GEAR TEST EXTRAEach issue, the Scuba Diver test team bring you the latest product and equipment releases from the dive industry. Cannot wait for the next edition? Keep up-to-date with all the latest gear news and reviews by heading over to the Scuba Diver YouTube channel!www.youtube.com/ScubaDiverMagazineFOURTH ELEMENT HALO A°R | SRP: US$629Mark Evans: Fourth Element really made a name for themselves with thermal undergarments, their Xerotherm, and then Xerotherm Arctic, putting them on the map as being one of the major players when it came to staying warm in cold waters. When multiple navies and special forces and even FBI dive teams utlilise their exposure protection, you know you are in good hands.

However, for me, it was the release of the HALO 3D onepiece undersuit that really raised the bar. This advanced product was constructed from a high-density fleece and featured body-mapped space-age – literally - insulation which was strategically placed on the torso and upper thigh to provide enhanced warmth when in a horizontal trim position. It has been my undersuit-of-choice ever since my first dive in it, and has kept me warm and toasty even in temperatures down to 35 degrees F, and on the odd occasion when user-error has resulted in a suit flood!

Now Fourth Element have added another undersuit into their line-up – the HALO A°R – and I was keen to see how it performed against the 3D (pictured right).
The HALO A°R incorporates one of the most-insulating materials ever developed - A°RGON aerogel in a compression resistant matrix - and utilizes technology originally created for space exploration and cryogenics.

This material, with its phenomenal insulation properties, has allowed Fourth Element to achieve extreme thermal protection from a thinner, less-buoyant diving undersuit, and anything that reduces the weight you have to carry when wearing a drysuit has to be a positive thing.

The HALO A°R features a wind and water-repellent stretch outer layer, and has an offset zip and baffles to minimize heat loss when in a horizontal trim position. All the body from shoulders to knees is protected by a layer of A°RGON, while other critical areas also benefit from this enhanced insulation without compromising mobility or creating bulk – Fourth Element assessed the performance of initial prototypes of the HALO A°R with thermal imaging cameras to ensure they got the insulation where it was needed the most.

There are comfortable thumb loops and foot stirrups to prevent the suit riding up when you don your drysuit, and there is a handy two-way zipper in the fly, and a dual zippered pocket for keys through which you can get to your base layer too.

So, how does it match up against my tried-and-tested trusty HALO 3D? Well, it is most-definitely comfortable, once I was in it, I could have kept it on all day, the stretch material doesn’t hinder movement in the slightest, and the cosy inner feels great on your skin. I personally didn’t feel it was vastly thinner to my HALO 3D, but then, that is several years old, has been used for hundreds of dives and has been through the washer innumerable times, so it could well have lost some of its bulk. One thing I did like about the HALO A°R over the 3D was the wind and water-repellent outer layer – this completely stopped any wind chill pre- and post-dive.

The HALO A°R fit well under my Argonaut drysuit, and it kept my body warm even in temperatures in Iceland down to 35 degrees F. I didn’t use any less lead than I do with my HALO 3D, but as mentioned before, that will have undoubtedly have lost some of its bulk after years of use. I could comfortably dive in the HALO A°R using 16lb.

The offset zipper and baffles is a neat idea to minimize any heat loss in this crucial area, but it does take some getting used to after the more-conventional central zipper on the HALO 3D. Getting in requires a bit more technique than just ‘putting it on’, and getting it off also sees you having to get the one arm out first, but after a handful of dives, I was starting to get the knack to donning and doffing it. I tended to use the HALO A°R with a Fourth Element J2 baselayer underneath, and one thing I did notice was that the cosy inner lining does ‘stick’ to your arms and legs to some extent, making it a little awkward to extricate your arms, whereas on my HALO 3D it just slides off easily. However, this lining is what makes it extra-toasty, so it was a trade-off I was happy to make!

At US$629, the HALO A°R is at the higher-end of the scale when it comes to thermal undersuits, but it is an extremely warm and well-designed piece of kit. You can see – and feel – the sheer amount of time and effort that has gone into creating it. If you are regularly diving in cold waters, and you want to be comfortable, it certainly ticks a lot of the essential boxes.

It certainly ups the ante from the HALO 3D. If you already have a 3D, is it worth upgrading to a HALO A°R? Well, perhaps not if your HALO 3D is relatively new, but if it is getting a bit long-in-the-tooth as mine is, then a HALO A°R might be the perfect addition to your Christmas list.

Like the HALO 3D, the HALO A°R is machine-washable, and some 74 percent of the materials used in its construction are recycled, so it is environmentally friendly as well as being very warm.

The HALO A°R comes in both male and female designs. www.fourthelement.com

SCUBAPRO SEAWING SUPERNOVA | SRP: US$279Mark Evans: Scubapro’s Seawing Nova was unlike anything on the market when it was released several years ago, and this innovative approach netted it a number of high-profile awards, including the internationally recognised Red Dot Award for product design. The Supernova picks up where the Novas left off, also bagging the same prestigious design award. At first glance, the Supernovas are very reminiscent of the Novas, but closer inspection reveals that they are significantly different, especially around the blade area. This is because Scubapro’s design team took on board feedback about the original Seawing Novas and sought to iron out any perceived issues.  

When I dived the originals, I was impressed with the power they generated easily with a normal flutter kick, which was down to the novel Pivot Control technology, which meant that the blade was held in the most-efficient angle of attack as you finned along. However, while you could frogkick, back kick and do helicopter turns and other fine manoeuvres with them, it was noticeably more awkward – and less-efficient – than with the more en vogue short, stumpy jet fin style of fins.

