TIME TO SORT THE WHEAT from the chaff, get off the fence and tell it like it is. Not that any of these suits could be described as chaff. All provide a watertight bag of air in which to dive, but do the job in different ways. You could buy any of these suits and enjoy dry, comfortable dives.
Starting with the three front-entry contenders, the Scubapro Definition, BARE Aquatrek and Santi E.Motion Plus, all three were easy to put on up to the zip-closing part, when I found the Scubapro’s zip hard to reach at the top end and harder to pull totally closed at the bottom of the travel.
This was partly because the protective Velcro flap at the closed end of the zip gets in the way.
The Santi and Bare zips were easy, though a last tug was needed to get them fully closed. There’s a distinctive feel to the last bit that you quickly get used to – because if you don’t, hello wet crotch.
Out of the water the Bare felt the most comfortable of the three, probably because it was the lightest of any of these suits, but all three were fine to walk around in, and made kitting-up easy.
In the water the differences were minimal. If you could somehow kit me up while I was asleep and drop me blindfold into the water I’d have no idea which I was wearing – apart from the Scubapro having a vented hood that worked brilliantly, the best of any on test.
I’d have to remove the suicide-clips from the back of the hood and the pocket before using the suit if a DSMB might be involved, however.
I’d be very happy to use the BARE Aquatrek for most UK diving, and be tempted to give up wetsuits abroad. It was much easier to get into than any wetsuit, especially for the second and subsequent dives, and far more versatile.
My only hesitation would be for serious wreck-diving – I know that the material is far tougher than the light weight would suggest, but I’d still worry about snagging it on rusty metal, especially in UK vis when you’ve not quite hit slack.
The very nice Santi combines more toughness than the Scubapro with the simpler style of the Bare, and if the money tree was in fruit I’d be very happy to own one.
Which brings us to the RoHo X-Flex and Otter Hammerhead, both conventional back-entry suits, and ignoring the material and colour differences very similar to use. They even have the same welly-style boots.
The RoHo has Velcro adjustable cuffs, an extra-cost option I really don’t understand, and one of those split warm collars, but the Otter has that off-centre inflation-valve that didn’t quite catch on my kit out of the water but did a bit in the water. Ultimately I’d take either of these suits and spend more time worrying about my choice of undersuit.
If you thought the choice between the membrane suits was close, you’ve seen nothing yet. Let’s start on the neoprenes with the O’Three MSF500. Even with a slightly rough undersuit the legs slid easily into place and were straightforward to pull up.
The neoprene wrist-seals seemed a little longer than some and needed a good pull to get them settled in place. Lube rather than talc helped.
The neck-seal was easy to roll inward and comfortable in place and the suit as a whole felt good to wear.
The Northern Diver Divemaster wasn’t as easy to pull up over my legs, but the wrist-seals slid into place very well. Perhaps their size and shape suits the size and shape of my forearms a bit better.
The neck-seal rolled inward very easily, too, and the whole suit felt good. Compared directly with the other neoprene suits here it felt a wee bit stiffer, but it took no more than 20 seconds before I stopped noticing.
The SEAC WarmDry fitted like the O’Three, easy in, with slightly balky cuffs but a very nice neck-seal, easily reached to tuck inward.
The overall feel was good, with the sort of gentle whole-body hug common with neoprene drysuits – proper grand.
The Seaskin Ultra was a bit harder to pull up around the legs but easy on the wrists, possibly because the cuffs on the suit were thinner neoprene. It seemed a bit stretchier than the other neoprene suits as well, perhaps because the neoprene used is that bit thinner, and the suit is very easy to wear for long periods of time.
Under water, there was nothing to choose between the suits except that the dump-valve on the SEAC was a bit further to the front of my arm than on the other suits, so it took a more definite roll to vent gas.
If you dive in a solid horizontal trim you might need to think a bit more about dumping gas from your suit on ascent, but that’s about it.
Of all nine suits none was better made or demonstrated better attention to detail in the design than the O’Three.
Just as an example, the neoprene flap over the inside of the inflation-valve on most of the suits is usually a piece of cut neoprene, but on the MSF500 it’s a curvy four-pointed star with printing that’s clearly been designed for the job.
However, I can’t point to anything that the SEAC WarmDry is lacking in the real world, or anything that makes it less good than the O’Three – it’s a fine suit.
And the Northern Diver is an updated classic in which I felt as much at home as if I’d been diving it forever. It’s as close as any modern suit to the 4mm compressed neoprene one I bought from ND 30 years ago and dived for the next 20 years and that I love to bits.
Which leaves just the bargain-basement Seaskin, and I’ll confess that my own current suit is a Seaskin, bought on price and word-of-mouth recommendation.
The first time I wore it I was asked what I thought of my new O’Three, so clearly there’s some similarity in looks. Mine is eight years and 500 dives old.
Best neoprene suit? Whichever you can afford: I wouldn’t turn up my nose at any of them.
There were two stand-out suits in the test – the Seaskin in terms of price, as it’s the obvious budget buy and the BARE Aquatrek is an ideal travel suit. But after that you can relax and go for what you fancy and can afford, safe in the knowledge that we’ve never had it so good.