Wetsuits are a vital piece of gear that can keep you warm in cold water as well as protect you from sharp rocks, coral, jellyfish stings, and harmful UV rays. Even if you did not need the insulation it provides, the other benefits are so good you’d still want to wear a wetsuit anyways.
Thus, the dilemma for those hot summer days is whether you are still going to wear a wetsuit or not? Or will you forgo the protection a wetsuit provides just so you can stay cool? Thankfully, those aren’t the only options, and a better solution is to wear a shorty wetsuit.
Shorty wetsuits (“shorties”) are wetsuits that have short arm and/or leg sleeves. Essentially, they are made of thinner material and cover less of your body so that you have more flexibility and feel cooler. With that said, shorty wetsuits, like all wetsuits, are still effective at keeping your body warm. It just won’t make you feel so hot like you’re about to get a heatstroke.
In this article, we will discuss more about the benefits that shorty wetsuits provide, what temperature is the best time to wear them at, and how they compare to a full length wetsuit.
How wetsuits keep you warm
First off, to understand how shorty wetsuits can keep you warm, you need to understand how wetsuits in general keep you warm. It doesn’t matter what type of wetsuit you’re wearing, they should all follow these same basic principles.
Wetsuits are made primarily of neoprene which is a waterproof material that is also very good at insulating heat. A wetsuit essentially traps a thin layer of water around your body. This layer of water gets heated up by your body heat, creating a protective layer of warm water as you’re snorkeling, diving, or swimming.
For surfers this might seem useless since they spend the majority of their time above the water, however the neoprene also provides some protection against the wind and windchill.
A very important factor in a wetsuit’s effectiveness is how tight it fits you. A loose-fitting wetsuit would just let cold water constantly flush out the warm water inside. Similarly, for surfers, a loose wetsuit would just let air inside and conduct heat away from your body. Therefore, a loose wetsuit is a useless wetsuit.
Wetsuits also come in various thicknesses. A common wetsuit thickness is 3/2, which means that the thickest sections are 3mm thick and the thinner areas, (i.e., around the joints) are 2mm thick. You can get wetsuits as thin as 1mm, or as thick as 9mm. The thicker the wetsuit is, the better at insulating heat it should be at the expense of flexibility.
Staying warm with a shorty wetsuit
Shorty wetsuits seem to contradict the purpose of wetsuits which is to keep you warm. By having short arm and/or leg sleeves and being made with thinner neoprene, you may wonder if shorty wetsuits can even keep you warm.
The answer to that depends on how sensitive you are to the cold and the water temperature at the time you’re in the water.
As you know, the weather conditions can change drastically. It might be sunny one moment and raining the next. That’s typically how the weather is in tropical climates.
Furthermore, the earlier it is during the day you head out into the water, the colder the conditions will be until the sun rises, and so on. If you tend to be more sensitive to the cold, perhaps shorty wetsuits aren’t for you, as these changing conditions could suddenly make it chilly for you.
We have provided a wetsuit temperature guide to give you a reference point as to when you might want to wear a shorty wetsuit or a full body wetsuit.
|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 chart provided above may be a little on the conservative side, but if you will be in water that is 22 – 24°C (73 – 78°F) and you don’t get cold too easily, you could probably pull off wearing a short wetsuit without feeling cold.
Even with a full wetsuit on a hot day, you can still make it work by removing the top half of the wetsuit (let it hang around your waist) when you’re out of the water, as long as you make sure that you’re applying sunscreen to your exposed torso.
What water activities will you be doing?
What activities you plan on doing is another major factor when selecting a suit. Wetsuits are so versatile and can be used for a variety of activities outside of surfing like snorkeling, paddling, swimming, scuba diving, triathlons, and the list goes on.
Typically, scuba divers want as much warmth as possible, so unless you’re doing only shallow dives, you probably want a full wetsuit instead of a shorty wetsuit.
On the other hand, the shorter length of a shorty wetsuit offers a lot of flexibility which is ideal for surfing, swimming, and paddling. If you want the most versatility, you should probably just stick with a full wetsuit. Or, if you have the disposable income, then buy a shorty wetsuit for those hot summer days and wear a full wetsuit when it gets chillier.
Shorty wetsuits, like all other types of wetsuits, can keep you warm. However, this is assuming you have a tight fitting one with the appropriate thickness for the water temperature you’ll be in.
To maximize your chances of buying a suit that will keep you warm, you should buy from a manufacturer that has a reputation for selling good quality neoprene wetsuits.
The best places to buy a reliable shorty wetsuit are your local dive stores, in person, rather than online. We don’t have anything against online retailers, but it’s hard for you to judge its quality unless you’re in person and able to feel the material on your skin.
Remember that a wetsuit is useless unless it fits you snug, so you may even have to sacrifice a little bit of flexibility to stay warm. Thankfully, shorty wetsuits are generally more flexible due to being thinner, but they’ll still be more than enough to keep you warm – but not too warm.