Winter is coming. At the very least, fall is coming, and with that comes cooler water temperatures. In the upper Midwest where I live, surface temperatures on Lake Michigan are still in the mid-60s F (20 C) as of mid-August, but by the time you hit 50 feet (15 m), temperatures have dropped to around 50 F (10 C). And it’s only going to get colder. Although I’ve not been diving in the Great Lakes yet, I’ve got no excuse not to go in my Cressi Desert drysuit.
As a completely cold-averse diver, it may seem strange that I acquired my new Cressi drysuit for a trip to Norway last January to snorkel with orcas (watch for a forthcoming story on that). The Desert arrived at my house straight from Italy. It’s made of pre-pressed neoprene, ranging from 7 to 4 mm and packs up easily. The undergarments are similarly compact, and the entire kit fit well into my Cressi Moby 5. Confession: Although I’m drysuit certified, I haven’t used one for almost 20 years. Taking the Desert to Norway to snorkel seemed the perfect way to (not) get my feet wet after all this time, and test out whether wearing a drysuit was for me.
Cressi used an Ultraspan coating on the neoprene, which makes it both hydrodynamic and elastic when you’re trying to put it on. I donned the suit before leaving, naturally, and was impressed with the true-to-size fit and how easy it was to get into.
The shoulders, upper chest, armpits, thighs and knee areas are all reinforced to guard against abrasions. All the seams are sealed with liquid seal for greater resistance to erosion, leakage and loosening.
The 5mm ultra-elastic neoprene wrist seals are easily replaceable in case of wear, and the 3mm ultra-elastic neckline offers an anatomic shape. I struggled a little bit with the neck opening, not knowing that I should dust it with talcum powder. Once I did that, I had no problems.
Cressi Desert Drysuit
- These easily packable suits are great for travel.
- The suit is easy to understand and putting on the farmer John underneath was intuitive and simple.
- Suits fit perfectly to size – which is a pro, but can be a con if you need to wear thicker undergarments.
- While we absolutely loved the fit and feel of the suits, they weren’t quite warm enough for the near-freezing waters of the Arctic Circle. If I were to order again, I’d probably order a larger size to accommodate larger, thicker undergarments, which would make the suit more useable in a variety of cold-water environments.
- The undergarments that came with the suit were not warm enough for the Arctic Circle, although I expect they’ll work perfectly well in the Great Lakes this fall.
- The suit is (as yet) only available in Italy. Although this could be a pro: maybe it’s time to go to Italy on vacation to pick one up.
On our first day out, both my dive buddy and I were well-kitted out in our drysuits. We headed out to look for orcas just off Andenes, Norway. And here our story turns sad: although we saw plenty of orcas topside, we didn’t see them underwater. Although I jumped in a few times, the pod was long gone before I got a peep.
While our drysuits kept us both dry (as promised), we both felt that they just weren’t quite warm enough for riding around in an open boat for three hours in the Arctic Circle, although the suits are hardly to blame. With the wind and the spray, and especially once I’d jumped in, it was difficult to stay warm. In hindsight, we both wished we’d ordered larger sizes so we could fit thicker, warmer undergarments underneath the drysuits. The suits also have soft encasements for your feet, so although we both had boots to wear over-top, we’d ordered those too small as well. In short, make sure your suit can accommodate all the undergarments you might need, and double-check what size boot you’ll want in advance.
That said, the Desert will absolutely provide sufficient warmth for diving the Great Lakes this fall, with average water temperatures in the mid-40s at depth. It’s easy to don and doff and not overly complicated. Now if only I can convince myself that the cold is all in my head.