The Supernovas have been designed to offer a more all-round solution for divers, with the fin giving good performance regardless of your finning style. The difference between the two fins is immediately apparent. I was using them in UK waters, in quite turbulent water with current, while in a drysuit. I often found the Seawing Novas to struggle in these conditions, so it was a great opportunity to trial the Supernovas. The Supernovas generate far more power than their sibling. With a normal flutter kick, you can really feel the thrust with each stroke, but they still feel solid – where the Novas could feel a little ‘floppy’, for want of a better word, the Supernovas are nice and rigid.

The Supernovas still have the Pivot Control technology, but it seems much stiffer, with a firmer flex, than the Novas.

This still hinges to the 40-50 degree range, which apparently is the optimum for converting kicks into forward motion. However, the biggest difference was in other kicking styles. The Supernovas generate a powerful frogkick, and if you are doing a modified flutter kick, with smaller ankle movements, which is sometimes useful in more-confined spaces or when you are making small adjustments to your positioning, they can deliver that too. It is the blade that is the biggest difference. It is larger than on the Nova, and features a Central Panel Membrane, which ‘auto-adjusts’ the angle of attack based on your kick strength.

It is also equipped with Twin-Tip Winglets, which look a little odd but definitely seem to aid the performance. In fact, when I was moving position small amounts, I found that by moving my feet from side to side I could make fine adjustments to my inwater position. These can also be color-coded to match your kit, if you so wish.

Like the Novas, the Supernovas are made from premium Monprene for durability, and the open-heel foot pocket features an upgraded heavy-duty bungee strap. The large thumb loop is easy to locate and grab regardless of what exposure protection is on your hands – I was wearing 5mm neoprene gloves, and it was a doddle donning and doffing the fins. Handy when entry and exit at our chosen dive site was awkward over slippery rocks. Talking of slipping, extended grip pads on the bottom of the foot pocket provide a seriously improved non-skid grip on wet surfaces.

The Seawing Supernova’s other innovation is the nifty two-piece design, with blade and foot pocket moulded separately and joined via the Socket-Lock Connecting System. This makes transport easy, as you can quickly and simply take the fins apart – they are quite a long fin in use – to make them more compact using the supplied key fob-style multi-purpose tool, and if you are going to be diving in bare feet in warm waters, you can fit the blade on to the optional full-foot pocket.

The Supernovas unique styling will not appeal to everybody, and they are quite a long fin at a time when many people are opting for the shorter, wider ‘tech fin’ style, but there is no doubting the fact that these are a far-better, more all-round capable fin than the Seawing Novas. They are supremely comfortable, delivered any finning technique I attempted to a good level, and come in at a decent price point. How many people will actually make use of the two-piece design is anyone’s guess, but it is nice to see companies producing something genuinely different to anything else out there.

The Supernovas are available in black or white, and in sizes from XS to XL. www.scubapro.com
APEKS OCEA | SRP: US$699Mark Evans: Being eco-friendly and ecoconscious is becoming more and more prevalent in day-to-day life, and the dive industry is following suit. We are seeing more and more products made from recycled materials, be that wetsuits, fins, apres-divewear, and more, but the Ocea is a real first - an environmentallyconscious regulator made from recycled materials and bio-plastics, manufactured in a solar-powered facility.

Based on the trusty XL4+, every single material and process was reconsidered to create the most eco-sensitive scuba diving regulator in the world, so it is made from recycled plastic waste, plant-based bio-plastic and lead-free brass, which can be endlessly recycled and is actually stronger than standard brass..

The Ocea also removes five times its own weight in plastic from the environment, as each purchase of the regulator funds the collection of 11lb of up-stream plastic waste (in collaboration with Plastic Bank).

The compact one-piece machined first stage is based on the expedition-tested Apeks DS4 platform and has a unique over-balanced diaphragm design – as the diver descends, the over-balancing feature allows the medium pressure gas in the hose to increase at a faster rate than ambient. This results in superior performance at depth, and it is more than capable of handling cold water. It has two high-pressure ports and four low-pressure ports, so more than enough for all your requirements. The Ocea variant has a subtle engraving into the metal which is certainly eyecatching, while not being in your face.The lightweight second stage improves comfort and helps reduce jaw fatigue on long duration dives, and features a high performance pneumatically balanced lever operated poppet valve, large over-moulded self-flushing and controllable purge button, and ergonomic Venturi lever that is easy to use and locate, even wearing thick neoprene gloves or drygloves.

The flexible nylon braided hose has better cold water performance than a traditional rubber hose, and it has the standard metallic hose connection for interchangeability.

The Comfo-bite mouthpiece – which I still consider the most-comfortable on the market - has a unique bridge that fits across the upper palate and does not require bite pressure to stay in place, while re-useable mouthpiece clips make it simple to change mouthpieces in the field.

APEKS OCEA | SRP: US$699The Ocea is quite a lightweight regulator, thanks to that second stage, so it would be great for the traveling diver, but because it is cold-water rated as well, it is perfect for diving in cold waters like the UK or Canada throughout the year. The Apeks Flight was a great travel reg, but it was not suited to cold water, but with the Ocea handling both with aplomb, it is something you could use most weekends and take on your next foreign jaunt.

My wife Penney stole it for a recent trip to Egypt on assignment, in place of her trusty Aqualung Micron, and she loved the Ocea, as the smaller second stage suits women and teenage divers thanks to its compact size, while not losing anything on the performance side of things.

The Ocea can be supplied with either a yoke/A-clamp fitting as we had here, or a DIN connection. As far as color schemes go, there is a grey version available, but we think this aqua finish sets it apart from the crowd. The regulator comes in a cardboard box that can easily be recycled. www.apeksdiving.com