Suit Yourself: A Scuba Lab Dry Suit Buyer's Guide | Scuba Diving

Suit Yourself: A Scuba Lab Dry Suit Buyer's Guide

September 2006

By John Brumm

Photography by Joseph Byrd

| Nothing ruins a good dive faster than a case of the shivers brought on by the cold. It's just hard to have fun when your teeth are chattering, your skin is turning blue and you've lost all feeling in your hands and feet. No wonder then that dry suits continue to grow in popularity.

Let's face facts: Water conducts heat 25 times more efficiently than air. Even in relatively warm water, you're losing heat every second that you're wet. Wetsuits slow the process down, but if you're still feeling the chill even under layers of wetsuit neoprene, it's time for the ultimate in thermal protection. Simply put, dry suits are the best way to stay warm while immersed in water.

The dry suits in this roundup represent a cross section of the options on the market today. It covers the latest offerings from manufacturers big and small, as well as a few enduring favorites from past Scuba Lab articles, including the new breed of lightweight tropical dry suits designed for use in warmer waters.

Which one is right for you depends on many factors, including how well an individual suit fits your body, how well it fits your style of diving, and even the type of insulating garments you wear underneath the suit. For these reasons, we've made no attempt in this article to rate or compare the suits. Instead, we've laid out the basic information you need to make a discriminating purchase--from materials, to seals, to prices, sizes and options. And if you're new to the concept of diving dry, be sure to turn to p. 100, where we walk you through the basics of dry suits and points to consider. Still need more? Check out past dry suit articles on our web site at www.scubadiving.com, then go to your local dive shop and ask their advice on your best options for diving dry in local conditions. As the dry suits in this article demonstrate, there is no shortage of good options, which means there's no reason you should ever have to dive cold again.

New Dry Suits

These haven't previously been included in Scuba Lab roundups. If these suits are any indication, front-entry designs are definitely what's hot these days. So are latex seals; even the neoprene suits among this group use them. Having lots of available sizes is still a plus. But if you're looking for color, the field narrows considerably, since many of these suits are available only in black.

BARE Nex-Gen Pro Dry

| BASE PRICE: $1,049.95.
WARRANTY: Workmanship-Limited life; Materials (excluding zipper and seals)-1 year.
MADE IN: Canada.
MATERIAL: Exclusive Nex-Gen welded fabric.
ENTRY: Back zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/bell.
SUSPENDERS: Optional.
SIZES: 15 men's, 5 women's.
OWNER'S MANUAL: Very Good.
CONTACT: www.bare-wetsuits.com.

This economical off-the-shelf shell suit offers lots of features. The rubberized material is assembled with welded seams, and the large rubber kneepads and shoulder pads are durable yet flexible. The suit comes with heavy-gauge latex wrist seals; the neck seal is somewhat thinner for comfort. Compression-resistant soft socks are designed to be used with Bare's Trek Boots ($89.95). A backpack-style carry bag, low-pressure hose, zipper wax and owner's manual are included. Optional equipment includes cuff rings for in-the-field replacement of seals or the attachment of dry gloves. Available in black.

DIVING CONCEPTS Neo Z Back Entry

| BASE PRICE: $1,400.
WARRANTY: Suit seams-7 years; Boots-2 years; Zipper and valves-1 year; Seals-90 days.
MADE IN: Finished in USA, pre-assembled overseas.
MATERIAL: 2mm Rubatex G-231 compressed neoprene.
ENTRY: Back zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 7.
OWNER'S MANUAL: Very Good.
CONTACT: www.divingconcepts.com.

This back-zip version of the Neo Z is made of compressed neoprene with polymer sealed seams. The exterior is covered with abrasion-resistant nylon jersey. Attached boots are made of vulcanized rubber over compressed neoprene. Kneepads are also compressed neoprene, and the waterproof zipper is protected by a zippered overflap. Every Neo Z includes a Titan Flex hood, an inflator hose, a carry bag that doubles as a changing mat, a very thorough owner's manual, plus an instructional DVD on dry suit diving. Options include detachable gloves and wrist seals.

