The Ultimate Guide To Choosing A Scuba Diving Wetsuit
When underwater, your body loses body heat 25 times faster than in air. Water grows increasingly colder the deeper you go from the surface. To compensate, scuba divers need a wetsuit to keep them warm, even while wet. Wetsuits provide protection from sharp objects (or creatures!) and insulation. They allow a small amount of water inside the suit to be heated up and circulated using your own body heat. This layer of water keeps you warm throughout the dive. Even in warm waters, scuba divers will want a wetsuit, though they may opt for a different cut than the full-body suit. Read on to find out how to choose the best scuba diving wetsuit for your underwater explorations.
Types of Wetsuits
Wetsuits come in a variety of cuts. The one you choose should primarily rely on the water temperature of your dive. Warmer waters will not necessarily require as much coverage, and you can get away with a shorty-styled wetsuit. Cold water will demand full-body coverage to maximize your comfort and the duration of time spent underwater. All wetsuits use neoprene, a synthetic rubber-polymer material, of varying thickness. Neoprene provides ideal insulation and resistance to cold water conditions. While all scuba wetsuits share certain features, there are several different styles:
Shorty: Shorty wetsuits, also referred to as spring suits, end just above the elbows and knees, hence their “shorty” namesake. They typically feature thinner neoprene, and keep your core warm while allowing free movement of arms and legs. Shortys should be reserved for warm water dives — they do not provide the full-body warmth needed for colder dives.
Farmer John/Jane: Farmer John (for men, and farmer Jane for women) wetsuits come in two pieces. One piece includes full legs connected to a sleeveless top. A jacket makes up the second piece. This design doubles up core insulation, making it a great cold water option. The layered setup also provides greater mobility in the shoulders.
Full-Body Wetsuit: The most common option, full-body wetsuits cover the diver from neck to wrist to ankle. Thickness varies, but the additional coverage provides more warmth after allowing a small amount of water in. Your skin heats up the layer of water, and then the suit keeps you insulated from the colder water outside. A full wetsuit also protects you from corals, jellyfish, and other sea life you may accidentally bump into.
Semi Drysuit: Unlike typical wetsuits, semi drysuits have little to no water circulating inside. Seals at the neck, wrists, ankles, and watertight back closure keep water out. These suits retain heat during your dive. Semi drysuits do require help putting on, but in cooler waters, they stay waterproof, warm, and easy to use.
Drysuit: As the name implies, a drysuit keeps the diver dry. Thermal protection comes from what you wear underneath, or the dry suit itself depending on its material, in addition to an adjustable layer of air. They are favored by divers experienced in extremely cold conditions or rebreather dives. Drysuits demand maintenance, do not last very long, and tend to be more expensive. They come in two different designs:
- Membrane/Trilaminate Suits: Membrane drysuits keep you dry through three layers of laminated material. They do not provide insulation, so you need to keep warm through selective undergarments. Membrane suits dry fast and are easy to clean, and last years if well-maintained. They can handle diving in a variety of temperatures with adjustments to what you wear underneath.
- Neoprene Drysuits: Neoprene suits offer more warmth than membrane suits, as well as more weight. They work like an extra-thick, compressed wetsuit. The compression makes it thinner than a wetsuit, waterproof, and reduces some buoyancy changes experienced during descent and ascent. Since the suit itself keeps you warm, you can wear lighter undergarments. Neoprene drysuits are more difficult to put on, like many wetsuits, but they are also very form-fitting and feel streamlined underwater.
Once you’ve determined the style of scuba diving wetsuit you want, look for these ideal features:
Fit: Your wetsuit should not fit either too tight or too loose. A too-tight suit will restrict your breathing and movement. If a suit is too loose, it will continually let in cold water, thus keeping you cold. Check for pockets or folds within a wetsuit when trying it on — there should be no noticeable air space for water to fill. A wetsuit will feel tighter on land than in the water. When trying one on, it should fit like a second skin: snug without being too constricting. It a wetsuit fits perfectly but the arms or legs are too long, they can be folded without detracting from its insulating properties.
Gender: Wetsuits are almost always built for either men or women. Paneling and thickness will vary in gender-specific areas. Women can try unisex versions if they are looking out for price, but will often find the fit of female-specific wetsuits more comfortable.
Thickness: Water temperature should determine not only the style of wetsuit you buy, but also the thickness. The thicker the suit, the warmer the diver will remain after being submerged in water. As a general rule:
- Cold Water: Less than 10-18℃ (50-65℉); 7+mm thick neoprene.
- Temperate: 16-24℃ (60-76℉); 5.5mm thick neoprene.
- Warm: Greater than 25℃ (77℉); 3mm thick neoprene, or a shorty.
Thinner suits will bring better flexibility with less buoyancy, but they sacrifice needed warmth for colder dives. Many suits will have a thinner construction on the arms, legs, and shoulders for increased mobility. Thicker chest and back areas will keep your core warm without hindering movement.
Neoprene: Neoprene is a rubber polymer filled with nitrogen air bubbles. It is what traps water between the suit and your body, warming up that thin liquid layer to create a thermal barrier against the cold outside water. Wetsuits can consist of either closed cell or open cell neoprene:
- Closed Cell Neoprene: Most wetsuits feature closed cell neoprene. Stiffer and more durable with a rubbery texture, closed-cell construction effectively insulates you against the elements. These wetsuits perform best on shorter dives as the less-flexible material starts to rub against your skin after extended periods of time. For beginning divers, closed cell neoprene wetsuits offer the best price point.
- Open Cell Neoprene: Open cell neoprene features a porous interior design that allows the suit to be more form-fitting. It will fit tightly, and require lube to put on. The flexible design also means it will not last as long as a closed cell wetsuit. However, the softness of the material makes it less abrasive and more insulating. Open cell neoprene wetsuits come at higher prices, and many new scuba divers opt for the less expensive designs until they become more confident in their underwater skills.
Seams: Wetsuit manufacturers often broadcast the type of seam construction they incorporate. Some styles are better for warm water, while others are more suitable for cold water. Seam design can come down to personal preference, as well as the water temperature. Different seams include:
- Overlock Stitch: Overlock stitches sit on the inside, and are the least effective at keeping out water. The inner seam construction may cause chafing or even wear out quickly. They should be reserved for use in warm water.
- Flatlock Stitch: Flatlock stitching rests on the outside of the suit with the two pieces of material appearing to be held together by railroad-style threads. The interior seaming is flat, making it comfortable against the skin, even though water still seeps through. Wetsuits with flatlock stitching should also stay in warm water.
- Blind Stitch: Blind-stitching is ideal for scuba diving wetsuits. The material is first glued together, then stitched on the inside. This construction provides the most waterproof option, and may include additional features:
- Double blind-stitching adds a layer of stitching on the outside as well.
- Blind-stitching with Fluid Seal (or seam taping) means the stitches are strengthened or covered with tape. Very little water will get through blind-stitch seems, making it best for cold water dives.
After proper training, nearly anyone can scuba dive. In addition to a tank, fins, and mask, a wetsuit lists among the scuba diving equipment necessities. We have wetsuits designed specifically for men, women, and children. Always choose your suit based on water temperature. The colder the water, and the longer you intend to be in it, the thicker a suit you will require. Be sure to base your choice off thickness, fit, neoprene quality, and seam construction. You can always further insulate yourself by adding gloves, booties, a hood, neoprene undershirt, or even an under/over shorty. Start your scuba diving adventure outfitted with everything you need from SwimOutlet.com!