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Neoprene is a wonderful material for keeping you warm underwater but the way it achieves it's excellent thermal characteristics means that it is also very buoyant so the more neoprene you wear the more weight you are going to need to counteract it. If you are also one of the unlucky few that suffers from a neoprene allergy a typical wetsuit is a non starter straight off.
Sharkskin is an Australian company that makes a range of thermal protection garments that can be used for a variety of water sports including diving. Sharkskin is a brilliant, versatile alternative to a neoprene wetsuit, delivering similar thermal properties of a 3mm wetsuit but because Sharkskin is available in various garment styles they can all be mixed and matched to suit your needs rather then just the option of a shorty or steamer neoprene suit. It also doesn't use trapped air or buoyant materials to keep you warm either so whilst in the water Sharkskin garments are neutrally buoyant, negating the need for additional weight.
Chillproof is the three layer material technology behind their range and combines different characteristics into one super material. The inner layer is a 'hollow yarn' fleece layer that sits next to the skin and wicks moisture and perspiration away from the body to help keep you dry and warm. Next, a middle ‘technical’ membrane layer is 100% windproof yet breathes to regulate body temperature while stopping windchill. Finally, an outer layer of nylon / lycra blend provides abrasion resistance, 4 way stretch, UV resistance for sun protection and has a durable water repellent finish (DWR) to provide a protective shell that ‘sheds’ water.
Sharkskin Chillproof comes in a range of garment types including tops, shorts, leggings and full suits, giving you plenty of options to build the thermal protection you need depending on water temperature. Chillproof can be used by itself in warmer waters but also as a layered solution beneath a wetsuit for a extra thermal boost in cooler waters.
The added benefit of using Sharkskin beneath a wetsuit is that is actually makes getting the suit on and off easier by lowering the friction between your suit and skin, providing a layer for the wetsuit to slide over. Thumb loops and stirrups are provided to help keep your sharkskin in place beneath your suit.
The fact that Sharkskin Chillproof garments are splash proof, chill proof, sun proof and wind proof means that they are perfectly suitable for a lot more than just diving or even water sports. Use it when exercising such as running or cycling during colder seasons as a superb baselayer, wear it whilst walking the dog in the rain, pretty much any situation where you might need to stay warm and dry.
For surface water sports Sharkskin also produce a 'Climate Control' range that still uses the Chillproof material but finish it with a heat reflective outer layer that helps to keep you cool whilst enjoying yourself in the sun.
One of the bigger problems with neoprene is that it is difficult to wash. You need a bath or a shower in order to properly soak and clean the suit to avoid it smelling and developing odour. After you've washed it you've then got to find somewhere to dry it before putting away either hung or rolled to prevent greases that reduce it's thermal properties.
Sharkskin doesn't have that problem. Depending on how you are using it you can get away with a get rinse in fresh water or stick it in the wash machine on a gentle cold wash cycle. If you want to give it treat you can use a baselayer wash to help remove excess dirt and rejuvenate the garment. Once washed just line dry in the shade (it'll prolong the garments life).
To quickly go back over what makes Sharkskin garments so great: