Level Six Cronos Drysuit 6-Month Review


Dec 7, 2011
Victoria, BC
I mentioned the Level Six Cronos in an earlier discussion here:

I’ve been using the Cronos for all my paddling outings since I got it last May.
Though I haven’t paddled very much this year, I wanted to offer some thoughts after 25+ days on the water with it.

Things I like about the Cronos (some will sound familiar to Kokatat users):
The price: $800 CAD is a lot more palatable than prices near $2000, for me.
The fit- It seems less bulky than my other Level Six suits. The legs are slimmer and I like the absence of the over-tunnel.
The sleeve pocket – very convenient and much better than the ‘pants pockets’ on some other suits.
The ‘punch-through’ neoprene neck collar. I don’t even notice it’s there; a contrast to collars with fabric and Velcro which always seem to scratch me under my chin or at the side of my face.

I have skinny and increasingly bony wrists and I had trouble with water getting past the Cronos suit wrists when paddling. I generally use a ‘high angle’ paddle stroke, so my hands are above the elbows on every stroke, encouraging water to seep past the wrist area and gradually soak my base layers.

I tried using silicone ‘Bio-Seals’ from a dive shop and also the neoprene wrist ‘cuffs’ from Seaskin.UK under the latex wrist gaskets (both products provide an additional 'cushion seal between the skin and the latex wrist gasket), but they didn’t seem to help.

I’d also noticed the stock (M) latex wrist gaskets on the suit becoming less-tight over the months- perhaps from being stretched over the cuffs I'd worn. I decided that more snug-fitting gaskets should solve the problem, so I replaced the stock gaskets with size S gaskets from Seaskin.uk.
It was difficult to imagine that water could leak past them – they were tight (but circulation and mobility were OK) so I decided I must have solved the leak problem.
I was surprised (very!) to find that after my next paddle my base layers were still getting wet. When I stopped for lunch, I released a few tablespoons of salt water by hanging my hand known and putting a finger under the wrist gasket.
My thought: “This is crazy!”.
I don’t work that hard or sweat very much at all when paddling.
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By now it was the beginning of October and having sodden base layers was becoming tiresome.
Next day I hung the suit in the cool garage, turned the sleeves inside-out and clamped the wrist gaskets closed.

I poured about 12”of lukewarm water into each sleeve and watched.

After about 10 minutes drops of water were forming on the thinner fabric which joins the latex gaskets to the suit. This wasn’t condensation, it was liquid water passing through the fabric.
mini-leak cropped.jpg

Over the next few hours a few hundred mL of water dripped into the bin under the sleeves.

While paddling, that fabric will be continually wetted with a little water on every stroke, and the fabric rubbing against my arm and the sleeve of the base layer garment will transfer water through the suit. Those drops add up!

This probably won’t be a problem for folks who use a low angle paddle stroke with their hands mostly below their elbows – arms ‘pointing down’.

I’m also guessing that it takes a few outings for the DWR treatment to wear off the fabric in those wrist sections. That may be the reason I didn’t notice any leaks in my first few happy outings with my new Cronos suit.
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I contacted Level Six and they provided a prepaid shipping label to get the suit back to Ottawa for testing. (They shipped the suit back to me after having it for a week or so for testing.)

Level Six (at my suggestion) replicated my ‘gaskets clamped and water in the sleeves’ test and got the same results- water leaking through the fabric. They also repeated the standard test which involves turning the suit inside-out, pumping air into the suit and spraying the fabric with soapy water. My suit passed that test with ‘no leaks’.

Level Six offered a few explanations:
Putting water in the sleeve was an unrealistic test because ‘very little’ water could get to that area because of the over-sleeve and Velcro strap.
Perhaps those drops of water were ‘sweating’ (condensation).
Perhaps putting 12” (~300 mm) of water in the sleeve exceeded the 5000mm rating of the Exhaust 2.5 fabric.

Summary from Level Six: The air pressure test showed that the fabric is still in perfect condition and not leaking through the membrane.

Now that my suit is ‘back home’, I’ve coated the fabric sections with thinned Aquaseal – not a perfect fix because it stiffens the fabric, but it does stop the water getting through the fabric.

This all go me wondering about that Exhaust 2.5 fabric, so I repeated the ‘water in the suit’ test with some Level Six Exhaust 2.5 dry pants I’ve owned for a few years. No water came through the membrane after hours with the legs partly filled with water.
mini-new cloth 2.JPG

mini-older Exhaust 2.JPG

The pattern on the inside of the 2.5 fabric is different in the older dry pants and the newer Cronos wrist. I don’t know whether this is a cosmetic/design change or an indicator of a different fabric supplier, but I do know that one fabric leaks and the other doesn’t – in the sample garments I have.
I recall a similar interaction I had with a manufacturer of drybags a while back where I tested a bag to see where it was leaking through by filling it with water and checking for wet spots. Their determination was that a drybag wouldn't be subjected to the pressure generated by filling it with water and thus my test was invalid.
Didn't really do much to answer the question of why water was getting into the bag when drizzled with rain or sitting in a small pool of water in the bottom of a hull though...

