The Differences Between Wetsuits and Dry Suits

man holding

Depending on the application and where you dive, you’ll need to wear a special type of suit for safety and comfort. If you’re new to watersports, then you may not know the differences between wetsuits and dry suits, and which one will work for you based on where you dive or surf and the air and water temperature. This guide will go over the similarities and differences between these suits, how to choose the right one, and the different pros and cons of each style.

Fit

If you love catching waves, then you’ll need to find the best surfing wetsuit, since these suits are specifically designed to conform to the wearer’s body. A dry suit will fit the body loosely, which can end up creating a lot of drag, something that you definitely don’t want to deal with when you’re surfing. Of course, there are some advantages and disadvantages of surfing in a wetsuit, such as difficulty getting the suit on and taking it off, and repairing it when it rips, but for the most part, the pros outweigh the cons.

Water Temperature

Another determining factor that you’ll want to consider when you’re choosing between a dry suit and a wetsuit is the water temperature. You’ll also need to take your own tolerance to colder temperatures into consideration. Many scuba divers will prefer using a dry suit if they’re diving below sixty degrees. Some divers have a higher cold tolerance and can handle wearing a wetsuit in colder temperatures.

Dry suits are commonly associated with ice-diving and cold-water diving. However, some divers will also prefer to wear a dry suit, even when diving in hotter weather.

Insulating Power

Dry suits and wetsuits can reduce the amount of body heat lost during a dive, if used properly. The wetsuit will allow the diver to stay warm by trapping a layer of water between the suit and the skin. This water is kept warm by body heat.

With a dry suit, you will stay completely dry. These suits are designed to keep water out, with the use of gaskets at the ankles, wrists, and neck. For improved warmth you can also wear long underwear under a dry suit, which will also remain totally dry. With a wetsuit, you can’t since the water that’s allowed to enter the suit will quickly soak the undergarments.

Mobility

The wetsuit is designed to conform to the wearer’s body, which will allow them to move through the water quickly and comfortably. However, until a wetsuit has been properly broken in, you’ll find that it can hinder your movements in the water, due to the tight fit. Fortunately, you can find these suits in a wide range of sizes, so it’s easy to find a model that will fit your body like a glove. Many pros recommend spending a few hours in the water wearing a wetsuit, even if you’re just going for a casual swim, in order to break the suit in faster.

The dry suit features a baggy fit that while comfortable, can slow you down under water, due to drag. These suits can be more comfortable to dive in for longer periods, but if you don’t use the correct weights, then you may find wearing a dry suit to be exhausting after more than half an hour underwater.

Materials

Most wetsuits are made out of neoprene, which is a type of synthetic rubber that’s designed to insulate the body. Neoprene on wetsuits also contain small nitrogen bubbles that minimize the heat transfer from the cold water to the body. Many companies these days are also experimenting with new materials including neogreene and spandex. However, neoprene still remains the go-to material for most wetsuits.

A dry suit can be made out of heavy-duty nylon, crushed neoprene, foam neoprene, or vulcanized rubber. They also come equipped with a waterproof zipper, neck seals and wrist seals. The seals are made out of silicone rubber, foam neoprene, or latex rubber. Most types of dry suits utilize a zipper that’s made out of plastic. The zippers on these suits are usually placed diagonally across the torso or across the back of the shoulders.

Buoyancy Rating

A wetsuit will compress with depth, which results in a loss of buoyancy. This loss in buoyancy will require the wearer to adjust the gas or weights in their BCD. Additionally, a wetsuit will provide so much buoyancy that the diver may have problems descending.

Dry suits offer inherent buoyancy since air is trapped in them. However, they’re much easier to manage than a wetsuit. A dry suit doesn’t compress with depth, allowing the wearer to easily adjust the buoyancy by eliminating or adding weight from or to the suit.

Care Needs

Learning how to clean and maintain a wetsuit is pretty simple. After a dive, the suit should be rinsed off in fresh water. In some cases, the suit will need to be soaked in a tub of fresh water for half an hour. It should be left to air dry, turned inside out, with all of the zippers left open. In order to avoid a permanent crease in the suit, it should be hung up on a hanger or allowed to dry flat. You will want to avoid folding a wetsuit.

A dry suit will need more care in order to maintain the zippers and seals, both of which are very delicate. After diving in a dry suit, you will need to rinse the suit off in freshwater. The zippers and seals must be washed in order to remove any contaminants that can cause damage. It should be left out to air dry completely before storing. Additionally, the zippers must be lubricated with beeswax. The seals must be lightly coated with talc to prevent damage. It should be stored on a hanger, out of direct sunlight.

Ease of Use

You’ll have to learn how to use each type of suit. A wetsuit is pretty easy to use and is more comfortable to wear, whereas the dry suit can be trickier to use and involves learning how to set up weights, and control buoyancy. Additionally, some scuba diving schools can require students to provide dry suit certification before a dive or before a diver is eligible to rent any equipment.

Even if the scuba rental place you frequent doesn’t require dry suit certification, it’s still very important to get proper training on how to use one. Doing so will save you plenty of time and frustration. Learning how to use one of these suits correctly will also be a matter of safety.

Versatility

Which type of suit offers the most versatility is debatable. If you love spending time in the water, surfing, paddling boarding, kayaking, or swimming, then a wetsuit will offer the type of versatility you need, especially considering a dry suit can add drag, which is a huge no if you want to quickly slice through water on your board or as you swim. If you’re in the water in the fall and winter months when the water temperatures drop, then a dry suit will be a better, safer choice for kayaking, snorkeling, or diving. Many divers prefer to wear their dry suit for every season, which you can’t do with a wetsuit in temperatures below sixty degrees.

Lifespan

With proper care, both suits can last for several seasons. However, the dry suit consists of more moving parts, namely the gaskets. Additionally, you can’t really repair a dry suit if it rips like you can with a wetsuit. The seals on a dry suit and the zippers are also much more fragile than what you’ll find on a wetsuit.

Price

Dry suits are more expensive than wetsuits. If you have the budget, you dive often, and you’re tired of renting your dry suit, then purchasing one of your own will be a great investment. However, considering the high price, many people who casually dive once or twice a year will choose to rent a dry suit instead of buying one. The wetsuit is more affordable and can be used for a wider range of applications when compared to a dry suit.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the differences between wetsuits and dry suits, you can make an informed decision regarding which type of suit will work for you, whether you’re planning a snorkeling or scuba diving trip, or you need a suit to wear the next time you take your surfboard out in chilly weather. Each type has pros and cons, but for the beginner, I would recommend wearing a wetsuit. However, if you’re willing to complete a training course, then a dry suit will be a great option, especially if you’re diving during the fall or winter months.