Enjoying your dive is about so much more than what you see. You can encounter the most amazing scenes, but if you are uncomfortable or cold, your experience will be marred. Staying warm underwater is all about choosing the right exposure protection. While it might seem like there is little to consider when it comes to selecting a wetsuit there are some things that you should bear in mind.
Wetstuit Divers © Lars Plougmann
No matter what thickness or style of suit you are looking for, the thermal qualities of a wetsuit are only as good as the neoprene used and the stitching employed. To ensure high-quality neoprene and seams choose a suit from a recognized manufacturer or a bespoke or boutique producer with excellent reviews.
A wetsuit works by trapping a layer of water between you and the suit. Your body heat warms this layer of water. Therefore your suit needs to be snug otherwise you will be conducting heat away from yourself as you warm continuously circulating water.
The biggest mistake divers make is thinking that a suit that is a struggle to get on is too small. Do not buy a wetsuit in a rush; you do need time to wriggle in and out, take it slowly. A small plastic bag over your foot or hand will help wiggle in, and while your suit should be snug, it should not restrict breathing or blood flow, and of course, you should be able to move. If you are buying a thicker suit, ankle zips will make it easier for you to get into.
If you struggle to find something that fits you correctly consider a made to measure suit. Find a company with good reviews or get a recommendation. Be sure to have your measurements taken in person by someone experienced in doing so.
Wetsuits produced for surface water sports do have a different cut to those designed for scuba diving. Typically they would be roomier in the arm and shoulder area to allow for the greater maneuverability required for these sports. This fit would not be the necessary snug fit for scuba diving.
You want to choose a suit that is suitable for the water you are diving in. The thicker the neoprene used, the warmer it will be. As a guide 3mm suits are the norm in the tropics, for the Red Sea you’d find most divers in 5mm suits, 7-10mm can be used in the UK in the summer. For colder waters, you would want to use a dry suit. However, do remember this is only a guide. You know how you handle the cold and it’s you that needs to be comfortable.
In the warmest of waters you could wear a thin shorty wetsuit, these typically cover the torso and have short sleeves and legs. Before buying one of these consider your sun exposure while on the surface and the resulting tan lines, also note that a suit like this reduces your protection from knocks, grazes, and stingers. The same thickness full-length wetsuit would be a more advisable purchase.
It’s now become more popular to layer for extra thermal protection, so you could add a hood, vest, jacket or shorty on top of your current long suit or you could buy a set specifically designed for this need. What you choose will depend on how you feel the cold, the temperature of the water, and the seasonal fluctuations of where you dive.
- Zips, Linings and other features
While it’s true a metal zip is more durable than a plastic zip, a plastic zip will not corrode. Regardless look for a good quality zip. You want the zip to be backed so that there is a layer of material between the zip and your skin for comfort. Similarly, some thicker suits offer extra padding along the spine and kidney areas for extra comfort.
Suits can be lined with a weave that traps more water for better insulation or more recently, lined with a titanium layer. Titanium maintains heat by bouncing it back and reheats by reflection.
We can’t really discuss wetsuits without mentioning how you seem always to need pee as soon as you hit the water wearing one, here’s why!