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Probe Frogskins--Best Dive Skins Yet?

Discussion in 'Exposure Suits' started by guyharrisonphoto, Dec 23, 2015.

  1. guyharrisonphoto

    guyharrisonphoto ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Florida, USA
    1,958
    1,036
    113
    This will be my review of the Probe Frogskins, with a comparison to Sharkskin and Lavacore skins thrown in. These three are all more than just “skins” in that they all provide insulation as well and are all advertised as providing protection similar to a 2 mil wetsuit.

    PRODUCT COMPARISON. The Frogskins are NOT a “third” type of lavacore/sharkskin garment, but are a distinctly different product. Lavacore/sharkskin both use a “breatheable” middle layer, with very light polar fleece lining and a heavy lycra exterior for stretch. The Frogskins, by contrast, use a 0.5mm ultra-stretch neoprene middle layer, with typical light lycra on the outside much like wetsuit construction. The “fleece” on the inside is more plush that on lavacore/sharkskin, and is strongly hydrophobic (more about that later and yes, it works).
    Probe is a manufacturer in Australia (as is Sharkskin) and Lavacore is part of Hollis. Probe makes wetsuits and insulated skins. Probe seems to be a smaller operation than the other two, who are more widespread (Lavacore in particular is a juggernaut in the U.S. but Sharkskin not far behind). Probe has no retail presence in the U.S. as far as I know, and you need to order from their website. So, no chance to try them on, but Probe has a “guaranteed fit” return policy (you pay return shipping, they ship new size for free) and a 14 return (you pay return ship) and refund policy for any reason, so long as you have not actually dove the suit or skins.

    ORDERING, SHIPPING AND PRICE COMPARISON. Ordering was a cinch through the website. Check out is through Pay Pal but credit cards can be used if you have a card registered with Pay Pal. The size chart is self-explanatory and, as I learned, accurate (unlike the Lavacore bizarre size charts which makes ordering by internet a total crap shoot). Looking at the charts, I fell right on the border between L and XL so I sent an e-mail asking, given my intended use, which would be best. Within a couple of hours, I had an answer and recommendation to get L. THAT is great customer service. I bought two sets each of a longsleeve top and pants. The price is $135 AU each for long sleeve top and pants. Due to exchange rates, there is a 29% savings if you buy in US $. Shipping is a flat $29 AU no matter how much you buy For two frogskin sets it was US$410 including shipping, each set. HOWEVER, I have received an invoice for US$90.00 (for both sets) in customs duties and handling fees from the shipper which will make it $500 or $250 each set. A little cheaper than Lavacore or sharkskin, which run about $280 per set. I ordered on Monday Nov. 30 and had the skins by Friday Dec. 4. Amazing, from Australia.

    CONSTRUCTION: The Frogskins have a distinctly higher quality of construction based on outward observation. The seams are sewn with incredibly strong and stretchy stitching which looks like blind, sealed stitching, per the photographs. There are even tighter reinforced stitching loops around the feet and neck to take the strain off when doffing and donning to prevent those areas from stretching out. It is all first rate and to, very high standards. It is also substantially better than the others. Lavacore comes next. On major seams, they use a similar high quality blind-type stitching. On other, minor seams, they use single-row through stitching not as good. The sharkskin was the worst of all, with sloppy, irregular straight-line through-stitching everywhere. See photos. Of course, I can’t comment on the quality of the adhesives used to laminate the material layers together, nor can I comment on longevity (except for the lavacore, which has held up pretty well with fairly light use over the last year or so, but is showing a few frays at the seams, but no pilling of the polar fleece inner layer. We don’t own any sharkskin). As for looks, that is subjective, but these look very sharp, streamlined, and nice with the green on black contrast.

