With winter finally starting to rear its frosty tendrils here in VA, the traditional wetsuit season is beginning to wind down. Not being one to let a little thing like chilly water keep from my bliss, I’ve already broken out my 7mm EXO Body Glove suit. It’s been my constant cold water companion for some time now and has kept me warm in some truly bone chilling dives. As much as I love it, there are some serious draw backs to any 7mm suit. It’s on the heavy side, stiff in the joints, and frankly, it’s got a nasty buoyant streak. All of this can get a guy looking longingly at his thinner suits, his 3 and 5mms, wishing for warmer waters. That’s where I was a few weeks ago until I met my Lavacore.
Lavacore is actually a brand of exposure suits that are designed to fit under your wetsuit or, in warmer waters, function as a stand-alone insulated dive skin. There are a number of great cuts in the line including short and long sleeved shirts, hooded vests, full suits, pants, socks and gloves; essentially if it isn’t your face, Lavacore has something to cover it. What makes Lavacore really special though is its warmth (2mm worth) without the buoyancy, all while maintaining the flexibility of a dive skin. They have effectively moved exposure protection into the tried and true layering paradigm of other outdoor sports. This shift is long overdue as a layering method provides improved temperature control while still maintaining flexibility and keeping overall encumbrance down.
I had heard all of this in one form or another before I tried out my full suit Lavacore for the first time and I was excited but a little skeptical. The Lavacore suit just seemed too light to really provide all the warmth that it claimed. So I figured I would start off with it in the pool. The pool we tend to use most often checks in at a pleasant 72 degrees and I usually end up wearing my comfy full 3mm. This time, though, I left the 3mm on the pool side and wore just my new Lavacore. It was phenomenal. The Lavacore had even more flexibility than my 3mm but still kept me just as comfortable in the warm pool waters. Having passed its tests in the pool, I decided the next trial would be in our local quarry. Water temp was about 62 degrees and so I slide into my Lavacore and pulled my 5mm on top of it. Three dives later I was still toasty warm (even warmer than I had been in my 7mm in similar conditions) and I had none of the mobility issues that come along with rigidity imposed by 7mm suits. Plus, when I finally got out of the water, I had no fear of stripping off my wetsuit as the Lavacore kept we warm and dried quickly even in the open air. I didn’t so much as shiver once. I was sold. My Lavacore has become a staple of my dive gear, fit for use on any dive.
Still, I started to wonder: Lavacore markets these suits to all sorts of sports. Would the warmth of the suit hold up in some truly frigid non-aquatic conditions? To test this out, I grabbed my eldest son and headed into Shenandoah National Park for a quick overnighter. The day we arrived was brisk without being frigid; however, as night fell, that all changed. With the sun down, what little heat it had brought quickly disappeared into the dark and soon our breath was freezing to the side of the tent. In similar sleeping bags, my son and I stretched out to sleep away the cold. Despite being clad in thermal underwear and sweats, he shivered away much of the night, never quite warm. My Lavacore was up to the challenge though and I slept comfortably and soundly through the dark hours. It even protected me from the biting wind and chill of the next day (which reached a whopping 22 degrees).
The Lavacore line is everything it claims to be and more. As such, I would recommend it to every single diver and non-diver out there, pretty much anyone who finds themselves outside in the cold from time to time. It’s a world-class garment and perfect for whatever nature throws at you.