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On a large pile of smokin' A'a, the most isolated population center on the face of the earth. 2,175 miles to Alaska, 2,390 miles to California; 3,850 miles to Japan; 4,900 miles to China; 5,280 miles to the Philippines.
First, let me warn you, there are few issues in diving that have more opinions backed by less data that dry suit selection. I doubt if there are more than a few divers on the board here who have, long term, dove more than one or at most two different designs of suit. Dry suits are very expensive items and folks get real ego involved when they make multi thousand dollar decisions, if you know what I mean. Most folks dive what their instructor or LDS tells them to, and unfortunately most Instructors have limited dry suit experience and most LDS only have one or two brands of suit to sell you and don’t really understand the advantages and drawbacks of even those suits. Let me give you an example, drawn from the question of wetsuit selection, but it addresses this problem and should help you to understand what you’re up against:
I issue a very detailed equipment list before each class that students who are accepted into the class need to purchase and show up with at the first meeting.
The suits we were using at the time were, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, 5mm, skin two side, Rubatex GN-231N, attached hood, farmer johns, no zippers. I send my list to all the LDSs in the area and freely distribute whatever they send back to the students (this is a big deal to the shops, in the dead of winter, twenty full sets of gear with no selling or inventory required: take the order, take the money, and deliver in two weeks).
One student did not go to an LDS, but rather to a shop near her home, about a hundred miles away. I got a call from the Instructor in the shop informing me, in a fairly emphatic tone, that, “No diver could possibly wear this suit. They could not put it on without a zipper.” Now, please understand that I’ve been diving this suit design since the mid sixties, and the only people who need an inverted half zipper in the jacket are incredibly curvaceous women of petite statue. This woman was just shy of six foot, very athletic and quite thin.
Having nothing better to do (and considering that the woman in question was one of the brighter marine geologist grad students), I drove up to the shop later in the day. I brought my suit with me. I showed the Instructor how easy it was to put on and take off, etc. We solved the problem, but the bottom line was that this Instructor, well meaning as she was, had not yet worn out her first suit and was repeating what her Instructor’s had told her. It wasn’t a marketing issue, the LDS could and did supply the gear (and nicely matched the prices of the LDSs that had sent fliers).
The bottom line is that for dive gear, real information is hard to come by. Most of the opinions that you see on the net are often biased either by being the only piece of that class of gear that a new diver has ever used or being a loaner that the expert tried out on one or two dives.
The thing that you need to do is find an expert who is doing the kind of diving that you plan on doing and ask him or her about the gear. That may well not be an Instructor. Don’t be afraid to bore on in, why … why … why. If you do not get answers that you understand, find another expert. Make sure that the advice makes sense in terms that you understand. When it does, buy the gear and never look back.
With all that said, I really can’t advise you until you define the diving you want to use your new suit for, but here are some thoughts:
Crushed, laminate and vulcanized suits have no inherent insulative properties so they are totally depended upon underwear and gas trapped in the suit for insulation. As you descend you add gas to the suit and that keeps both buoyancy and thermal characterizes constant.
Uncrushed neoprene (and please understand that there is a HUGE difference between the neoprene many suit manufacturers use and quality material like the old Rubatex in terms of compression) will crush with depth, but not 1/2 at 33 foot, 1/4 at 99 ft, etc. As is does, you must introduce gas into the suit to maintain neutral buoyancy, just as with a membrane suit, and that keeps the insulation about the same.
Which is best? I don't really know. I've had Unisuits, Jetsuits, Vikings, DUIs, and a Polaris (Rubatex suit from a small Santa Cruz custom house) over the years. I currently have the Polaris which I prefer for shore diving, a Viking for polluted water (nothing else can really be disinfected) and a DUI that is a joy for boat diving. I use an old set of Unisuit woolies under the Polaris and a ripstop/holowfill/synthetic pile (the blue and gray stuff) set of Viking underwear under the Viking and DUI.
For protection from the rocks the Polaris is the best, for minimum drag while swimming the Viking wins hands down, for ease of in and out, the DUI gets the nod. For ease of repair, it's the Viking. There is one thing that I have in common on all three suits: SiTec wrist rings (which I use with wrist seals) and SiTec neckseal/dogcollar/dryhood system. I can easily introduce air into the glove by raising my hand and wiggling my fingers (this lets some air past the latex wrist seal) and I can get air out by careful “burping.” The neckseal system allows me to throw away a torn neckseal and have a new one in place in seconds, and the dry hood adds a lot of warmth.
I've yet to find the single use that the tilam excels at, it is light, packing away small for travel, and dries quickly, perhaps it’s advantage is being second best at everything … no small feat.
No question, if durability is the only issue, a Viking HD (or equivalent) is the suit of choice. A viking style suit (viking, gates, avon, etc.) will take the most of that sort of abuse since the material does not wet (it is also the only style suit that is as "good as new" after a field repair.[/QUOTE]
I refuse to believe that corporations are people until Texas executes one.
"Too often ... people enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought" - Leapfrog
"They are the McDonalds of diver certification. Quick, inexpensive and tasty. Pardon me for saying so, but I also believe it to be a health hazard." - DCBC
"It truly does boil down to motivation ... if you believe something is hard, or unnecessary to learn, you won't learn it ... even if it's completely within your capability" - Bob (Grateful Diver)
There have been a couple of good comments. The up-shot is that there is no panacea. I prefer a shell whilst diving in very cold water and air temps as I can layer up. I prefer neoprene in cave or current as they are more hydrodynamic, IMO.
For all around use I use the shell as it will cover all temperature ranges, but it / they are SH.. in the water in my opinion. As I am a thermal weenie, I put up with the pitfalls of the shell suit. If I had the money, I'd have one of each for whichever type of dive I am doing.
I have dived poseidon unisuit (older modle neoprene, from groin t0 neck to shoulder zipper), poseidon TNG (neoprene, crushed, back zipper) scubapro everdy 4, bare trilam, HD and neoprene, several ursuk and viking models and several older model shell suits like northern diver etc.
Of these, I felt the comfort of the scubapro was the best but it did not hold up to wear. I travel with a lighter shell bare suit. From my experience, there are no shortcuts, you have to try several models and find what fits you and your diving best. Warmth, flexibility of movement, comfort when switching from surface to dive, maintenance and life span are all factors that come to mind.
There is not one diver on my team that shares my preferences in drysuits, and all are experienced divers....
One swears by DUI, the other only dives the old viking rubber suits, and the third will only do bare.
Tracydr. The zipper failed. That, plus there were numerous pinhole leak across the small of the back, perhaps due to wear against my BC backplate during Pacific Northwest shore dives that require fairly long (1/4 mile) walks.
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Thank you all for your great replies. I now have 12 dives on my new seasoft 4.5 mm suit and love it. I made a minor modification to the pockets by adding vecro so they don't bulge out during the dive, but otherwise love the suit. It is incredibly comfortable both in and out of the water (for once, I can actually bring my foot up more than 8 in.!). Achieving perfect weighting only took me four dives, and I am now dialed in to plus or minus one pound on four different gear configurations. Despite being told I would need a LOT more weight, I really only dive with about 4 pounds more than I did with my shell. This is mainly due to using fewer undergarment layers and thus less trapped air. I also like the heavier boots, especially for walking along our rocky NW beaches. Finally, despite being told I would have to use air in my BC to stay neutral, I dive my neoprene suite just like I did my shell: only have air in the BC at the surface. I do have one problem, though...can anyone recommend a good dry glove system for use with neoprene seals? My old Diving Concepts system just does not achieve a good seal and they are a royal pain to get off after a dive.