How To Choose Your Scuba Wetsuit: The Complete Buyer’s Guide

Diving is an amazing, entirely unique experience, but it is also physically taxing and can be dangerous. That is where the proper equipment comes in. The purpose of a scuba suit is to keep you safe in an underwater environment that the human body was not designed for. Diving equipment is achieving no small task. 

How do you choose a scuba suit? When choosing your scuba suit, you will have to consider what kind of suit you want, the functionality, the fit, and all its features

When you are shopping for new equipment, remember the importance of what you are buying, and that you are ultimately investing in your safety. A scuba suit will keep you at safe and comfortable body temperature and protect any sharp object, rough terrain, or creatures you may encounter. 

The Complete Buyer’s Guide to Choosing a Scuba Suit

There are two main types of suits: wetsuits and drysuits, although semi drysuits are an option too. This article will cover all three, the environment they are meant for, and the important features. With all this in mind, you will be ready to successfully pick out the scuba suit that is best for you and your dives! 

Wetsuits or Drysuit: What’s the Difference? 

Wetsuits

Wetsuits keep you warm by trapping a layer of water between the suit and your skin. This may feel uncomfortable at first as cool water enters the suit, but the body quickly heats the trapped layer of water. 

The warmed water and insulating material of the wetsuit work together to prevent loss of body heat and keep the diver warm. A wide range of wetsuits is sold for different temperature dives.

Drysuits

A drysuit keeps the diver completely dry underneath their suit. The suit is inflated with a small amount of air that creates a layer between the diver and water. Air conducts heat away from the diver more slowly than water, which causes a slower loss of body heat than a wetsuit. 

Drysuits are not very insulated, so drysuit divers should wear insulating undergarments with a drysuit during dives. Drysuits are usually used by experienced divers as they require some training to be used properly and are for dives in very cold waters. 

The Importance of Temperature

Preserving body heat and maintaining a safe body temperature may be the most important function of your scuba suit. With that in mind, what kind of waters you commonly go for dives in, and the temperature you are experiencing will be the main factor that decides which kind of suit you need. 

For quick reference, Underseas.com has a clear chart of water temperatures and what kind of scuba suit a diver should wear in those temperatures. When choosing a scuba suit, a measure of water temperature is important and a crucial starting point, but there is more to consider than just that. Some factors interact with the water temperature and can affect the diver’s body temperature. 

When deciding what scuba suit you will need, keep these factors and how they relate to warmth in mind: 

  • The Depth of the Dive- Generally, the deeper you dive, the colder the water gets. In addition to colder water, dives at lower depths will have higher pressure. The increase in water pressure can make the material of wetsuits less effective at insulating. 
  • How Active the Diver Will Be- Some dives may entail more constant motion and movement while others are slower and more stationary. The more the diver is moving, the more body heat they will generate. If the diver is moving less, they are likely to get cold more quickly during their dive. 
  • The Length of the Dive- The longer a diver is underwater, the more body heat they are prone to lose, and the colder they will feel by the end of the dive. If your dives are especially long, you may want to opt for a suit that is a bit thicker than usually recommended for the water temperature.
  • Personal Differences- With experience diving, you will have an idea about how you react to the cold. Some divers will be more bothered by cold temperatures than others. Safety is always the priority, and you should not go thinner than is safe. Still, some divers who are especially sensitive to the cold may want to go thicker than is normally recommended to stay comfortable and be able to enjoy their dives. 

Choosing a Wetsuit

If you are considering a wetsuit, there are many different factors to consider. Wetsuits can be a good choice for a wide range of dives and are the most versatile of the three scuba suits. The versatility is a result of wetsuits having the most variation of the three scuba suits with different cuts and thickness of the material. 

Keep reading to learn about all the details that go into finding the perfect wetsuit to protect you during your dives! Once you’ve gotten some idea of type, size, thickness and styles, you can visit the Cressi full wetsuit or the ScubaPro full wet suit shops on Amazon.

Cuts of Wetsuits 

It is very important to be aware of the options available in cuts of wetsuits when looking to purchase one. Each cut has a different purpose and serves the scuba diver with different advantages. The different cuts are:

  • Shorty
  • Farmer
  • Full-Body

Shorty Wetsuit

Shorty wetsuits are the least protective and should be used for warm water scuba diving. This cut ends just above the elbows and knees, like a pair of shorts or a short-sleeved shirt, hence their name. 

