I’m a late adopter of Bluetooth, having previously tried Bluetooth in its earlier days, hearing something that sounded like my music was being fed down a drain pipe, and deciding that Bluetooth was rubbish… it wasn’t until I bought a Logitech H830 headset that I found that Bluetooth can actually sound decent… moreover when I bought the Logitech Zone Wireless, that bi-directional Bluetooth can also sound decent.
Now, the Zone Wireless is fine if I’m in the office, or out walking somewhere. It’ll fit underneath the coolie hat if I decide to wear that, otherwise it works with a cap just fine. BUT, if I’m camping or at a WICEN event, I’m often wearing a full-brim hard hat. The headband on the Zone Wireless is a problem.
I really wanted a Bluetooth device that could be put on a lanyard, and I just plug in a regular common-garden variety wired headset. The closest I can get to this is a motorcycle headset — as these have to accommodate a wide variety of helmet styles, the radio module and the headset are actually separate components, and so conceivably, I can make my own compatible adaptor to plug in. Then, it wouldn’t matter… want to wear the hard hat? No problem, I already have modded earmuffs with a headset. Want to use it on the bike? Sure, plug the helmet straight in. Or am I in the office again? No problem, normal headset.
It’d also be nice to share that wired headset with a wired audio device… prime example here is a radio transceiver. Yes, there are devices that will make those do Bluetooth… and there are radios that have Bluetooth. I had one of the latter: Yaesu VX8-DR … it’s Bluetooth was next to useless… idiosyncratic and unreliable.
I see the Sena SR-10 mentioned in a few places as a way to “Bluetooth-enable” a two-way radio… but aside from being pricey, I see three complaints being raised: unreliable/slow pairing, intermittent darlek-like distortion on transmit and a noticeable connection delay on incoming signals.
One catch, is the pads on this device are a 1mm spacing — so mounting this on some perfboard is going to be a big challenge. I prefer the minimalism of a module like this over a Raspberry Pi Zero W… a lot less to go wrong, and likely much better battery life.
So… after sitting around for close to 6 months, finally got some decent wet weather to try this gear out in anger. I’d have tried the rain suit in colder weather, but COVID-19 intervened. Wet weather has also seen the state forest at Imbil closed which has meant WICEN hasn’t been doing comms exercises up there. Thus despite receiving the suit a while back, I haven’t had a real opportunity to use it.
We had some pretty heavy rain over this weekend just gone… not “extreme” by any stretch, not like earlier this year where we had over a metre of rain dumped on us in the space of 3 days… but still moderately heavy. I thought worth getting out for the occasion.
It’s worth noting in wet weather gear there’s two schools of thought; one is going light-weight, accepting that weather will seep through, but hopefully your body heat will stop you from getting completely saturated. The other is going heavy-weight, accepting you’ll sweat, but since you haven’t got rain soaking you right through, you’ll at least stay warm.
One thing I note with this suit is when you put it on, like with smocks and hooded pull-overs; the hood is automatically on. Furthermore, the opening on this hood at its loosest setting, doesn’t easily pull over your head.
If your head is bare, you can get the hood up and down without too much trouble, but put a cap on and you may have difficulty. I find if I put my full-face mask on (masks are needed for COVID-19 in some situations in SE QLD), I cannot pull the hood off. Similarly, you’re in for a fight if you have a headset on underneath. Given this, I’ve basically come to accept with this outfit: the hood stays up, don’t bother putting it down.
The hood cord exits externally at two points that are set about 6cm apart — this would make sense on a conventional zip-up jacket, but on this sort of outfit, it’s a bit unnatural feeling, so I figured I’d re-locate where the ends of the hood cord exit. Furthermore, to avoid the hood cord getting tangled, I decided to put it internal. To do this, I first removed the toggles, then I used some needle-nose pliers to pierce a small hole either side of a seam on the inside of the hood directly under the chin, then used those same pliers to pull each end of that cord through the new holes.
Then to finish off, I fed both ends of the hood cord through one of the toggles and tied a knot at the very end to prevent the toggle from being pulled off accidentally. This results in an adjustment that feels a lot more like the pull-over hooded jumpers when done up and I find is more comfortable.
