I was diving Blue Stone Quarry in North Carolina a year ago. Wow, it’s been a whole year since the last time I was up there. I met Robert Outlaw and had some really good times with everyone at the quarry. I also did some diving with Sean Harrison – the Training Director at International Training (SDI/TDI/ERDI). Sean was sporting his dry suit on these dives. I just broke out my 5mm Henderson Hyperstretch for them. Anyway, Sean had some really nice looking dry suit underwear. Yeah, now I feel like Cuba Gooding, Jr. in those Hanes commercials with Michael Jordan where Cuba yells out in a crowded room, “Michael, I’m wearing your underwear!” So once you get past your homophobic thoughts of one guy checking out another guy’s underwear you can start reading this again for the actual information.
I asked Sean about his Fourth Element Dry Suit Underwear System because I’m always on the lookout for new gear. In this case I was really on the lookout for dry suit underwear because the polartec fleece stuff I had was too bulky and I didn’t like how the seams were sewn together. My polartec fleece stuff had thick seams, especially at the ankles. Not really a big deal unless you are upright in the water and your dry suit air redistributes so that your ankles cinch down to push that bulk seam into your skin causing moderate discomfort. When you added the double layer polartec fleece booties to the mix your ankles were just rubbed raw with multiple thick seams coming together over your ankle bones.
So anyway – after Sean touted his Fourth Element gear I was starting to like the sound of the suit. It comes in three different thicknesses AND it can be layered. Sean even said that he managed to flood his dry suit in cold water but that the wicking property of the material managed to keep him relatively dry and most assuredly warm. This is very good news in my world. I got an additional confirmation on this – Carrie Kohler said she tore her dry suit on a wreck dive and the water filled her dry suit but she stayed very comfortable inside her Fourth Element Gear under her dry suit that was now extremely wet. Final point – the Fourth Element seams are flat stitched…essentially made to be incredibly comfortable!
I hinted around for a few months that I wanted a pair of Fourth Element Dry Suit Underwear but much to my chagrin nobody stepped up to offer me a free set. I finally was forced to step up and agreed to pay dealer cost for a set of Drybase underwear and a set of Xerotherm underwear. These are the light weight and intermediate weight models. I didn’t get the heavy weight model as I really don’t want to be diving water that cold unless someone is sending me there with a very specific purpose and paying me well to go…oh, and buying a set of the heavy weight stuff too.
Light weight came with a top and a bottom. Xerotherm (intermediate weight) came with a top, bottom, socks and a vest. So that’s 6 new pieces in all. On my first dive to 235 FSW (feet sea water) I wore just the light weight top and bottom (Drybase) along with a pair of white ankle height socks. My dive time totaled 139 minutes (two hours and nineteen minutes for those who need a conversion table) and we found the water temperature at the bottom on the wreck to be a tepid 71*F. Wearing just the light weight underwear on this dive I found myself getting a tad chilled on my final deco stop at 20 FSW. No worries, I still have 2 additional torso layers in my Fourth Element goodie bag to play with.
Day two I broke out my light weight underwear as well as the Xerotherm vest for additional torso coverage and warmth. We dive down to 230 FSW but keep the dive time to 91 minutes this time. I believe the combination of the additional layer of Fourth Element underwear and knocking nearly an hour off my dive time kept me quite comfortable. I even got a little water in my dry suit to see if I could personally test Sean’s statement about keeping dry. It’s true! I had water between my dry suit and Fourth Element gear and that’s where it stayed. The outside of my underwear was damp but the inside – the part against my skin – stayed dry and comfortable. I have previously flooded a dry suit wearing polartec fleece (not an intentional flood like this controlled experience) and the polartec fleece became a thick heavy wet fleece towel inside my dry suit. No fun getting out of the water with a ladder in that case either. In this case I didn’t even know how much water was in my dry suit. My skin was just dry and comfortable warm with no concern for water where it didn’t belong…specifically inside my dry suit. No, I’m not advocating using this stuff as a wetsuit – just saying that it was quite functional in all instances as dry suit underwear.
So in all I have no complaints about my Fourth Element Dry Suit Underwear system. It performed incredibly well in all circumstances. It was comfortable to wear both in the dry suit as well as just walking around on the boat deck. It even looked like true dive gear – as opposed to my polar