The Contenders – a pairing of “uniquely similar” drysuits.
In this corner we have the little disputed and long reigning champion of its class, the custom fit DUI CF200 drysuit. In the far corner we have a new comer aching to challenge the status quo in drysuit diving, the Whites Fusion.
The folks at both Whites and DUI were not immediately sure why we were comparing these two suits. When DUI president Susan Long first heard the idea of a comparison article she replied, “They are so different that other than the fact that they both have seals at the neck and wrist, and a waterproof zipper, there really isn’t much that is the same.” I too considered if this was a good and fair pairing, but when you look at the overall drysuit market these two suits are “uniquely similar.” Both suits are targeted at and purchased by customers that want a form fitting, low drag, durable, drysuit with flexibility and little or no buoyancy characteristics.
The creative designers of both of these suits approached these goals from
opposite ends of the drysuit spectrum and met in the middle. DUI starts from the flexible and form fitting neoprene drysuit end and removes the neoprene bubbles to add durability. Whites comes at it from the wrinkly shell suit end and adds the form and custom style fit with a lycra or neoprene skin overskin.
That is not to say that we have no problems in the comparison. In fact, over time we may see that Fusion was the first in a completely a new class of drysuits. Also there is history; while Whites as a drysuit manufacturer has a few years on DUI overall, the DUI CF200 line has been around for over 20 years (the DUI patent on the crushed neoprene expired in October 2008). In a bit of pre-fight of banter, Susan Long said, “I guess one of the biggest differences is the Fusion has 6 months of marketing “hype” versus DUI’s 25 years of performance. ” But we found that it is not all hype, many divers, including tech divers, are now diving the Fusion with great results and our tests proved to us that Whites is not just blowing bubbles. Sometimes old fighters make a surprising show against the new young pup, but other times, the match is curtain call for a new era in the sport.
Additionally, we also chose to compare the Fusion Tech suit specifically to the CF200 custom fit suit (DUI’s Signature model). This is because one of the claims that Whites makes of the Fusion is that every one of their off the shelf suits will fit like a custom fit suits. In our experience this is an accurate claim.
In case you are not familiar with these suits, here is a quick summary. The DUI CF 200 is a made by assembling a full neoprene drysuit, a bit larger than needed and then combining pressure, heat and time to crush all of the bubbles out of the neoprene. What results is a thin, somewhat flexible and extremely durable drysuit. Whites has created an innovative dual layer drysuit. The first Layer (DryCORE) is a loose fit bi-laminate shell dry suit which creates the waterproof barrier and no restriction to range of motion. The second layer “over suit” is made with a durable stretch fabric and attached to the DryCORE® at the wrists, ankles and dry zipper to form the streamline fit that evenly compresses the inner dry suit. For full details, here is a link to the manufactures information for the http://www.dui-online.com/dry_cf.htm and the http:/www.whitesdiving.com/fusion/pdf/Whites_Fusion_Brochure.pdf
GET READY TO RUMBLE:
For this face-off the judges tested both suits with a variety of undergarments and considered each contender’s showing in a range of categories. We also interviewed staff at DUI and Whites, other divers that had used both suits and researched the blogosphere for reviews and comments.
Whites’ claim that every stock suit fits like a custom suit is true. The stretchy “over suit” compresses the shell to form fit to your body so well that it has been compared to the Star Trek (Next Gen) crew outfits. Additionally, the loose fit inner layer allows dive shops to fit almost any size and shape diver with only the three main stock sizes. They actually make five stock sizes and they recently fit a 6’10”, 365lb man in a stock Fusion drysuit.
The DUI CF200 custom (Signature and Special Production) models are all custom measured and fit. Even so, it seemed a bit too easy to find CF200 customers that received suits that did not fit. My first custom fit CF200 was so small when I received it that I could not stand up straight without straining against the suit. Even so, the dealer claimed it looked good. DUI re-made the suit and it fit well.
So in the end both suits should fit perfect. But with the DUI custom fit you have go to the shop and have a trained staff take your measurements and then wait 3+ weeks for suit to be manufactured. You can buy the Fusion “off the shelf” and get a perfect fit.
Because the end result is that you are more likely to feel your suit fits well in the Fusion and do not have to take the extra time and travel to have a fitting session judges gave this round to the FUSION.
Comfort and Flexibility
Both suits claim to be and are flexible. But with the CF200 there are limits because, to get a form fitting suit, DUI has to allow that some of your range of motion is gained by stretching the thick crushed neoprene of the suit. If I lift my arms over my head in the CF200 much past my shoulders, I can feel the suit restricting. I, and most other CF200 users we spoke with, cannot reach their tank valve with any significantly warm undergarment in the CF200.
With the Fusion, you have an extremely flexible outer layer and no restriction from the larger inner layer. Thus, the Fusion lives up to its claim that “no other suit can match the mobility of the Fusion.” All testers, web and other journal reviewers agreed that it is unbelievable how much you can move in this suit. Our testers agreed that it truly felt like we were diving in a 3 mm wetsuit, yet were still warm in the cold Canadian waters.
