If you plan on spending time outdoors in the water, you likely already know that you need a wetsuit for protection against the cold, as well as against chafing, sharp rocks, coral, and the sun’s UV rays.
However, as soon as you go shopping for a wetsuit, you realize that there are many types. One common question that is always asked is whether someone should wear a shorty wetsuit (“shorties”) or a full-length wetsuit. What benefits do shorties have over a full wetsuit and vice versa?
Shorty wetsuits provide similar benefits as full wetsuits with the primary difference being that you will be less likely to overheat while wearing one. This is thanks to the fact that shorty wetsuits have short sleeves that expose your arms and legs. Furthermore, they are also made with thinner material for extra flexibility, perfect for swimming and surfing.
In this article, we will be comparing the similarities and differences between shorty wetsuits and full-length wetsuits to help you determine which one best suits your needs.
Why pick a shorty wetsuit over a full wetsuit?
Whether you’re wearing a shorty wetsuit or a full length one, all wetsuits should serve the same purpose: to keep you insulated, whether you’re in the water (e.g. scuba diving, swimming) or above it (e.g. surfing, paddleboarding).
All wetsuits also provide protection against the sun’s UV rays, sharp rocks, corals, jellyfish stings, chafing, and so on. They are very useful even if staying warm is not an issue.
The reason shorty wetsuits came to be is because on some hot summer days, a full length wetsuit can keep you too warm. Shorty wetsuits are a way to help you stay a bit cooler while still keeping your torso warm.
They’re the ideal type of wetsuit for those warm summer days, or even a warm spring day when you just need a little bit of insulation.
If your favorite time to hit the waves is at dawn when it’s a bit chilly, you can wear a shorty wetsuit to tide you over until the sun is shining. The thinner material also increases your flexibility so you can perform all of your maneuvers like normal.
They keep you warm, but not too warm
Wetsuits help you preserve body heat by trapping a thin layer of water against your skin. Assuming the wetsuit fits you snug, this water will not be flushed out by cold water, but will instead get warmed up by your body heat, acting as an insulator.
The neoprene material that wetsuits are made of have air bubbles trapped in them which in turn helps trap the layer of water surrounding your body (and heat) so that it doesn’t escape.
You can see how a full length wetsuit, which covers almost your entire body, can keep you much warmer than a shorty wetsuit simply because it has more skin coverage.
Shorty wetsuits often have both short arm sleeves and leg sleeves, though there are versions where the arm sleeve is full length as well. Your exposed arms and legs can help you regulate your body heat and prevent overheating.
On top of that, shorties are made with a thinner material so that even your torso will be a bit cooler than usual. Another benefit is that the thinner material does not restrict your movements as much.
All of these features that keep you cooler also make shorty wetsuits suitable for flexible movements. This makes it the ideal choice for sports that prefer mobility over warmth, such as surfing.
If the water temperature is 22°C (72°F) or higher, you should consider wearing a short wetsuit to provide sufficient insulation to the body without overheating you.
They are easier to wear
Wetsuits are notoriously difficult to put on. If your wetsuit is still a little damp from the day before, good luck trying to fit into it. People struggle with wearing wetsuits so much that they even develop tricks such as the “plastic bag trick” so that you can get your feet through the leg opening.
If you’re someone who typically wears board shorts and a loose-fitting rash guard, the transition from your current swimwear to a wetsuit can feel daunting. Thankfully, shorty wetsuits are easier to wear.
Again, due to less skin coverage, there are less areas where friction can make it tricky to stick your arms and legs through. The short sleeves of shorty wetsuits are a godsend if you donning and doffing your wetsuit are things that you dread.
They are easier to pack
Compared to full-length wetsuits, shorties are much easier to pack. Turns out, wetsuit thickness and length makes a big difference when you’re folding it over multiple times, trying to squeeze it into luggage.
A shorty wetsuit is both shorter and thinner, and each fold occupies much less space than a full wetsuit. In a similar vein, shorty wetsuits are also much lighter and will keep you from going over baggage weight limits.
After each session in the water, a shorty wetsuit will also dry much more quickly and weigh a lot less when wet. This is all very convenient if you’re bringing your own wetsuit with you on a trip instead of renting.
Shorty wetsuit downsides
The only major difference between shorty wetsuits and full wetsuits, which also results in its major downside, is that the exposed areas that the shorty wetsuit doesn’t cover are susceptible to bumps, scrapes, UV rays, and jellyfish stings.
Shorty wetsuit aficionados disagree, and they swear that it’s a non-issue if you’re cognizant of your surroundings. They argue that all of the benefits that a shorty wetsuit provides far outweigh any risks of having less protection than what a full body wetsuit offers.
At the end of the day, the choice between wearing a shorty wetsuit vs. full wetsuit boils down to two factors: water temperature and personal preference.
If you go surfing, swimming, snorkeling, diving, etc., in warmer climates and find it cumbersome donning and doffing a full wetsuit, then a viable alternative is to wear a pair of shorties.
They still provide you with some level of insulation, buoyancy, and protection, albeit less than a full wetsuit, and they are significantly better than not wearing any exposure suit. Shorty wetsuits are easy to pack, lightweight, offer great flexibility, and are a great piece of gear to have handy.