WETSUIT BARE VELOCITY ULTRA
The maker of Celliant, the material that infuses the BARE Velocity's neoprene, promises well-being in its marketing. Iâve been on a promise before and been stood up. BARE says that the Celliant makes its suit an outstanding performer in cold water. But after the dive, would it leave me wet, shivering and disappointed, or imbue me with a satisfied warm afterglow inside?
The BARE Velocity Ultra is a one-piece back-entry semi-dry sold in thicknesses of 3, 5 and 7mm, the version I tried. BARE markets it as a mid-range, mid-price suit that’s made for men.
Wetsuits are always a compromise. A big problem for production wetsuit manufacturers is preventing flushing, which means getting the fit right as best they can and using manufacturing methods to minimise water-penetration through the suit itself.
Another is making them easy to get on. A third is keeping the suit rugged.
An oversized, ill-fitting wetsuit allows water to flush through a suit, which your body, with its limited ability to generate warmth, tries to heat up – a nearly impossible task. It’s like trickling hot water into your bath while the cold water is turned on fully – you’re still going to freeze.
A wetsuit is usually made a little smaller than the individual it's supposed to fit, relying on the give of the neoprene to stretch and form a snug fit without being overtight and restricting movement or breathing.
Of all the wetsuits I’ve reviewed for divEr so far, none has fitted me properly. My three-hour interview for the role of crash-test dummy touched on many subjects, but my build wasn’t one of them.
BARE claims an anatomic fit, and the suit is certainly nicely shaped, with pre-bent elbows and knees. There’s a good range of sizes to accommodate different body shapes, such as medium-tall.
My test suit fitted me very well, expanding around my paunch and snugging up around my pipe-cleaner legs. To achieve this, the Velocity combines different types of neoprene in its construction.
For example, certain areas such as shoulders need to be able to rotate, while arms and legs need to bend and extend. The area behind your knees is vulnerable to abrasion from the constant rubbing as you fin, so suppleness is a priority here, while ruggedness and flex is a requirement of the protective knee-pads.
The much-vaunted Celliant, which it’s claimed reflects and recycles body heat that is normally lost naturally, is also used in products that prevent or treat sporting injuries, such as knee supports. US companies, including BARE, say it is “medically proven” to improve circulation and help regulate body temperature, as well as evangelising well-being, though I believe these claims originate from a single study funded by the manufacturer.
Well, as my job has turned out to be seeing how long it takes me to become hypothermic so divEr readers don’t have to, let’s find out how long the Velocity can actually keep someone who chills as easily as I do warm in cold water.
Wearing the Suit
The inner nylon lining makes it easy to slip the suit on and off. The nylon outer provides abrasion protection for the underlying neoprene. Having nylon on both sides of the suit also means a durable drystitch can be used, so water can’t flush through the seams.
Though knee-pads are fitted for durability, in keeping with the Velocity’s price-point they are not provided at other high-wear areas such as elbows and seat. I don’t have wetsuits on test for enough time to assess long-term durability, nor do I deliberately try to damage them.
A good-quality wetsuit should last some years and, in my experience, it’s the neoprene that gives out way before the nylon. I’d expect this suit to be long-lasting, given the usual care.
The inside of the suit is emblazoned with reminders of all the technology you’ve bought into, such as Ultrawarmth, but the outer is an understated black, sporting just a few discreet graphics. Unlike other makes, BARE doesn’t feel the need to stamp labels all over the outside to give your buddy something to read during safety stops.
The Velocity has a rear-entry zip. A thumb-loop at the base of the spine helps you to keep tension on the zip as you close it.
Beneath the zip, a Glideskin panel creates a seal to reduce flushing. Forearm- and calf-cuffs have expanding gussets closed by zippers.
Being able to open the cuffs makes it easier to put your hands and feet through, especially if they’re large. However, having five zippers does increase the number of potential failure-points.
The Velocity depends partly on seals to minimise flushing. Indeed, semi-drys are really an admission of the difficulties of getting a perfect fit from a stock wetsuit.
They make up for the problems of an imperfect fit and, to a lesser extent, the fact that the nylon lining of a wetsuit that makes a suit easy to don also allows flushing.
