How thick should a wet suit be?

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How thick should a wet suit be?

Postby Sean Ryan » Nov 8, 2005 11:02 am

I just bought my first wet suit, which will exclusively be used for caving. I'm not doing any sumps, just staying warm while wading and swimming through the water of "dry" caves. I went to a dive shop, asked if they sold used stuff (since I'd be ripping up whatever I'd be getting) and bought an older suit for $40.

It's ridiculously thick: a 7-mil Farmer John, and a 7-mil jacket. That's 14 mil from shoulders to mid-thigh. I was sweating when I bent over to tie my shoes. But it worked great for the cave I did, Gage's in NY. The wet side of Gage's is mostly walking passage in water one foot to five feet deep. My hands and feet went pretty numb, but my torso was toasty. (We were going to do the Lost Passage, but the water level was way too high. Does it count as chickening out if the alternative is certain death?)

For other trips, I probably won't wear the jacket. I did McBride's at Convention in a borrowed shortie, and I got tuckered out far quicker than normal, which I attribute to all that movement in constricting clothing. In some caves it might even be worth it to stuff the Farmer Johns in my pack and only pull them on for the water passages - I'm thinking Scott Hollow, or other caves that have big dry stretches mixed in with the water passages. But in Gage's that thick 14-mil combo was well worth it.
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Postby ken hill » Nov 8, 2005 9:21 pm

Sean,
Should you decide to take up cave diving, your suit should serve you well in Florida as the springs water temps are 72 degrees. The longer duration of the dive the better it is to be warm.

Additionally some Florida caves have a dive profile at about 100ffw. That's 4 atmospheres, which means the little bubbles in the neoprene that keep you warm are only a fourth of their size on the surface. Or meaning that 14 mills across the chest will be as effective as 3+ mill suit on the surface.

You made a good choice for a wet suit as it is versatile and durable. Most Florida Cave divers use dry suits and that should be the next idea for you to think about for very good thermal protection.

Ken
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Postby kelly » Nov 9, 2005 5:18 am

Sean
You should consider diver's booties which are made of neoprene and would keep your feet warmer with immersion. They sell booties that have tread so they would work well for walking on irregular surfaces in the water,but I would still carry your regular boots in a pack for the dry areas.
Also there are neoprene gloves that have textured surfaces for gripping.
Why stop at having a warm torso-heck you might find you are the person who walks upright through the water while everbody else does the mud filled squeeze to avoid it 8)
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Postby kelly » Nov 9, 2005 5:21 am

ken hill wrote: dive profile at about 100ffw. That's 4 atmospheres,


Ken
I am impressed! I bet you could even teach me dive tables. :wink:
Kelly
PS Somebody I talked to went up into our favorite "sink hole to be" in peacock,and dive computer showed 9 ft at the ceiling.
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Postby ken hill » Nov 9, 2005 8:03 am

Nine feet. A good omen for "Robin Sink" for when the water drops the ceiling may too. See you Saturday at NACD, /K
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Postby FW » Nov 9, 2005 9:05 am

I use a 7 mil Farmer John for wet caves, and sump diving. There is a big advantage to be able to remove the jacket in "mostly dry" passages. With the jacket on, it is even warm enough to dive sumps.

As for booties, I use the neoprene "socks" that are sold to kyakers. They fit inside my regular cave boots, and keep my feet plenty warm. Regular diving booties won't hold up long walking over rocks.
Any opinions are personal.
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Postby George Dasher » Nov 9, 2005 9:08 am

My thought is that you need a thinner wetsuit.

Or find an alternate other than wetsuits. Scott Hollow, I think, is either an extremely warm or extremely cold cave. I can't remember which.

Good socks, such as wool, can really make a difference too.

Anyway, my feelings are that you need to keep experimenting, and noticing what other people are wearing.
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Postby Sean Ryan » Nov 9, 2005 10:07 am

I've had neoprene socks for a few years now, and they do wonders. I haven't crossed over into the neoprene gloves yet - still using the $2 gardening gloves, which I throw out every couple trips when my fingers start poking through them. I have an emergency pair of latex gloves in my pack in case my hands are really getting cold, stuffed in a film canister: it really traps a lot of heat. But maybe neoprene gloves should be on my Christmas list, especially for longer trips.

