Depending on where you dive, you are required to wear a specific type of scuba diving suit for both comfort and safety. That’s when many divers start to wonder what to choose between a wetsuit and a drysuit. While water temperature is the most important factor in picking the right suit, there are other considerations to have in mind. Read on to learn the difference between wetsuit and drysuit.
Wetsuit vs Drysuit – What’s the Difference?
The key determining factor in choosing between a wetsuit and a drysuit is water temperature. While you need to take your own tolerance to cold into consideration, most scuba divers use a drysuit when diving waters below 60° F/16° C. Some divers can tolerate temperatures as low as 50° F/10° C in a 7mm double-layer wetsuit while others put on their drysuit when diving waters below 75° F/24° C. It’s all a matter of personal preference.
While drysuits are mostly associated with cold-water diving and ice diving, some divers wear drysuits even in the tropics. Some do it because they’re susceptible to cold and perform multiple dives a day while others are technical divers diving on helium-rich mixtures that remove a lot of body heat.
Both wetsuits and drysuits can slow the amount of heat loss if used properly. A wetsuit allows you to stay warm by trapping a thin layer of water between your skin and the suit. Your body then warms up that thin layer of water to a temperature approaching that of your normal body temperature.
Most drysuits, on the other hand, are not designed to keep you warm on their own. Unlike wetsuits, they keep all water out so you remain dry when wearing the suit underwater. Using a drysuit for warmth implies adding insulating undergarments so you can comfortably dive in cold waters.
Wetsuits are designed to fit close to the body. For a wetsuit to work properly, it needs to be well-fitted and well-sealed because if it isn’t, the warm water layer will continuously be replaced by cold water from the sea or ocean. Your body would then waste energy trying to heat the new water and you’ll get cold.
Drysuits have a loose fit to allow you to wear insulating layers underneath it. As opposed to wetsuits that keep a layer of water between your skin and the suit, drysuits keep an insulating layer of air that you can control with the valves attached to the suit. You can add gas as you descend and release air during ascent.
Because of their tight fit, wetsuits are more comfortable to wear and allow you to move quicker. Drysuits are baggier, although recent improvements to the design have made them more comfortable to wear. Nonetheless, they’ll typically slow you down a bit compared to wetsuits and take some time getting used to.
Wetsuits are typically made from closed-cell foam neoprene, a synthetic rubber material known for its ability to insulate the body. The neoprene used for wetsuits contains small nitrogen bubbles that can reduce heat transfer from the body to the cold water at the exterior of the suit. Over the years, companies have begun experimenting with materials such as spandex, neogreene, ariaprene, and yulex, but neoprene remains the main material used for wetsuits.
Drysuits can be made from vulcanized rubber, foam neoprene, crushed neoprene, or heavy-duty nylon. They also come with a wrist seal, neck seal, and a waterproof zipper. The seals are typically made from latex rubber, foam neoprene, or silicone rubber. Most drysuits use a plastic waterproof zipper commonly placed across the back of the shoulders or diagonally across the torso.
Wetsuits compress with depth, resulting in some loss of inherent buoyancy. The loss of buoyancy also requires you to adjust the weights or the gas in your BCD. Not to mention that a wetsuit will always provide some additional buoyancy to the point that a person who just dived in wearing a dry thick wetsuit may have issues descending.
Drysuits have more inherent buoyancy because of the air trapped in them, but they are easier to handle than wetsuits. They do not compress with depth and you can adjust the buoyancy by adding or eliminating air in/from the suit.
Taking care of a wetsuit is rather easy:
- After each dive, soak the wetsuit in warm freshwater for at least twenty minutes and then rinse it off thoroughly with clean fresh water.
- Leave the suit to air dry with its zippers open to allow for complete drying.
- To prevent the development of a permanent crease or damage to the zipper, store it lying flat or on a hanger in a cool and protected space with no direct sunlight.
A drysuit requires more care as you need to maintain the seals and zippers, which are the most delicate part of the suit:
- After a dive, rinse the suit with clean fresh water both inside and out.
- Give the seals and zipper(s) a good wash to remove the possible contaminants that may damage them.
- As with a wetsuit, leave the drysuit out to air dry, preferably upside down.
- Lubricate the zipper(s) with beeswax or a similar product and lightly coat the seals with talc to prevent perishing.
- Store the drysuit on a hanger in a protected space with no direct sunlight.
- Replace the seals, valves or zipper(s) or do minor repairs when you see signs of wear.
Another difference between wet and dry suit is that one requires learning new techniques. Wetsuits are the most common, easy to use, and generally more comfortable to wear between the two, and you won’t find any course designed specifically to teach you how to use one. Drysuits, on the other hand, are a bit trickier, from putting one on to controlling the buoyancy and weight setup.
Is it mandatory to get a dry suit certification? The simpler answer is “no”, but keep in mind that some scuba diving centers may ask you to provide the certification before doing a drysuit dive or renting a drysuit. Others may simply ask for proof of a particular number of drysuit dives. Some dive centers offer their own drysuit specialty courses.
While some experienced divers find the drysuit certification unnecessary, getting properly trained on how to use a drysuit will save you a lot of frustration, not to mention that the improper use of a dry suit may jeopardize your safety underwater.
There are a number of certification and non-certification courses you can take such as PADI’s Dry Suit Diver, SDI’s Dry Suit Diver, BSAC’s Drysuit Training, and GUE’s Drysuit Primer, just to name a few.
Drysuits have a big advantage over wetsuits in the wetsuit vs drysuit debate because of their versatility. You can wear a drysuit in warm water, but you can’t wear a wetsuit in very cold water. Don’t be surprised to see people diving the warm waters of the Caribbean in a drysuit. It may not be for everyone, but it can be done. Many divers wear their drysuit all year round and in any location. This cannot be said for wetsuits, not if you intend to dive cold or freezing waters.
A wetsuit is a simple piece of gear that can generally last you anywhere between 5 to 10 years, largely depending on how well you take care of it and how often you use it. Drysuits are more complex and typically more expensive than wetsuits. They’re made to work in numerous environments, so they’re made to last. A drysuit can last over 15 years if you take good care of it. Nonetheless, you’ll most likely have to replace the valves, seals or zipper(s) at some point, as they tend to show signs of wear or damage after a few years of frequent use.
Wetsuit vs Drysuit – Let’s Recap
|Water temperature||> 60° F/16° C||< 60° F/16° C|
|Insulation||Keeps you warm when wet||Keeps you warm when dry|
|Material||Closed-cell foam neoprene, spandex, neogreene, ariaprene, yulex||Vulcanized rubber, foam neoprene, crushed neoprene, heavy-duty nylon|
|Lifespan||5 – 10 years, possibly more||Over 15 years with servicing|
Wet suit or dry suit? In the end, there’s no real winner or loser. What you choose to go with depends on your needs, preferences, and tolerance to cold.