DUI TLSSE

| BASE PRICE: $1,298.
WARRANTY: Suit-7 years; Zipper and valves-1 year; Seals-90 days.
MADE IN: USA.
MATERIAL: Nylon/butyl rubber/nylon trilaminate.
ENTRY: Back zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: 5 men's, 6 women's.
OWNER'S MANUAL: Very Good.
CONTACT: www.dui-online.com.

A simpler, entry-level version of DUI's popular TLS350 (see p. 61), the TLSSE sports a trilaminate shell design that is cut a bit narrower for a slimmer fit. The suit also provides a double layer of material over the knee area for protection against abrasion and comes with a pair of all-duty Rock Boots, a warm neck collar and suspenders. The base suit comes in charcoal over black for men and blue over black for women. The TLSSE is also available in a Select version for $1,498 with extended stock sizes, colors and more features, and a made-to-order Special Production version for $1,698.

DUI CLXSE

BASE PRICE: $1,598.

| WARRANTY: Suit-7 years; Zipper and valves-1 year; Seals-90 days.
MADE IN: USA.
MATERIAL: Cordura-polyester blend/butyl rubber/polyester.
ENTRY: Back zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 5 men's, 6 women's.
OWNER'S MANUAL: Very Good.
CONTACT: www.dui-online.com.

The CLXSE base model offers basically the same slim-cut design and features as the TLSSE, but its trilaminate shell is made from a more abrasion-resistant Cordura blend material to better protect divers who like to spend time in wrecks. For even more protection, the suit has a Cordura overlay on the arms and a double layer of material over the knee and shin areas. The base suit comes in black only, and includes Rock Boots, a dry suit bag, talc and zipper wax. The CLXSE is also available in a Select version for $1,798 that offers more features and a choice of overlay materials and colors, or for $1,998 you can get a suit totally made to order.

MARES Dry-Fit 3.5

| BASE PRICE: $1,100.
WARRANTY: 2 years.
MADE IN: Thailand.
MATERIAL: 3.5mm Dyna Wave neoprene.
ENTRY: Back zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 8 unisex sizes.
OWNER'S MANUAL: N/A.
CONTACT: www.mares.com.

The Dry-Fit 3.5 is the entry-level model of a new line of dry suits made by Mobby's for Mares. According to the company, the suit's Dyna Wave neoprene is supposed to be five times more resistant to compression than standard neoprene. The suit has pre-bent knees and elbows for comfort, and comes with extras you don't normally find on entry-level suits, like suspenders, a zippered warm neck collar and zippered wrist cuffs. It doesn't come with boots, although its neoprene socks do have a light tread. Large kneepads, a zipper overflap and anti-abrasion material on the back of legs and seat area provide additional protection. Available in black. Comes with a carry bag.

MARES Ice-Fit 4.0

| BASE PRICE: $1,300.
WARRANTY: 2 years.
MADE IN: Thailand.
MATERIAL: 4mm Dyna Wave neoprene.
ENTRY: Back zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 8 men's, 5 women's.
OWNER'S MANUAL: N/A.
CONTACT: www.mares.com.

The Ice-Fit 4.0 is the mid-range model of Mares' new Mobby's-made dry suit line. It's made with a slightly heavier grade of Dyna Wave neoprene with a lycra outer layer for durability and a Webtex inner layer to increase comfort. The suit comes with the same features as the Dry-Fit 3.5, including pre-bent knees and elbows, a protective zipper flap, generous kneepads that reach all the way to the ankles, and zippered neck collar and wrist cuffs. But the Ice-Fit 4.0 takes it a step further by adding a pair of attached boots with a heavy-duty tread and flexible ankles. Available in black with color accents (as yet to be determined). Includes a carry bag.

MARES Polar-Fit

| BASE PRICE: $1,400.
WARRANTY: 2 years.
MADE IN: Thailand.
MATERIAL: 420 Denier Nylon Oxford/PVC coating.
ENTRY: Front, horizontal zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 5 unisex sizes.
OWNER'S MANUAL: N/A.
CONTACT: www.mares.com.

