Wetsuits Vs. Drysuits – Figuring Out What Works For YOU
As the saying goes, a bad day diving is still better than a good day working (though I dispute the notion of a bad day diving.) Having your own dive gear definitely goes a long way to ensure that every dive is a good dive. When you are in control of your gear, you know exactly how it has been maintained, which adds confidence to your dive, as the gear can be properly fit to your specifications as well as your skill level and dive style.
It’s Not About Vanity, It’s About a Great Dive!
A piece of equipment that is often overlooked when it comes to putting together your dive kit is your wetsuit. There are many reasons to get your own, such as hygiene, style, and comfort, but in my opinion, the key reason to get the right exposure suit is to manage your buoyancy control.
Wet suits keep you warm and also add to your buoyancy. The thicker and the newer the suit, the more buoyancy it will add. Consequently, it will affect the amount of weight that you need in order to achieve ideal buoyancy control. This alone is reason enough for me to say that rented exposure suits mess up new divers because you have to readjust your trim every time!
Cold Is the Enemy of a Good Dive
Choosing the correct exposure suit is a critical part of preventing hypothermia. Drysuits and wetsuits are the two primary options, and each works differently to help you maintain your body temperature underwater.
Wetsuit or Drysuit?
Wetsuits are made out of neoprene and rubber and fit tightly to keep you warm when wet. Drysuits are loose-fitting and completely waterproof, requiring base layers in order to keep you warm. Your choice as to which to use is dependent on the type of diving that you are planning.
Drysuits are used in cold water diving. Think ice lakes in the northern Atlantic as compared to the Cayman Islands and other tropical destinations. In addition to the extra training required to use a dry suit for your dive, you have to make sure that it fits comfortably over the base layers that you will don for warmth.
For a new diver, buying a wet suit can be overwhelming because there are many options from which to choose. Your choice will depend on where you will be diving (Mexico on a night dive in December will require something different than Mexico in the afternoon in August)
Many divers who dive in warm waters during the summer months prefer a dive skin. A dive skin is typically made of lycra, elastane, and polyester. It offers no benefit in regulating body temperature. It is a great option if the water temperature is 20℃ or warmer since it protects against stings and sun exposure. It is also an excellent choice for snorkeling.
When you chose your wet suit, you will need to consider the style and the thickness that you need.
A shorty will cover your torso, upper arms, and legs and leave the balance of your body exposed. It is a nice choice for warmer water dives when you need some insulation (keeping your torso warm is important for hypothermia prevention) but remember that it does expose your arms and legs to stings and scratches. I tend to prefer a full suit for dives and shorties for snorkeling.
A full wetsuit is an ideal choice for most dives. It covers your body, fully offering both environmental protection and body-temperature management. You can find suits with a taller neck or collar to add warmth and protection. It is true that a wetsuit will offer a more restricted range of motion but remember, you will don your suit shortly prior to entering the water and once you are underwater, the discomfort that you may feel will diminish. (Some people can feel a bit claustrophobic wearing all their gear. You can manage this by letting the divemaster know so that he or she can prioritize your seating on the boat and get you into the water first.)
A two-piece wet suit has a jacket and long johns, which are worn together to deliver added insulation around your torso. This is vital to maintaining warmth and allowing a greater range of motion. Typically, the jacket is thicker than the long johns, and this combination can be quite comfortable.
Wetsuits typically come in a range of thickness from two to six millimeters. The rule is that the thicker the suit, the warmer you will stay during your dive. Bear in mind, though, that the thicker the suit, the less mobility you will have. In addition, the deeper you dive, the more the air bubbles in the neoprene will compress, which means that a suit that is comfortable in shallower water may not be that comfortable on a deeper dive.
I am in favor of wardrobing your exposure gear. After you have selected a full-body suit, you can add a shorty that you can layer over it for deeper or colder dives. If you have a two-piece wetsuit, you can consider jackets of varying thickness.
When you dive you will lose at least 20% of your body heat through your head. Donning a well-fitted hood can make all the difference on all dives.
In order for your wetsuit to do its job, it must fit correctly. This is one piece of clothing that you want to fit like a glove. A loose-fitting wetsuit will not be able to trap water next to your skin and consequently, you will not be able to maintain your temperature on your dive.
Once you are suited in the right gear, you can focus on your dive and enjoy the magic of the underwater world without any anxiety about the fit and function of your exposure suit. That is definitely worth it!