    FIT: Again, there are very large differences in fit, with the Frogskins, for me, being very much better in fit. The Frogskins are cut, sewn and fit like an ultra-light wetsuit. They have “no seam” construction in the underarms and crotch. They fit like a second skin—similar to an athletic compression garment. They give complete freedom of movement in all directions. They do not bag or become lose, anywhere. See photos. They have no “seals” but are very snug at the ankles and wrists and have a great stretchy neck seal that stays sealed even moving you head all around. The pants have a drawcord to prevent water intrusion if you tuck the top into the pants and it works well even with vigorous jumping exercise in the water. Lavacore (as many have observed) has odd cuts, tight in some areas and loose in others. It is not cut like a wetsuit and does not stretch as much or fit as well as the Frogskins. I tried on Sharkskins at the store, side by side with the Frogskins, and the result was the same as the comparison to Lavacore. My theory on this is the different materials used. Nothing beats ultra stretch neoprene for fit. The heavy lycra on Lavacore/Sharkskin just does not stretch as much, or in as many different directions, this might have to do with the breathable middle layer as well. It seems like lavacore/sharkskin compensate by making their garments too tight in certain areas, to make up for the lack of stretch. Anyway, there was a BIG difference in comfort and fit, Frogskins hands down.

    IN THE WATER: We use these for strenuous workouts in our pool, which by now is about 72F degrees. When I walked in, the first surprise was that water did not penetrate the Frogskins right away. I was dry for a good 10 seconds! As it seeped in gradually, it was cold but warmed up fast. The skins stayed skin tight with full freedom of movement. With the top tucked in the pants, and the legs in booties, there was very little water flushing through the wrists or neck, which was quite impressive with the aggressive punching, kicking, curling, lunging, stair climbing, running and twisting of our pool workout. I was sweating profusely by the end. My muscles stayed warm and loose. I can tell from this that these will be without equal as an extra insulating layer under a wetsuit, which would be their second use for us. They will also be perfect for summer diving and will probably replace my 3 mil. This is no doubt due to the excellent snug fit and plusher fleece. By comparison, the lavacore has more water flushing, gets looser and baggy but oddly stays restrictive as to motion, and simply is not as warm. As for buoyancy, I did not know what to expect. Our lavacore is neutral and so are sharkskins. I wondered if the Frogskins might be positive because they use neoprene. I do feel that they are a positive when I am fully submerged, but I don’t think I would need more than an extra pound of weight to compensate, and that would be well worth it. Again, for use in cool water, no comparison. The fit and the fleece of the Frogskins gives real, tangible warmth, something the lavacore does not really deliver as well.

    FEEL WHEN WET BUT OUT OF THE WATER: This test was coming out of the 74 degree pool and into a breezy 65 degree day. When wet, the difference is an order of magnitude better for the Frogskins. The Frogskins shed water very well even though the outer lycra stays wet like a wetsuit does. They stay light and stretchy and snug. The lavacore/sharkskin are heavy, stay wet and become looser and baggy when soaked. For warmth, this is where the Frogskin hydrophobic fleece really makes a difference. Even when on, the fleece lining seems to shed water away from the skin. The fleece stays warm next to the skin, much more so than the others. This is also why it stays so light. If a wind is blowing, you do get some evaporative cooling as the outer side is still damp, but, you also get this with the others and the Frogskins are still warmer than the others. This might have to do with the neoprene not being as breathable and so holding warmth better.

    DOFFING AND DONNING: The top and pants were easy to doff and don due to the ultra stretch. A little extra effort was needed around the neck and ankles because of that extra supportive stitching, but no big deal. All in all, about the same ease as the zipperless lavacore or sharkskin. BUT, after they were wet, there was no comparison. When you took off the frogskins, the fleece was already starting to feel dry. After 1 minutes, it WAS dry except around the wrists or ankles just because the water was still draining there. When I put it back on, it was dry, pretty warm and easy to don again. It was an odd feeling, because I “knew” the outside was still wet, cold and clammy, but it just did not feel that way on the fleece side. It was not the same as everything being dry, and some coolness was felt on the fleece, but it was really incredible. By comparison, well, any owner of lavacore will know, the stuff stays wet and clammy and heavy and nasty to put back on if you have warmed up.

    COMFORT ON SURFACE: I already discussed the comfort when it is cool or breezy. The Frogskins are more comfortable and warmer if you leave them on. If you strip them off and then put them back on, even better! But, Lavacore touts itself as “breathable” and so more comfortable when if you leave it on in hot weather. Since I bought (and I think most people buy) things like this for extra warmth, their performance in cooler conditions seems much more important than when it is hot. In cooler conditions, the Frogskins are better. Still, since I might use these as my main suit in the summer, I have some thoughts. First, even lavacore gets hot as hell (“lava,” right?) on a Florida beach or boat in summer with temps in the high 90sF. These “breathable” membranes are just not all they are cracked up to be and even if they let water vapor through from your sweat, they still trap a lot of heat. Lavacore might be “cooler” merely because it stays “wetter” than the frogskins. But, no one is going to keep their lavacore on to stay “cool” on a hot day—just ain’t happenin’. I strip off my lavacore in the summer, or run water through it to stay cool between dives. So, no difference with the Frogskins and their superior performance in worse conditions is a big advantage and the main reason people would buy anything like this in the first place.

