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Friday, January 28, 2011

Drysuit Diatribe: Seals

I was originally targeting posting a "FAQ" post once a week, but looking at the drysuit series, I realized that would mean talking about drysuits for 8 weeks! So let's try twice a week instead -- I'll shoot for Monday and Friday. I'm also toying with a separate post on dry gloves, since I have a bit to say about them. We'll see. Anyhoo, today we're talking about drysuit seals.

Latex seals seem to be the default choice for seals, although I know a few people who have neoprene seals. I've only ever dived latex seals. Neoprene seals supposedly have more of a "memory" than latex, so that over time, stretching them to get them over your head/hands will cause them to become too loose, and as I understand it, they will start to weep water in through the seals. On the other hand, they are supposedly less likely to suddenly fail while you are putting them on. I've never actually had this happen with a latex seal though -- I can usually tell when my seals are about to go, and get them replaced before they get a chance to fail like that. The only downside to latex seals that I have experienced is that I do sometimes get the latex neck hickey, so that it looks like I tried to hang myself. I haven't really figured out why this happens sometimes and not others. It doesn't typically happen in fresh water, and it is more likely to happen with a newer seal (which could be due to the chemicals used to process the seal, or just that the newer seal is a bit tighter). Slathering my neck with KY jelly before a dive tends to help somewhat. But typically I just don't bother, since I'm just not that vain :) Neoprene seals also seem to be a bit harder to get seated properly on your neck. Typically my friends with neoprene seals need a buddy to check or help seat the seal for them, and I've been told by at least one seasick-prone friend that the concentration it takes to get the seal on in rough seas is not pleasant. However, other friends have reported that neoprene neck seals keep your neck nice and warm. And if you have any sort of latex allergy, well then obviously you should go with neoprene.

There are also these new silicone seals available, which I know absolutely nothing about. I don't know anyone that actually has them, but they look sort of cool.

If you go with latex seals and you are getting a DUI suit, then there is the option of ZipSeals. I had these on my first suit (neck and wrists), and I had wrist zips on my second suit. (All of the suits except my first were second-hand, so the decision about zip-seals was not actually mine.) I do not recommend the neck zip - it's uncomfortable, particularly if you dive a DIR-style harness. The harness tends to sit right on the edge of the zip ring, which causes it to dig into your collarbone. Also, the geometry of the ring made it so that the shoulder strap would sometimes slip off of it (on land, not in the water) which was just annoying. The wrist zipseals I never had a problem with, but feel sort of ambivalent about. I like the idea of being able to replace a torn seal "in the field" but I never actually found the need to do that. It was nice though that I could keep a spare set of seals with rings for my dry gloves (which I will discuss in a later post) so I could switch those on and off of the suit easily. Zipseals also give you the option of using the DUI zipgloves, which I have no experience with, but I know a few people who seem to like them. I'll discuss dry gloves in the "Accessories" post later in this series (or possibly in their own post).

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