I am on scuba dive drysuits. Yes, fourth. My first and second I wore into the ground with years of actively shore diving in and near Vancouver. My third is still going pretty strong with the help of a small dab or two of Aquaseal and the occasional repair and maintenance. Below is my perspective on why purchasing a custom drysuit is well worth the price.
The Aquaseal and maintenance was beginning to make me nervous, as I am now an experienced traveler down the road of completely worn out drysuits. It is a cold, wet, but not very lonely road. I also do this whole cold water diving thing for a living and having only one functional drysuit is somewhat nerve-wracking. I had already undergone a fair bit of risk management in terms of having user replaceable wrist and neck seals and getting acquainted with checking for and repairing leaks, but a major repair, like a zipper replacement would still leave me without my own suit for weeks. Not diving while my suit is away is not usually an option, nor is it ideal – I do this stuff for fun, too.
Besides, I have been growing equally suspicious that my well-fitting stock size ladies’ medium DUI CLX 450 doesn’t fit quite as well as I have convinced myself it does. I’ve had 2 inches chopped off the legs and while the length is much improved, they’re still pretty baggy. The torso is better, but certainly not a custom fit. And the suit itself is heavy, which is what I wanted, because teaching can be very hard on gear, but for my personal pleasure dives, the thing is a bit of a tank. Truthfully, I may also have a little bit of a gear problem and may have just been coveting all the new suits coming in and out of the store. Needless to say, the time had come to purchase a new suit. I had stewed on it long enough and decided to pull the trigger. But this time I wasn’t leaving anything to be desired. If I already have a good suit, it only made sense to replace it with the perfect suit.
Who Needs a Custom Drysuit?
I bought myself a custom cut Santi undergarment last year and knew how great it is to have a piece of gear that didn’t just work for me, but that was truly built for me. I am not terribly unusual in proportions, my legs are a little short and skinny, apparently, in comparison to the rest of my build, but depending upon the brand, most small-medium women’s dive gear fits me quite well. I am not the most obvious candidate for a made to measure drysuit.
But we’re all a little weird, aren’t we? While I am fairly average, I know that certain things can be altered to be better for me, as was the case with my shortened legs in my CLX. So if I wanted to get the perfect suit, I wanted it to fit perfectly and I know that the only way to truly accomplish that is to go with a company known for its attention to detail on custom orders and measurements like Santi or DUI and go for a fully made to measure suit. Getting properly measured for these suits takes time (and a little humility) as numerous measurements are required and should be performed in your base layers (ie, athletic, snug-fitting clothes). This ensures a well-tailored suit.
If you can, I highly recommend going custom whether or not you are far from stock sizes when purchasing a suit. When you are investing this much into diving as it is, it makes sense to spend the extra and get something that works perfectly instead of just “good enough”. If you are struggling to find a stock size that even sort of works for you, step back and consider where you may be able to save in other areas of dive gear, because making a suit that just does not fit work for you is no fun. I’ve done it with at least one of my own suits and with probably every rental suit I ever used before taking the initial plunge into a relatively okay fitting Bare NexGen.
Features, Options and Upgrades available on custom Drysuits
Many stock suits come as bare bones models. Seals, boots and a couple other items may be requested, but for the most part anything else is available at an additional cost. If you are going to the trouble to have a suit made for you, it may as well have everything that you will want or need, instead of going without or having to add on down the road. Large, easy to access pockets are the first thing that come to mind as a very convenient and even necessary addition. In the best of circumstances (warm water, no gloves) BCD pockets tend to add bulk and remain rather inaccessible. Pockets located on one’s thighs on a drysuit (or wetsuit) are much more practical to use in the water. User replaceable seals and/or drygloves are also high on my priority list. There is some debate over the reliability of such a neck seal on long, deep dives, but I am very pleased with mine. Replaceable neck seals also allow for installation of the relatively new silicone seals on the market. These seals provide a soft, flexible seal without the irritation of delicacy of latex. In my experience, they also tend to provide the best (ie, driest) seal around. That being said, silicone neck seals are a bit of a struggle with long hair and I waffle between latex and silicone. Neoprene seals are typically available for the diehards that like the resilience and insulation that they offer, but they are not available in user replaceable options. Extra padding, or reinforcements in areas such as the crotch, butt, knees, et cetera may be added to many custom suits with materials like neoprene and kevlar used. P-valves can be added at the time of manufacturing. Certain preferences such as valve type and locations and the type of foot/sock/boot configuration can often be determined by the diver at the time of the order. Some companies even offer a choice of zipper routing. Many brands of drysuits have a variety of colour or accent choices on custom suits, usually beyond what is available off the shelf.
My suit arrived just days before our annual Easter trip to Browning Pass, near Port Hardy. I was working right up until the day of departure so, I did not have the opportunity to dive it. I did, however, try it on in the store and go through a series of range of motion checks with my exact diving undergarments on to make sure the sizing was accurate. It sure seemed like it. I brought both the old, faithful CLX 450 and my fresh, flamboyant new TLS 350 with me on the trip up Vancouver Island. I debated a little, having an untested suit in cooler, remote waters, but our first dive was to a sheltered, fairly shallow site so I decided to try the new addition to my gear. It performed flawlessly. My mobility in the suit was beyond my expectations! Not only did the streamlined fit help, but the lightweight TLS trilaminate material is so much more pleasurable to dive. I didn’t think that the excess material in the stock medium impacted its performance in the water that much, but it was much more comfortable to control the air in a suit that fit my body properly. Topside, it is much less bulk to haul around and I don’t have to worry about the legs wearing against each other. The old suit didn’t see the light of day for the entire trip.
I’ll keep the old CLX for teaching, it is still a good, durable suit and the fit is decent, really, but I will be using the TLS whenever possible. Now if only DUI made pink zip gloves…