I can then pre-set an adjustment by adjusting the toggle and doing a simple half-loop knot which can be easily undone.
I’ve adjusted the hood for comfort when wearing a helmet for cycling — set the way it is, I’m unable to take the hood off without unzipping and reaching underneath, undoing a knot and loosening the toggle, but it means when I put my helmet on I can pull the hood back to a point where it doesn’t block my periphery vision then slide the helmet on comfortably. When not wearing a helmet or hard hat, the setting there allows me to look around if I wear a cap underneath.
Had to go get some dinner, so I threw the suit on, put my helmet on and jumped on the bike for the ~5km round-trip. I suppose this was around 5:30PM or so. Rain was falling moderately at the time… I stayed quite comfortable. Okay, breathability is going to be a problem with something this heavy, and I did perspire, but I didn’t feel hot. I got home with my clothes soaked with sweat, but was not cold from rain saturation.
One bonus with the boots is there was nothing to tangle with the gear train, a common problem with other forms of clothing. The suit I have has steel-capped boots fitted (you can buy them without) and these were quite comfortable to be cycling in.
Situational awareness wasn’t impeded… I could sit the hood far enough back to not block my vision, and while it did muffle sound a little, I could hear what was going on well enough.
The next morning I needed some bread; and so a longer bike ride out to Ashgrove was the answer. Conditions were overcast with intermittent showers. Given how sweaty I got, I decided since the suit covers the whole body and is opaque, I’d keep clothing underneath to the minimum (basically just underwear). In the past I’ve done this and it’s worked quite well.
With minimal clothing underneath, sweat tends to pool rather than soaking through. I was expecting a lot more rain than we actually got that day… I think with heavier conditions, things would be more pleasant but I was noticeably warmer on this occasion. By the time I got to Ashgrove, I could feel the sweat in the gloves and boots.
But here’s one plus side: when I got to my destination, okay I’m walking around with the sweat sloshing around… in the past with previous rain suits and warmer conditions, I’d reach out for something, and sweat would trickle down the sleeve and on to whatever I was reaching for. Similarly, sweat might drip down the legs onto the floor. Not very hygienic for everyone else sharing the space.
Having the gloves there meant that’s where the sweat stopped: it ran down into the glove and stayed there, it did not spill out onto whatever I was grabbing.
I rode home, and as I got towards home, I made a pit-stop at Walton Bridge to get a drink of water, as I was basically still in the sauna and needed to replace fluids I was losing… but otherwise things weren’t too bad.
I needed to do a milk run, and once again, it was predicted to be very wet. At one stage the BoM (sorry, the name “The Bureau” is already taken) were predicting 80-120mm that day. It’s not far so I walked it on this occasion.
Things were still damp from yesterday, but not uncomfortable. I threw some clothes on underneath that I didn’t mind getting soaked, grabbed my bag and went for a walk.
Aside from a comment that I apparently looked like something from “breaking bad” (some television show I think… I know nothing about it), there were no issues.
Airing things out
One downside of this suit is the almost-full-enclosure nature of it means it takes a lot longer to air out. Particularly the boots: it can take 3-5 days to properly dry things out if you had water sloshing around down there. I note Mikko is offering Opalo gear with polar fleece now, but given this fact, and the fact you’ll build up a big sweat if the temperature is even remotely warm… this would not be a good idea in the SE Queensland climate. (It may work further south though.)
Would I recommend them? If you deal with heavy rain or crappy weather a lot, definitely they’re worth a look. I’m yet to try them out in colder weather, but if the rain’s falling moderately heavily (i.e. in the region of >10mm/hr), they’re good. I think you’d overheat wearing them in sun-shower situations.
That said, there’s the possibility of getting something similar made in a lighter-weight fabric. I found my regular rain coat (which I often wear in colder weather) is starting to look a bit tatty, so I’ve ordered an extreme two-tone smock, but I’ll be getting it made in lighter-weight Plavitex material with a view to this being something I can wear when going out in cold/wet conditions. I suspect this will turn up around December/January; still in time to try it out in the warmer and damp summer we’re predicted to have this year.