this is actually a bonus in my book since it makes the skirt stretchier and easier to put on a large cockpit. I don’t like to own two skirts, and the Lucky Charm is surprisingly easy to fit onto my Jackson Rockstar with a full blown-up overthruster inside.
Finally, the skirt is equipped with a bright neon green pull tab. I suppose the color is intended to make the tab easier to see, but since I wear contacts and typically keep my eyes closed underwater, I can’t comment on whether or not this coloring helps paddlers pull their skirts better.
The Lucky Charm’s sizing chart seems to be pretty accurate. I have a 29-inch waist, and the small tunnel size fits well without feeling too constricting. The large cockpit fits fairly easily on both my Nomad 8.5 and my Rockstar M, which both have relatively large cockpit rims.
Immersion Research recommends that you use skirtfit.com to determine your skirt size. According to their measurements and IR’s charts, the cockpit sizing for my Nomad sits almost exactly on the boundary between large and XL. The Colorado Kayak Supply fit chart, on the other hand, recommends an XL.
I opted for the large cockpit since I wanted the tighter fit, and I’ve been surprised at how (relatively) easy it is to put on both of my boats. Of course, you can also get a great answer on deck sizing by calling or emailing Immersion Research.
While this skirt is pretty darn dry, it’s not 100% bone dry. The rubber rand material definitely keeps water from leaking in around the rim, but I find that water tends to pool around my waist where the 3mm tunnel meets the deck. Some water does begin to seep through the material after it’s pooled there for a while.
My Snap Dragon Armortext EXP probably kept me drier than the IR skirt, by I didn’t trust that it wouldn’t implode on me. (It’s possible to get Snapdragon bungee skirts with implosion bars instead of rubber rands, but then the skirt can’t be easily used for playboating with an overthruster.) Given those considerations, I don’t mind the very minor leaking I experienced with the Lucky Charm.
Water can also enter the boat through the tunnel if there’s poor contact between the skirt and the drytop / drysuit, causing the skirt tunnel to slide down the paddler’s torso. Thankfully, I’ve found that the tunnel on this skirt has great friction with my dry wear and I haven’t had any major leaking issues.
I’ve found the Lucky Charm to be very comfortable. The thinner neoprene around my waist makes it feel less bulky, which I like since it doesn’t restrict my torso movement.
I also love how easy it is to put the skirt on (relative to other rubber rand skirts). As I mentioned above, I use this skirt for creeking and playboating.
I have to say that one thing I don’t like is the Lucky Charm’s pull tab. The tab is encased in rigid plastic to make it easier to grab, but unfortunately, this also makes the tab bulky. Since it protrudes from the deck, it’s easy to knock my knuckles against it occasionally while I’m paddling. The edge of the plastic is a bit sharp and doesn’t feel good on the knuckles when temps are low…