With the water in the UK quarries now hitting it’s coldest, a lot of people have been asking me what I recommend to stay warm while diving. So below you’ll find a detailed list of what I wear when diving. I’m not saying it’s the best option, but it’s what I’ve been using for a couple of years now and it seems to work.
Most of my winter diving is teaching in the UK quarries, so this set up as seen me through multiple diving days with up to 3 1/2 hours in water time each day.
Start With The Basics
It no good investing time and money into your set up if your going to spoil it with the simplest option. Wicking under suits and modern materials all come to nothing if you stick your cheap cotton M&S undies on underneath. For many years now I’ve used Fourth Element Dry Base Boxers. These really do make all the difference, and for little expense. A female version is also available.
Add a Middle Layer..
Over this layer of Dry Base I wear a full set of Fourth Element Xerotherms. This includes top, leggings, socks and a vest. The Xerotherm range provides an excellent balance between warmth and buoyancy. Adding the best means you have extra core warmth without the bulk around the arms, an ideal solution when diving open circuit.
..And an Outer Layer
Over all of these I then I have a final outer layer. And yep, you guessed it, it’s from Fourth Element again! The Arctic set of undersuits provides the final addition to my undersuit system. Again the Arctic offers maximum warmth from minimal increase in buoyancy. And again it’s a full set, top, leggins and socks.
So Many Layers…
All these layers can seem a bit excessive, but their designed to give maximum flexability in many senses. The different layers mean I can adjust and change as I see fit depending on the dive characteristics. If I know the dive is going to be short I can drop a layer, or change different elements. Wearing a dedicated base layer also means I can wash it when it starts to smell a bit without compromising the overall thermal properties of the system. I never wash the Xerotherm or Arctic layers. Instead these get changed every year or so.
The many layers also give flexability in the movement sense of the word. All the layers, and the combination of leggings and tops means that I’m not getting snagged up when reaching for bits of kit (think open circuit shutdowns). The whole system has the ability to move around as I stretch and reach. Many traditional one peice suits are not designed for this kind of aggressive stretching, and will normally result in difficulty reaching valves open circuit from a pulling in the crotch area.
Now Lets Make it Waterproof
All these undersuit layers are great but they can be let down by a bad suit choise. And in my experience there are very few good choices available on the market at the moment when it comes to drysuits. My current choice is the Otter Mako. I find it an excellent suit for it’s cost and has all the nescesary requirments and modification availability we look for as techical divers.
And finally, the accessories
The last two items to top of the system are a hood and gloves. Again I choose Fourth Element for this job. 5mm gloves are the obvious choice and the 7mm Cold Water hood tops the system off. Many people will opt for dry gloves during the winter months. While they work brilliantly when they work, when they fail there is little to no insulation left. For that reason I always stick to wet gloves. While my hands get that little bit colder, I’ve yet to have a wet glove ‘fail’!
I have also experimented with the Fourth Element SubX Undersuit, and while it is toasty warm, it’s just too buoyant for my liking. I reserve this now for even colder climes, or just wearing around the dive site! It may sound a bit like I have some kind of Fourth Element fetish, but there products just do the job. I’ve tried many, many other option over the past 15 years, and nothing seems to offer a better product when it comes to thermal protection. Now if only they could come out with a dry suit I’d be sorted!
As I said, this is only what I currently wear. I’d love to hear if you’ve found something better?