Wetsuits Vs. Drysuits

Wetsuits and drysuits are categorized as exposure suits. They allow your body to maintain some warmth underwater by slowing down heat loss. If the right suit is not used, body temperature can decrease rapidly. Exposure suits also protect you from the harsh sun rays, even underwater! Divers and non-divers alike are often confused about whether to choose a dry suit or a wetsuit, this article will help in making this decision easier.

wet suit vs. dry suit

What is a Dry Suit?

As the name suggests, drysuit keep you completely dry, by making sure no water enters the suit. Drysuits are one-piece suits made up of foam, neoprene, crushed neoprene, vulcanized rubber, or heavy-duty nylon, with waterproof rubber seals at the neck and wrists, and attached sock seals at the feet.

How does a Drysuit work?

They are more lose than wet suits and allow you to wear layers underneath. Drysuits work by keeping an insulating layer of air between the body and the suit, which can be controlled by inflator valves, which is situated in the middle of the chest of the suit, which allows you to add gas as you go deeper. The exhaust valves also release gas during ascent.

However, maintaining neutral buoyancy in a drysuit requires certain skills. It is recommended to get proper training from a qualified instructor before using a dry suit. 

Does a Drysuit keep you warm?

Drysuits don’t keep you warm necessarily, especially if they are made up of Trilaminate, vulcanized rubber, or coated fabric. The undergarments or added air helps in keeping warm. As you go deeper underwater, more air will need to be added to the drysuit to keep warm. It’s important to note that the insulating properties of the drysuit will remain the same at all depths.

Neoprene Drysuits

Neoprene drysuits are made from neoprene of varying thicknesses, they are flexible and stretchy, allowing the suit to fit better and because neoprene is full of tiny air bubbles it has its own thermal insulation value, reducing the need for additional thermal layers. Standard Neoprene suits come with neoprene neck and wrist seals.

Semi-Drysuits

Semi-drysuits are basically wetsuits with seals. They resemble drysuits but, allow some water in. These suits have ankle, wrist, and neck areas made of a special material to reduce the flushing effect of warm water, which is being washed out of the entry of cold water. They provide good thermal protection, but in contrast to drysuits, they provide less protection against the cold. It’s best to add a neoprene vest under your semi-dry suit for more comfort.

They are also lighter than drysuits, so you dive in weighing much less. In contrast to drysuits, semi-drysuits are simple to use and do not require training.  

Women’s Drysuits

Women often complain they get cold quickly. This does not mean women are weaker than men, rather it’s a difference in the vasoconstriction rates. Vasoconstriction is the phenomenon by which blood vessels near the surface of the skin constrict to minimize heat loss. Women experience vasoconstriction sooner and at higher rates than men.

Many drysuits designed to cater to the needs of women specifically. These suits are equipped with high-density neoprene, which provides insulation, even at depth. It also resists compression reducing buoyancy changes on deeper dives. At certain temperatures, the suit is also comfortable without undergarments.

A reinforced lower back, arms, and knees provide extra protection from abrasion, without adding extra weight in the drysuit. The suit also comes with adjustable braces to ensure comfort.

Drysuits recommended for women include O’Three Drysuits, Scubapro Everdry 4, and Seac Warmdry Women’s Drysuit.

dry suit

What is a Wetsuit?

Wetsuits also provide thermal protection by using your body as a source of heat. It does not keep you dry, but it does keep you warm, even in colder waters.

How does a wetsuit work?

Wetsuits are made of foamed neoprene rubber, a spongy material with air bubbles or nitrogen gas. These bubbles create an airspace with a high insulation factor and significantly reduce heat loss to the surroundings. A thin layer of water also enters the suit, which is then trapped and warmed by the body. Even though, water doesn’t increase insulation, it prevents cold water from entering, hence creating a warm, stable environment inside the suit.

The thickness of a wet suit depends upon the temperature of the water you’re diving in. Thicker wetsuits provide more insulation and protection for colder waters, while thinner wetsuits are more suitable for warmer waters. The type of wetsuit you choose also depends on your body’s thermal performativity- some scuba divers can dive into tropical waters in a lycra body suit, others need a 2mm or 6mm thick wetsuit or a dry suit.

wet suit

 

Comparing dry suits and wetsuits

Before buying a drysuit or a wetsuit, consider the following factors:

1. Thermal insulation

Wetsuits use a layer of water to keep the body insulated, while drysuits use a layer of air and are fully sealed, so no water touches your body. This means that drysuits are better thermal insulators as water conducts heat 20 times faster than air.

