So many factors affect how we chill under water, apart from water temperature. Some are highly personal and variable. We lose body heat from wind-chill around the dive-site, accumulated cooling from repeat dives over multiple days, and even by just breathing, which is exacerbated at depth. Especially, we chill when we’re not moving.
So any wetsuit test is subjective, and so it is with the 8mm Waterproof W80 steamer, which
I used over six dives or so, both as a standalone and with the 5mm over-shortie.
Waterproof is a Swedish company, though the W80 is assembled in the Far East. The company also runs Waterproof Expeditions, which has a special emphasis on polar adventuring.
Waterproof’s suit range encompasses a broad choice of drysuits, catering to military, commercial, technical and recreational divers. Alongside sits a line of semi-dry and wetsuits, with features and benefits from premium to economy.
The W80 is from the economy range, and Waterproof states that it is designated for moderate depths and lower temperatures. It doesn’t specify a specific depth and temperature range, and how could it, given each individual’s personal predisposition to cold?
But Waterproof should be applauded for its candour in downplaying its claims for the W80. I’ll take its lead and talk about it in that context, keeping in mind that it’s a low-cost wetsuit.
Anti-slip protective panel.
The W80 is a one-piece made from 8mm Ultraflex neoprene. While the neoprene creates an insulating barrier that slows heat-loss from your body to the water, heat-loss also occurs through flushing, which can occur through seams if they aren’t watertight.
Seams are glued and dry-stitched to prevent this. Because it’s not a semi-dry, the W80 lacks anti-flushing seals at wrists, ankles and neck.
Here’s why semi-drys exist – the anti-flushing seals mitigate a poor fit. As a kid, my wetsuits were tailor-made in the UK, long before semi-drys existed, and they fitted me perfectly. When I took them off, the inside would be damp, not soaked, and you could tell the type of stitch used from the imprints left on my body.
Today, the British market will rarely bear the price of bespoke wetsuits, because the cost of manufacturing in the UK or Europe greatly exceeds that of even a Far East-made budget drysuit, let alone a humble wettie.
So the consumer is stuck with stock-size suits and the manufacturer does what it can to get as good a fit as possible. It’s extremely important to get a close fit with a wetsuit like the W80.
In the W80 Waterproof uses a neoprene called Ultraflex that has a lot of give. If you have proper biceps (I don’t) and do flexes, the material will contract and expand with your muscles.
For surface sports, such as sailing and surfing, high-stretch neoprene is essential; for diving it is less important. Waterproof uses denser neoprenes in its high-end coldwater semi-drys, but this is far costlier than that used in the W80.
I would guess that the W80 neoprene is rated for fairly modest diving exposures, because of compression causing the suit to thin out at depth and lose insulation.
WPAD pocket in-situ (top) and (above) detached from W80 wetsuit.
The problem Waterproof has set itself is that while most rivals offer only soft neoprene suits, it sells a better suit but at a higher price.
The usual nylon lining inside and out adds strength and makes it easy to don and doff the suit. The outer adds additional scuff protection.
Waterproof builds on this abrasion protection by adding plasticised panels to the seat, extending down the back of the thighs. These have a stippled non-slip finish to help keep your butt from sliding around on boats.
Small raised shoulder flashes prevent slippage of BC straps. Around the wrists you’ll find stippling to create friction to stop your gauges shifting – all nice touches on a budget wetsuit. The right thigh is equipped to take Waterproof’s optional WPAD expanding pocket.