Appeared in DIVER August 2017
THERE COMES A TIME in every diver’s life when you have to kick back and admit that you’re not really warm as toast, unless it’s toast that was made yesterday and stored in the freezer against some future desire for toast that strikes when you have no bread and no toaster.
It happens a lot on Red Sea liveaboards in winter, when people tend to point and laugh on day one when they see that I’m wearing a drysuit. Give it time, and four dives a day will combine with the wind-chill to wipe the smiles off their faces.
Thing is, when you’re cold you tend to think more about your shivering limbs than the beauty of the underwater world, and will be more or less secretly relieved when you can get out of the water.
Enter the rash-vest. As the name suggests, it’s a vest that you can wear under your wetsuit and that will add extra insulation around your body core to keep you warmer overall.
A well-fitting rash-vest can also help if your new wetsuit turns out to be a bit on the big side and allows water in. It’ll stop water flushing past your body and wicking away the heat.
The Sharkskin Technical watersports range contains an example and they sent it for me to review.
This vest isn’t made of neoprene, but of a wind-proof material that’s fleece-lined and odour-resistant and will wick sweat away from your body.
Then, when you venture beneath the waves in a wetsuit, you’ll find that it’s neutrally buoyant. The end result is a garment that’s extremely useful on the surface, protecting you from
wind-chill pre- and, more importantly, post-dive, keeping you warm when it’s cool and cool when it’s warm.
It’s equally useful under water, where it can provide additional warmth without increasing the amount of lead you need to carry.
There’s another advantage. The tightly fitting material helps to hold in any little bits that might be a bit more wobbly than you’d like, thereby emphasising the manliness of your physique. The ladies’ version will obviously offer the same benefits, only different.
Getting into it is easy. You pull it on over your head just like any other vest, and it’s long enough to come down well below waist-level to keep your kidneys warm.
Getting out of it is equally straightforward – you simply pull it up and the whole thing slides easily back over your head.
Provided it’s not wet. If it’s wet, life gets a bit tougher, and you’ll find it easier to get it off if you have an assistant.
The technique is to lean forward from the waist, point your arms forward and allow your helper to grasp the bottom of the vest and pull, which usefully leaves it inside-out and ready to hang up to dry.
Once the vest is on, your wetsuit simply slides on over the top and you’re ready to go. Or, if the water is warm enough, you can wear it as a dive-skin and expect it to work as well as 3mm of neoprene.
Under a wetsuit I was looking for just two things from the vest – additional warmth and no extra buoyancy, and I got both. It was lovely.
The suit I was wearing wasn’t allowing any water to run in through the collar, so I deliberately undid it to flush it through. I know, the things I do in the name of thoroughness.
The water was noticeably cool on my neck and shoulders, but it didn’t run through the vest and my core didn’t feel any chill, so it was doing that job as well.
Post-dive, leaving the vest out in the Egyptian sun had it dry well before the next dive, although if I left it hung in the shade the bottom hem would still be wet.
Regardless, it took seconds to warm up when I put it on before the next dive.
Back in the UK, I decided to try the rash-vest under my drysuit. It was a bit windy in the early morning, but the vest proved to be as wind-proof as advertised, and made kitting up much more comfortable.
Under a drysuit it acts as another layer trapping air, of course. I didn’t notice any real impact on my buoyancy, though it did keep me noticeably warmer. I liked it as a base-layer.
If you’re in the market, the Sharkskin looks well-made, potentially long-lasting and is worth a closer look. The only real negative I have is the price. It isn’t cheap.