    “HIGH TECH” Lavacore and Sharkskins claim “high tech” in the use of the breathable material. As I said above, this is not a big deal in the diving context. A breathable membrane adds no warmth or dryness at all under water, for the simple reason that your body moisture cannot “breathe” into a 100% wet exterior environment. This is the same reason you still sweat under a gore-tex jacket that has been soaked in the rain. On the surface, a breathable membrane adds very little warmth as well, and gives you a little, but not much extra “coolness” on the surface when you are sitting around waiting for the next dive. Frogskins use a more traditional neoprene suit construction, but claim a different “high tech” in their hydrophobic fleece lining. This DOES make a big difference in the diving context. The fleece is thicker and does not absorb water. This makes it distinctly warmer when you are under the water, and also on the surface as your body heat combined with the water drainage dries the fleece quickly. Even with the skins on, once the water drains out, the fleece begins to dry. The difference is huge if you doff and then put them back on right before the next dive. There is a video on Probe’s website showing the fleece lining visibly drying in one of their wetsuits. I duplicated this test, and it is completely for real. You can see the fleece dry out in about 30 seconds, and it is dry. So, I think that Probe has actually thought about what kind of “high tech” would make the diving experience better, instead of fastening on existing technologies that do not work so well in our specialized realm.

    PRODUCT LINE: Probe offers these as a long sleeve top (mens and womens), hooded long sleeve top (unisex), hooded vest top (unisex) and pants (unisex). There are no fullsuits, shorties, or vests/tops with beavertails.

    FINAL THOUGHTS It would have been easy to return these (Probe has a good return policy), but I believe our $$ were well spent. Our Lavacore is going to go in the closet. Also, I see that Probe makes a line of 3, 5 and 7 mil wetsuits with the same quick-dry fleece lining. I can only imagine how nice it would be to peel down the suit, put on a jacket between dives, and then peel up a nice, dry, warm suit (at least on the inside) for the next dive. These are going to be #1 on my list when my existing suit finally wears out.

    If you are in the market for this type of dive skin, these should be at the top of your list.
     

    Attached Files:

  2. Gaucho223

    Gaucho223 Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Washington, USA
    196
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    what is your opinion on wearing under a drysuit? l have heard of these and would like a dual purpose skin for undergarment bot for wetsuit and drysuit....thoughts? it breathes very well from those that have worn it...under rain jackets..
     
  3. stuartv

    stuartv Seeking the Light

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Manassas, VA
    8,740
    4,387
    113
    I don't know about the Frogskins, but I have tried my Lavacore gear under my drysuit and I don't like it. It holds moisture (e.g. from sweat) too close to your skin. I would expect a non-breathable skin (like the Frogskins) to be even worse.

    I started my drysuit diving using Lavacare. Since I changed to using a thin Merino wool base layer and, when needed, Fourth Element Arctic mid-layer, I am MUCH more comfortable.
     
  4. guyharrisonphoto

    guyharrisonphoto ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Florida, USA
    1,958
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    113
    These aren't made for drysuits. They are stand alone for warm waters, or a great underlayer for a wetsuit to add warmth. I sweated like a dog even with lavacore, whose "breathability" is greatly overrated. The froggies do not market themselves as breathable, and I would not try them in a drysuit.
     
  5. andy2667

    andy2667 Angel Fish

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    Hi,

    I am considering buying Sharkskins/Lavacore/Fourth Elements Thermocline/Frogskins to replace my raging, not warm & not easy to don/doff 3mm neoprene back zippered full wetsuit. I normally dive in tropical areas with water temp from 25deg~29deg, occasionally dive in 24 deg water down to 21 deg water. These fabric type suit suit be fine in this temp range as stand alone suit. The reasons for this replacement are:
    - The existing 3mm wetsuit are not easy to don/doff. Doing 4/5 dives a day during l5~7days liveaboard trip, it is a pain and tiring after the 1st day for don/doff this wet suit. Want to use these fabric type suit to easy my work
    - Try to further reduce my lead weight for more efficient finning
    - Reduce my luggage weight is an added advantage but not essential

    After searching the forum, these fabric type suits except the frogskins seems to be not a wise replacement for neoprene suit because I read that:
    - they get baggy when under water. This is no no as it not only adds drag but also interfere with normal buoyancy control. I have Forth Element Hood and know how worse it can be before I made some small holes to beed air.
    - they are difficult to dry even compared with Neoprene. My current 3mm wetsuit can be 90% dry after a lunch break but my Forth Element Hood remain not very dry even after overnight.

