My experiences with Fourth Element dry suit, the Argonaut Kevlar. Having paid the cost of this dry suit in an equal value towards excess dive luggage on planes, I decided to give this particular membrane suit a try. The fact that I live in a tropical country with a humidity through the roof played not an insignificant role in this choice.
I’m a big fan of neoprene dry suits. They’re stretchy, warm and hard to rip. My experiences with membranes are not the most positive, hence I stayed with neoprene for the last 20 years. I log roughly 500 technical dives a year, at least half of them scraping against a cave wall, so i know a thing or two about damaging underwater gear. A wetsuit lasts me usually less than one year. This might say something about the quality of the wetsuits, or my buoyancy skills. The Argonaut Kevlar is indeed a typical shell or membrane dry suit.
The Fourth Element Argonaut Kevlar is one of the lightest technical/breathable dry suits on the market. I was surprises of how small it could be rolled up and stowed inside its dry bag, which can be worn as backpack or over the shoulder. Comes with a very handy changing matt, which rolls up and neatly fits together in the dry bag.
I opted for tech pockets, tech boots, pee-valve and neoprene seals. I’m skinny and neoprene seems to seal better at the wrists. With these heav(ier) features, the suit weighs just over 3,5kg, which is less than half the weight of my neoprene dry suit. The tech boots have a perfect fit. I have a difficult foot ( mixture between a duck and a camel) from running marathons, and the boots are the most comfortable I’ve tried so far. They look a little on the light side, but strong enough to walk over rocks with heavy gear. They exist of what looks like a rubber frame with an inner neoprene boot. They’re streamlined enough to fit in my standard fins; no more xxl fins required. To avoid ‘pulling out of your heels’, a velcro strap is positioned over the footbridge and can be adjusted whilst in the water.
The suit’s outer fabric is Kevlar, supposedly the strongest fabric on the market. The stuff they make bullet proof vests from. Thought it might come in handy. The inside of the fabric has the silky-silver look and feel of Gore-Tex. Many outdoor brands describe their fabric as ‘breathable’ but few actually live up to the standard. All seams are neatly taped, and although I tried, I didn’t manage to ‘peel’ any of the tape, a common failure with mountaineering jackets. Critical areas like crotch are reinforced and double taped.
The tech pockets are made of what looks like a 1600 denier nylon and smell like they were designed by someone who actually has a clue; steel d-rings, bungees, inner pouch for wetnotes, and a small pocket with zipper on the real flap, which I found very handy to stow my line markers.
The telescopic torso can be adjusted with an elastic strap. In colder waters with more underwear, it is loosened. One of the drawbacks of a membrane dry suit is that they’re non-elastic and I find the limitation trying to reach up or back a major cause. The cut this suit has, allowed me to easily do valve shut downs with any configuration, being twins, side-mount or ccr. The cut under the arms give freedom of range and the telescopic torso ‘unfolds’ as one is trying to reach up.
The dry suit inflator valve is slightly offset to the right of the chest, likely because of the front-entry zipper. This took a bit getting used to, as I kept hitting my sternum with my thumb. Also the dump valve is located more towards the back of the shoulder and not the front, favoured by DIR divers. I found this a little harder to reach, but trying to support a horizontal position at all times in caves makes dumping air easier and I can see the benefits.
Zipper: the days of daily TLC to your YKK brass dry zipper are gone: YKK introduced a plastic dry zipper, weighing a fraction of the old style,at a fraction of the price if replacing is needed. The dry zip is protected by another outer zipper. This is actually the first time in my life I manage to get in and out of my dry suit without help, or at least without turning purple. Maintenance is limited to fresh water cleaning and lubrication with a small neat lipstick.
Suspenders inside are great, giving a little privacy when plumbing in, and easy to walk around with the suit halfway down.
I choose the J2 underwear, tested and tried during the 21 days underground of the cave expedition in Mexico, carrying the same name. On top of this , I wear the exotherm.
First dive was very satisfying. Because of the neat fit, I didn’t need gaiters around my calf’s to prevent my legs from ballooning. Never was too hot or too cold. Back on land. The temperature was 32 degrees Celsius with a humidity of over 60%, I felt surprisingly cool standing on the dry. The water evaporating from the membrane kept the inside of the suit at a comfortable temperature. I jumped back in for 2 more dives. After 8 hours in the dry suit I went to check; all underwear bone-dry. Very impressive. Surely there had to be limitations to this.
Last day of the week, a leaking regulator had me run back and fwd with a ccr on the back from the car to the water until panting. I felt sweat drops pearling down my spine. Went to cool down in the water for two hours. Surely the suit had to be soaked from the inside this time. But it still felt dry. Upon surfacing, besides being a little damp, the suit was dry and so was my J2 underwear. The exotherm had collected all humidity and was the only garment feeling humid. The exotherm literally dries in half an hour and I jumped back in. I managed to do another 50 dives in the suit and could’t find anything negative really. What I did start to notice is the attention to detail. the tags with logo, the finishing, outside as inside.
I can highly recommend this suit. it’s a perfect all-rounder and can be fitted with dry gloves, silicone seals, latex, neoprene, the lot.