The shorty wetsuit allows unrestricted movement of arms and legs during diving, while simultaneously keeping the core warm. Shorty wetsuits are commonly made from a thin neoprene. Cressi offers their shorty models on Amazon.

Farmer Wetsuits

Often called farmer john wetsuits for men and farmer jane wetsuits for women, this cut is two pieces. The first piece is a bodysuit that fully covers the legs and is sleeveless at the top. The second piece is a jacket that can add coverage to arms and doubles up on core insulation. 

These wetsuits provide more mobility around the shoulders during dives. The full coverage and added core insulation make them a good choice for cooler dives. 

Full-Body Wetsuits

A full-body wetsuit is one piece that covers the diver from neck to wrists to ankles. These suits will provide the most protection from any rough materials or creatures you may encounter and with complete coverage are very insulting of body heat as well. 

July 4th wetsuit sale House of Scuba

Wetsuit Material 

Wetsuits are most often made of neoprene, a rubber polymer which, as explained, traps a layer of water that helps keep the diver warm. Neoprene is filled with nitrogen air bubbles, which is where the water gets trapped. There are two main types of neoprene: closed cell or open cell. 

Closed Cell Neoprene

Closed cell neoprene comes at a lower price, so is often the option new divers start by purchasing. The closed-cell variety of neoprene has a stiffer rubbery texture that is quite durable. 

Wetsuits made from closed cell neoprene are best when worn during shorter dives as the material can begin to rub uncomfortably against the skin if worn for too long and takes in less water, so it is less insulating. 

Open Cell Neoprene

Open cell neoprene is more porous and so, can hold more water and be more insulating than closed cell neoprene. As a result of the less stiff and more flexible material, they are very fitted. 

The open cell material is also less durable than the tougher closed cell option. However, the material is softer and less likely to irritate the diver’s skin. Open cell wetsuits are often more expensive and so opted for by more experienced divers who know they will get the most use from them. 

Neoprene Qualities & Other Wetsuit Materials

While neoprene is one material, it can be sourced from high-quality, more expensive sources or lower-quality, cheaper sources. When looking to buy a scuba suit, keep in mind that a lower price may not be the bargain it appears to be if you are getting a lower quality suit. The best way to ensure you are getting high-quality neoprene is to buy from a reliable, large manufacturer. 

Some wetsuits use materials other than neoprene. Neoprene alternatives have been adapted for scuba divers who find their skin reacts to neoprene. 

Some companies have also moved from using neoprene to a more environmentally friendly material for ethical reasons. One example is Patagonia, who is now selling a Yulex natural rubber wetsuit that promises multiple environment and ethical benefits as an alternative to neoprene. 

Wetsuit Thickness 

Now that you know a bit about the material, you will also need to decide on thickness for your wetsuit. The thickness of the suit, along with the cut, is what will determine how warm a diver is able to stay during diving. 

In general, there are three main thicknesses to choose from when buying a wetsuit: 3mm, 5mm, and 7mm. The thinner the wetsuit, the less warmth it will provide. Divers may be tempted to buy one of the warmest suits thinking it will be the most versatile. However, when your scuba suit is too thick, it can cause some hindrances to your dive experience. 

Thicker suits are more restrictive and can put more resistance on your limbs while diving. Thicker suits are also more buoyant than thinner alternatives. The added effort to go against the thicker material can tire out the diver more quickly. 

Thinner Material

  • Wetsuit less than 5mm
  • Increased mobility 
  • Less buoyancy 
  • Less compression at depth

 Thicker Material 

  • Wetsuit 5mm and thicker 
  • Maximum insulation
  • Maximum protection from rough terrain, objects, and creatures

Some suits may use different neoprene of different thicknesses on separate parts of a wetsuit to combine the advantages and minimize any disadvantages of the suit’s material. These suits will often be thickest around the core and have thinner material on the limbs to allow for easier and increased mobility during dives. 

Wetsuit Fit 

Wetsuits are usually made to fit either men or women, but unisex suits are available as well. A gender specific fit will usually be best as there are paneling and thickness in different areas for each gender. 

The fit of the wetsuit is important because a proper fit affects comfort and functionality. A wetsuit that is too loose will let in water. A suit that is too tight will restrict the diver’s movement and breathing while in the suit. 

