Scuba Lab Dry Suit Review (2001) | Scuba Diving

Scuba Lab Dry Suit Review (2001)

January 2001
By Jon Hardy

Dry Suits Reviewed in This Article

Andy's DS3 Apollo Microcell 4.5 EX Atlan E 100 Sport Bare Trilam ATR-HD BayleySuit Aquastatic Diving Concepts Pinnacle DUI CLx450 Gates Pro-CBX 450 Henderson Arctic Dry II High Tide C 3000 Mobby's Twin Shell Pro Oceaner Titanium Polar Oceanic Aerdura O'Neill 7000X O.S. Systems SARR USIA Aqualite Whites Aqua Pro Zeagle Expedition GS

Being Cold Isn't Fun, It's Dangerous

By keeping water out, a dry suit significantly reduces the energy you have to expend to stay warm. This reduction in the physical and mental stress of maintaining thermal balance makes diving safer and more comfortable.

But this isn't a free ride. Dry suits are pricier than wetsuits, require additional training, cause more resistance to swimming and may even require you to modify your gear to accommodate the suit.

That said, if you want to increase your enjoyment and safety as a diver, a dry suit should be your next big purchase. In fact, as custom wetsuit prices increase and dry suits continue to improve, the advantages of dry suits multiply and the disadvantages decrease.

Should You Dive Dry?

Thanks to significant design improvements and better instruction, dry suit diving is now easier and more practical for recreational divers than ever before. Does that include you? Take the following quiz to find out--

When I dive, I--

  • become cold easily

  • make long dives

  • dive deep

  • dive regularly in water colder than 60F to 65F

  • move little during a dive, as when taking photos

  • make lots of repetitive dives

  • do some type of tech diving.

If you answered yes to one or more, then you need a dry suit.

Test Criteria

We made a major effort in this evaluation to test dry suit functions that are important to the broad range of recreational divers. In this effort, we took care to test:

  • Valve flow rates--the ability of the exhaust valve to flow more air out of the suit than the inlet can put in.

  • Valve positioning--on the upper left arm, near the shoulder, facing upward, is usually the best.

  • Valve use--ease of operating inlet and exhaust valves.

  • Air shift--particularly to the boots.

  • Range of motion--under water and on the surface.

  • Ease of donning and doffing.

  • Quick disconnect--on the inlet valve.

  • Boot top interference--if the boot binds or rubs to inhibit ankle flexing, fin kick will lose efficiency.

The most gratifying aspect of these tests was the discovery of significant design improvements made by dry suit manufacturers. Most of today's dry suits are as good as the best of only a few years ago.

Types of Dry Suits

Foam Neoprene
Many dry suits are made out of the same material as a cold-water wetsuit, usually 7mm foam neoprene. The advantages of these suits often include:

  • Less cost

  • Little or no undergarments needed, unless it is particularly cold.

  • If flooded, not all buoyancy is lost.

Possible disadvantages include:

  • Both buoyancy and insulation value are reduced at depth.

  • More weight may be needed to achieve proper trim.

  • Heavier and bulkier than other dry suits.

  • Slow drying.

Shell Suits
These come in a wide variety of thin, synthetic materials that provide a barrier to water, but no insulation. Durability and ease of repair vary with the material. Advantage include:

  • Light weight.

  • Pack easily in a small space.

  • Quick drying.

  • Can provide the greatest insulation, therefore warmth, by layering undergarments.

Possible disadvantages include:

  • More weight may be needed to achieve proper trim.

  • Looser fit to accommodate undergarments or the lack of material stretch may make for a bulky suit, thus allowing more air to shift and creating more drag.

  • No inherent insulation.

Crushed or Small Cell Neoprene
These suits use a thinner (2 to 4mm) neoprene and, therefore, are something of a compromise between foam neoprene and shell suits. Advantages may include:

  • Performance and fit are more like a wetsuit.

  • Extra weight is not needed.

  • Material is very rugged.

  • Easier to repair.

Possible disadvantages include:

  • Greater cost.

  • Slow drying

Andy's DS3

| | Andy's DS3| Self-donning shell suit with latex seals

THUMBS UP: Unique front zipper. Excellent range of motion. Excellent valve flow rates.

THUMBS DOWN: Position of exhaust valve. Quick disconnect for inlet difficult to use. Boot tops interfere with ankle movement.

Andy's offers three versions of its dry suit in multiple sizes and colors for both men and women. Tailoring and customizing are available, as are a full line of installed options and accessories.