The Polar-Fit is the shell suit member of Mares/Mobby's new dry suit collaboration. It's a bilaminate suit with a self-donning front zipper that's easy to get in and out of and secures around the waist for a streamlined fit. Velcro wrist cuffs and long zippered ankle cuffs with Velcro straps snug up any loose material and protect ankles while keeping air bubbles from finding their way into the attached boots. For added protection, the knees and seat area have an additional layer of 420 denier nylon. A zippered neck collar and pre-bent knees provide some extra comfort. The suit comes in black with reflective inserts on shoulders. A carry bag is included.

OS SYSTEMS UL-PRO

| BASE PRICE: $1,520.
WARRANTY: Suit-2 years; Valves-3 years; Seals-60 days; Zipper is not covered.
MADE IN: USA.
MATERIAL: 210 denier high-count nylon inner coated with polyurethane.
ENTRY: Front, horizontal zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/bell.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 18 (custom sizing also available).
OWNER'S MANUAL: Good.
CONTACT: www.ossystems.com.

UL means "Ultra Light" and for good reason. The suit, size large, including attached boots, weighs just over seven pounds. Its quick-drying, high-count nylon shell offers a very tightly packed weave for abrasion and puncture resistance. The horizontal front zipper makes it easy to climb into the suit. Folding down the zipper flap and wrapping the straps around your waist protect the zipper while creating a streamlined fit. Extra layers of nylon on legs and backside area provide even more protection. A good-sized cargo pocket is included. Available with a blue, yellow or black top with black pants.

PINNACLE Evolution 2

| BASE PRICE: $1,529.
WARRANTY: Workmanship-limited lifetime; Suit and zipper-1 year; Seals-90 days; Valves-1 year.
MADE IN: Philippines.
MATERIAL: Commercial/military grade 220-gram Cordura.
ENTRY: Front, diagonal zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/bell.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 11.
OWNER'S MANUAL: Fair.
CONTACT: www.pinnacleaquatics.com.

Pinnacle's newest shell suit is built for both commercial and recreational divers. The rugged suit features a textured Cordura outer shell, double-layered kneepads, heavy-gauge latex wrist seals, and vulcanized rubber boots with a 5mm neoprene lining. (An optional neoprene sock and overboot system will be available before the end of 2006.) The front zipper is protected by an overflap. An external crotch strap helps streamline the fit, and internal suspenders improve overall comfort. Bonus: There's an expandable pocket on each thigh with attachment loops and carabiners for clipping gear.

TYPHOON CNK Tech

| BASE PRICE: $1,700.
WARRANTY: Workmanship and material-1 year (an extra 2 years is available).
MADE IN: UK.
MATERIAL: Heavy-duty trilaminate with 480g polyester outer fabric.
ENTRY: Front, horizontal zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/bell.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 6 (custom sizing available).
OWNER'S MANUAL: N/A.
CONTACT: www.cetaceacorp.com.

Another shell suit designed for divers at work or play. All seams are double-stitched and double-taped for strength and security. The large kneepads are made of Kevlar, and there's a neoprene warm neck collar and a protective overflap on the horizontal zipper. The front entry allows for easy donning and doffing. The wraparound zipper system latches in back for a streamlined fit. Suspenders help keep the suit fitting right, but are removable if preferred. Attached vulcanized boots are lined with neoprene. The suit comes with a hood and a carry bag that unzips into a changing mat. Available in black.

NORTHERN DIVER Thor 1050

| BASE PRICE: $1,799.
WARRANTY: 2 years, including zipper.
MADE IN: UK.
MATERIAL: Vulcanized rubber with a lycra weave fabric.
ENTRY: Front, diagonal zip (also available as a back zip).
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 9 (custom sizing available).
OWNER'S MANUAL: Good.
CONTACT: www.diveutc.com.

