Wet suit or dry suit

The question of wet suits versus dry suits is not the same as the Marmite debate, and although people do undoubtedly have strong opinions, there is room and probably a need, for both.

The real question is not wet or dry but where do you intend to dive and when?

Dry suit and wet suit divers together !!

Dry suit and wet suit divers together !!

There is no doubt that both types of suit have qualities which make them better suited to certain conditions.  (I intend to class all dry suits together rather than talk about the various merits of trilaminate vs neoprene suits – that was the subject of an earlier blog article).  The difference between the two suits largely comes down to three key factors:

  • Cost
  • Weight
  • Warmth (with under suit)

Dry suits, as the name suggests, are designed to prevent water from getting in contact with your skin, which would cause your body to cool down very quickly.  It should also be noted that even if you are dry you need to keep your skin from touching the cold inner surface of the suit as this too will cause heat to be drawn from the body.  This is a key fact that is often overlooked with dry suits.  To help get over this issue, air is added to the suit to put a barrier between you and the cold water.  However as you probably know air is not an effective insulator and in order to stay warm it is usually necessary to wear an undersuit of some description.  Like the suits themselves, these come in various styles but all serve to improve heat retention during your dive.  However, I’ve still to see anyone emulate James Bond and step out of a dry suit at the lakeside to reveal a perfectly pressed DJ..!

Fully kitted out wetsuit diver

Fully kitted out wetsuit diver on UK diveboat

It should be noted that  a dry suit is likely to be more expensive than a good quality two piece wet suit or semi-dry however, if cared for, a dry suit will probably last much longer and the fact that the seals and zips in the suit can be repaired or replaced relatively cheaply, means that the suit can give you many years of good service.

So, on the basis of cost alone it’s probably wet suit 1 -  dry suit 0.

Another difference between the suits is the amount of weight you may need to comfortably achieve neutral buoyancy underwater. The thickness of your undersuit can also play a role here, but it is not uncommon to find that you need to add a couple of extra kilos when wearing a dry suit, even if the rest of your kit is the same.  Obviously a buoyancy check when you first get in the water is essential.  The other issue that you may encounter when you first start diving in a dry suit is “floaty feet” - even if you have not experienced it before in a wet suit.  Ankle weights typically solve the problem very easily though I really believe that this is in the divers mind.  However the placebo effect usually helps.

In terms of weight needed, that probably evens the score.

A very happy and warm drysuit diver !!

A very happy and warm drysuit diver !!

The big advantages of a dry suit is that of the warmth it provides,  and the fact that you don’t get wet (assuming you’ve closed the zips that is!).  We’ve all experienced that certain cold trickle down the back of your neck that you get in all but the warmest water, well with a dry suit you don’t.  Once fully immersed wet suits keep you warm as does the dry suit, and the choice of one over the other comes down to how “brave” you are and how tolerant you are of cold water.  Even better than the lack of the drip down the back of the neck, and the gradual cooling during the dive, is the fact that once you emerge from your first dive the dry suit also avoids the major problem of “interdive cooling”.    This is a big, big, advantage for dry suits.  Many divers can handle a fairly cold dive if they are wearing a decent wetsuit, but what finally gets them is that between dives, sitting in a cold wetsuit means you have no chance to get dry and warm up.  In fact you continue to cool, especially if it’s a cold day.  As a result a second dive is usually not possible, and you face a very cold journey back to shore.

Score at least 1 if not 2 for the dry suit (3 if you are a bit of a wimp with the cold!)

Dry suit diver returning after a second UK shore Dive

Dry suit diver returning after a second UK shore Dive

As well as the physical differences, diving with a dry suit does require some changes to your technique when diving. Typically once you are off the surface you control your buoyancy by adding air to the suit using the chest valve and dumping air from valves which are usually on the shoulder and/or wrist, rather than using your BCD.  Whilst it is different, and may take a little time to get used to, it is not too difficult.

However, it is worth thinking about getting some training to ensure you master these different techniques safely, so contact your local dive centre to ask about the dry suit courses they run, or better still book a course when you buy your suit.

The question of whether to use a wet suit or dry suit, as with much of diving equipment, comes down to personal preferences and the type of diving you would like to do.

Personally I have both, and whilst I have been known to brave Wraysbury in November at 6deg in a wet suit, I would certainly prefer to do that in my dry suit.  Equally once the water reaches summer temperatures I usually prefer my 5mm wetsuit, as the dry suit and undersuit can get too warm on the surface.

It’s definitely worth trying both though then you can decide for yourself.

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