In order to snorkel, all you really need for equipment are the snorkel, mask, and fins. You can wear an exposure suit if you’d like, but that depends on the temperature of the water and how long you plan on snorkeling in it.
Most snorkelers snorkel at tropical locations during the summer, meaning the water temperature is usually very warm. They may not wear a wetsuit, but they usually still wear a rashguard or some kind of sun protection clothing that protects their skin against the sun’s UV rays.
However, if you plan on snorkeling during the off-season when the water is colder, then you’ll need to wear at least a wetsuit. The colder it gets, the thicker the wetsuit you should be wearing. You might be wondering if there are instances when you might want to snorkel in a drysuit?
If you intend on snorkeling in water that is under 18°C (65°F) for any length of time, you should consider wearing a thick full-length wetsuit (5mm or more) or even a drysuit to keep you warm. Drysuits are usually used by scuba divers diving in freezing or near-freezing temperatures, however there’s no reason why snorkelers couldn’t wear them either.
In this article, we will discuss the types of exposure suits a snorkeler can wear if they plan on snorkeling in cold water. We will cover both wetsuits and drysuits and the water temperatures you should be wearing them at.
At what temperature should you start to wear an exposure suit?
|Water temperature||If you get cold easily||If you don’t get cold easily|
|More than 30°C (86 F)||1 – 3 mm shorty||Rashguard|
|28 – 30°C (80 – 85 F)||3 mm shorty or full suit||1 – 3 mm shorty|
|25 – 27°C (78 – 80 F)||3 -5 mm full suit||3 mm shorty or wetsuit|
|22 – 24°C (73 – 78 F)||5 – 7 mm wet or semi-dry suit||3 – 5 mm wetsuit|
|18 – 21°C (66 – 72 F)||7mm wetsuit or semi-dry||5 – 7 mm wet or semi-drysuit|
|14 – 17°C (57 – 65 F)||Drysuit||7 mm wet or semi-dry suit + ice vest|
|10 – 13°C (50 – 56 F)||Drysuit||7 / 8 mm semi-dry suit + ice vest or drysuit|
|7 – 9°C (44 – 49 F)||Drysuit + heating system||Drysuit|
|6°C and below||Drysuit + heating system||Drysuit|
The table above should give you a reference as to what conditions you should wear what type of exposure suit.
Since everybody is different, what might feel like refreshingly cool water to you might feel ice cold to somebody else. That is why you should look at which column applies to you more, and if you’re unsure, then look at the equipment recommendations for the “If you get cold easily” column just to be safe.
Warm water snorkeling
If you plan on snorkeling in tropical waters, as most snorkelers do, then you probably don’t need to wear a wetsuit at all. With that said, depending on how long you plan on spending in the water and how sensitive you are to the cold, you should still at least wear a rash guard, if not a shorty wetsuit, or even a full-length wetsuit that is 1-3mm thick.
In locations where the water temperature is warm year-round, you might think that you can just go snorkeling without any protective clothing. However, snorkeling clothing does more than just keep you warm; they can provide protection against irritation, rashes, and sunburns, all without restricting your movements much, if at all.
Even if you decide to forgo wearing a wetsuit, we still recommend you wear some kind of sun-protective clothing like a diving skin or rash guard. They will protect you from sunburn, reduce the amount of reef-safe sunscreen you need to wear, and most importantly, protect you from the harmful effects of the UVA and UVB rays that can cause accelerated aging and skin cancer.
Another option is to wear a shorty wetsuit, which covers your torso and lower body only up to your elbows and knees, and leaving most of your arms and legs exposed. This is a great compromise if you feel that a full-length wetsuit would be overkill for the water temperature.
In a similar vein, you could wear a 1mm full-length wetsuit which is extremely thin by wetsuit standards, but should provide some extra warmth and sun protection over a rashguard.
Cold water snorkeling
For any activity in cold water (refer to the table again for a reference point), you should be wearing a full-length wetsuit that is at least 5mm thick or more.
Why might someone decide to snorkel in cold water? Perhaps they want to snorkel in the winter season when it’s less crowded. This advice applies whether you’re scuba diving, swimming, or snorkeling; a 5mm or thicker wetsuit should be worn if the water temperature is cold enough.
The downside of wearing a thicker wetsuit is that it will start to affect your flexibility. It will also be much heavier than a thinner wetsuit, however the thermal insulation and buoyancy it provides is great for keeping you safe.
Wetsuit vs. drysuit
As effective as wetsuits are, there is a limit to how warm they can keep you. At a certain point, you will need to use a drysuit.
Drysuits are typically used in near-freezing or freezing water temperatures. They are also more commonly used by scuba divers, not snorkelers. However, if you plan on snorkeling in really cold water that not even a thick wetsuit can keep you warm in, you have no choice but to rely on a drysuit.
Since most snorkelers snorkel in tropical waters, or at worst “cold waters” that are still in the double digit celsius temperature range, it’s very uncommon for one to wear a drysuit while snorkeling.
In other words, it would be overkill because of how warm you would get. There is also a safety risk where if you decide to swim down, the air inside the drysuit can go into your legs, making it difficult to resurface.
Another factor that discourages snorkelers is the prohibitive cost of a drysuit. A high quality drysuit can easily cost over a thousand dollars USD. One of the selling points of snorkeling is that it’s cheap and accessible to almost everyone; but that clearly does not apply to drysuit snorkeling.
Unless you also happen to be a scuba diver with thousands of dollars of scuba equipment already, including the drysuit, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to invest the money into this high-end gear for such a niche activity like drysuit snorkeling.
Now that you know more about what options you have in terms of exposure suits and when you should wear them, we can easily answer the original question: can you snorkel in a drysuit? Yes, of course you can.
If you plan on snorkeling in freezing cold water, a drysuit will be the only appropriate exposure suit to wear because not even a thick wetsuit could keep you warm under those conditions.
However, the question is, how likely are you to be snorkeling in really cold water? Most snorkelers spend their time in warm, tropical waters. For these idyllic conditions, even a rashguard or shorty wetsuit will suffice.
Referring to the water temperature chart we provided above, it’s highly likely that even a 5mm or thicker wetsuit is enough for cold water snorkeling. So while the answer to the question of can you snorkel with a drysuit is yes, realistically few people will even bother.
Photo credits: Lars Plougmann (CC BY-SA 2.0)