When diving, an essential piece of gear is the suit you are wearing. There are two types of diving suits: wetsuits and drysuits. Whether you are wearing a wetsuit or a drysuit, both will keep your body warm, protect you against the sun’s harsh UV rays, as well as offer a protective layer against cuts and scratches from underwater animals or objects, among other benefits. Which one you wear affects how insulated you will be, but there are some key differences to keep in mind.
There is a lot of confusion regarding wetsuits vs. drysuits, but it’s not really a competition. Both play similar yet different roles. The obvious main difference is that drysuits are designed to keep you dry, while wetsuits don’t. With that said, they both offer essential protection underwater.
In this article, we will go over the differences between these two types of suits to help you determine which one is right for you. Which one you pick is based on how you will use it because there is no subject “best” type of suit. For instance, one factor is the temperature of the water you will be diving in, and another is the type of diving you plan on doing. Keep on reading to find out the differences between a wetsuit vs. drysuit.
Wetsuits vs. Drysuits: Differences
This table briefly summarizes the differences between a wetsuit and a drysuit.
|Closed-cell foam neoprene
|Rubber, neoprene, nylon
|Keeping warm in cold water
|Keeping warm in very cold waters
|Can wear tight undergarments
|Can wear tight or loose undergarments
|Ease of use
|No training necessary
|Training needed to balance and use
|Ease of movement
|Easy and quick motions
|Suit increases drag and reduces speed
|Lasts about 5 years
|Lasts about 15 years
Next, let’s delve into each factor in more detail.
As the name suggests, wetsuits allow water to enter the suit and come into contact with your body. The neoprene materials used in wetsuit construction are filled with tiny bubbles that allow water to pass through, but they are also good at insulating heat and providing buoyancy. By letting some water seep in and trapping it, the heat generated from your body will warm this thin layer of water up. This warm water acts as a warm and protective layer against the cold water surrounding you.
This interaction is only possible if the wetsuit is tightly hugging against your skin. If there are large openings, then cold water will constantly come into contact with your skin and wash out the warm water. The result is that your body will not be able to retain the heat that it needs to.
Furthermore, the thickness of the neoprene material of your wetsuit affects how heat it can insulate. Generally, the thicker the wetsuit, the more warmth it can provide. Therefore, people who plan on diving in colder waters should wear a thicker wetsuit, and those diving in tropical waters can wear a thinner suit. To ensure the suit remains tight, you can wear tight undergarments beneath the suit for some extra padding if desired.
Wetsuits can be used for activities both in and outside of the water to keep you warm. They are highly versatile and often used for various water sports such as surfing, swimming, snorkeling, paddleboarding, and so on.
The other type of diving suit is the drysuit. As the name suggests, drysuits or designed to keep your body dry even when submerged underwater. This is the preferred exposure suit to wear for cold water diving, ice diving, and altitude diving. To be fair, it can be used for any water activity (e.g. snorkeling) if the water temperature is cold enough.
Drysuits use a combination of waterproof and impermeable materials to achieve this: neoprene, foam neoprene, vulcanized rubber, and heavy-duty nylon. These keep water from reaching the body. Openings where water can enter such as the wrists, ankles, and wrists are sealed off. A watertight zipper seals the suit up.
Another difference between drysuits and wetsuits is that drysuits have a looser fit. Drysuits keep you warm by trapping a layer of air inside the suit. It’s up to you how much air you want trapped inside. This empty space gives you more freedom to wear more clothes or items that can improve the thermal regulation of the suit.
Like how the water is warmed up by your body in a wetsuit, the air is warmed up inside the drysuit to keep you warm. The empty space created by the air also keeps water from taking the heat from your body.
You can adjust how much air is in your drysuit using an inflator/deflator valve similar to the power inflator on a buoyancy compensator device. Remember that air is positively buoyant which causes you to float. By decreasing the amount of air in the drysuit, you control how deep you want to go down. Lastly, drysuits require specialized training in order to properly balance and use in the water.
When it comes to freedom of movement in the water, wetsuits are the clear winner because of their streamlined, skin-tight design. There’s a reason why wetsuits can be used for competitive sports such as triathlons and drysuits are exclusively used for specific research purposes. By keeping your profile slim, a wetsuit lets you swim with barely any obstruction.
On the other hand, the loose fit of the drysuit increases drag and decreases the speed you can move at. The heavy and baggy drysuit is better suited for slow, methodical diving in colder waters. Since drysuits are so hard to dive with and used for such specific purposes, beginners should just use a wetsuit.