When trying to find the best fitting wetsuit, look for one that fits like a second skin. The suit should be snug against your whole body without any noticeable gaps or air pockets water can fill, but not restrictive to mobility or breathing. Keep in mind while trying suits on that, a wetsuit will feel tighter while dry and on land than it will in the water.

In addition to the Cressi and ScubaPro shop links above, O’Neill’s entire line of economy wetsuits, shorties, surf gear and more is available on Amazon.

Choosing a Drysuit

A drysuit is only necessary for dives in very cold temperatures. Drysuits are often worn by experienced divers because they require practice and training to use, require more maintenance than a wetsuit properly, and are worn during more dangerous dives that require experience. If not put on and inflated correctly, the diver can have too much buoyancy or be under-protected from the cold-water they are diving in. 

The many different parts of a drysuit all work together to keep the scuba diver dry and safe. If one part is not up to par and letting in water, the suit is no longer safe or functional. Seals, zippers, valves, and the material of the suit should be carefully considered to ensure you are making a good investment in a new drysuit. ScubaPro’s Amazon store carries their whole line.

Types of Drysuits

Two main types of drysuits are distinguished by the material they use to keep the air in the suit while diving and keep any water out. When buying a drysuit, you will need to choose between a trilaminate drysuit or a neoprene drysuit. 

  • Trilaminate: Also called a shell or membrane drysuits, trilaminate drysuits are made using three layers of laminated material. Trilaminate is a lightweight and foldable material that travels easily. This material does not offer much insulation, so undergarments are essential for warmth. 
  • Neoprene: A neoprene drysuit will feel like a very thick, waterproof version of a wetsuit. Neoprene drysuits are more form-fitting and feel heavier during wear. These suits offer more warmth but should be worn with at least light undergarments. 

Drysuit Fit 

When trying on a drysuit, you will want to assess how the suit affects your movement, ability to make any adjustments while wearing, and how undergarments pair with the suit. 

Here are a few points to keep in mind to ensure a well-fitting drysuit:

  • While trying on the drysuit, make sure the placement of features like valves and zippers are accessible and practical to make adjustments while the suit is on. 
  • Drysuits do not generally have much stretch to them. Check the length of sleeves and legs by kneeling and reaching and stretching your arms. If the legs are pulling and uncomfortable in the crotch area, they are too short. If the range of motion is largely prohibited in arms or legs, they are too short. 

Without stretch, this is will be problematic while climbing boat ladders or if you dive in environments that require a free and complete range of motion like wrecks or reefs.

  • If the drysuit has attached boots, you will want to check the fit of the boots before buying as well. If boots are too big, air can find its way in and cause problems with buoyancy, but boots that are too small can be painful. If you have found a suit you love entirely, besides the fit of the boots, you can see if changing out the boot size is an option. 
  • Always try your drysuit on while wearing any undergarments you will have on during a dive to get a realistic idea of how the suit will feel. 

The O’Neill Men’s Fluid 3mm Neoprene Drysuit is the number one selling dry suit on Amazon.

What is a Semi-Drysuit?

Some companies offer semi-drysuits to combine the technology of the warmest wetsuits and drysuits. The appeal to divers is the increased warmth without the hassle of training required to use a drysuit properly. A semi-dry suit is suitable for very cold dive temperatures, but not quite as warm as a full drysuit. 

A semi-dry suit is made of the same neoprene as thick wetsuits, and so, lets in a small layer of water. After the body heats the thin layer of water in the suit, some can be flushed out by new water while diving, which then requires additional body heat to be warmed. 

The wrists, ankles, and neck on a semi-dry suit seal very securely. The seals do not completely block water from entering the suit but minimize the amount of water that leaves and enters. Less new water means a more stable temperature in the layer of water against the diver’s skin, and less body heat is used to reheat it.  

As semi-dry suits are made of thick neoprene, usually 7mm or more, so you will want to follow the guidelines for wetsuits when assessing the fit of a semi-dry suit. The suit should be snug against the body with no gaps or spaces, but not too restrictive to movement or breathing during a dive. 

General Features 

While the wetsuits, drysuits, and semi drysuits are all unique, there are some general features any scuba suit will need. 

Seams 

When buying a wetsuit, seams are an important factor to consider because they affect the durability and the ability of water to get in during dives. 

