Water conducts heat away from the body 25 times more efficiently than air. It’s rare that a we dive in water temperatures that are the same as our body temperature, and even warm, tropical water can seep heat from our body even after a short dive.
If you are diving in warm water that’s 27 °C (80.6 °F), that’s still 10 °C (18.6 °F) below your body’s temperature. The first stage of hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops just 1-2 °C (1.8 – 3.6 °F). So, it’s a common misconception that people only suffer from hypothermia in very cold water. Wetsuits help your body retain heat, even in tropical conditions.
…so that you can dive even longer
It’s a fact that warm divers have a longer bottom time than divers jumping in with a rashguard and boardshorts on. When you’re warm, your body spends less energy producing heat. This keeps you from guzzling your gas too quickly and helps you focus fully on your dive.
Like we all learned in our open water course, shivering signals the end of the dive — even when your computer says it’s okay to stay down.
What to look for in a scuba diving wetsuit
Steamer versus springsuit versus farmer Jane
Steamers are full-length wetsuits and springsuits usually have short arms and legs or long arms with short legs.
Steamers are warmer and offer more protection against sun exposure, stingers, and chill. Springsuits are great for tropical diving in water where there’s not likely to be many stingers.
Farmer Jane wetsuits are two pieces, with an overall-style wetsuit layered under a long-sleeved jacket.
One of the most important things to look for in a wetsuit is the thickness. Wetsuits are typically measured in millimeters. The thicker the wetsuit, the warmer it tends to be. If you’re in between wetsuit thicknesses, it’s better to go with the thicker wetsuit when scuba diving. It’s easy to cool down by flushing some water into the wetsuit through the neck, but very hard to heat up once you’re cold.
If a wetsuit is advertised with two thicknesses, such as a 2/3mm, this usually means that the core of the wetsuit is 3 mm while the arms and legs are likely to be 2 mm.
The downside to thicker wetsuits is that they tend to be less flexible and more difficult to put on than a thinner wetsuit.
85 °F (29 °C) and Above
Exposure suit – 2 mm springsuit
80 – 84 °F (26-28 °C)
2 mm springsuit – 2 mm steamer
73 – 79 °F (22-25 °C)
3 mm steamer – 5 mm steamer
66 – 72 °F (18-21 °C)
5 mm steamer – 7 mm steamer
50 – 65 °F (10-17 °C)
8/7 mm steamer – drysuit
Below 50 °F (Below 10 °C)
Drysuit – are you crazy?
Back zip versus chest zip
Back zippers are more common than chest zippers in scuba diving wetsuits because there is no real incentive to opt for a chest zipper. A back zip opens up the wetsuit more than a chest zipper, making it easier to get into.
Chest zippers are becoming popular in surf wetsuits because they don’t let in as much water when a surfer wipes out. Since scuba divers don’t encounter the same pummeling situations as surfers, a back zipper is ideal.
Seams and stitching
When you’re finding the best scuba diving wetsuit, it can be confusing to choose between the many types of seam stitches. Flatlock, overlock, blind stitch, double blind stitch, glued, taped… which type of wetsuit stitching is the best and does it really make a difference?
Here is a quick rundown on the types of stitching for scuba diving wetsuits:
Overlock: This stitch is the least effective at keeping water from leaking into a wetsuit and protecting a wetsuit’s seam. The overlock stitch rests on the inside of the wetsuit and may cause chaffing. Best for warm water.
Flatlock: A flatlock stitch is when two pieces of material are stitched together in a way that leaves the seam flush. The bulk of the thread is on the outside of the body, making it very comfortable. Best for warm water.
Blind stitch: Blind stitching is the best type of waterproofing stitch for scuba diving wetsuits. In a blind stitch, the material is glued together and then stitched on the inside of the material. Double blind stitching is when the material is stitched on both sides. Best for cold water.
Glued: Glued seams are glued together as an extra waterproofing reinforcement. Best for cold water.
Taped: Taped seams are are an extra reinforcement on the outside/inside of the seam. Best for cold water.
The fit is the most important aspect of a scuba diving wetsuit. Wetsuits will only keep you warm if they are snug against the skin, with no folds or loose sections. If there is a pocket between you and the wetsuit, it will fill with water — making the point of wearing a wetsuit in the first place pretty useless. Check that there are no pockets or folds around the armpits and torso area. If a wetsuit is too long, you can fold the extra length.
If your wetsuit is too tight, you risk ruining the seams or feeling pinched in places while diving.
Female-specific wetsuits tend to have extra material in the chest, narrower shoulders, and wider hips than male wetsuits or one-size-fits-all types.
Can you use another type of wetsuit for scuba diving?
There’s no rule against using another type of wetsuit, like a surf or kitesurf wetsuit, for scuba diving. Any wetsuit is better than none. The wetsuits are virtually interchangeable except for a few slight differences in style and cut. Surf wetsuits generally have more flexible arms while scuba wetsuits might have reinforced knees or a non-slip section for dive computers on the wrist.
For very cold water, scuba divers must wear a drysuit. A thick surfing wetsuit won’t be warm enough for very cold scuba diving temperatures. Neoprene is filled with small nitrogen bubbles. Since surfers only stay at the surface, they aren’t subjected to the compression (and therefore loss of warmth) that scuba divers do.
Freediving wetsuits are typically made from closed-cell neoprene, a material that is much more fragile than open-cell neoprene. Since scuba divers handle so much extra gear, you’re at higher risk of ruining your freediving wetsuit should you choose to dive with one. We do not advise scuba diving with a dedicated freediving wetsuit.
It’s best to get a scuba diving wetsuit if that’s what you plan to mostly use it for.
The best scuba diving wetsuits reviewed
Materials: Neoprene with nylon lining Thickness: 3 mm Zip: Back Special features: Rubber pads on chest, knees, and shins; seams both glued and sewn
Pros: Cut is ideal for women of most body types, very durable, stylish, high stretch, multi-use Cons: Tends to run large
Materials: Ultra-flexible neoprene Thickness: Available in 3, 5, 7 mm Zip: Back and ankles Special features: Celliant infared technology helps circulation and warmth, glideskin collar, abrasion-resistant kneepads, all seams glued and stitched
Pros: Multiple colors, one of the warmest wetsuits on the market, very flexible and easy to put on Cons: High price point
Materials: X-Foam nylon II neoprene Thickness: Available in skin, 3, 5, 7 mm Zip: Back Special features: Minimal seams, extra insulation around the torso, double-blind stitched outer seams, single-blind stitched inner seams, rubber kneepads
Pros: Very comfortable, flexible, durable, easy to put on and take off, water-tight Cons: White variation may discolor or stain easily – especially when hung on rust
Did we leave any of your favorite models off of the list?
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