BARE SB system

Breathable drysuit works in tandem with thermals to deliver serious comfort

Author: Pat
18th March 2015

The problem with wearing a diving suit impervious to water on the outside is that water also becomes trapped on the inside.

A layer of air alone against your body would be fine, if your body wasn’t constantly sweating tiny water droplets. It’s a problem that prompted Canadian company BARE to ponder the idea of a ‘breathable’ drysuit – one that would operate in the normal way underwater, and yet stretch to allow moisture out in the open air.

Obscure fabric… the first ‘breathable’ drysuit

BARE’s design team searched for a suitably porous material and finally honed in on an obscure fabric with the correct properties. But turning it into a garment was a challenge. The first SB (Stretch Breathable) drysuit was introduced in 2010 and quickly won Sport Diver product of the year, but was withdrawn from sale when BARE decided it did not meet their quality control standards – no doubt a commercially tough decision.

On the flip side, the redesigned SB on sale today is a far superior suit.

Serious UK divers will probably opt for either a toasty warm neoprene or tough-as-nails Kevlar trilam. BARE’s SB drysuit is neither. So who is it pitched at?

Because the SB can breathe, it is ideal for mixed diving: guides, instructors, anybody with a constant in/out of the water schedule will benefit from the wicking properties. The crew of ‘Game Of Thrones’ reportedly wear SBs as they spend long sequences in suits operating lights and cameras.

In conjunction with the SB system thermals (which deserve a standalone article), the stretchable outer layer allows sweat to dissipate, keeping the wearer much more comfortable inside. Gone is the ‘boil in the bag’ effect of other suits.

The SB is a handsome beast and its appearance has prompted favourable comments on dive boats. Mine has built-in Tech boots and Si Tech valves, but it can be ordered with rock boots and Apeks valves, if preferred. BARE offers a range of tweaked MTM sizes and the SB comes with a lifetime guarantee on the seams and workmanship, which is quite something when you consider the punishment meted out to most drysuits.

It’s a measure of how far technology has progressed that a drysuit can be made watertight with a single zip. The SB is donned via a diagonal front-entry TiZip – something I wasn’t previously too bothered about. (“Can you do me up, mate?” was almost a rite of passage.) After tasting the convenience, I’d never go back to a rear-entry.

I’ve been diving with mine since last summer in varied conditions, from swelteringly hot days out of Weymouth to 4-degree water inland in January. The SB system suit and thermals batted away these extremes with ease. The flex in the four-way trilaminate material makes it supremely comfortable without too much squeeze, and stretch provides easy reach for kit and valve shutdowns. The suit’s skin is made of Nylon on the inside, with polyurethane in the middle and an expandable form of spandex on the outside. As a bonus for the travelling diver – which is most of us – this fabric sandwich comes together as an inherently lightweight combination.

Don’t mistake lightweight for brittle. Just because it’s not suitable for crawling through sumps or snagging on rusty wrecks, the SB still feels hardy enough for most day-to-day UK use. There’s extra reinforcement at the knees, around the backside area and on the most vulnerable seam areas.

The nature of the material means there are no built-in thigh pockets of the sort popular with many Brits. However the drysuit has a small pocket on the left hip with a zipper. Buyers have a choice of neoprene or latex neck and wrist seals, suspenders, and the suit ships from BARE’s Maltese factory in a stylish SB system holdall – which expands to be worn as a backpack, it turns out.

Many of the finest inventions are spin-offs of other products or accidental discoveries. Velcro was invented by Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral after he spotted burrs clinging to his dog’s fur on a hiking trip in 1941. Velcro later proved itself in NASA spacesuits on the moon.

BARE’s stubborn development of the first breathable drysuit is a similar example of open-minded invention.

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