Dry Suits and You
Do I need a drysuit?
Yes. Yes you do. Even if you don’t think you NEED one, spend some time diving in our waters and within a season or two you will start to seriously consider buying yourself a suit.
My advice, the sooner you invest into a suit the more dives you will talk yourself into doing because now you can! No more worrying about losing buoyancy control while going deeper than 60 feet. Now you can have nice warm dry dives, or at least nice, warm and damp dives!
What type of drysuit should you buy?
This is the hardest question to answer. There are so many variables when it goes into deciding the type of material the dry suit should be. The best information I give you is the pro’s and cons on each type.
Crushed Neoprene: Is a DUI exclusive. It’s a 3mm Neoprene suit compressed to 1mm thickness. Very durable material but takes longer to dry than most shell suits.
Compressed Neoprene: These suits swim most like wetsuits. Durable material and you get your warmth from the thickness of the neoprene. You may need a lot of weight in order to sink this suit compared to a thin shell suit.
Trilam: These are referred to as shell suits. Basically it’s a nylon and other scientific word type materials that is smushed together to make a waterproof shell. It’s like diving a garbage bag. Bi-lam suits are generally speaking some of the least expensive suits since they lack the third layer, but are very similar. These types of suits are prone to pin hole leaks but are also very easy to repair. The need less weight to sink but you need a full range of undergarments since they offer no thermal protection.
How much should I spend?
Like with anything else with SCUBA, you pay for what you get. Does that mean you need to drop $4000 on a custom made drysuit with gold leafing? Not necessarily. But spending the most you can afford on the best possible suit is a wise investment. My suggestion is to look at suits in the $1000 – 2000 price range. Most offer a good compromise between quality and features. Can you go cheaper than $1000. Sure, but depending on the suit you may find yourself shelling out serious dough in the long run on repairs and replacing it sooner than later.
A drysuit is a serious investment. They cost more than your BCD (unless you like Halcyon gear) and probably your dive computer but allow you to extend you dive season from a few short months to the full year. They also offer you dry comfort on long dives. Something a wetsuit no matter how great can’t offer. Spend what you can but save up if you have too. Get the best suit you can afford.
Latex or Neoprene or Silicone Seals?
No matter which type of drysuit you choose, you will need to choose which type of seals you would like on your suit. But first the choices:
Neoprene Seals: these are typically comfortable seals, but need to be stretched out in order to fit. Durable but don’t seal as well as latex or silicone. Lots of people find neoprene neck seals much more comfortable over latex. These types of seals are harder to repair and replace.
Latex Seals: Latex seals are in my opinion the way to go. Some suits allow for user replaceable seals, which make ripped seals a breeze deal with. You can buy them in all different shapes and sizes and they are relatively cheap too. Latex does deteriorate from the sun, heat and randomly sitting in it’s bag in a cool dark place.
Silicone: For those with latex allergies and with unlimited patience and funds to continuously replace ripped seals, there is silicone. They are very comfortable seals, but the absolute easiest to tear. Don’t even look at them. They will rip! (I know plenty of divers who love their silicone seals, I can’t wear them since I can’t put one on without ripping it)
Here are my recommendations: A sized Latex neck seal so you don’t have to cut it and user replaceable wrist seal system. Latex cone seals are very comfortable if sized properly and very durable and resistant to tearing. Then get yourself a whole stack of them to keep in your save a dive kit.
Should I buy a custom made suit or off the rack?
That all depends on your genes. If you are the type of person that can go into a Banana republic and buy a sport coat that fits perfectly based on the Small – X-large sizes, then you may be the same kinda person that can buy an off the rack sized drysuit.
I am not one of those people. I need the extra fabric that old navy affords it’s sizes. I needed to go custom to get the best fitting suit.
Here’s the thing. The better your suit fits and the more comfortable it is, the more you will use it. If the suit is ill-fitting and uncomfortable you will make up every possible excuse not to use it. check out your suits sizing guides and try it on with the thickest undergarments you plan on using. Make sure you still have the same mobility as in a wetsuit. If you can’t reach your valves on the showroom floor, you probably won’t be able to reach them underwater.
