Are you one of those people who still thinks your 20-year-old wetsuit is the best thing you have ever dived in?
Can it almost stand up on its own because it’s so stiff? Does it have zips in the wrist, ankles and up the front to make it easy to get into? Is the material so coarse you couldn’t cut it with a chainsaw?
If so, I am about to tell you why you should ditch it for the new era of soft, comfortable and sooo much warmer wetsuits! For the last 45-odd years, I have swum most parts of New Zealand, from Stewart Island to the to the Three Kings Islands, the Chathams, 80 kilometres off the South Island’s west coast, Fiordland, lakes and rivers all over New Zealand, and many other countries as well, testing suits in all extremes. These experiences have given me a pretty good insight into what a good wetsuit should be.
Wetsuits need to be like a second skin to be effective. For this to happen, a wetsuit must be made from very flexible neoprene, without being too soft. If overly soft, the neoprene will sag when wet, allowing too much water to enter the suit; too stiff and it won’t hug the contours of your body.
A suit should have a fitted hood to stop water pouring down your neck – arguably one of the worst sensations. I know some of you will be reading this and thinking: ‘But I get claustrophobic with anything on my head!’ All I can say is try the new, soft neoprene – it’s so much nicer than the stiff material used in the past.
Zips have become redundent. They are only required in suits that are too stiff, so won’t stretch to allow your hands and feet to slip through. As for the zip fitted up the torso to help you get in, this makes your suit very rigid lengthways and allows a constant trickle of water to flush through the suit during your dive, helping to make you cold.
Another feature of a good suit is the open-celled raw rubber used inside the suit, without the lining. This means two things: firstly, the suit is very stretchy, as it has one less layer of nylon; secondly, the open-cell seals against your skin, stopping water flowing around your body and enabling the minimal amount that does get in to stay put and get warmed to body temperature. With the old suits, the water continually flows, never warming and leading to you getting cold.
Consequently, a better fitting suit made from the right material may see you able to have a 5mm suit instead of one that’s 7mm. Wouldn’t that be nice?
You will need to squirt soapy water inside an open-cell suit to slip it on, or you will likely tear it. While always having soapy water on hand may seem a hassle, it sure makes putting the suit on easy, doing away with the struggle involved with getting that old suit on. Just a quick squirt from the bottle, then give the suit a shake, and it’ll slide on as easily as a pair of normal trousers. So no more sweating, heaving, and getting your mates to help etc.
Open-cell suits in today’s market are very well priced compared to what has been available in the past. That’s mostly because a soft neoprene suit doesn’t need the same number of panels a stiffer neoprene suit requires to mould to your shape. Consequently, you can find a very good basic model for around $300. Better still, it’s no less effective or lower in quality than the more expensive models, it just has fewer design features (which, in some cases, won’t matter much anyway).
One-piece suits are favoured by many, but aren’t in the ball game when it comes to comfort and warmth, allowing water in, being unable to stretch as much, and offering less warmth than a two-piece suit.
No wonder more and more divers are changing over to these relatively new, soft, open-cell neoprene suits, especially as they are just as effective for scuba diving as well. Nothing fancy, just good common sense and design.
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