I hate being cold, and always have. Perhaps it has something to do with where and when I was born, but looking back on the first 15 or 16 years of my life, much of it seems to have been spent feeling miserable because of the cold.
Now, with the bleak weather of England and non-existent or rudimentary central heating a long way behind me, my special hatred is reserved for being cold when I’m diving. Sometimes it cannot be avoided and I have to dive in cold water but I don’t like it at all and take extra precautions regarding mild hypothermia and narcosis when it has to be done.
Most of the time, in fact almost 100 percent of my dives are conducted with me wearing a drysuit. I own several and use them even in warm water. I say almost 100 percent because occasionally I get to dive in water that’s really warm — warmer than 28 degrees (that’s a little more than 82 degrees if you’re more familiar with the German physicist’s scale rather than the Swedish astronomer’s one). On the all too rare occasions that this happens, it’s more comfortable to dive wet. The only issue is, that if the dive profile is deep enough to squish neoprene – which is often is – all that nice thermal protection goes away as the suit becomes thinner and thinner. At trimix depths, you can almost read your pressure gauge through any wetsuit thinner than 5 mm. And, guess what, it gets cold down there!
So, wouldn’t it be nice to have something that didn’t get squished as you traveled deeper so that its thermal protection was virtually unaffected by depth? The added bonus of this feature of course would be that you wouldn’t have to slap a bunch of lead on yourself to overcome the buoyant effect of a 5mm-thick layer of rubber while bobbing around on the surface, only to find yourself marginally over-weighted on the bottom as it gets flattened by ambient pressure.
Now I wasn’t really thinking about any of this when I bumped into Corey Gordon from Pinnacle. Years ago, I owed a Pinnacle wetsuit. It was awesome. Build like the proverbial brick privy and pretty comfy. It lasted several times longer than anything else, but finally it did go meekly to a garage sale or church bazaar. I asked Corey if he had something similar for me now. Perhaps a 5 mil Cruiser one-piece. He told me he had something better.
The PINNACLE Aquatics V-Skin Inferno Suit is NOT your average wetsuit. To begin with, it’s not thick neoprene… it’s a tri-laminate… stretchy Lycra on the outside and various thermal linings keeping the heat in and cold out on the inside, and a breathable membrane between them. According to the marketing hype from the copywriters at Pinnacle, it is their “latest innovation separating the thermal component out of the wetsuit so that it can be used in any watersports activity.”
As an ex-advertising copywriter and diver, you’d be forgiven for assuming I know what that line means… I don’t, but the suit works and delivers a lot of warmth without buoyancy in the water, and fair amount of wind resistance on the surface.
My educated guess is the 320 gram merino™ fleece used in the lining for diver’s chest and a more traditional merino™ lining in the back and sides help do the job at depth. Corey explained to me that the V-Skin is about the equivalent of a traditional 3mm wetsuit. That may be the case on the surface, but I think it’s warmer as you go deeper. It’s that crushing effect. Any “normal” 3 mm wetsuits at 30 metres is a lot thinner and affords its user less thermal protection. The V-Skin Inferno doesn’t get crushed the same way and its thermal protection is less affected. Hence it’s warmer.
My subjective assessment is that the Inferno is warmer… significantly warmer than a 3 mm wetsuit. Moreover, the V-skin feels more comfortable than a wetsuit both in and out of the water. In part this is due to the material, which is more pliable and lighter than neoprene – so it moves without putting up a fight – and little innovations (damn those copywriters) like the underarm panels which are a different more breathable material than the rest of the suit.
Reading through the technical bumf – done after a few hours experience wearing the suit and wondering how come it is so warm – I found out that the official explanation is that a Merino™ lining holds more water than a traditional “manmade” wetsuit lining., and unlike non-wool lining also retards water circulation throughout the inside of the suit. So, once your body heat has warmed that water, the water is held inside the fibers of the Merino™ lining and kept there by PINNACLE “sealing systems.”
And while on that topic, the V-Skin does not fasten with a zip. The only zip on the suit is the one attaching an over-the-head velcro closure flappy thing. So, to don the V-skin, you enter through the shoulder opening and pull it on. This take a while to get used to, but keeps everything snug up and well fitted around your neck and shoulders. You can zip out the simple collar arrangement I had and zip in a built-in hood… which I have not tried.
I also have not tried using the V-Skin as thermal protection under my drysuit. But Corey assures me I’ll like it. Perhaps, we’ll see. If it’s anywhere near as comfy and warm as wearing it in place of a traditional wetsuit, I probably will.
Anyhow, winter is coming and many of us head off to the tropics to dive as it gets colder at home. And if you are in the market for a new idea in thermal protection, one that’s comfy on the surface, surprisingly warm at depth, and that drys quickly and fits easily into a carry-on, check out the Inferno.