This hardcore dry suit is marketed to both commercial and sport divers. Made of vulcanized rubber, it has triple-welded seams and is reinforced in the shoulder, waist and leg areas. Wearing this suit you can dip your fins virtually anywhere. It cleans easily and dries with the wipe of a towel. An extra-long zipper makes donning and doffing the suit easy. While you have a choice of commercial or safety boots, the suit they sent us was fitted with standard sport diving boots and an attached latex hood. Also available with a separate neoprene hood and dry gloves. Available in safety orange.

NORTHERN DIVER Vortex

| BASE PRICE: $1,399.
WARRANTY: 2 years, including zipper.
MADE IN: UK.
MATERIAL: Trilaminate polyester butyl-laminated fabric.
ENTRY: Back zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 15 men's (custom sizing available).
OWNER'S MANUAL: Good.
CONTACT: www.diveutc.com.

The Vortex may be an entry-level shell suit, but it's certainly no lightweight. Its trilaminate construction includes internal seals that are double-glued, rubber-taped and vulcanized. You get an extra layer of durable fabric in the legs plus anti-abrasion strips in the knee/shin and shoulder areas. The waterproof zipper has a protective overflap. There's a warm neck collar and an elasticized waist for controlling excess material. Attached boots have hard soles and flexible neoprene ankles. An expandable pocket comes with Velcro loops for securing a flashlight. The Vortex comes with a vented hood, carry bag and maintenance pack. Available in blue and black.

NORTHERN DIVER Cortex

| BASE PRICE: $1,599.
WARRANTY: 2 years, including zipper.
MADE IN: UK.
MATERIAL: Cordura nylon.
ENTRY: Front, diagonal zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 15 men's (custom sizing available).
OWNER'S MANUAL: Good.
CONTACT: www.diveutc.com.

A step up from the Vortex, the Cortex has a nicely textured Cordura nylon exterior. Padded knee and shin guards protect the legs, and a Velcro overflap protects the waterproof zipper. There's an elasticized waist to keep the suit snug. Attached boots have an substantial tread plus neoprene ankles for flexibility. A roomy pocket has Velcro loops for strapping down a knife. Neoprene cuff guards protect the wrist seals and make attached glove locking rings easy to fit. The suit includes a vented hood and carry bag that doubles as a changing mat and a maintenance pack. Available in blue/black/silver.

NORTHERN DIVER CNX

| BASE PRICE: $1,599.
WARRANTY: 2 years, including zipper.
MADE IN: UK.
MATERIAL: Neoprene.
ENTRY: Front, diagonal zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Neoprene (standard) or Latex (optional).
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 15 men's (custom sizing is available).
OWNER'S MANUAL: Good.
CONTACT: www.ndiver.com.

The CNX is made of a specially formulated neoprene with an Armatex-style outer lining and a Thermacote inner lining. The suit comes standard with a back zipper, but the model we looked at had an extra-long diagonal front zipper that made getting in and out of this suit easy. Generous Kevlar kneepads provide lots of protection. Anti-abrasion patches are strategically placed in the shoulders and elbows. A small cargo pouch is included. The suit comes with a hood, carry bag and maintenance pack. Options include a relief zipper and attached dry hood, a cuff ring system and dry gloves.

WATERPROOF Sedna

| BASE PRICE: $1,650.
WARRANTY: 2 years.
MADE IN: Sweden.
MATERIAL: 3.5mm compressed neoprene.
ENTRY: Back zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: Optional.
SIZES: 19 men's, 17 women's.
OWNER'S MANUAL: N/A.
CONTACT: www.waterproof-gear.com.

This Swedish suit is made of high-density neoprene with a laminated lycra coating. The rear-entry zipper comes with a Chill Guard underflap that helps the lay of the zipper and keeps undergarments from snagging in the teeth. A vented hood (included) fits underneath a warm neck collar. The rubber kneepads are huge and nonskid polyurethane on the shoulders protect against gear abrasion. Kevlar-reinforced soft-sided boots have a heavy tread for durability and neoprene ankles for flexibility. The suit offers a unique Seal Armor system that allows you to adapt to any manufacturer's dry glove ring system. A Cordura backpack bag is included. {mospagebreak}

Warm-Water Dry Suits

Diving in warm water doesn't mean you can't get cold. These suits are designed to help you maintain a comfortable body temperature during consecutive days of repetitive diving.