  • Overlock Seam- An overlock seam is made by rolling the edges of the fabric together and using the stitch to hold them. 
  • Flatlock Seam- A flatlock seam lays one-panel edge over the other before stitching the two together in a layered seam. 
  • Blind Stitch Seam- A blind stitch is created by gluing the ends of two panels together. After being glued, the panels are stitched on the inside, but the stitch does not go entirely through the material, therefore not creating any holes in the neoprene. Thicker neoprene can be double-blind stitched, meaning panels are glued together, and stitching is added on both sides of the seam. 
  • Glued Seam- Panels of fabric are glued together, creating a waterproof seal. 

Stitches that solely rely on the thread are more common among lower-priced suits as they are less costly to produce. These stitches are also common on wetsuits designed for warm water dives where some water entering the suit is less of a concern. 

Glued seams are the most effective at preventing water from seeping into the suit through the seams. Glued and blind stitch seams perform much better because they do not require a needle to go completely through the material and create holes the same way thread does.

 If you are looking a wetsuit to wear during cold water dives, a glued or blind stitch seam will be best to maintain body temperature. 

Overlock Seam

  • Least effective at keeping water out
  • Can create a bulge inside the suit and cause chaffing
  • Not very flexible

 Flatlock Seam

  • Prone to letting water in
  • Flexible
  • Lays flat and is comfortable against skin

 Blind Stitch Seam

  • Waterproof
  • Flexible
  • Expensive
  • Lays flat and is comfortable against skin

 Glued Seam 

  • Waterproof 
  • Flexible 
  • Lays flat and is comfortable against skin

Seals 

At the neck, wrists, and ankles, suits will have seals to keep excess and new water from entering. A seal should be snug and create a barrier for water, but without causing any pain to the diver or cutting off circulation. 

There are different types of seals that scuba suit manufacturers can use to prevent water from entering the suit. There are three main types of seals you will see while shopping for a scuba suit: rolled neoprene, glideskin, and rolled glideskin.

  • Rolled Neoprene- Rolled neoprene sealing creates a seal by folding the edge of the neoprene suit and tightly stitching it in place. Rolled neoprene seals will slow the flushing of water into the suit but are the least effective at doing so among these three options. Neoprene seals may be found on less expensive suits, as they are cheapest to produce. If you are shopping for a suit to wear during warm water dives, rolled neoprene seals will likely work just fine as some water flushing in is less of a concern. 
  • Glideskin- More expensive suits will have long sections of glideskin at the end of the sleeves. The fitted piece of glideskin are more effective as they cover a larger surface area. If choosing a suit with glideskin seals, be very careful while putting the suit on to avoid any tears from nails or rings that can easily damage the material and its effectiveness. 
  • Rolled Glideskin- Glideskin is a lining that creates a seal by being sticky and fitted against the skin. In a rolled glideskin seal, a small section of glideskin is folded in and sewn to the edges of the neck opening, sleeves, and legs of the suit. This seal will look like a bit of shiny grey fabric sticking out from under the edges. 

Zippers 

The zipper of a scuba suit will be just as important in keeping excess water out as a seal and should make taking the suit on and off easy for the diver. Make sure to take a look at the zipper, most importantly, what lays underneath the zipper to seal off the suit and prevent water from entering. 

  • A piece of neoprene may be placed under the zipper to slow any water that is trying to get into the suit. 
  • A large panel of neoprene that covers the back and neck may be added to provide more of a barrier to excess water. This will keep water out more effectively, but make sure to pay attention to how the feel of the suit is affected by the added material and if it is comfortable for you.
  • Glideskin can also be used to create a waterproof seal under the zipper. This is the most effective way to stop water from entering the suit at the zipper.

Pockets 

Scuba suit pockets are commonly placed on the diver’s thigh if included. An added pocket can provide the convenience of bringing along anything you may need or picking up any small finding you may want to save! 

When choosing a scuba suit, consider if you need pockets to carry any tools, extra masks, or would simply like them for convenience. Check the zippers for ease of use and security. If you need to grab something, you will want to know the item is secured and that the zipper will not cause any issues while underwater. 

Be Patient and Stay Safe!

There is a lot to consider when picking up a new scuba suit, so do not rush your decision and take the time necessary to consider all the details carefully. Remember, the scuba suit you get ultimately impacts your safety and how much you can enjoy your dives. So, while there may be much time and careful thinking involved, the rewards of a good suit are well worth it!


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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