I’ve talked about exposure protection in the past, in terms of drysuits and how well water conducts heat away from your body. But a recent conversation online raised a good but under-discussed topic, what wetsuit is right for you? Wetsuits, especially for cold water divers, are often a short interval in a person’s diving life before they buy a drysuit and stick with that save for the odd tropical vacation (and sometimes even there!). However, there are still some like me who enjoy the odd wetsuit dive, especially in the summer, so, it begs the questions, what is the right wetsuit for you?
Consideration number one: Where are you diving?
In cool water and cold water, there are a few factors to consider. One is how frequently are you going to be diving each day, as repeated cold exposure leaves you more exhausted and prone to cold injury. Another is how much heat you generate yourself. As modern science continues its awesome advance, wetsuits have come leaps and bounds from the simple neoprene suits that were the only choice in the past. As a result, there are more and more options, albeit at a cost, for divers who still want to stay wet in colder climes. Generally in colder water, you want at least a 7mm fullsuit. My preference is for a two part wetsuit, where you end up with around 14mm of neoprene around your torso.
In warmer water, you still need to consider how much heat you generate. You also need to consider what other environmental hazards there are, such as sharp rocks, coral, jellyfish, and so on. For most dives, I’ve found that a 2.5mm or 3mm shorty works well, but while diving in Cyprus, a fullsuit was definitely needed because of the rocks. For a lot of people a 3m or 5mm fullsuit is good call though, especially if you find that you get cold no matter what.
Consideration number two: How much are you diving?
In cold water diving, the primary concern here is cold exposure. When diving a wetsuit in cold water, the cold takes a toll on the body. It becomes more pronounced if you’re doing multiple dives per day, more so if you’re doing that over multiple days. If you’re fairly robust, a single 7mm fullsuit might do it, but a double layer suit becomes essential at this point. Muscle fatigue can be an issue too, but newer suits have more flexibility built into them than older ones, which has helped reduce this issue.
A set of issues that is common to both warm and cold water diving in wetsuits, especially if you’re diving on a high tempo, are maintenance and personal comfort. Wetsuits need maintenance. Specifically, they need to be rinsed out regularly and sprayed off with the same regularity. If you’re diving in warm water, this becomes more important, because in warm climates, things tend to grow, or moulder. Comfort wise, I strongly recommend wearing lycra shorts and a rash guard shirt. Regardless of if you’re in warm or cold water. They don’t bunch up, and they help to reduce chaffing. Because seriously, the last thing you need is for saltwater to aggravate chaffing.
Consideration number three: Peripherals.
The wetsuit itself is fine, but they aren’t complete units in of themselves. You need boots, gloves, and a hood to complete your exposure protection. In cold water, you need all three. I usually use 5mm gloves, a 7mm hood, and 7mm boots when I’m diving in cold water in a wetsuit. In tropical water, a hoot isn’t necessary, but some like them. Gloves are a matter of serious debate, because there is always the temptation to touch things when you have protection, and the super lightweight tropical gloves are still too much for some people’s dexterity. I like them personally, because if I have to touch something in tropical water, I’d rather have that layer of protection.
Boots deserve their own paragraph. Scuba boots are essential. I know a lot of people, especially in tropical areas, like the fins that you just put your whole foot in, but they have serious issues. Especially if you have to walk any distance to get to your dive site. Or if you don’t want to have sandy feet in your footwear. For tropical diving, I use, and recommend 5mm boots. In cold water, 7mm. Try them on before you buy them, because the sizes are not quite the same as regular footwear. Also, make sure that the tread on the sole is decent, you might need the grip getting into or out of the water!
So, that’s about it. Diving wet is the way that scuba got its start, and remains one of the most popular methods of diving even today. It’s also still the most economical way for many divers, in both cold and tropical water to dive with regularity. hopefully this can help out those divers out there with questions about what kind of wetsuit they should get!