Thanks for the follow up review.
Summary from Level Six: The air pressure test showed that the fabric is still in perfect condition and not leaking through the membrane.

Outrageous response by the manufacturer. Even a paper bag can pass the air pressure test. That doesn’t mean you’d use one as a drysuit.

I also love that they tried to blame an obvious leak on condensation, the standard denial by every waterproof membrane defender. Amazing how the water is only “condensing” where the fabric is thinnest!

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Except for the harshest of conditions or coldest of water I still prefer a farmer john plus paddle jacket over my (admittedly older) "dampsuit".
Level Six also explained that they switched from using regular 3-ply ‘suit fabric’ in that area because it made the seams too bulky.

I'm a fan of 'minimalist' suits, so I would be happier to have a drysuit without those (mostly cosmetic) fabric over-cuffs.
The Chillcheater paddling suits just put the neoprene 'gasket' on the end of the sleeve. I think the Mythic suits did the same.
The over-cuffs make it a PITA to wear and check my GPS watch when I'm paddling.
John, Thank you for the investigation. It reinforces what I was seeing with one "rain" jacket. It's an early adaption of eVent fabric (a competition to Gore-Tex). In the rain, I'd find a sheen on the inside. At first, I thought it was condensation created by me. But it seemed too prevalent. Now I'm guessing, as you demonstrated with your drysuit sleeves, that the performance of waterproof/breathable fabric might be more marketing wishes than engineering reality.
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(Many) years ago I bought a North Face 'rain jacket' made with Paclite GoreTex fabric. It was not waterproof in anything more than a quick rain shower. Under the straps for even a small rucksack, the water would seep in at a good rate, wetting the insulating layers beneath.
I notice that NF is still selling a version of that jacket.
After a rainy kayak trip a few years ago, a friend stopped using the new Helly Hansen 'Pro' GoreTex suit that had been purchased for the trip. Rain soaked right through it. For rain, something rubbery is more reliable, I think. At least it's easier to separate (and troubleshoot) condensation from rain coming through the suit!
For cool weather paddling, I'm starting to think that Chillcheater might have a better idea with their rubbery Aquatherm fabric.
At the SISKA Zoom meeting this week SUP adventurer Norm Hann mentioned that he paddles in what is traditionally surf gear. He is clearIy exposed to the elements from head to toe, for long days (up to 50+ km!). I can't recall (nor find on his website) the brand name but suggest it might be similar to the Chillcheater. (although he also talks about, and may be sponsored by, Mustang drysuits)
SUP is a whole different thing. :) It's a long way from the wrists to the water.
In this pic (from Mustang - apparently promoting their pocket-less PFD?) Mr Hann looks to be wearing mostly wet-weather hiking gear - rubber boots and rain pants and rain jacket. Perhaps he has a wetsuit under?
mini-Norm Hann.JPG
I bought my Cronos suit at around the same time as John, and have roughly the same amount of time on the water. I can vouch for his experience.

I've suspected for some time now that something - fabric, wrist seals, other - was not quite right. I have a low angle stroke, and started to notice that my forearms/shirtsleeves always came out of the suite damp, if not downright wet. I do dip my elbows into the water the odd time, but not enough to continually soak the suit. I couldn't decide if it was just condensation, water leaking through the wrist seals (though they fit very snugly) or water leaking in through the suit. I also started to notice that if the padding on my seat was wet when I started the paddle I would get 'damp-through' on my butt in fairly short order.

I do like the suit but I'm a little disappointed to see these issues crop up so soon. I will probably buy something more robu$t next time around.
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I use a setup similar to kayak Jim, with a high stroke. Often submersing my hands in warmer water.

My jacket is a Level 6 dry jacket from last year.

Like you, my sleeves get damp.
Not wet, I can't squeeze any water out most days.

It's too bad, I was planning on investing in a Cronos in the spring.
I like the idea of a something basic that just works as intended.

I think I may put it off a little longer now.
I too have a Cronos. I've never experienced my wrists getting wet from paddling (I'm a low angle paddler) and the gasket at my wrist is tight on my small wrists, at least it certainly seems to be. I have not experienced wet or damp wrists after paddling, aside from what I felt was just perspiration.

I was out this weekend and decided to see what would happen if I just went into the water, flopping around, and I did find my shirt sleeve at the wrist was damp. Back home I checked the material at the wrist, under the overcuff, and it is the same lighter material that John pictured in his second post.

Saying that 12" of water (0.4 psi of pressure) exceeds the rating of the material used in a dry suit doesn't really seem right to me. I would have thought that the material in a drysuit should be water-proof to a water depth of at least 3', or at least more water-resistant. But maybe I'm thinking a drysuit should do more that they are actually designed to do. That being said, I'd still rather have the more water proof exhaust 3 used in that part of the cuff than the exhaust 2.5 material.