DUI 30/30

| BASE PRICE: $1,198.
WARRANTY: Suit-7 years; Zipper and valves-1 year; Seals-90 days.
MADE IN: USA.
MATERIAL: Breathable Trilaminate Material with M3 Technology.
ENTRY: Front, diagonal zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 5 men's, 6 women's (custom sizing also available).
OWNER'S MANUAL: Very good.
CONTACT: www.dui-online.com.

The 30/30 (so-named for the latitude range the suit was designed for) is a lightweight, breathable dry suit that's perfect for long-duration repetitive diving in tropical locales. Designed to be worn with light insulation, the suit has a supple feel to it and a diagonal front zipper for easy, unassisted entries and exits. An external waist strap enables you to cinch up for a more streamlined fit. There are protective cuffs on ankle seals. The base price includes a dry suit bag, talcum powder and zipper ease. Available with a black body with royal blue trim for men, and a black body with blue jay trim for women.

WHITES Tropical Explorer SE

| BASE PRICE: $1,398.
WARRANTY: Material-1 year; Workmanship-2 years; Seals not covered; Zipper/valves not listed.
MADE IN: Canada.
MATERIAL: 210/550 nylon bilaminate.
ENTRY: Front, diagonal zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/bell.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 14 (or custom sizing).
OWNER'S MANUAL: Good.
CONTACT: www.whitesdiving.com.

Perfect for warm-water diving, the Tropical Explorer packs up so small you can take it anywhere. Its Captive Suspension System provides flex panels in the waist and knees that allow for a snug fit while allowing good range of motion. A dam protects the latex neck seal from sun and abrasion damage. The "GravGuard" overlay material on the lower legs prevents sand from entering your booties when doing shore dives. Another nice touch: internal suspenders to help keep your pants up between dives. Available in blue and yellow. Comes with a nice carry bag, zipper wax and Seal Saver.

Past Scuba Lab Favorites

Over the past few years we've looked at a lot of dry suits, and through it all a couple suits have been able to hold their own against each new generation. Durable, easy to use and loaded with features (and by no means cheap), these have long been--and still are--our time-tested favorites.

DUI TLS350

| BASE PRICE: $1,878.
WARRANTY: Suit-7 years; Zipper and valves-1 year; Seals-90 days.
MADE IN: USA.
MATERIAL: Nylon/butyl rubber/nylon trilaminate.
ENTRY: Front, diagonal zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 5 men's, 6 women's (custom sizing also available).
OWNER'S MANUAL: Very Good.
CONTACT: www.dui-online.com.

This fast-drying trilaminate shell suit's been around for a long time and seems to get more popular every year. There's a double layer of nylon in all the high wear areas, a neoprene warm neck collar for comfort, and a telescoping torso, suspenders, crotch strap and internal elastic waist cord, all to maximize fit and range of motion. It comes with crushed neoprene soft socks and DUI's all-duty Rock Boots. The suit's available in four versions and price points, from the Stock suit (listed above) to a Select Series suit for $2,068 to a Special Production suit for $2,278, to a Signature Series suit, for $2,498, which includes a special accessories package. With all DUI dry suits, you can load on accessories, including Kevlar kneepads and DUI's cool ZipSeal or ZipGlove systems that enable you to change wrist and neck seals or add dry gloves in minutes.

DUI CF200X

| BASE PRICE: $2,298.
WARRANTY: Suit-7 years; Zipper and valves-1 year; Seals-90 days.
MADE IN: USA.
MATERIAL: Crushed neoprene.
ENTRY: Front, diagonal zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/cone.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 6 (custom sizing available).
OWNER'S MANUAL: Very Good.
CONTACT: www.dui-online.com.

