Since the Wetsuit Outlet buying team were presented the wetsuit ranges for winter 2019 back at the tail end of 2018, we’ve been very excited. There has been a real shake up in the offering including new technologies and models, and we’ve been sitting on our hands waiting to tell you about them and get them in store.
It’s sometimes hard not to focus on the best and most expensive wetsuits in each range as they’re naturally the ones with all the new tech, bells and whistles and the hype, but it’s likely out of your budget or you’re saving up for your new stick and so you’re not prepared to spend quite that much. Naturally this is where the mid-range models come in to their own, but that usually means compromises and serious step downs in what you get for your money. Not this year.
We’ve now had the chance to test the most impressive offerings from two of our best brands, the Rip Curl Dawn Patrol Warmth and the Billabong Furnace Absolute. Both have seen a complete overhaul and could even be flagship killers this winter.
Resident neoprene expert Wetsuit Will took one of each down to West Wittering on a stormy and hailing December weekend to put them through their paces, windsurfing one day and surfing the other. Water temperature was around 11 C and the air temperature was very similar, with a strong 25-30mph wind. As well as the wetsuit, Will was wearing a neoprene beanie, 5mm boots and open palm mittens (a necessary evil for winter windsurfing!).
The Absolute has been around for a good few years now, offering a decent compromise between key requirements (warmth, stretch, comfort, weight) but this year it has really stepped up.
Linings have become king in the past few years, adding comfort and warmth to our wetsuits. The 2019 Billabong Winter range saw the introduction of the Furnace Graphene thermal lining which has been received really well, and almost unbelievably the Absolute benefitted from this in its first season. Ok, yes, it is the little brother version of the full Graphene Lining with less coating on the yarns, but do not think for a minute that this is just a token interior panel or a marketing ruse – it really works and there is plenty of it!
From chest to knee on the front you get a generous helping of the new soft, low profile, graphene coated fabric which ensures your core is wrapped in heat-retaining, luxurious fabric. And it really does retain your body heat! I was genuinely verging on too hot for much of this session which was a first for me wearing a mid-range suit. The rest of the suit is covered in a rather nostalgic purple polypro lining meaning the suit is entirely lined. The only negative to this full lining was that once wet, the suit does become quite heavy making you feel a little weighed down.
The rubber in this suit is made entirely from a Superlite foam core which offers awesome stretch, helping you to feel less tired and also improving the fit of the suit. It goes on very nicely, hand feel is luxurious and stretch is not too restricted thanks to the silicone stretch jersey applied to the outside of the suit. This neoprene is definitely not the premium kind you’ll find in the flagship Furnace Carbon but it’s also no imitation blend of cheap, stretchless neoprene and it’s more than good enough for the average to decent surfer or board sport enthusiast. It’s important to note, though, that this uses a 5/4mm mix so it’s toasty but you might notice the extra 1mm on the shoulders/arms when paddling.
Next to mention are the seams. Boring you say, why should you care? Simply, they are what keep the cold water out and can restrict the stretch of the suit. The Absolute uses traditional Glued and Blindstitched (GBS) seams (with water based-glue) reinforced with some internal neoprene taping, all of which means that when in the water, leaking is very limited. The comp entry system is the same as on the top suits and helps avoid flushing around the zip. However, this is where two compromises do come into play. Firstly, the taping inside is strictly ‘strategic’, i.e. very limited to only the stress points of the suit and a few key seams around the torso. In other words, it’s reinforced in key areas but not made for extreme long-term waterproof durability. Secondly, the internal neck is only regular neoprene, and not Glideskin so doesn’t seal too well against flushing and water can enter through the neck seal.
The design layout of the neoprene, integral to a well-fitting and functional wetsuit, has not changed much from the template from the past few years and although there are more panels than on the more expensive models it still offers decent sized panels across the shoulders and back where it really counts (generally the bigger the panels, the better the stretch and fit). Again, the neoprene is not the very best, but it’s not hugely noticeable either.
Overall, the Furnace Absolute really impressed. Let’s not forget that this is a sub £200 5mm winter suit - I have to keep reminding myself not to compare it to flagship wetsuits twice that. Though slightly prone to flushing, not very generously taped and heavy when wet it was extremely warm and fit really well, offering enough performance to keep up with the majority of us. Sitting at a crazy low price for the features you get, the Absolute is going to be turning heads and tempting those who normally head straight to the top of the range suits. For more lining down the back, more taping inside, a glideskin collar and some cool styling look to the Furnace Revolution at just £45 more expensive (£240 for the 5mm), but my honest opinion is that the Absolute is really worth a try.
The Dawn Patrol has been in the Rip Curl range for years and years now but it has been overhauled this winter. How? The clue is in the name… the new Dawn Patrol is packing some serious warmth! Although it’s not using any new technologies, many of the iconic features of Rip Curl’s range have trickled down into this suit which is looking more attractive than ever.
Although not as new and exciting as Billabong’s Furnace Graphene lining, the fluffy orange Flash Lining is unquestionably iconic. It was the first of its kind and in its latest iteration still sits up with the best in the market. Two layers of fabric sit on top of one another helping to retain body heat and drain away cold water, and the Dawn Patrol now carries a very generous amount of the latest E5 Flash Lining through the body. I don’t think I even need to go into how warm, flexible and quick-drying the flash Lining is – the fact that the Flashbomb is still covered in it top-to-toe says enough. The rest of the lower body is covered with a polypro lining much like the Billabong Absolute making it comfortable and warm with no noticeable cold spots. That polypro makes it a little heavy but overall less so than the Absolute as it’s not through the upper body.
Along with the E5 Flash Lining, the Dawn Patrol has been upgraded to E5 neoprene. Only a few seasons ago this was the new and very best neoprene available and it remains a top rubber. The stretch is awesome, it wraps your body for a perfect fit and it really is warm. The jersey on the outside is all part of what makes E5 special, not holding much water so remaining light when wet and not restricting stretch. It helps that Rip Curl have opted for 3mm E5 and no lining in the shoulders for better stretch, and this is actually pretty noticeable vs. the lined 4mm Superlite in the Billabong Absolute – though you feel the chill that bit more.
In terms of seams the Dawn Patrol still comes with the Rip Curl 3 year stitching guarantee which sums up how well made it is and how confident the brand is in their GBS construction. This is backed up with a generous amount of (the latest E5) neoprene taping inside, covering much more than just strategic integral seams. This should ensure a long-lasting, strong, wartertight seal against cold water. The Dawn Patrol also offers a Glide Skin neck and this combination is noticeably better at preventing flushing and cold water leaks.
Finally, the neoprene panels are large and well laid out, offering good fit and functional performance. It does feel a little tighter across the middle of the back thanks to the seams and panels, and this is one of the compromises I noticed when using the suit but the stretch is definitely good.
The Dawn Patrol Warmth is an exciting wetsuit (excuse the nerdy enthusuiasm…) and when we first saw it we immediately though ‘that reminds us of a Flashbomb from a couple of seasons back’. Putting it to the test, that assumption has been justified, it really strikes the sweet spot of value for money, features and performance.
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