The benefit of open-cell suits favoured by freedivers is that they stick to the skin, virtually eliminating flushing, but then they’re less rugged and have to be lubed to put on.
The Velocity’s seals are the first of their type I’ve tried. Usually, wrist- and ankle-seals are made up of at least 6cm of long smoothskin at the end of wrists and ankles. These cuffs are meant to grip your skin and minimise water flow.
Alternatively, some semi-drys use seals that turn back on themselves, inverting like some drysuit cuffs. The Velocity uses a Flip Seal.
Inside the forearms and calves of the Velocity you’ll find a thin rubber strip, which is all there is to make the seal. As you slide your suit on, the rubber, sticky side, of the seal naturally falls into place against your skin. As you take your suit off, the flap inverts, so the stronger, slippier nylon lies against your skin, making it easier to remove the suit and reducing the risk of tearing the seal.
With April water temperatures dipping as low as 14°C, Gibraltar is a coldwater destination. I’ve made long dives in wetsuits there in the past, but these were 7mm jacket and longjohns, often with an extra vest or shortie underneath, not a standalone one-piece 7mm. And, after an hour or so, I’m usually shivering.
I was a bit daunted at confronting these temperatures in just a onesie, and concerned that I’d have to call the dives early and spoil them for my buddies.
I initially struggled to close the Velocity’s zip myself, becoming increasingly frustrated. Being able to dress oneself saves distracting other people who are also trying to kit up and, of course, is essential if you dive alone. I was also cautious of forcing the zip, for fear of breaking it.
Then I discovered that dropping onto both knees altered the curve of my spine and solved the problem. Duh! There’s a touch-fastener flap near the neck that secures the zip so it can’t roll back down and open up during your dive.
The tab is marked “Suit Saver”. This seems to indicate a bit of material that covers the touch- fastener fibres when not in use, to keep out debris such as sand that might cause it to lose its grip. You have to peel it apart and it’s a little fiddly to work with on your own, though probably gets easier with familiarity.
My first dive was for 80 minutes, photographing a scientific diver at work monitoring life along the shoreline. But this dive was very shallow, barely touching 9m.
It was a good test of the BARE’s comfort and seals, but not of its insulation, as the neoprene would not be significantly compressed.
My second dive was a slow-paced cruise taking pictures of the wreck of the cable-layer 482, taking me down to 15m or so.
A lot of the time I was motionless, waiting
for fish to get used to me. Under these circumstances a wetsuit, which does not generate heat but merely slows heat loss, is having a lot demanded of it.
A diver swimming hard to keep up with
a group being led on some forced-march tour of a reef generates far more body heat and it’s easier for the suit to keep him warm for longer.
Just over an hour in, I started to feel just a little cold, but not enough to quit by any means.
As a coldwater suit, you’d expect the Velocity to be worn with a hood. The neck has a Glideskin neoprene panel inside that's designed to seal with a BARE hood, which I didn’t have.
Initially, I tested with another make that lacked the docking yoke. I’m pretty sure some water was getting in through the neck – I could feel a small cold patch at the top of my spine.
For my final dive, I added a 3mm undervest with built-in hood that mated perfectly with the BARE suit’s collar. I was in the water for 80 minutes, photographing corals feeding at night and barely moving, and came out only because I was low on air – I was still warm.
The seals, simple and understated as they are, seem to work. After all the test dives I still had shampoo, which I use as a marker to check for flushing, in the suit.
The BARE Velocity Ultra is extremely efficient at keeping you warm in low water temperatures, even when static. It’s also very comfortable to wear on land and under water.
The benefits of a suit as good as the Velocity are that you can dive with less weight, less bulk and thus restriction to movement, have less kit to wash and dry and, of course, it’s lighter for air travel.
And as for well-being – well I can’t argue with 80 minutes in 14°C, can I? Recommended.
Thanks to Gibraltar Sub Aqua Club, Dive Charters Gibraltar and Clive Crisp of the Department of the Environment.
TESTER: Steve Warren
PRICES: 7mm £330, 5mm £300, 3mm £225. 7mm hood £65
SIZES: S-4XL (men’s only)
COLOURS: Black, black-blue
DIVER GUIDE 9/10