The DS3 has a unique zipper that runs across the front shoulders, which makes for easy self donning and improved range of motion. But this design causes the exhaust valve to be placed on the forward part of the upper arm, making it more difficult to use. The zipper arrangement also provides more freedom of movement, particularly in the upper body, but it also gives the air more space to move in.

All Andy's suits come with heavy-duty latex seals, inset crotch panel, oversized knee pads, insulated boots, carrying bag and maintenance kit. Owners instructions are only a single two-sided sheet of paper. Price range for the Andy's line without extras: $1,170 to $1,909.

Apollo Microcell 4.5 EX

| | Apollo Microcell 4.5 EX| Small-cell neoprene of 4.5mm; rear entry with latex seals

THUMBS UP: Ease of valve use. Foot valves on ankles reduce likelihood of blow up. Good valve flow rates. Freedom of movement.

THUMBS DOWN: Quick disconnect for inlet difficult to use.

Apollo dry suits have outstanding valves that are easy to use, are well positioned and flow well. The inlet valve activates by pushing from the side rather than inward, as most do. The ankle valves keep air from being trapped in the boots.

Apollo offers six sizes for men in the 3.5ex, but only one size for women. In the 4.5ex, there are five men's sizes and three women's sizes. Boot sizing is also limited. Apollo suits also come with suspenders, knee pads and fin tabs. Owner's instructions are only several loose pages, but do cover all the essential features.

The use of small-cell neoprene provides greater freedom of movement, less drag through the water and performance more like a wetsuit. Price: $899 for the 4.5ex and $1,200 for the 3.5ex.

Atlan E 100 Sport

| | Atlan E 100 Sport| 7mm neoprene; rear entry with neoprene seals

THUMBS UP: Excellent price. Easy donning. Very good stretch and range of motion.

THUMBS DOWN: Boot tops interfere with ankle movement. Quick disconnect for inlet difficult to use. Position of exhaust valve.

Atlan's E 100 Sport is an excellent budget-class dry suit providing the ease of donning, stretch and range of motion most often characteristic of neoprene dry suits. Atlan also offers three other models of dry suits, including a tri- laminate shell suit, another neoprene and a commercial suit. All suits have knee pads, fin tabs, choice of color accent, several options, plus available customizing.

With this type of foam neoprene dry suit, you can expect to add some weight. On the E 100 Sport, the exhaust valve was just barely able to keep pace with the inlet valve. No owner's manual is supplied with this suit. Price: $795 (for suit we tested).

Bare Trilam ATR-HD

| | Bare Trilam ATR-HD| Self-donning shell suit with latex or neoprene

THUMBS UP: Excellent range of motion. Unique lower-leg anti-inflation gaiter system. Automatic Torso Recoil. Ease of valve use.

THUMBS DOWN: Boot tops interfere with ankle movement. Quick disconnect for inlet difficult to use

Bare has six models of dry suits with a variety of options and accessories in a wide range of sizes for both men and women.

The Trilam ATR-HD uses an Automatic Torso Recoil (ATR) system that maintains a tucked fold in the center of the suit, allowing the top and bottom of the suit to move vertically, independent of one another. The ATR system provides for a better fit, while still offering excellent range of motion.

Among the available options is a provision to replace the 6mm neoprene hard-sole vulcanized boots with a soft boot that may reduce or eliminate the boot interference. A very thorough owner's manual and a carrying bag is provided with the suits. Price range for the line without extras: $699.95 to $1,599.95.

BayleySuit Aquastatic

| | BayleySuit Aquastatic| Self-donning shell suit with latex or neoprene

THUMBS UP: Excellent range of motion. Excellent valve flow rates. Quick disconnect for inlet easy to use. No boot interference

THUMBS DOWN: Auto exhaust valves located on both wrists.

Bayley offers three basic models of dry suits with a variety of options available. All suits are custom-made, which, combined with the high-density closed-cell neoprene, makes for an excellent fit that still provides freedom of movement. Plus, there is less drag through the water and no additional weight is needed. Boots also do not interfere with fin kicking, and the fins fit just as they would with wetsuit boots.

The Aquastatic comes with silverdown on the inside of the torso, plus knee pads, hood and duffel bag. At no extra cost, you can have a dry hood with vertical rear zipper, rather than the horizontal rear zipper with separate hood. The owner's instructions are a brief booklet, but cover the basic information.

