What to wear

We look at winter suits and talk to experts about their choices

Wednesday December 19th 2007, Author: Toby Heppell, Location: United Kingdom
During the long cold winter months the demands of the gear we wear on the water increases from merely keeping us dry to also keeping us warm in the extreme cold. In the competitive world, this can ultimately mean the difference between winning a race and not finishing at all.

The popularity of high performance dinghies in recent years has led to two major considerations when choosing what to wear on the racecourse. Firstly with the additional athleticism required to sail these boats, crews have been drifting towards tighter fitting clothes, such as steamers and thick winter wetsuits. However, these boats are faster, therefore increasing the wind chill factor and given many modern boats are less stable than their predecessors more time is likely to be spent in the water, for which a dry suit would be better suited for purpose.

Whether you are a wetsuit or drysuit person is most likely as much down to personal preference than anything else, but other factors such as typical water temperature at your home sailing club should be taken into consideration.

Gul Response Steamer Wetsuit:

Perhaps one of the best known brands, certainly in the dinghy world, Gul have been making performance wetsuits for years. Many dinghy sailors have, at one time or another, owned a Gul wetsuit and it is this familiarity as well as colossal experience in the market that puts them at the top of the list in terms of what to buy. Gul have had the added benefit of being a sponsor of Skandia Team GBR and this has allowed the company to work alongside the best Olympic sailing team in the world to develop their products.

The Gul Response Steamer is made out of 3, 4 or 5mm fabric and has glued and blind stitched seams to keep you warm out on the water. Gul has always favoured zippers over zipper-less wetsuits and this suit is fairly standard fair for the company with a rear zip for easy entry. It also features stretchy panels under the arm and on the shoulder to allow extra manoeuvrability.

The suit has smooth skin material on the chest and back panels to allow for extra wind resistance. Finally tough knee pads allow for extra abrasion resistance to help wear and tear when sailing on non-slip.

Musto Long Sleeve Wetsuit:

Musto is another one of oldest brand names in the sailing world, and who as a company have worked with many of the highest profile sailors. Musto’s Long Sleeve wetsuit is a simple design, in black and grey with a large Musto Logo on the front.

By a long way our and many others favourite design feature is the multiple seamed legs on the suit. Essentially these allow the leg lengths to be altered by cutting just underneath one of the seams without the suit fraying or coming apart after adjustment.

Aside from the adjustable legs many of the features on the Musto are present in the Gul suit, with some subtle differences. The Musto suit, for example has an anti-abrasive material on the knees, shin and seat where the Gul only has it on the knees. Both have the same back zipper and windproof smooth panels on the chest. In terms of winter suitability, the Musto only goes up to 3mm making it lighter and easier to move around in, but potentially less warm.

O’Neil FLX 3/2:

There are a wide variety of wetsuit makers out there specifically for the sailing markets, however, some still prefer to go for one of the many surfing brands out there. With a need to stay warm in and out of the water and a premium on flexibility, surfing wetsuits often have many of the same features sought in a winter sailing wetsuit. Due to this and the increased popularity in other wind sports such as kite surfing, the surfing brands are now beginning to make suits tailored more specificially for the sailing/windsport market.

Much like the Gul suit, the O’Neil has super stretchy panels underneath the arms and on the shoulders that help with upper body mobility. Again like the Gul and the Musto this suit has knee pads to prevent abrasion and has a back zip for entry. What sets this suit apart from the other two is the fact that the whole outside of the wetsuit is covered in a wind resistant smooth skin exterior, as opposed to just the back or the front.

Henri Lloyd TP1 Stealth Dry Suit:

The Henri Lloyd Stealth range has been developed alongside top Olympic dinghy sailors and was originally used by Skandia Team GBR at the Athens Olympics, however, due to sponsorship it was branded with the Adidas logo. At the start of this season the range was launched to the general public.

The Stealth Drysuit comes in the company’s breathable fabric Tp1, with many of the features one expects from such a suit these days. There are longer cuffs on both the legs and arms to prevent chaffing of the rubber seals as well as a Velcro neck flap to help with the same. The belt around the middle and braces on the inside of the suit will help make sure it fits snugly to most body shapes. This garment has hard wearing Cordura reinforcement on the knees and seat which seems to be significantly softer than other suits we have seen. Also new is the zip used, a new design made totally out of plastic which feels more flexible than its metal counterparts and comes with the benefit of being a less expensive component than the traditional metal. One word of warning though, Henri Lloyd says the zip does need to be kept well maintained with some lubrication - a dab of Vaseline or a squirt of McLube should do the trick.

