How We Test Drysuits
Last September, we asked a U.K. test team to evaluate new trilaminate drysuits because we knew they’d have ideal conditions — the water temperature was a frosty 52 degrees F at the test site, Vivian Quarry, Llanberis, which lies in the heart of Snowdonia, North Wales (check out this behind-the-scenes gallery for a look into the testing process). It was the perfect real-world setting for evaluating the nine suits in several key areas:
|Fit and Comfort||Tested both on the surface and at depth, fit is the crucial consideration when purchasing a drysuit. Suits were evaluated on overall fit as well as in specific areas, including the neck, wrists, ankles and torso.|
|Valve Use||All the drysuits were equipped with British-made Apeks valves or Swedish Si-Tech valves — an automatic/adjustable exhaust valve on the upper left arm, and a 360-degree swivel inflation valve on the chest. We rated the general ease of operating, accessing and adjusting both these valves.|
|Range of Motion||The ability to retain as much flexibility as possible is paramount these days, especially for tec divers who need to be able to reach their cylinder valves to conduct shutdowns. This was examined both on the surface and underwater.|
|Ease of Donning and Doffing||In addition to fitting well, a drysuit should be relatively easy to get in to and out of without too much assistance from a dive buddy.|
Ease of donning/doffing and comfort/fit results shown are based on a score of 1 to 5 (1 represents poor and 5 represents excellent). For the donning/doffing scores, testers evaluated the overall ease of getting in and out of the suit and zipping up. For the comfort/fit scores, testers evaluated overall fit related to stated size, plus the comfort of seals.
Fourth Element Argonaut 2.0 Hybrid
Valves: Apeks or Si-Tech | Sizes: S-XXXLT
The Hybrid in the drysuit’s name reflects its use of two materials: flex trilaminate material in the bottom half, and lightweight, breathable Kevlar in the upper section. The Argonaut is the only suit in this test that uses Kevlar as the actual suit material. In addition, Fourth Element has a new 3-D body-scan system to measure customers. The suit functions exceptionally well. The flex trilaminate on the lower areas is rugged yet stretchy, to give good range of motion. There is little air migration, and the close fit allows you to slice through the water. The suit has a diagonal front-entry zipper, heavy-duty boots, latex neck and wrist seals, internal braces, protective kneepads, and massive twin thigh pockets with internal bungees, D-ring, and Velcro flaps with zippered pockets. For its innovative materials as well as overall performance, the Argonaut 2.0 Hybrid is our Testers Choice.
Apeks Fusion KVR1
Valves: Apeks | Sizes: XXS-XXXXL+
Price: $ 2,625
The heavy-duty, ballistic-strength synthetic fiber skin gives this Apeks drysuit a solid feel, but with that comes weight; it is one of the heaviest suits we tested. The Fusion KVR1 is very comfortable, and air movements underwater are kept to a minimum by the fiber outer skin. The exhaust valve is ideally situated on the left upper arm. It has zipper-expandable pockets with internal bungee and Velcro flaps, reinforced knee, forearm and shoulder pads, and a traditional metal zipper, though it is uniquely routed in a semicircle around the upper portion of the chest, which reduces stress on the zipper and limits range-of-motion restrictions. The modular seal-replacement system means you can replace damaged silicone wrist and neck seals. The overall “special forces” look is continued in the Apeks Rockboots, which would be right at home jumping out of an airplane, never mind going scuba diving.
Valves: Apeks | Sizes: XS-XLT (custom sizes available)
It’s not often that a drysuit can be described as snappy, but the X-Mission (also available in a colorful red-and-black combination) looks as if it were made by a clothing designer. Already built to fit snugly and comfortably, an adjustable elastic waistband allows you to tweak the fit further. In the water, there is limited air movement, and its nylon rip-stop trilaminate material doesn’t hinder movements. We thought the exhaust-valve positioning was a little suspect — it was much farther down the upper arm than normal — however, in a trim position, with arms relaxed in front, you can vent the suit with little effort. The X-Mission has a telescopic torso and diagonal front-entry plastic zipper, and benefits from large thigh pockets with internal bungees, drainage holes, Velcro flaps, latex wrist seals, neoprene neck seal, reinforced kneepads, internal braces, and heavy-duty boots.
Camaro Arc Tec 2.0
Valves: Si-Tech | Sizes: XXS-XXXXL
The first thing you notice about the trilaminate Arc Tec 2.0 is how lightweight it is. Equipped with latex wrist and neck seals, and neoprene booties (which would require Rockboots for heavy-duty use, but their rudimentary soles would suffice on a liveaboard), it doesn’t feel that different in weight to a 3 mm wetsuit. It manages this while adding zippers on the forearms and calves, which aid with donning gloves and boots. The Arctec 2.0 has a unique front-entry style, where the zipper flaps down over your lower torso and is then secured around your body with two straps. It ensures a good fit, and grants a wide range of uninhibited movement. It has computer retaining straps on both forearms, light protective kneepads, and a zipper-expandable Velcro-closing pocket with internal bungees, which isn’t huge but would take a spool or reel with little trouble. It’s a sweet travel drysuit.
Valves: Si-Tech | Sizes: XS-XXXL
The classy color combo of the BTR-500 sets off the finish of the butyl trilaminate material nicely. However, it isn’t all show and no performance — the material incorporates an abrasion-resistant, nylon rip-stop external lining for added durability. The internal lining of this drysuit has a patented coating, which maximizes water integrity and seam-tape adhesion, but it also makes the BTR-500 a dream to get on and off . And because all the panels are cut on the bias of the material, you get increased stretch and flexibility. It is equipped with neoprene booties ( rubber boots are an option), latex neck and wrist seals, protective kneepads, internal braces, and expandable pockets with internal D-ring, Velcro flaps, and drainage holes. Though the suit has a diagonal front entry with a flexible composite zipper, it’s critical that you get the right size because the BTR-500 doesn’t have a telescopic torso.
Valves: Si-Tech | Sizes: XS-XXXL
The DX-300X is a heavy-duty trilaminate drysuit that shows its technical-diving heritage. It combines Cordura ripstop as the durable outer layer, 12 layers in the central butyl part for long-term water integrity, and an inner layer of silk-weave polyester providing ease of donning and doffing. It has a telescopic torso, diagonal front entry, double-thickness kneepads, 5 mm neoprene booties (which will require Rockboots), Si-Tech quick-replacement silicone neck and wrist seals, internal braces, and expandable pockets with internal D-ring, Velcro flaps, and drainage holes. Thanks to the design of the DX-300X — and the fact that the material is cut on the bias, as with the BTR-500 — maneuverability is very good, with little restriction to range of movement. The Si-Tech system to the neck and wrists means that you can save a dive by quickly and easily replacing a damaged seal in the field.
OMS San Diego
Valves: Apeks | Sizes: XS-XXL
DUI now owns Ocean Management Systems, and was behind the design of this trilaminate, telescopic-torso drysuit. The San Diego has a diagonal front entry, heavy-duty rubber boots, protective kneepads, internal braces, and two thigh pockets with internal bungees, drainage holes, and Velcro flaps with zippered pockets. The drysuit we tested was also equipped with DUI’s patented ZipSeals — in this instance, comfortable silicone. You don’t want to miss a dive due to a torn neck or wrist seal, and with the ZipSeal system, you can swap out a damaged seal for a fresh one in literally a matter of minutes. The cut means that it boasts clean lines, but it also allows for as much free range of motion as you’d expect when you are in a drysuit. The dipped neoprene boots were warm and comfortable, providing support yet also giving you the ability to make minor ankle movements when finning.
Scubapro Evertec LT
Valves: Si-Tech | Sizes: M-XXXXL
The original Evertec was a bit on the heavy side, so Scubapro designed the LT — lightweight — version. In fact, thanks to its neoprene booties — which will require Rockboots — it is one of the lighter drysuits we tested. The Evertec LT is a telescopic torso, diagonal front-entry suit. It features durable Kevlar kneepads, internal braces, computer retainer on the left arm, latex neck and wrist seals, and two thigh pockets with internal bungees, Velcro flap, and drainage holes. It is equipped with a center-press inflator instead of a side-press variant. It is easy to get on and off , and movements are relatively unhindered by the rip-stop trilaminate material. Air movements within the suit are easy to control when you are underwater, and the location of the exhaust valve on the left bicep means that when you are in a good trim position, venting happens with little effort on your part.
Waterproof D9X Breathable
Valves: Si-Tech | Sizes: XXS-XXL Price: $1,995
The D9X might not be quite as lightweight as its D9 predecessor — due to the use of abrasion-resistant quadlaminate Cordura nylon material and reinforcements that have been added in the seat, knees and arms — but it’s still not as heavy as other drysuits in this test. The extra reinforcement in areas that get a lot of wear and tear, even during normal use, is appreciated. The D9X Breathable features a telescopic torso with a diagonal front entry incorporating a TiZip plastic zipper, heavy-duty rubber boots, comfortable latex wrist and neck seals, internal braces, and large dual thigh pockets with internal bungees and Velcro flaps that can hold a good number of accessories. Once on, the fit and flexibility of the D9X Breathable was a highlight. Valve location was spot-on once we assumed the horizontal-trim position, and there was little to no restriction on range of motion.
Bare Sealtek Dry Hood
The exterior seams on Bare's 7 mm hood are sealed with liquid seam tape and use a ring seal system designed to reduce water penetration.
Hollis AUG 450 Undersuit
Price: Top $139.95 Bottom $139.95
This Hollis two-piece undersuit wicks away body moisture while the 450-gram high-density stretch fabric minimizes bulk.
Hollis Canvas Overboot