‘Hydrasuit’ by Speedo

I should point out up front that this is a review quite independent of the Speedo brand.  If however they’d like me to try out any of their swimming kit then that would be great.

I bought my first one of this design about 10 years ago and it is still going strong, which is surely a testament to the quality.  Though I don’t use it every day it has been used a lot.  Part of the reason it is not in daily use was that I bought a second one soon after (also still in constant use).

As I swim almost exclusively outdoors in both sea, rivers and lakes the singular appeal was in the high neck and full back design.  That extra cover acts in some respects like a wetsuit trapping in some warmer water to an extent that you would not immediately credit to a thin covering.  In addition the full cover has also afforded protection during jellyfish collisions and contact with other hazards and the suits have proved far more resilient to barnacle scrapes than bare skin.

Whilst some outdoor swimmer purists maintain that the best experience is achieved only from full contact with the water the freedom of movement in the Hydrasuit in no way detracts from the feel of the water in my opinion and I would also say that part of the joy of open water swimming is to return warm and undamaged to your towel.

I have also found the Hydrasuit to be ideal for wearing under a wetsuit.  Enter my 3rd a few years ago whilst I was preparing for and participating in the River Dart 10km event.  Many outdoor swimmers, experienced or otherwise, at some time or another experience wetsuit chafing and as often as not this is across the back of the neck.  The reasons for this warrant a separate blog post but the Hydrasuits are sufficiently high at the back of the neck to provide protection against chaffing and the wear in my suits is clear testament to the fact that I would otherwise have suffered.

In recent weeks as autumn has come along my Hydrasuits are being used more once again, though the oldest is experiencing an end of life moment.  I have just taken delivery today of two new ones.  These like the last were ordered directly from the Speedo on-line store, which was blissfully simple, though the search function does not return all the Hydrasuit options and worse the predictive form filling suggestion returns no items! 

Prices vary from £25 to £36 depending on offers and plain colours vs printed styles.  Black is still available as a standard but the purple I bought last time has been replaced by ‘royal’ blue with contrasting piping.  At the time I was buying there were 3 over printed designs, though the design I most liked is perhaps being phased out as it was available only in limited sizes.

My first impression is that though the material is the same 80% polyester, 20% elastane (lycra) mix it has a slicker feel than my previous ones, whilst being of the same fabric weight and thickness.  The designs are bold and an exact match for the on-line store images.  I particularly like the addition of the small tags to the zip fasteners and will be adding my own to my existing ones.

If there is one area where the Hydrasuits I have owned have been a slight let down it is the zips.  The zip on my first suit, whilst still serviceable does stick when being undone after swimming and obviously with chilly, wet fingers this has led to some unkind words.  It may well be that a tag on the zip would have helped, but I am convinced that the problem has come about from washing and hanging without first zipping the suit all the way up.  Doing that with my more recent suits has prevented a similar problem and largely fixed the zip of my first suit.

Having trialed both suits in the River Dart this evening they are both of course a pleasing fit and though I do prefer the feel of the high cut leg of the one over the other that I’m sure is as much down to body shape as it is personal preference.  Overall I simply cannot fault these swimsuits.

If you are considering these then there is an offer in the on-line Speedo Store which gets you a free rucksack style bag for your wet swim kit and I have to say that is very good too.

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall

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Underwater Cameras

When water gets into your camera it is usually mission critical because though a small amount of damp is probably not fatal as you are probably going to be swimming for a while and not somewhere that you can immediately dry the camera out damp usually moves inexorably to awash.  Game over.

My first camera chosen for use in water was a Canon D10 at the best price I could find of £320.  Two factors were key: a guarantee to be waterproof to 10m and a high impact resistance.  Both claims were put to the test repeatedly over 6 years of use and stood the test of time.  The camera was comfortable to hold, the buttons easy to operate in all conditions and the menus easy to navigate.  The most useful feature I found was a novelty at the time whereby the self timer could be set to as much as a 30 second delay with an option for up to 10 sequential shots.

The only slight drawbacks were a tendency to meter biased to shadows no matter what, a bias towards slow shutter speed and colour distortion on light-dark margins.

In the end though the shutter button became unreliable (after 100 000 shots to be fair) and finally the on/off button, screen and CCD all failed en masse, though not due to water.  The battery however remains sound which for a rechargeable is quite remarkable.  A floating wrist strap was essential though the camera only just had negative buoyancy and without the battery in place, as when washing after salt water, it would float.  An aluminium wrist strap mount was placed at each corner but they rapidly degraded with repeated salt water immersion even though I was utterly diligent about washing in fresh water afterwards.

I got a GoPro Hero3+ silver about 3 years ago, cost in the region of £220.  Waterproof to 40m in the extra case and compact size were major plus points as were the wide angle lens and option for multiple sequential shots.  The wide angle lens is both a blessing and a curse in that it does give a tremendous field of view even though I stick to the medium setting to avoid the excessive fish-eye effect, but a person more than 3m from the camera may as well be on the moon.  Closer than 2m and the lens distorts the subject, further than 3m and they are too small to see almost.  That consideration however goes away underwater where visibility is usually in the 2-3m range and there the continuous shooting mode really comes into its own.

Picture exposure can also be an issue.  When shooting directly into the light the results are excellent with very rich colours.  Shots of subjects where there is a marked light-dark contrast invariably gives over-exposure and washed out colours, though biasing the field of view towards the brightest part usually produces and acceptable image.

A floating handgrip is an essential extra.

I have a suspicion however that recent problems when it would not turn on and would not recognise the micro SD card as being present are the first signs along the road to failure.

The Olympus Tough T4 is a recent buy, £300, but it is now out of production to be replaced by a new model.

Heavier than expected, the wrist strap float from the D10 is not quite enough to keep it afloat in the river but in the sea the buoyancy may be just fractionally better.  It is too much of a risk though as I have often let go the camera whilst underwater knowing it will float back to the surface, but not anymore, it will go to the bottom.

The camera feels good to hold, though having the zoom button as an exposed toggle type rather than a flush button as with the D10 may be asking for trouble.  Furthermore after only a week I have noticed the function selection dial easily gets knocked between settings.  The menu options are extensive and include the option for up to 30 second shutter delay and multiple shots though the 1 second spacing delay seems too long.  There is a time lapse function too.

The screen is large and bright and the shutter response time is far faster than the D10 and I sense it deals better with high contrast lighting even in standard modes though there is a setting to deal with that specifically.  There are also a variety of functions, including for stacking multiple exposures at slightly different focus points to broaden the focus depth.  That has an application for me.

Battery life seems good and the return to action after the sleep function activates is instant.

All in all I am liking the T4 so far, now let’s see how it goes.