The automatic exhaust valves on the wrists flow well and are easy to use by simply raising your hand, but with one on each wrist, you will vent the suit whenever you reach up. We recommend ordering the suit with only one wrist valve or an adjustable exhaust valve in the usual upper left arm position. There is no cost for this change. Price range for line without extras is $1,030 to $1,800. Tel: (707) 764-1772.

Diving Concepts Pinnacle

| | Diving Concepts Pinnacle| Self-donning compressed neoprene with latex seals

THUMBS UP: Excellent range of motion. Excellent valve flow rates. Quick disconnect for inlet. Position and function of exhaust valve

THUMBS DOWN: None.

Diving Concepts is a relatively new company that has established a strong presence with both stock and custom suits, cut for men or women, and complemented by an excellent range of options. Three dry suit models include a shell suit, a 6.5mm neoprene suit and two thicknesses of the compressed neoprene (4mm and 2mm). All suits come with suspenders, choice of latex or neoprene seals, hood and bag. The Pinnacle 200, as tested, also features Kevlar knee pads, reflective tape on the arms, a warm neck, wrist rings for dry gloves, wrist seal protectors and Kevlar seat pad. We also tested a cuff dump in place of the adjustable exhaust, and found it worked very well.

The dry gloves (see photo) are excellent, but the ring system to attach them makes the wrist very bulky. These would only be needed in extremely cold water. The Kevlar seat pad has hard edges and makes the suit stiff. We do not recommend it. The Diving Concepts owner's manual is outstanding, as is all of their printed material. Price range for line without extras: $1,200 to $1,850.

Diving Unlimited International CLx450

| | DUI CLx450| Self-donning shell suit with latex seals

THUMBS UP: Excellent range of motion. Quick disconnect for inlet easy to use. Effective positioning of exhaust valve. Easy donning. Outstanding valve flow rate.

THUMBS DOWN: None.

DUI has been an innovator and the leading producer of dry suits for many years, providing the greatest range of selection available.

The CLx450 is truly self-donning. The fit and range of motion are both excellent, due to the telescoping torso, suspenders, internal waist adjustment cord and crotch strap. These features also work to provide a fit that does not permit excessive air shifts and does not require any additional weight. Also included are a warm neck collar, zipper guard, overlays or double layers in wear areas and a dry suit bag.

Rock Boots are a new innovation by DUI that provide better traction and wear resistance, and they can be fitted to many different dry suits or wetsuits. But any sturdy separate boot system will affect the fit and performance of fins. If you dive primarily from dive boats, regular dry suit boots are more than adequate.

DUI provides an outstanding owner's manual, plus several books and videotapes on dry suit diving. Price range for the line without extras: $990 to $2,778.

Gates Pro-CBX 450

| | Gates Pro-CBX 450| Shell suit; rear entry with latex seals

THUMBS UP: Quick disconnect for inlet easy to use. Effective positioning of exhaust valve. No boot interference.

THUMBS DOWN: Poor valve flow rate.

Gates manufactures dry suits in its own name and for other companies from its plant in Scotland. The suits are distributed primarily by commercial diving suppliers in the United States, and are also carried by Aqua Lung in Canada. Five women's sizes and 13 men's sizes are produced in three different color combinations. Some tailoring is also available for the four different models offered. The owner's manual is very complete and well done. Price range for line without extras: $1,402 to $1,885. tel (011) 441387-269591.

Henderson Arctic Dry II

| | Henderson Arctic Dry II| 7mm neoprene; rear entry with neoprene seals

THUMBS UP: Excellent price. Very good stretch and range of motion. Easy donning. No boot interference.

THUMBS DOWN: Quick disconnect for inlet.

Henderson is best known for a wide selection of wetsuits and skins. Henderson offers one dry suit, the Arctic Dry II, which comes in six men's and six women's sizes.

The placement of the rear entry zipper causes the exhaust valve to be lower on the left arm, making it somewhat more difficult to position for use, but it does work well when in position.

As with other foam neoprene dry suits, you will most likely need to add more weight. Also, characteristic of these suits, the Arctic is easy donning, and the excellent stretch of the material adds to its range of motion. Knee pads are standard and both hoods and mitts are available. The owner's manual is well done. Price: $699.

High Tide C 3000

| | High Tide C 3000| Compressed neoprene, rear entry with neoprene seals.

THUMBS UP: Good range of motion. Quick disconnect for inlet easy to use. Ease of donning.