You can wear undergarments underneath both suits but since drysuits have a loose fitting, you can wear thicker undergarments underneath a drysuit. 

2. Mobility

Wetsuits are easier to swim in and more comfortable under-water because of their skin-tight fit. Drysuits, depending on the material, are baggier and result in some drag while swimming. Therefore, dry suits might slow you down a bit.

3. Lifespan and Price

Due to their complex construction and ability to work in different environments, drysuits are more expensive than wetsuits. The price range for drysuits is $500-$1000, while for wetsuits it is $250-$500.

Moreover, with proper care and maintenance drysuits last longer than good quality wetsuits. Some drysuits last almost 15 years!

4. Value

Due to strong market competition, quality entry-level drysuits have the same cost as high-end wetsuits. This, however, does not mean that cheaper drysuits aren’t long lasting- they can be resold, retaining their long-term value. Wetsuits do not retain their long-term value as they deteriorate after a few uses.

5. Comfort and warmth

In essence, neither wetsuits nor drysuits keep you warm- they only slow down the amount of heat loss.

Drysuits are warmer and more comfortable than wetsuits. Drysuits are especially helpful during the day- diving in a drysuit, with proper under layers prevents a cold shock.  You can easily float around without feeling the cold water. This does not happen in case of wetsuits- you will immediately feel cold and uncomfortable till the water has fully saturated inside the suit.

After the swim, you will remain dry and toasty in a drysuit as the insulating layers and breathable material will release the moisture. Wetsuits, on the other hand, will keep the moisture trapped inside, so you will be wet for the rest of the day.

6. Ease of wearing

Drysuits are a bit strenuous to put on as you need to layer up and carefully close the neck and wrist seals to stop them from tearing. Wetsuits are easy to wear, especially when dry but when wet, they stick to your skin and require effort to take off. You may also feel cold initially, so make sure your wetsuit is always dry before wearing or taking it off.

7. Odor

Wetsuits have a tendency to stink due to body oils that collect on the inside facing of the suit overtime and are almost impossible to wash out. Sweat, urine and mold also tend to buildup on the inside facing and if the suit is not washed properly with detergent or odor removing treatments, it will smell.

8. Buoyancy

Wetsuit compress with depth and end up losing their inherent buoyancy. As it compresses, a wetsuit also gets thinner and loses its insulating capacity. Drysuits on the other hand, allow you to add air and compensate for the increased pressure at depth. A drysuit also does not lose its insulating capacity as your go deeper.

wetsuit

Dry suits VS. Wetsuits for Watersports:

1. Swimming

A wetsuit is a better option because they allow for greater flexibility while swimming, making it easier to move. However, if you are swimming in cold water, then a drysuit is a better option because they are warmer.  

2. Scuba diving

Most scuba divers prefer drysuits over wetsuits as it allows them to stay warm and dry after a dive. The added insulation also makes the dive comfortable and you won’t feel cold underwater. 

If the water is between 25-50 degrees Fahrenheit, it is recommended to get a drysuit made from thicker materials. During the summers, the water is relatively warmer so a wetsuit may suffice in certain areas.

3. Surfing

Wetsuits are recommended for surfers as they provide flexibility and insulation for the wearer. Certain companies also produce wetsuits specifically designed to meet the needs of surfers- they are lighter, more flexible and have specialized back and chest panels to block wind and keep the surfer warm. Drysuits aren’t recommended because they make the surfer stiff and increase the drag, making it hard to surf.  

4. Kayaking

Wetsuits are ideal for kayaking when the temperatures are between 45-70 degrees. Deep waters have a low temperature even in summers, so a wetsuit will keep you warm, without overheating under the sun.

Drysuits are recommended for areas where the temperatures are below 45 degrees. They may not be as comfortable as wetsuits, but will save you from cold shocks and hypothermia.

5. Paddle boarding

3mm thick wetsuits are a must for temperatures below 50 degrees while paddle boarding. In colder waters, wear your wetsuit over a swimsuit for added insulation. A drysuit is also suitable for paddle-boarding, as not only does it keeps you warm and dry regardless of the temperature but it also doesn’t hinder flexibility.

dive-suit-guide

Which is better

In order to determine which option is better, you need to consider the type of water you’re going into and weigh the trade-off between price and functionality. Wetsuits are the best option for paddling, surfing and swimming in waters between 45-70 degrees while dry suits are best for kayaking, scuba diving and other water sports if the temperature is below 45 degrees.

 

Michael Holding
 

Michael is an outdoor adventurer and a kayaking enthusiast who loves to share his experiences with others. He is the Chief Editor at XgearHub.

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