Miss Scuba UK Hannah Higgins reviews the Mares XR Kevlar Drysuit

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So there I was… seriously excited…. Driving to collect my new Mares XR drysuit. A suit which is marketed as part of the Mares Extended Range, for extremely demanding technical divers i.e long cave, deep sea and wreck diving, and knowing this I’m feeling like I’m going to find James bond trying it on when I get there. When I arrived, it was hanging in a crisp (men-in-black-esk) slick black drysuit bag… and you have to admit the Mares XR logo is seriously cool. In a monotone palate that basically says ‘I mean business’… I couldn’t wait to open the bag and try it on!

However, on lifting the bag from the peg I wondered maybe had there been a mistake? Had I just got an under suit in there? Had my order been mixed up? … It was ridiculously light! But when I finally got inside the zip, there was no mistake at all. It was just genuinely so lightweight, it didn’t feel like a drysuit at all. Made from new super light (<2.8kg) breathable trilaminate, it could be very easily packed into a suitcase for travel, and at this point all manner of cold water trips abroad flashed through my mind.

I tried on the suit (with huge ease compared to normal – I have very long hair) and noticed the Kevlar protection on the shoulders, behind the knees and shins. For those of you who don’t know – and I didn’t before researching for this suit – Kevlar is the material ‘body armor’ is made from, and it is 5x stronger than steel. And so, as well as making this suit look seriously cool, with these matt silver panels contrasting the black of the suit, its also an amazing safety feature for those people using this suit for wreck/cave diving.

So naturally then, I started trying to do all manners of acrobatics (who am I kidding?! I was just doing some bending/stretching/kneeling) to test the fit and flexibility and it was passing every test with flying colors. I genuinely felt like I didn’t have a drysuit on, just a very fine waterproof over layer… I actually walked around the house for about 40 minutes in the suit ‘just testing it out’.  It has an adjustable drawstring waist and crotch strap (great for keeping everything snug and in place) and a new enhanced design for maximum flexibility, which you can really appreciate after trying the suit. The boots are 4mm neoprene with rigid soles and feel like you are wearing comfy trainers. The reinforced boot instep makes them super easy to put on over under layers, and the adjustable velcro strap around the outside is an amazing feature I haven’t seen on other suits that makes for perfect closure.

The double zip (2x YKK Front shifted plastic zippers: 1 heavy duty plastic zip and YKK Aquaseal dry zip) is diagonal across the front of the chest of the suit, which is handy if like me you don’t trust people to close your zip completely…. We have all been there when just half a cm is left and the first dive you get soaked right?!

I took the suit to try in a pool (all great – and needed 4kg less than normal weight) and then transported the suit down to ScubaFest Cornwall for its first outing. I dived with Newquay Divers for the weekend and felt seriously fly walking around in my new suit, held up by the suspenders inside the suit, which are comfortable, seriously handy, and branded with the Mares XR logo. Whilst I was there I had at least four or five other divers asking “oh, is that your suit?… nice one… really nice suit”, as well as a few comments from instructors who had also tried this suit. They said that “it feels better than a wetsuit whilst diving” and also “after diving in that, you won’t ever want to wear another drysuit”… I couldn’t wait to try it and see if they were right!

The suits first ever baptism dive was from a boat, late afternoon on Friday. It was about 11 degrees sea temp and the air was cooler. The sun was starting to set and the wind was getting stronger. Nonetheless, the dive itself ended up being a great one (seals, crabs, jellyfish and caves) and the suit was beyond perfect. Handily, there are two huge compartment pockets (they self drain on the surface and have plastic piping over the opening to allow a very easy grip, even whilst wearing wet gloves) which are closed with a high strength zip, have multiple bungees and different compartments inside. I used these pockets for a torch, my Go Pro and dive filters, a rubbish collection bag and still had bags of room.

Climbing back onto the boat from the water was a dream compared to other dry suits I’ve tried to maneuver in and during the dive the newly designed purge and inflation valve worked perfectly. I was warm and completely bone dry (the dry seal around the neck and complete neck coverage hood avoids water exposure) due to the latex conic neck and wrist seals (these also allow dry gloves, which is the next thing on my list to try). During the surface interval I actually felt a little bad for the others on the boat, shivering due to leaking suits and the ever dropping evening temperature. For those who know me personally, if someone is going to feel the cold it’s going to be me and by a miracle of the Mares XR drysuit, I didn’t shiver once.

The last thing to note is that when I got the dry suit back home and hung it up to dry, an hour later I went back over to ‘check on it’ (ok I admit, I’m a little bit excited about it! The hourly checks didn’t go on throughout the night I promise…) and it was completely dry! Fantastic, and a feature I’m sure will extend the life of the suit due to it spending less time damp.

So overall, I actually could not be any happier with this suit. It’s quite obviously a seriously high quality piece of kit made without any compromises at all. It looks great (the most important thing obviously!), it’s warm, flexible, light, quick drying, well-made, hard-wearing and durable, plus it has bucket loads of amazing features. The Mares XR range was designed as kit for ‘Extended Range’ – pushing the boundaries in what is possible and exploring the extraordinary. I’m sure this will be the perfect suit to take me from being a fairly novice dry suit diver, to bridging the gap and eventually keeping up with the tech diving gang in a few years time in some more challenging explorations.

Hannah Higgins

Hannah Higgins

Hannah Higgins is currently a 3rd Year Medical student at the University of Sheffield, working as a mental health carer around her studies. Previous to this she completed a Biochemistry Degree with honours at the University of Leeds, completing a research project centring on viral genetics. She has published papers at international conferences as 1st author, and is currently working on a radiology research paper with the Sheffield children’s hospital. When not working or studying she enjoys scuba diving, and is an Advanced level scuba diver currently working towards her rescue diver qualification.

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