Winter and cold-weather diving can have many benefits: colder water means less algae growth and thus clearer water; different species are attracted to cooler water; and ice diving holds its own set of thrills, incomparable with other types of diving. One of the drawbacks, of course, is the chill: warming up after a cold dive can be tricky.
Most dry suit and ice-diving courses will teach you how to combine dry suits and undergarments for optimum insulation during the dive. But once you reach the dive boat or the shore significant heat loss sets in, and you’ll need to get out of your dive gear and into normal clothes as quickly as possible.
The following step-by-step guide is based on my own experience from numerous cold-weather dives, and includes the methods and gear I’ve found most useful. Feel free to modify to your own liking. I’m assuming a diver will be in a dry suit for this scenario.
Stuff you’ll need:
1. A pair of convertible fleece gloves, where the fingertips can be exposed, also known as “shooting gloves.” I use a set from a German manufacturer called Mammoth, but something like this would work fine: http://www.mountainhardwear.com/bandito-fingerless-glove-OM3746.html
2. A fleece hat. I use the Xerotherm Beanie from Fourth Element, but any fleece hat or beanie will work. fourthelement.com
3. A two-piece base layer(s). Combine a very thin layer with long legs and arms next to your skin with one or two thicker layers. I use a two-piece version, split into a pair of trousers and a sweatshirt-style top, rather than a one-piece unit. You’ll see why below. I prefer Fourth Element’s series of trousers and sweatshirts, made of a fast-drying fleece. I usually wear some form of performance (skiing) underwear (long-sleeved shirt and long-legged trousers) along with either the Fourth Element Xerotherm (for not-so-cold water) or the Arctic (for cold water) or both (for very cold water). fourthelement.com
4. A good jacket, preferably a hard-shell outdoor jacket, like one mountaineers would wear. These are lightweight and give excellent protection.
Step 1: You’re out of the water, and you’ve removed your scuba unit, but don’t remove your gloves and hood. Even if you’re wearing wetsuit versions of both, they still offer substantial insulation against the cold air, especially if there’s a bit of a wind. Disassemble as much of your gear as you can with the hood still on, or at the very least, transport the scuba unit to wherever you’ll be taking off your gear and square it away as best you can.
Step 2: Get out your bag of clothes. I store mine in a waterproof duffle bag, and as I’m kitting up before a dive, I place all my clothing in this bag, along with a fleece hat and a pair of fleece gloves with removable fingertips. Unzip the bag now, with wetsuit gloves still on, but don’t take out any clothes just yet. That’ll only make them wet. But unzipping the bag after you take your gloves off can be very tricky.
Step 3: Remove your hood and gloves, and quickly unzip your dry suit zipper and step out of it. You’re now in only your insulation layers as mentioned above.
Step 4: Quickly step out of the insulation trousers (this is why you want it in the two-part version), but leave your performance underwear on, and step into your “civilian” trousers, socks and shoes. Leave the insulation sweatshirt on, unless it has become wet (keep a spare sweatshirt handy, just in case), and put on your jacket, and the fleece hat and gloves.
Step 5: Expose your fingers so you can disassemble any gear you need to. A headlamp can come in handy if you’re doing night dives. Now disassemble your gear, pack it up, and get a hot drink. The gloves and the hat will quickly wick away moisture from your hands and hair, helping you dry and warm up, and the material will help with insulation. Once you’re done packing your gear, cover up your fingertips again and have another hot beverage.
The whole process takes less than five minutes, not counting disassembling the gear, and trust me, you’ll be the envy of every shivering, cold diver nearby.