Made out of DUI's patented CF crushed neoprene, the CF200X offers a durable yet thin, supple and lightweight shell. The suit's ability to stretch makes it possible to wear it snug while still maintaining full range of motion. Of course, the telescoping torso helps, and there's a crotch strap to assist with fit. The diagonal dry zipper is protected by a Cordura zippered cover. There's also a Cordura overlay on the shoulders and chest area to withstand abrasion from BC straps. Kneepads are reinforced neoprene. The neck seal has a neoprene warm collar. The CF200X has crushed neoprene soft socks that fit nicely into DUI's Rock Boots, which are included with all DUI suits. The CF200X is available in four versions: the above Stock suit, a Select Series for $2,498, a Special Production (made to order) suit for $2,698, built from one of over 150 patterns and more than 25 options, and the Signature Series version, for $2,918, which includes DUI's most popular accessories.

WHITES Catalyst Quadflex SE

| BASE PRICE: $2,298.
WARRANTY: Material-1 year; Workmanship-2 years; Seals not covered; Zipper and valves not listed; Welded Seams-3 years.
MADE IN: Canada.
MATERIAL: Quadflex. ENTRY: Front, diagonal zip (also available with horizontal waist zipper as well as rear entry).
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/bell.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 14 (custom sizing available).
OWNER'S MANUAL: Fair.
CONTACT: www.whitesdiving.com.

The Catalyst Quadflex shell suit comes with Whites' Captive Suspension System that places flex panels on the waist, above the knees and beneath the arms to provide a snug fit while maximizing range of motion. Vulcanized rubber kneepads and shin guards provide protection. For convenience, there's a zippered neck collar with a neoprene edge that simplifies donning and doffing the suit. Ankles have adjustment straps to help control any air shifting to the boots. You can get the Catalyst with attached 7mm dry boots or Shell Socks to be used with White's Evo3 lace-up boots with padded ankle supports, reinforced toes and heels and heavy-duty tread.

WHITES Polarflex BE DT2MM Quadflex

| BASE PRICE: $2,198.
WARRANTY: Workmanship-2 years; Materials-1 year; Welded Seams-3 years.
MADE IN: Canada.
MATERIAL: Quadflex upper with 4mm Denstek lower compressed to 2mm.
ENTRY: Back, shoulder zip.
SEALS/STYLE: Latex/bell.
SUSPENDERS: Yes.
SIZES: 14 (custom sizing available).
OWNER'S MANUAL: Very Good.
CONTACT: www.whitesdiving.com.

This hybrid suit is made with Quadflex on top and Denstek compressed neoprene layered with a protective ToughTek nylon jersey below that. This combination provides the warmth of neoprene and the durability of fabric. This suit offers lots of extras, from rubberized molded valve pads to a zippered neck cuff with a neoprene edge. Large vulcanized rubber knee and shin pads provide excellent leg protection. The suit comes with an expandable thigh pocket and shell socks designed to be used with Whites' Evo3 lace-up boots.

Dive-In

Critical Dry Suit Components

Zippers. Dry suits are available in both rear-entry versions, where the zipper is located on the shoulders (A), and front-entry versions, also referred to as "self-donning," with the zipper located on the front of the suit, either diagonally across the chest (B) or horizontally just above the waist (C).

Shoulder-zipper suits are often, but not always, less expensive, and some divers feel they allow for a better overall range of motion. They're relatively easy to get in and out of, but you need a buddy to zip them up for you. With front-entry suits, you don't have to rely on anyone to zip you up, but they can actually take a bit more finesse to don and doff (this gets increasingly easier with practice). Bottom line: Both are solid designs with their own advantages and disadvantages, so whichever way you decide to zip up ultimately comes down to personal preference.

Inflate Valve. To keep a dry suit from collapsing against your body as you descend, you need a method of inserting air. This is done via a low-pressure inflator valve, located on the chest. The inflate valve is push-button activated and connects to your regulator's first stage with its own low-pressure inflator hose.