Some manufactures offer made to measure suits at a very reasonable up charge. Companies like Santi, Techniflex, and OS Systems are some examples. Santi also has the option to order a stock suit with custom inseam and arm lengths at no extra cost, making it an almost made to order suit.
What features are very useful and which are gimmicks?
In my opinion the must have, nice to have and useless features are:
- suspenders keeps the suit where it should be
- Pockets – If you spending the money on a suit don’t cheap out and not get pockets. They are useful for holding things.
- User replaceable wrist seals – If you have ever waited a couple weeks to get your suit back for new seals you will see how great it is to be able to change your seal within 5 minutes and get back to your dive.
- Self Donning: This is very important feature to me since I may not always have a buddy to help me with donning my drysuit. I also like to be very independent when it comes to getting my gear together.
- Swivel inlet valve: Allows the user to decide their hose routing.
NICE TO HAVE:
- Pee valve – If you are planning long dives or you are a hydration nut, this feature becomes a MUST have
- Warm neck collar – you don’t really notice the difference until you dive a suit without one.
- Knee Pads – Yes I know, you will never ever place you knees on the ground under any circumstance. Unless you do. And when you do, it’s nice to have the extra padding and protection.
- Plastic Zippers: Do some research into the type of zipper you want on your suit too. The old brass zippers have worked for years but are expensive to replace and fragile. The newer plastic zippers are a great alternative but do leak very easily if you don’t lube the zipper every few dives or so. (This opinion may have changed recently due a leaky plastic zipper after 300 or so dives.)
- Cuff dumps or Wrist dumps – With experience and proper training dumping air out of a drysuit is a pretty straight forward ordeal. You don’t need dumps on your wrist or ankles.
- Gaiters: You don’t need gaiters or ankle weights to help keep air out of the bottom of your suit. If you are diving in a horizontal position with your legs up, it’s ok and preferred to have a little air in your suit. Just because the air moves into your feet doesn’t mean you are automatically going to rocket to the surface. If you dive a suit that is way too big, gaiters may be the only thing that will help with trim, so this may be a nice to have or must have depending on some other variables.
What do I wear underneath them?
Walk into an REI or Dicks Sporting goods and you will find a plethora of special technical clothing manufacturers vying for your hard earned dollars, claiming that their alpaca lined t-shirt will keep you warm on the summit of Everest and cool as a cucumber on the beach.
Drysuit underwear manufactures all claim the same things. The biggest take away is, DON’T WEAR COTTON!
Whether you go with a specific suit designed for SCUBA like the Fourth Elements line of underwear or you raid you local REI, whatever you do, layer and DON’T WEAR COTTON!
For tri-lam suits, you will get 99% of your insulation from your underwear so do you research on which features are important to you. One of the nicest features available is to be able to wash and dry your underwear without having a degree in molecular engineering and laundering. Thin-sulate can be washed and some manufactures recommend doing so in order to revitalize the material.
In general, the thicker the undergarment the warmer it will be but will require more weight to sink. The nice thing about layering is you can dive the tropics with a thin wicking layer and dive an iceberg by adding a couple layers of material. All with the same suit.
When shopping at REI rather than a dive shop, look for warming layers and not cooling layers. there is a difference. You will sweat in your drysuit, you want the sweat to be pulled away and your skin kept warm. Using a cooling wicking layer in cold water can lead to severe shivering and not nice warm feelings.
Drysuit training? Is it needed?
Drysuit training is not absolutely mandatory under every circumstance. If you are willing to dive with a “Mentor” and they are willing to show you the ropes and have the experience and patience to do so, an instructor may not be needed. But if you mentor is someone who has 10 more drysuit dives than you do, get yourself into a course. The time spent with an experienced instructor will help lessen the learning curve you will face when it comes to diving dry.
A course should cover minor repairs and finding leaks. Emergency procedures and ample time to become comfortable using a suit. No one becomes a proficient drysuit diver within two dives. More likely you will hate diving dry until at least your 10th or 20th dive. Keep with it.
Chances are, when you buy a drysuit from a shop or re-seller, they will more than likely throw in the training for free, but it can’t hurt to take the class anyway. You will in the very least get a chance to watch and emulate an experienced drysuit diver.