THUMBS DOWN: Boot tops interfere with ankle movement.

High Tide is a new dry suit manufacturer. All of its suits are custom-made from a compressed neoprene or from a hybrid neoprene with other material layers. The C 3000 uses 4 mm neoprene, has knee pads, suspenders and a relief zipper for men. Also included in the base price are undergarments and a carrying bag. The owner's manual is excellent.

As with other suits using a compressed or similar type neoprene, the C 3000 dives more like a wetsuit, requiring little or no extra weight, having less resistance to movement and fitting more closely while still being easy to don. Price range for the line without extras: $1,595 to $2,395. tel (360) 551-0990.

Mobby's Twin Shell Pro

| | Mobby's Twin Shell Pro| Shell suit; rear-entry with latex seals.

THUMBS UP: Good range of motion. Ease of donning. Easy to use inlet valve. Exhaust valve well-positioned. Excellent valve flow rates.

THUMBS DOWN: Quick disconnect for inlet difficult to use. Boot tops interfere with ankle movement

Mobby's uses a unique system of an outer shell, for wear, durability and appearance, combined with an inner shell for a watertight seal. Together, they provide a comfortable, well-fitting suit of great versatility. You can change outer layers, or have it done for you by the dealer or at the factory. The outer layer has a waist belt that improves fit and also comes with pockets. The outer shell is velcroed to the inner shell for ease of switching. The Twin Shell Pro we tested also comes standard with suspenders, leg zippers, a protective over zipper, reinforced knees and seat, patching material and a carry bag. Price: $1,540 (for suit we tested).

Oceaner Titanium Polar

| | Oceaner Titanium Polar| 7mm neoprene; rear entry; neoprene seals.

THUMBS UP: Ease of valve activation on both inlet and exhaust. Good stretch and range of motion. Excellent valve flow rates.

THUMBS DOWN: Quick disconnect for inlet valve difficult to use. Exhaust valve poorly positioned. Boot tops interfere with ankle movement.

Oceaner has five models of dry suits with several variations and options, plus multiple stock sizes and customizing for both men and women. All of these are neoprene suits, so they benefit from neoprene's greater stretch, making donning easier and increasing range of motion. The Titanium Polar comes with a cold-water collar, hood, knee pads and carrying bag. An "Extreme Package" is also available that includes Kevlar knee pads, two pockets and double wrist cuffs. A thorough "Dry Suit User's Guide" also is provided. Valve placement is an option, so you can request that the exhaust be placed as near as possible to the optimum for most divers--on the upper left arm near the shoulder and facing up. The force required to activate both the inlet and exhaust valves was very low, and was among the best tested. Price range for line without extras: $800 to $1,260.

Oceanic Aerdura

| | Oceanic Aerdura| Shell suit; rear entry; latex seals

THUMBS UP: Excellent range of motion. Excellent valve flow rates.

THUMBS DOWN: Quick disconnect for inlet valve difficult to use. Boot tops interfere with ankle movement. Exhaust valve difficult to activate.

Oceanic Aerdura has a cordura ripple knee pad, called a Gill-Pad, which provides excellent flexibility along with abrasion protection. Also, unique to the Aerdura are adjustable ankle boot covers with built-in weight pouches. The weights go on the inside of the ankle cuff with a Velcro cover. A special type of weight would be needed to fit. The suit also has a provision for suspenders, comes with a cold-water over collar, fin tabs and an elastic back for increased mobility. The owner's instructions are excellent. The generous fit of this suit may require you to consider a size smaller than you might select in another line. Price: $1,495 (for suit we tested).

O'Neill 7000X

| | O'Neill 7000X| 7mm neoprene; rear entry; neoprene seals

THUMBS UP: Excellent price. Good stretch to material.

THUMBS DOWN: Exhaust valve poorly positioned. Boot tops interfere with ankle movement. Poor valve flow rates. Quick disconnect for inlet valve difficult to use.

O'Neill's 7000x comes with knee pads, fin tabs and carrying bag, but no owner's manual. Boots, as supplied, were significantly oversized, adversely affecting fin fit and performance. There is no swivel on the inlet valve, which limits its positioning for use.

Consumer Alert: Two statements completely at odds with good practice in dry suit diving were supplied by O'Neill: "this suit is not designed to be used as a buoyancy compensator." Best thinking in the field is that you do not use your BC under water for buoyancy when wearing a dry suit, but that you use the dry suit to maintain neutral buoyancy. Also: "Important safety warning--hand tighten before each dive" is printed on the suit by each valve. Even after hand tightening, both valves leaked. This should not be a consumer function. The valve should be tightened once at the factory. After the valves were tightened with a tool, they did not leak. Price: $797.95.

