I suppose few of you will remember when Aquion had a lion's share of the British drysuit market. That was because it came up with a simple membrane suit that didn't fit like a dustbin-liner and actually kept the water out. That was then and this is now. Aquion has been under new ownership for a few years and it still makes suits to that popular formula, but today it has fierce competition, even from within its own production lines. The Aquion drysuit is just one of the many products made by John Gordon's Airsub International. It was sent to me in an off-the-peg size. The difference from previous Aquion suits is that this one has the telescoping body feature that was once unique to the products of the Californian drysuit company DUI, and protected by a now-defunct patent. With a diagonal front-entry zip, this allows you to pull the top half over your head from the back once you've got your legs in the bottom half. The bottom half, meanwhile, is held up with internal braces, and once your arms are in the sleeves and your head through the neck seal, that extra bit of torso is taken care of by a tuck, and kept there by an adjustable strap that passes between the legs.
Stand-out braces One good thing about the internal braces: they're white and pale grey. Thank goodness someone has listened to me at last. I was getting fed up with black braces that got lost inside the gloomy black interior of every drysuit so that I often got them, along with my knickers, in a twist. My only criticism here is that the fixing points for the braces look a little flimsy. With a front diagonal zip, the suit is almost self-donning. I just needed a little help closing up the last bit. I've never had a suit that I could zip up unassisted. The heavy-duty zip is covered by a flap held closed with Velcro patches. The tri-laminate material is labelled 'titanium' and evidently has this metal oxide within the butyl-rubber mix. This is meant to give it some insulating qualities. It certainly has some stretch. I punched a perfectly neat round hole in the thigh for the power lead of my Typhoon Icebreaker heated vest, hung the drysuit up for a couple of weeks while I was away, and came back to finish the job to find that the hole had temporarily turned oval. Whatever the significance of the titanium-oxide metal within the trilaminate sandwich, the suit looks to be simply if strongly made, with serious-looking double stitching and lots of tape in evidence on the inside. The neck seal is conical and made of latex. I like this type of neck seal, because those of us with scrawny necks never stay dry with any other type. There is a heavier rubber collar over it to help stop heat-loss from the main arteries in your neck. The wrist seals are heavy-duty conical rubber, too. It was ominous that the 5mm thick neoprene-rubber boots were wet inside when the suit arrived. I hoped it was not a portent of things to come, and it was not. The ripple-padded shin areas of the legs are matched by natty Velcro-covered ankle-flaps that allow you to secrete a kilo of lead in each. This will help keep your feet down. The back of the suit is gathered at the waist, too, giving it a more fitted look than would otherwise be the case. A useful touch comes with the thigh pockets, one of which is short and fat and suitable for a small reel (I dropped a 2kg weight in there) while the other is flat and long for a knife, with a D-ring to attach a lanyard, too. Neither is big enough to act like a sea-anchor. What a shame that neither was suitable for the battery-pack of my heated vest. Finally, an Apeks rotating inflation valveis fitted via a heavy gasket at the chest. An Apeks low-profile constant-volume dump valve is similarly fitted at the left shoulder. I got a bit wet when I first tried the suit, but then I tightened up the valves. Doh! The titanium film inside the neoprene hood supplied with the suit makes it quite slippery to the touch, and is claimed to minimise water entry. It is also said to minimise heat loss by acting as an infra-red reflector, keeping the heat of your head where it belongs, around your brain. It certainly felt very comfortable, and I noticed the difference when I forgot it one day and had to borrow another.
Slippery boulders So, after fitting an electrical connection for the heated vest, I set off for Sweden in February. The suit kept the water out, and a Weezle undersuit combined with a Fourth Element base layer kept the heat from the Typhoon Icebreaker vest in. If only I had been able to keep my hands adequately warm,I could have stayed in that balmy 3Â? water all day! As it was, I found myself scrabbling up among the slippery boulders on the shore trying to drag out myself, my steel twinset and 12kg of lead, with totally numb hands. Thank goodness the Aquion Extreme was tough enough not to puncture on the sharper rocks, and stayed watertight all week. The Aquion Extreme drysuit is a robust, workmanlike job that should see years of service. It comes in a range of off-the-peg sizes, with short and tall versions. It costs £625.
Airsub International 01404 890196, www.aquion-dive.com