I did Scott Hollow as part of a big trip, and only one girl wore a wet suit. She was also the only person who overheated two hours into the trip and had to take it off. I've seriously thought about blowing up a rubber raft for the wet sections of that cave.
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Postby NZcaver » Nov 9, 2005 5:45 pm

Hi Sean,

I've done Gages, McFails, Onesquethaw, and a few others around that area - all with a 3mm one-piece full-length suit worn under my nylon coveralls. Of course with those caves you're in and out of water, and not doing anything silly like cave diving. :wink:

I owned a 7mm jacket and pants years ago, but I found it too cumbersome for this type of caving. Even the 3mm is a bit of a pain when ascending up the waterfall in Halls Hole. It gives the muscles a good work out, though! :woohoo:

One time on a slower trip, I experimented by wearing my thin polypropylene long johns and top underneath my wetsuit. That seemed to help a little with the warmth. (I deliberately bought my wetsuit one size too big, to allow for caving activities.) I use neoprene and rubber "Muck Boots" in wet caves, along with neoprene socks or thick synthetic ones. They work great. I also have neoprene gloves that I got on sale from Wal-Mart. I chopped the thumb and forefinger tips off so I can operate my camera and surveying instruments with my gloves on. For extra warmth, wearing a balaclava under your helmet is a good idea too. 8)

I can't recall the water temperature in Scott Hollow, but I don't think it was all that cold. I was in there a couple of years ago. It wasn't a wetsuit trip, but we were in the water for a while and I can't remember being cold.

Have fun... :grin:
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Postby Sean Ryan » Nov 10, 2005 9:47 am

I did Cass at this past OTR, and I doubled up on polypros. Just that extra clothing got me wiped out during the ascent. (Cass was pretty dry that time, so preparations for keeping warm were a little overcautious.) I can't fathom doing a big ascent in something as thick as a 7-mil combo wet suit - but I'd sure want every bit of it while I was down at the bottom of a waterfall, waiting for my turn on rope.
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Postby George Dasher » Nov 10, 2005 9:52 am

Come to think of it, I did Scott Hollow in polypros years back.

I wasn't cold at all.
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Postby answerguru » Nov 10, 2005 12:58 pm

Hey Sean -

That's funny, when we *first* started going to Scott Hollow many years ago, all the grotto members thought we needed wetsuits. So, not knowing any better, I rented a farmer john from a dive shop and sweated to death on the trip.

Now, I don't wear anything other than polypro / cavesuit there and reserve my wetsuit for caves with either very long immersion times or very cold temps.

In general, I recommend just an inexpensive "surfer" wetsuit from one of the big box sports retailers. Can be had for around $100 and will work for many situations, especially out East. I think the suits are usually 4/3 or 3/2mm (core is the first number, legs / arms the second). Not much good for Gages though...a hood is a must unless you like brain-freeze from the Lost Passage.
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Postby George Dasher » Nov 10, 2005 3:20 pm

I've also got a spongy suit.

It is something Swiss. Pleated nylon. Looks funny as the dickens.

It keeps you warmer than polypro, but not near as warm as a wetsuit. Its big advantage is that you can move as good as in polypros.

It is something special made for caving, but I don't know if you can get them any more. Mine is probably ten years old.
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Postby NZcaver » Nov 10, 2005 3:52 pm

George - is that what they call a fiber-pile suit?
I caved with friends years ago that wore those under their coveralls. They look like a giant piece of Velcro! :rofl: (The soft side, that is.) As you say, not as good as a wetsuit - but they work.

The 3/2mm surfer wetsuit that answerguru just mentioned is what I have. I have a Hang Ten that cost $100, but I've seen the same type made by Body Glove at Wal Mart for about $65. Whatever suit you have, the Lost Passage will still be cold...:wink:
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Postby George Dasher » Nov 14, 2005 9:51 am

I don't know what the official name of my suit is.

But I doubt if it is "fiber pile." You can wear it inside out and it looks exactly the same.

It is one piece, blue, and quilted nylon with some kind of insulation inside. It opens down the front with velcro. You have to wear it under a nylon suit, and you look pretty silly when you put it on. Mine is really faded.

I've only seen a few of them around.

It gives good floatation too.
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