O.S. Systems SARR

| | O.S. Systems SARR| Self-donning shell suit; latex seals

THUMBS UP: Ease of donning. Excellent range of motion. Well-positioned exhaust valve. Exhaust valve easy to use.

THUMBS DOWN: Quick disconnect for inlet valve difficult to use.

O.S. Systems' line of suits includes six different shell suits in both stock and custom cuts with a wealth of options available. The SARR dry suit supplied to us came with butt pad, knee pads, horizontal front zipper for self-entry, pocket, hood, ankle and wrist covers to protect seals, neck ring and carrying bag. The exhaust valve was one of the easiest to activate of all the suits tested, but the inlet valve was one of the valves that took the most force to activate. The waist belt, along with elastic sewn into the wrist, plus the flap of material that goes over the front entry, helps to provide for easy entry and excellent range of motion. The additional material may require a longer weight belt. Price range for the line without extras: $1,506 to $2,128.

USIA Aqualite

| | USIA Aqualite| Shell suit; rear entry; latex seals

THUMBS UP: Excellent range of motion. Well-positioned exhaust valve. Ease of activation on exhaust valve

THUMBS DOWN: Quick disconnect for inlet valve difficult to use. No swivel on inlet valve. Difficult to activate inlet valve

USIA offers three primary shell dry suits with options and packages including thermal undergarments. These are the most price-competitive shell suits available. As tested, the Aqualite provided excellent range of motion, but part of this was due to it being oversized. The oversizing also provided more space for the air to shift inside the suit. At the same time, the Aqualite required little or no additional weight. Position and activation of the exhaust valve are outstanding, but it takes a good deal more force than average to activate the inlet valve.

The Aqualite has full frontal thigh protection, boot protectors, ankle cuffs that restrict air flow to the feet, and comes with neck ring and carrying bag. The owner's manual is well done. Price range for line without extras $650 to $1,350.

Whites Aqua Pro

| | Whites Aqua Pro| Shell; self-donning; latex seals

THUMBS UP: Ease of donning. Excellent range of motion. Well-positioned exhaust valve. Good valve flow rates.

THUMBS DOWN: Quick disconnect for inlet valve difficult to use.

Whites offers nine dry suits with a wealth of variations, options, accessories and an extensive line of undergarments. Several types of shell suits, neoprene suits and compressed neoprene suits are included in the line. There are 11 stock sizes for men and 6 for women, and custom suits are also available. Options run the gamut of dry gloves, hoods, relief zippers and pockets, plus alternative valves and seals.

The Aqua Pro we tested included a cold water neck dam, waist draw cord, molded air control knee pads with adjustable ankle straps to help keep air out of the boots, suspenders and carrying bag. The owner's manual is small, but well done with lots of illustrations. Price range of line without extras: $798 to $1,898.

Zeagle Expedition GS

| | Zeagle Expedition GS| Self-donning shell; latex seals

THUMBS UP: Good range of motion. Excellent valve flow rate. Easy to activate inlet valve.

THUMBS DOWN: Exhaust valve poorly positioned. Quick disconnect for inlet valve difficult to use.

Zeagle offers two dry suits, undergarments, plus a variety of accessories and options. There are 12 stock men's sizes and 9 women's, with customizing available. The Expedition GS, as tested, came with an insulated collar, suspenders, pockets, double layer of materials on the knees and lower legs, reflective patches and carrying bag. The owner's manual is small, but well done. The Expedition's fit was loose, providing good range of motion, but also causing air shifts and more drag through the water. Check sizing charts carefully; you may need a size smaller than you expect. Price: $1,799 (for suit we tested).

Missing In Action

Thirty-one manufacturers or distributors of dry suits were contacted for this article. Of these, 18 responded in time to be included. Brooks Seal Suits submitted a suit, but too late to be included. Those companies that appear to have dry suits but did not submit them for evaluation include: Harvey's, KME, Northern Diver, Poseidon and Viking.

Dry Suit Tests and Test Team

Because fit is critical to proper dry suit use, not all evaluators were able to test dive all suits, but all suits were dived multiple times. The test team included Jon Hardy, Vicki Durst, Bruce Haveri, Jason Manix and Lorraine Sadler.

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