I’VE ALWAYS ENVIED THOSE PEOPLE who come out of the coldest water beaming from ear to ear and claiming to be toasty-warm. I have never, in the whole of my diving career, been toasty-warm after a coldwater dive.
Warm enough, yes, but that’s not the same thing at all. Then again, I suppose I’ve never actually missed a dive through being too cold to go back in, even on a three-dive day in sea water below zero at depth. And that brings me to the blessings of a decent undersuit.
Back in the day, you maybe wore a sweatshirt and leggings under a neoprene suit or a woolly bear under a membrane suit.
If you’ve never seen a woolly bear, it was a one-piece garment that effortlessly combined minimum thermal efficiency with a marked lack of style, but at a price low enough for you to overlook the deficiencies.
Things change, however, and new materials and combinations of materials have revolutionised undersuits.
Take the Otter Polar System undersuit. This comes in a number of styles and thicknesses, including single- and double-layer suits, zippered onesies, top and trouser sets and zipped jackets. The undersuits are made to order and come in a nifty drawstring kitbag.
The one Otter sent us was the Polar System-D two-piece, consisting of high-waist leggings and a large, round-necked sweatshirt-style top. The
D signifies that the garments are made from a double thickness of material, a soft, comfortable inner fleece layer and a micro-fibre outer layer.
Otter says that pretty much any warmth escaping through the inner fleece is reflected back from the outer layer to keep you as warm and cosy as possible.
The thick, soft pants have a draw-cord to hold them up. The fleece material then runs all the way down the legs to just below mid-calf, when it switches to become a thin sock affair, with a loop that goes under your foot to hold the leggings in place when you pull your suit up over them.
The sweatshirt is thick and cosy-feeling even before you pull it on. Around the collar is a soft, knitted cuff that sits high on your neck for maximum warmth, but without interfering with your neck-seal.
Similar cuffs around the wrists keep the insulation of the suit going all the way down your arms to the edge of your wrist-seals.