    It seems that the frogskins with the advantages of these fabric type suit but without the above problems is the way to go. I intend to buy a Hooded long sleeve top and a separate pant for easy don/doff and yet provide additional warmth with built in hood. Before I pull my trigger and ordering it, it would be great if you could share more information on it:
    - How thick it is? Comparable to a 3mm suit or a 2 mm suit?
    - How warmth it is?Comparable to a 3mm suit? If it is as warmth as a 3mm wetsuit, it would be great? It can be used as a stand alone suit for 90% of my diving. If temp get cold, I may all on top on it a 3mm shorty or a 5mm shorty.
    - How easy to don/doff compared with a conventional back zippered full suit? This is the most important factor for my consideration.

    Thanks
     
  6. CaptainCalamari

    CaptainCalamari Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 25 - 49
    Location: Australia
    84
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    I have their thicker idry wetsuit in 5mm, it is super comfortable and super stretchy. It never feels "wet" when you are out of the water after a dive.

    I would say at a loose opinion that their lining combination would give it the thermal protection of a traditional 2-3mm suit. This is based on what I have heard people say about the difference between their idry and other suits, the tight body form fit and the lining limits the water movement and limits flushing losses.
     
  7. stuartv

    stuartv Seeking the Light

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Manassas, VA
    8,740
    4,387
    113
    This reads as if you're saying that their 5mm suit gives the thermal protection of a 2-3mm suit. I'm sure that's not what you meant, but can you clarify exactly what you DID mean? Do you mean that the 5mm gives the thermal protection equivalent of a 7 - 8mm traditional suit?
     
  8. Jason

    Jason Not an Angel

    # of Dives: 25 - 49
    Location: Nebraska
    180
    91
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    What about the buoyancy of these suits? One advantage that I've heard regarding the Sharkskin and Lavacore is that they're both neutrally buoyant. Are these suits slightly negatively buoyant since they have more neoprene?

    EDIT: Never mind! I missed your answer the first time through. Slight positive buoyancy as I thought might be the case. But nothing official from the company.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2017
  9. guyharrisonphoto

    guyharrisonphoto ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Florida, USA
    1,958
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    To Andy/Jason

    I would say these are about equal to a 1mm suit. probably about the same thickness of lavacore-type garments.
    These are not completely neutrally buoyant. They are slightly positive. For a full top (long sleeve no hood) and long pants, I would estimate adding 1-2 pounds.
    They are not as warm as a 3mm full suit. They are not designed to replace that. They are skin-type garment. They are great if you are in water warmer than, say 78F for a typical one hour dive.
    If you want to layer for warmth, I would put these on the bottom, because the fleece lining really is warm, and on multiple dives you want to put on that "dry" lining against your skin.
    The outer stretchy layer takes time to dry, nothing special there. It is the lining that dries basically instantly. This makes them much warmer on the surface and pleasant to put back on for a second dive.
    Because they are separates, there is more water flushing than a fullsuit. Personally, I would love for Probe to make a back zip full skin out of this stuff.
    I do plan to order a 3 mil wetsui from them for my summer diving.
    I am not going to get into the "are they warmer than a thicker suit" question. All I can say is that they are extremely warm for a skin type suit, and definitely warmer than lavacore. Once you get to fullsuits, I think there is no free lunch and thickness of the neoprene (and of course fit) matters more than the lining. I would not doubt that they are one of the "warmest" suits for any particular thickness.
     
  10. andy2667

    andy2667 Angel Fish

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    Thanks for advising. 1mm equivalent will be a bit cold for 25degC (77degF). I will need to layer it on tim with a 3mm shorty.

    This seems to negate the original benefit of simpler and easier to don diff, and less floaty.

    May need to rethink about this.
     

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