Exhaust Valve. There is also an exhaust valve, usually located on the upper left arm, that allows you to bleed expanding air from the suit when ascending. The exhaust valve is usually a combination manual/automatic. Screw the valve all the way in and it's fully manual, requiring you to depress the cap to vent air. Unscrew the valve all the way and it automatically vents air as the pressure inside the suit increases. It can be adjusted anywhere in between to increase or decrease sensitivity to match your particular diving style.

Boots. Dry suit footwear choices range from thin latex or neoprene socks (D) to rugged vulcanized rubber with thick treads (E), either attached to or separate from the suit. Boots need to match the type of diving you do. For example, some boots, while adequate for boat decks, are simply not up to the rigors of diving rocky shorelines. Regardless of what boot you choose, plan on purchasing another pair of fins one size larger than the fins you use with your wetsuit booties to accommodate the larger dry suit boot size.

Seals. While dry suits are fitted with both latex and neoprene seals, latex tends to be the seal material of choice among both fabric and neoprene suit makers. Latex seals come in either cone-shaped or bell-shaped styles. Take your pick. Both do a good job of keeping water out.

Latex seals are more flexible and stretchy and allow easier entry into the suit. Because the neck seal must go over the head first, divers with relatively small necks (especially women) favor latex seals as they remove less hair and are tender to the nose as you enter and exit the suit. Latex seals may also leak less if you have pronounced gaps in tendons when flexing your wrist. But because they are not as sturdy as neoprene seals, more care needs to be taken when donning. The thickness of latex seals varies; thinner latex is more comfortable but is more susceptible to tearing. All latex seals need to be replaced every year or two, depending on how much you use the suit and how well it's treated when in storage.

Neoprene seals (not shown) have a "skin-in" smooth side that lies against your skin ("skin-out" seals are designed to be folded over so the smooth side still makes contact with your skin). Neoprene seals tend to have a longer life than latex.

Dry Gloves/Replaceable Seals (not shown). One of the most popular advances in dry suit diving is the advent of easy-to-use replaceable seal systems and dry glove systems. Replaceable seals enable you to avoid the bane of dry suit diving--a torn latex wrist or neck seal that leaves you stranded on the beach when your buddies get to go diving. It used to be that when a seal tore, you had to return the suit to the manufacturer for replacement. Now, with a seal replacement system, you can remove the damaged seal and snap on a new one in no time at all. The same goes with dry glove systems that allow you to switch between wet and dry hands to suit the conditions.

Add-Ons (not shown). Buying a new dry suit is not unlike buying a new car. You have your base model, which comes with an inflation hose and boots. Most also throw in zipper lube, and some include suspenders, hoods and carry bags. Beyond that, you have options and upgrades, lots and lots of them. Choose from boot styles to dry gloves to replaceable seal systems. There are also choices in pockets and kneepads, and let's not forget the myriad choices of undergarments. The process can get a bit complicated, but it's all great stuff because it enables you to build the perfect dry suit system with everything you might want and need to take your diving experience to the next level.

Undergarments (not shown). Dry suit undergarments have become an industry unto itself, and for good reason. Pick the wrong undergarments and you could easily sabotage your entire dry suit system. The choice of undergarment should not only depend on the type of dry suit you wear, but on the type of diving you do, to include water temperature, your at-depth exercise level, and how long you like to stay under water.

What you don't want to do is spend big bucks on your suit then scrimp on your insulation. Beyond the fact that it's your undergarment that will determine whether or not you stay warm, oftentimes it's also your undergarment that determines whether you're going to be able to function efficiently at depth. A high-stretch dry suit and a no-stretch undergarment cancel each other out. The type of undergarment you choose will play a large role in whether you're warm and cozy, or cold and restricted, regardless of what suit you might be wearing.

Dry Suit Q & A

Q: Who needs a dry suit?

A: You do if:

  • You regularly dive in water colder than 60 to 65 degrees.

  • You like to make long-duration or repetitive dives in warm water.

  • You like to dive deep.