Gul Code Zero:

New to the market this winter is the Gul Code Zero drysuit. The new drysuit is the latest addition to the company’s Code Zero range.

The drysuit has been designed using Gul’s 'action fit' technique which incorporates stretchy panels at various parts allowing the suit to assume a closer fit to the body of the wearer. It is constructed from a breathable and waterproof fabric, with stretchy, neoprene arm, leg and back panels. As with all drysuits on the market it also features fully heat taped seams and is 100% waterproof with a metal front zip for easy entry.

Musto MPX Drysuit:

Perhaps the biggest draw of the Musto drysuit is both the combination of the companies’ good reputation and the use of the well known Gore-Tex material. Gore-Tex is universally recognised as one of the leading brands of breathable materials and therefore makes the Musto suit very appealing to the cold weather sailor.

In addition to offering a top fabric the suit also has many of the usual features, including internal braces, latex seals and reinforced knee and seat areas. Again like most of the popular drysuits these days the Musto has a front zipper, allowing the wearer to zip themselves in as opposed to needing a friend to do up a back zip.

Helly Hansen One design Racing Drysuit:

This drysuit comes made from Helly Tech XP material, Helly Hansen’s breathable, tough wearing fabric. The fabric has been specifically designed to keep sailors warm and dry and is used in their offshore gear as well as their dinghy-wear and they describe it as ‘a three layer breathing fabric’.

What is perhaps notable in the Helly suit is the lack of paraphernalia on the outside. Where most drysuits have neck flaps, zip flaps and so on the Helly suit is remarkably clean. This means that when sailing a high performance boat there is much less for errant ropes to get caught on. However, the clear drawback here is that without these protective flaps there is a much greater possibility that the delicate neck seals may get snagged and need replacing or damage might be done to the all important dry zip.

Who wears what?

Simon Hiscocks – 49er Olympic Silver and Bronze Medallist:

“For me it depends on what sort of boat I am sailing. If I am out in something that requires a lot of athleticism – such as the 49er - then I tend to wear a wetsuit. If I am sailing something else then I might wear a drysuit with a warm thermal layer, although I admit is has been a while since I wore one.

I have a Gul wetsuit and this is pretty suitable for the winter months. If it is really cold I tend to go out in the wetsuit and wear a Gul Dry-top over everything. I was out sailing yesterday and there was a wind-chill factor of -20. I was wearing my wetsuit with the dry-top and was warm enough. Of course I top all of that off with a cosy DailySail hat.”

Rohan Veal – Moth World Champion:

“I am sponsored by Musto, so for drysuits, even if I wasn't sponsored by them, I would probably still use the [Musto MPX] as it is the only Gore-Tex suit around.

“We don't need to use drysuits down here [in Australia] all that often, but I am glad when I do. I have had suits before with no booties, but the Musto suit has them built in and it keeps the toes much warmer. This helps when you have skinny legs like me and you lose a lot of heat through your legs. It is good having the front zipper, as opposed to the back zipper as you can do this yourself and go to the loo without taking the whole top off each time. I highly recommend light thermals underneath as they don't absorb and hold too much moisture, but I find that I need to have suspenders attached to my leg thermals otherwise they end up down my waist and that annoys the hell out of me.

“Regarding winter wet suits, I now have a Musto 3mm long leg and short arm and usually wear some thermals underneath to give extra warmth if necessary. I would always have layers over the top as well (ie spray jackets), but if your budget is tight, it is good to have a thinner long leg/arm suit and have the option to layer up if it is cold, rather than having three to five different wetsuits for different conditions. That way you only have to pack the one wetsuit and have all the layers on hand depending on the conditions.

I also have a Ronstan 5mm long leg/long arm as well, but find the long arms too restrictive in high performance boats like the foiler Moth. It is extremely warm, but saying that, if it is too cold, I would prefer to wear the Musto dry suit anyway.”

Richard Stenhouse – Musto Skiff World Champion:

“When it is really cold I am definitely a drysuit person. I wear a Helly Hansen one in part because they sponsor me but also I really love the suit. I wear mine with a good thermal layer on underneath when it is really cold and miserable. I do often wear a wetsuit as well though. I find as soon as the sun comes out I am dead in the drysuit as I heat up far too quickly.”

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