For unparalleled flexibility and comfort this round goes to the FUSION.
The CF200 was born to be durable. The suit is the Levis jeans of drysuits.
The closed cell bubbles in an uncompressed neoprene drysuit breakdown under pressure and over time. The closed cells become open cells and the suit falls apart. Bob Stinton, one of the inventers of the DUI patented crushing process, explained that the CF was born when “the US Navy needed an alternative to vulcanized rubber that would stretch but would not develop porosity.” Also, the CF200 has been around for over 20 years and has a proven record of durability with military, recreational and professional divers.
The Fusion has a good “concept for durability” that makes sense in theory. If you contact an object that may tear the suit, the outer layer can slide across the slick shell layer and avoid a tear. The reps at the DEMA demonstrated this by running a box cutter over a section of the suit. Another advantage of this unique design is that you can replace the relatively inexpensive outer layer of the suit if it is damaged or worn. It is also possible to patch the inner layer of the Fusion in few minutes with a patch and heat gun. I think you may need a bigger save-a-dive kit box for the heat gun.
Another feature that should increase the life of the Fusion is the complete merging of the laminate layers in the in shell. Other drysuits manufacturers laminate layers together, which eventually may separate. In the Fusion, the two materials that make up the inner shell (DryCore) have been completely merged and become one.
Because the CF200 has clearly proven itself as one of the best in durability this round goes to the CF200.
Options and Accessories
Both suits have unique and valuable options. The most valuable option we found for the CF200 is the zip seals/gloves. These are essentially gloves and neck and wrist seals with a ZipLoc bag style attachment ring. This allows you to swap out a bad glove or seal at the dive site in only a few minutes. The down side is the cost. There is initial cost of ordering the zip seal option ($298 additional) and then a set of replacement seals (neck @ $138 wrist @ $118). Zip gloves are $178. How much is it worth to never miss a dive because of a seal problem or to never have to leave your suit with shop for replacement seals?
The CF200 optional pockets are strong, come in different sizes and styles and have d-rings. Because of the design of the lycra outer layer on the Fusion, you can only get pockets on the Tech skin and the new super stretch neoprene skin. We did not see the new neoprene skin, but on the tech skin the pockets cannot hold much weight without causing the Fusion’s outer suit to sag at the crotch. The DUI kneepad options are also much more substantial.
We thought that ZipSeals and Gloves were unique to DUI, and by name they are. But Whites does offer a very similar option. You can order the Fusion with attached rings that allow you to snap on dry gloves or seals at the dive site. There is no similar snap-on neck seal option for the Fusion.
We were extremely disappointed with the DUI rock boots. The high angle of the top of the boot makes it hard fit in most fins and it comes with very long laces that were confusing for even the dealer. We used them once and then went back to our Bear brand rock boots. Whites has one of the few rock boots that was designed like a sturdy shoe.
The DUI aesthetic trim offerings are minimal; a color trim only on the Front Entry model of the CF200. The shoulder entry suit is just available in basic black. Whites offers a multitude of different colors and graphics on the Fusion, including custom graphics. You can also buy more than one out skin for a different look. But it is more likely you would do purchase the second skin for diving in different temperatures and environments. Even with two skins, the Fusion would likely cost less than the CF200.
Both DUI and Whites offer a wide range of undergarments including warm socks. We tested the Whites MK3 undergarment and found it very warm but not flexible enough for the Fusion. The Whites MK1 and MK2 provide some warmth with great flexibility and with layering are acceptable for colder waters. Whites have not come up with the best option for very cold water undergarment that is both very warm and extremely flexible. They are working on it. Because of this the Fusion currently sells better in moderate water temp areas. We think that the Fourth Element Xerotherm Arctic undergarment that we will be testing soon, may be the perfect option for the Fusion.
Whites is working on another innovative option for the Fusion that is very exciting. They are adding a Velcro attachable boot that allows you the quick choice of using a rock boot or an attached boot at your whim.
For a more aesthetic options, better pricing on options, multiple shell, and the unique choice to have both rock boots and the attached boots we give this round to FUSION.
Both suits are uniquely creative designs. The Fusion is so innovative that it may start it own class of drysuits. However the CF200 process was no less innovative when it was first released. Now that the patent for the crushed neoprene has expired we may see more CF200 clones.
Out of the box the Fusion suit has an almost unlimited water temperature range. We tested it in cold Canadian (41*F) waters and it would be equally at home in the tropics. You can even get sport plugs and use the suit for surfing, kayaking or kite boarding. The Fusion is also extremely light (< 5.5 lbs) and compacts well (~19″x11″) for traveling. The design of the Fusion also benefits dealers because they can have 3 sizes and fit almost anyone that walks in the door.
The Fusion also has a kidney warmer that is attached to the suspenders which in our experience made a noticeable difference.
Both suits have innovative designs and accessories, so we call this a TIE.