  • Your dives end up getting cut short because a chill sets in before your air runs out.

  • You're a photographer or a marinelife buff who moves at a snail's pace during a dive.

Q: What are the pros and cons of dry suits versus wetsuits?

A: Pro: With a dry suit you can regulate your comfort level by varying your thermal protection--the colder the water, the thicker the undergarments--or by adding air to the suit. It doesn't really matter how cold topside temperatures are either, because when you exit the water you're wearing a dry fleece-type jumpsuit instead of a soppy wetsuit.

Con: Of course, dry suits tend to cost more than your typical wetsuit. They also require additional buoyancy control skills. Then there are the undergarments, and the possibility of revamping your gear inventory to accommodate the special needs of a dry suit. And finally there are additional maintenance responsibilities, what with the valves and the watertight zippers and the neck and wrist seals. But if staying comfortably warm is an issue, this extra investment is worth the effort.

Q: What are the types of dry suits?

A: Dry suits break down into two basic types: shell suits and neoprene suits, each with their own subsets.

Shell suits come in two varieties, fabric (sometimes referred to as "membrane") and vulcanized rubber. Fabric dry suits are either bilaminates--exterior nylon weaves with the inner side either coated with or laminated to some sort of waterproofing urethane, or trilaminates--waterproof butyl rubber sandwiched between layers of nylon. Fabric suits are lightweight, they have no inherent buoyancy, they don't compress at depth, they dry quickly and fold compactly for transport. Fabric suits are designed solely to keep water out, however. The insulation that keeps you warm comes from what you wear beneath the suit. In order to provide a full range of motion, fabric suits require a looser fit. While some lower-end fabric suits can be bulky as a result, top-end fabric suits are often designed with special telescoping torsos or expandable gussets that ensure range of motion while maintaining a relatively streamlined fit.

Vulcanized rubber shell suits have more stretch than fabric suits. They're very simple to make and easy to repair, but they tend to be on the heavy side and a bit pricey. Like fabric shell suits, vulcanized rubber shell suits don't offer any inherent thermal properties. Their job is to keep water out. It's the undergarments that provide all the insulation.

Neoprene suits come in either traditional foam neoprene or some form of compressed neoprene. Traditional foam neoprene dry suits are made from essentially the same material as cold-water wetsuits, (usually 7mm or more) but they seal at the neck, wrists and ankles to keep water away from your skin. Their thermal protection comes primarily from the insulating ability of the neoprene itself. Consequently, most don't require thermal undergarments, although many manufacturers recommend wearing T-shirts or long underwear for comfort. These suits are high-stretch and tend to fit snugly--again, similar to a wetsuit, which minimizes hydro-drag. They are also among the least expensive dry suits. However, traditional foam neoprene dry suits compress at depth, which diminishes their thermal properties. Neoprene is also the most buoyant of all dry suit materials and usually requires more ballast weight. And being neoprene, they take a long time to dry.

Compressed neoprene is theoretically a traditional 7mm foam neoprene that has been compressed to 2mm to 4mm, thereby creating what is considered by many to be something of a compromise between traditional foam neoprene and shell suits ("hyper-compressed" and "microcell" suits are considered the better varieties of this category due to their smaller cell structure). Performance and fit are more like a wetsuit, extra weight is not needed, the material is very rugged and it's easy to repair. Compressed neoprene suits benefit somewhat from the inherent thermal properties of the neoprene, although the bulk of their thermal protection comes from undergarments.

Then there's a specialized neoprene called crushed neoprene. This unique, patented process creates a material that's even thinner and denser than compressed neoprene, and it's extremely durable because its cell structure, by way of its unique crushing process, has been completely and permanently flattened without rupturing the cells, and thereby weakening the material. Crushed neoprene is super durable and very high-stretch, so you can get a close fit without sacrificing range of motion. Both compressed and crush neoprene tend to be pricey. Also, because they are neoprene, they take longer to dry than shell suits, although they dry much faster than traditional foam neoprene dry suits.

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