Appeared in DIVER January 2008

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John John Bantin has been a full-time professional diving writer and underwater photographer since 1990. He makes around 300 dives each year testing diving equipment.

3 SEMI-DRY SUITS
BEUCHAT FOCEA COMFORT 2 MARES EVOLUTION 5+5 IQ THERMATEC 7

INTERNET FORUMS ARE RICH WITH POSTINGS from people agonising about which suit to take on a particular trip. Even if you think you are going to a tropical destination, the water is likely to be a lot less warm than you are.
And if at first you reckon you can brave it in your skimpies, think again if you want to enjoy a long and comfortable dive.
Those who have had the foresight to load up with their own thermal insulation, through a dedicated diet of pies, will need less insulation than those who have opted instead for a long and less carefree life. So it will always be down to personal preference and the amount of hardship you can endure.
Jumping into the refreshingly cool waters of Wraysbury Lake is something I am prepared to do only when fully wrapped up against the inevitable shock.
Colin Mac Andrias, DIVERs editorial assistant, obviously had a tougher upbringing than me and, wearing a lighter-weight suit than mine, also eschewed the use of a hood.
But I got the feeling he wished hed had second thoughts, as we bobbed together in the water on the photo-shoot for this test.
These three new semi-dry suits are similar, yet each one takes a slightly different route to achieving its purpose. Each uses a super-elastic type of neoprene to achieve a close fit and yet stay comfortable.
What these suits all have in common are long smooth seals at both wrist and ankles covered by zipped cuffs, and a long back zip with a good layer of material within it to discourage water from flushing through.

Appearance
The Beuchat Focea Comfort 2 suit is made in China for those guys from Marseille (Focea is the name of an ancient town that originally stood on the site). The French dive in the Med, which can be as cold as any sea once you get a few metres from the surface.
The Beuchat is the sexiest of the three suits in that it is made of the most flexible materials - but then, it is only 5mm thick.
Contour-cut to follow your shape, it has fabric-reinforced areas at both knees and elbows to spare it the effects of hard wear.
The inside of both knees and elbows is constructed of lighter-weight neoprene for maximum flexibility, and the inner lining is chamois-soft for comfort.
A nice touch is the non-slip seat for those long RIB rides, with a little karabiner at the right hip on which to hang your hood so that you dont misplace it between dives.
The IQ Thermatic 7 is a heavier-weight suit (7mm neoprene) and therefore less pliable when it comes to fit. IQ is a German company, but the suit is made in Taiwan.
The inner side has some areas that are very soft, reminiscent of the inner side of an ONeill suit that impressed us not so long ago. All the seams are taped over on the inside, so there is no danger of anything rubbing skin softened by long hours of repeated immersion.
Like the Beuchat, the IQ has a comfort zip at the throat that allows relief from that gagging feeling when sitting for a long time. Stitched-on knee-pads are the only concession to suit abuse.
Colin commented that it felt a lot less comfortable than the Beuchat suit, but it would probably prove warmer in tougher sea temperatures, and it is a little cheaper.
Probably the warmest suit of the three (and we say probably because we have no real way of checking) is the Mares Evolution 5+5 Trilastic, a 5mm one-piece suit with a 5mm shortie that can be worn over it. This means a maximum of 10mm of neoprene over torso, armpits and groin, and the flexibility to use either part alone.
The Mares suit is made in Thailand. It has a super-rich plush lining throughout, and the shoulders have non-slip sections to cope with irritating BC shoulder straps that might otherwise slip. The arm sections are anatomically shaped, with small inserts of lighter-weight neoprene at the armpits to aid flexibility of movement.
The 5mm shortie is finished in the same style, with nicely trimmed edges to arms and legs for when you use the shortie alone. It has a separate hood.

Comfort
Obviously the super-flexible, lighter-weight Beuchat suit is the most comfortable to get in and out of, but much depends on the temperature of the water in which you use it.
Strangely enough, we both thought the Mares suit was more comfortable, probably because of its lining, than the less-forgiving heavyweight neoprene of the IQ Thermatec 7, even though it was in two layers.

Efficacy
I suggest that the Beuchat suit would be right for the Red Sea for the major part of the year, but in winter you might be more than grateful for the extra few millimetres of the IQ. The Mares product is a lot heavier to pack, but with this combination suit you would be OK for the Red Sea at any time of year, the Med in summer, and even Wraysbury Lake.


The
The thicker IQ Thermatec 7
The
The Beuchat Focea Comfort 2 and Mares Evolution suits
Butch
Butch and Sundance go for it

SPECS
BEUCHAT FOCEA COMFORT 2
PRICE £225
THICKNESS 5mm
LAYERS One
HOOD Included
SIZES Mens S-XXL, Womens S-XL
CONTACT www.alphad.org
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IQ THERMATEC 7
PRICE £170
THICKNESS 7mm
LAYERS One
HOOD Not included
SIZES Mens XS-XXL, Womens S-L
CONTACT www.blandfordsubaqua.co.uk
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MARES EVOLUTION 5+5 TRILASTIC
PRICE £220
THICKNESS 5mm plus 5mm
LAYERS Two
HOOD Included
SIZES Mens XS-XXL, Womens XS-XL
CONTACT www.mares.com
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