Ease of doff/don
There is a YouTube instructional video on how to don the Whites suit, and without this or other instruction, many might not get the suit on correctly and thus feel uncomfortable. However, after you learn the correct donning procedure you can quickly and truly “SELF DON” the Fusion. Also the flip-top, front shoulder zip design of the Fusion makes it so that you can fully don the suit, sans neck seal and be comfortable pre-dive, and at the last minute, flip on the neck seal. No dragging and stepping on your dry gloves while getting ready to dive.
It was funny to us, that when we went back to using the CF200 we found that we had adopted one step from the Fusion donning procedure because it assures that you never forget put your suspenders in position. We often , which we used to do all the time with the CF200.
The CF200 shoulder entry (back zip) is as easy to don as other regular compressed neoprene suits on the market. Like many front entry suits, the CF200 front entry is designed with and extra fold of material to give enough room to get it over your head. Even with this, it can be very claustrophobic in donning and doffing. Even after many dives, one of our testers simply cannot “self don” her CF2000 without help. She has trouble getting it off of her head and has trouble reaching the zipper to start a zip.
With a quick lesson this FUSION takes round this for both ease and speed.
Venting/Air movement in the suit
The outer layer of the Fusion compresses the inner shell evenly over the whole suit. This virtually eliminates the problem of trapped bubbles and seems to allow for good buoyancy with less air (result is less weight on the belt). The CF200 is better than ordinary shell suits and the custom fit should also reduce places for bubble to hide, but it is nothing like the Fusion.
We give this round to the FUSION for even air distribution and less air needed.
DUI warranty is 7 years. Whites will shortly announce a new warrant plan. Whites management said the current, 2 year on workmanship and a one year on materials, is out of date and they will be extending the warranty time period.
THE CF200 is a clear winner of this round for now.
Pricing/Total cost of ownership (TCO)
If you just consider purchase price, it is knockout for the Fusion. There is very little argument that DUI is the most expensive drysuit product line. Most divers we talk with say DUI products are way overpriced. But TCO is different story. You have to consider the cost over the life of the product and other factors that effect the cost of your entire dive kit. If you pay twice as much for a suit that last three times as long, or cost, one-third to maintain, the more expensive suit is cheaper over the long run. If you can use one suit for all of your diving instead of purchasing two or three dry or wetsuits for your different dive temperatures, that is a significant factor.
The full custom DUI CF200 will run you around $3500. The Whites Fusion fully customized with the most expensive accessories is around a $1000 less. You can also replace the complete outer layer on the Fusion or buy extras for under $300 each. Other options and replacements on the Fusion are less expensive than DUI.
You also need to consider that the Fusion will work for diving both cold water and warm waters. It can save you the cost of owning a separate wetsuit for tropical trips. We just went to Florida on a cold week and had to layer wetsuits and shorties just to stay warm enough to dive. With the Fusion we would have been warm and the luggage would have been lighter. If you take it a step further and consider purchasing a DUI 30/30 custom tropical dry suit to cover the range of the Fusion drysuit it can cost over $2000 more.
Over all the much lower cost of the Fusion, combined with its wider range, makes it a better buy (unless it has significantly shorter life). This round goes to Fusion
The importance of your undergarment choice:
On both of these suits the undergarment choice is vitally important. If you choose an undergarment that is not extremely flexible, you will quickly defeat the advantage of the Fusion. This is even a factor with the CF200 custom suit. We found that DUI did not leave enough room when designing our custom CF200 suits to accommodate our favorite Pinnacle Merino undergarments which reduced the feeling of flexibility. We have also heard from many divers the use the Weezle undergarments with the CF200 and other suits that they sometimes have to go vertical to dump because the Weezle suit surrounds the dump valve.
WINNER: Whites Fusion
Even though the Fusion took more rounds, some of those were close decisions. We believe that both suits are great products and most drysuit divers would be happy with either the CF200 or the Fusion. A search of the web also indicates that most people are happy with either drysuit.
However, it is also clear that the Whites Fusion Drysuit is an amazing innovation that raises the bar. The judges and web reviews agree that if you can let go of “tradition” and try the innovative Whites Fusion (with a flexible undergarment) you too can dive most any temperature water with the fluid flexibility of a 3 mil wetsuit. That 3 mil experience was the first thing that came to mind for both of us on the first dive and it only got better on subsequent dives. Other reviewers claim the Fusion is even more flexible then a 3 mill suit. We also feel that Fusion makes diving with a drysuit easier than with traditional drysuits. If beginner divers start with a Fusion we stand a better chance of keeping more divers in the sport. Combined with the other creative features of the Fusion we can declare that the Fusion is already a champion among drysuits.
Even without a history of durability the Fusion makes economic sense. The question becomes, “Do I want a traditional drysuit that will last a long time and feel somewhat comfortable or do I want a drysuit that is still likely to last, but also makes every dive a fluid sensuous experience?” The most telling statement from our testers was this. If money was not an object and they could have either suit today they would choose the Fusion over the CF200 or any other drysuit on the market. And, if money was and object, the Fusion is even a better choice because the savings are significant over the CF200.