WETSUIT Fourth Element Proteus II 3mm
There is one other factor that only the vain (like me) will take into consideration – they need to look good. There's no point in appearing as if you've been dragged out of a time machine wearing the same style of frogman suit as Commander Crabb.
The good news is that exposure suits have evolved through this century into stylish garments that can appease even the most fastidious followers of fashion.
UK specialist Fourth Element has acquired a reputation for producing technically inspired, functional yet stylish dive-wear, and has recently released the second incarnation of its popular Proteus wetsuit, unimaginatively named the Proteus II.
The design of this one-piece suit closely follows, but is said to improve on, the original Proteus. The Proteus II has large panels to add flexibility and reduce the number of stitched seams, and features the maker’s Hydrolock neck-seal.
This twin seal incorporates an internal neoprene section that slides over the wearer’s head from the back and sits snugly around the neck and top of the chest. The Hydrolock section extends internally from the small of the back and forms a solid barrier between the rear zipper and the skin.
The internal face around the neck and the corresponding mating face on the main suit both have smooth Glideskin sections to create the double seal.
The Hydrolock section is made from super-stretchy neoprene and is lined internally with the soft, plush honeycombed Hexacore, as is the internal chest section of the main suit. This material is claimed to increase thermal values, but also to reduce drying times.
The rest of the suit has a Thermoflex plush lining that traps water, slowing down the flushing process so that the water heated by the body stays inside the suit for longer.
To further aid in reducing the flushing process, the Proteus II has an array of seals. The arms have Glideskin sections at the cuffs, and the legs have a double strip strategically placed at the ankles. The seams are blind-stitched, double-glued and taped internally to give a water-resistant yet flat profile.
The external surface of the neoprene around the chest, shoulders and waist has an abrasion-resistant, non-slip coating, designed to help prevent BC strap and weight-belt slippage. The knees have a tough rubber coating too, adding some durability to this vulnerable area.
A long, high-quality YKK zipper is placed at the back with a webbing pull-cord to assist with closure. The 3mm suit we had on this divEr Test had white livery at the shoulder seams (the 5mm version has red) with an understated white Fourth Element logo on the chest and a large black version on the rear.
I took the Proteus II to the Grenadines to put it through its paces; the warm Caribbean waters meant that the 3mm version would be a perfect partner for two weeks of diving and photography.
The first thing to report is the different technique required to don the suit. Although it has a back zipper, it’s really a top-entry suit.
I found that the best way to get into it was to roll the top half down, get my legs in and pull up the front and insert the arms; pull the Hydrolock bib up and over my head before tucking the front of it under the suit’s neck-seal; and then finally zip up.
This might all sound a bit of a hoo-hah, but it’s actually very easy to perform.
Once the suit is on it warms up very quickly, which brings me to advising users to don it at the very last minute, or find a cool shaded spot while waiting to get into the water.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced that sudden rush of cooler water spilling into our exposure suits and sending shock waves and a shiver down the spine on the initial entry, but this has been consigned to the history books with Proteus suits.
The Hydrolock system works like a charm, so even if the water gets past the rear zip it won’t make instant contact with the skin, and the double neck-seal has the same effect.
The neoprene used is extremely supple, and although (as expected) the suit was a little tight around my waist it didn’t hinder movement or dexterity in any way.
The internal plush lining felt very soft against my skin, and also allowed the suit to slide until it found its natural position on my body.
Any creases or scrunched-up areas around the armpits or behind the knees quickly ironed themselves out, making the suit feel supremely comfortable.
As far as thermal protection goes, the 3mm version behaved not unlike my standard 5mm wetsuit. In fact I’d go so far as to say that at times it was a little too warm, and on the odd occasion I had to hook my fingers behind the neck seals to perform a manual flush.
I know beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, but to my eyes this is one hell of a good-looking wetsuit. Its clever cut, all-black colouring and subtle white livery ooze style, and the top-notch materials and workmanship purvey pure quality.
However, the Proteus II isn’t all show and no go. The astute design and well thought-out features worked perfectly in tandem to mark this exposure suit as one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of wearing.
A blind man on a galloping horse can easily see why Fourth Element has garnered such a huge following.
PRICE: 3mm, £220
VARIANTS: 3mm, 5mm, M & F
MATERIAL: Neoprene with Thermoflex lining. Hexacore Thermal Lining on torso and Hydrolock system
SIZES: M – XS-XXXL (16), F 6-20 (15) with intermediate tall, standard and short versions
DIVER GUIDE 10/10