The materials used in a wetsuit are lightweight and have few complex parts, whereas drysuits are made of numerous durable materials that are designed to last a long time. It doesn’t help that wetsuits are stretchy which means that they can get stretched out over time, decreasing their longevity.
On average, wetsuits have a lifespan of 5 years whereas drysuits can last as long as 15 years. This is assuming that you properly maintain your suit; improperly maintenance can severely decrease the lifespan of these suits. Another reason for the shorter lifespan of a wetsuit is that they are more commonly used whereas drysuits are used sparingly for highly specific tasks.
For these reasons, it’s possible to find a second-hand drysuit that is still in great condition. Wetsuits are harder to resell especially if they have been stretched out. If resale value is a big consideration, then drysuits hold their value much better than wetsuits.
As we mentioned above, wetsuits must fit snugly in order to take advantage of its protective qualities, and drysuits should fit loosely. Regardless of what type of wetsuit you are getting, it must fit close to your skin without restricting your movement too much or feeling too uncomfortable. Undergarments can be worn to add some extra padding.
Drysuits are loose-fitting and should have plenty of space in them. It ensures that no water enters and uses the air to maintain a warm protective layer around the body. The air also affects your buoyancy in the water which you can adjust using the inflator valve to go up or down at will.
The material used in wetsuit construction is primarily closed-cell foam neoprene. This makes the wetsuit expandable, breathable, and is what provides the snug fit needed to insulate heat and trap water. Depending on the type of diving you will be doing, the neoprene can be as thin as 1mm or as thick as 7mm or more. High-quality neoprene should not restrict your movement too much and can be used repeatedly without breaking apart.
Drysuits are made using nylon, rubber, and neoprene that is more compact and durable than the type used in wetsuits. This neoprene can endure more pressure at depth for longer, and is the reason why drysuits can last such a long time (15 years). Since drysuits are so loose, they don’t stretch and this further increases its longevity.
Ease of Use
There isn’t much of a learning curve for putting on and using a wetsuit. As long as it fits tight, it will offer its protective qualities right away. As long as you know the basics of how to scuba dive, swim, and surf, then wearing a wetsuit on top of that will further enhance how long you can perform these activities for.
Conversely, drysuits require special training in order to properly utilize them. You need to know how to stay afloat and move in the water with it. The reason why it’s so difficult is because of the air that it traps affecting buoyancy and movement to such a significant degree. Furthermore, drysuits are intended for use in the coldest of climates. As such, you should not attempt to dive with a drysuit until you receive the adequate training to use it.
Wetsuits are suited for casual and recreational activities such as surfing, SUP boarding, snorkeling, and diving in warm waters. You can use wetsuits for cold water diving, but you will need an extremely thick suit.
Drysuits are designed for more intense diving activities such as cold water diving and deep sea diving expeditions. Given their complexity, cost, learning curve and intended use, it’s not intended for use by beginners. They can also be worn for kayaking and paddling in extremely cold waters.
Since wetsuits need to fit tightly, it goes without saying that the undergarments worn underneath must also be similarly tight, such as the swimsuit and rashguard. These undergarments provide extra warmth, protection, and padding for a tighter fit. Any clothes worn over a wetsuit can be baggy.
Since drysuits fit loosely over the body, it doesn’t matter if the undergarments are tight or loose-fitting as well. As long as you have a specific purpose for them, then either one is fine. It will not affect the effectiveness of the drysuit itself, since it does not rely on the tightness to provide protection or warmth.
Wetsuits are cheaper than drysuits. In the case of a drysuit, its combination of complexity, high-quality materials, and intended use puts its price range into a much higher territory compared to wetsuits. Not that there aren’t high-quality and expensive wetsuits, just that comparatively it will be cheaper than an equivalent drysuit. As a general rule of thumb, the thicker the wetsuit is, the more expensive it will be.
Wetsuit and Drysuit Similarities
We spent the entire article talking about the differences between wetsuits and drysuits, and now we’ll briefly talk about their similarities.
First, wetsuits and drysuits are both intended for diving; they just have different ways of keeping the wearer warm. Both can be used for cold water diving (if the wetsuit is thick enough), but drysuits should be used for diving in the most cold waters.
Second, the materials used for both wetsuits and drysuits are similar. The difference lies in how they are used and in what form they come in. For instance, neoprene is used in the construction of both suits, but they appear in different forms.
Wetsuits vs. Drysuits: Which is Better?
As we have alluded to throughout this article, there is no “best” one; both are good what they do and it depends on what you plan on using it for. Drysuits are better than wetsuits for diving in the coldest temperatures. Wetsuits are better than drysuits for warm water diving due to the mobility it provides. Determine what your needs are and pick the right suit for the job.