3 Types of Water Suits and When to Use Them
There are plenty of ways to have fun in the water, whether it be at a lake or in the ocean. For many people, diving, surfing and other activities that require water suits are some of the most fun water sports. However, making sure you take the proper precautions to protect yourself from various hazards is extremely important. Therefore, you should understand the different types of water suits to make the smartest choice about how to equip yourself for an enjoyable and safe time.
Keep reading to learn more about the different kinds of wetsuits, how to use them and the best time to wear them.
As suggested by the name, drysuits are completely waterproof.
These are made with a material called tri-laminate, a general term for membrane fabrics. These fabrics don’t allow water to penetrate through to the skin. At the wrists and neck, a watertight seal creates a shell that keeps you dry. Additionally, boots or socks help keep water out of the suit while allowing you options for personalization.
Although drysuits are waterproof, they’re not designed to keep you warm on their own. There are no insulative properties in tri-laminate, as its goal is to keep you dry. To stay warm in a drysuit, you must add additional layers beneath the suit — fleece, wool and synthetic materials are best at retaining heat. The amount of insulation you wear depends on your body temperature, the depth at which you intend to dive and the temperature of the water.
Both comfort and safety are closely intertwined when it comes to drysuits. Any air buildup in the suit can be extremely uncomfortable when you enter the water, so you should ensure that all extra water inside the suit is removed before entering. Otherwise, the extra buoyancy will negatively impact your diving experience.
Note that it’s possible for water to enter the drysuit if the zipper isn’t secure or the neck and wrist seals aren’t tight along the skin. The risk isn’t that you’ll sink if the suit fills with water — it’s the danger of hypothermia, which can set in within minutes. While you want the seals to be tight, be sure you don’t restrict blood flow, as doing so causes a high risk of danger.
When to Use a Drysuit
This gear is favorable for diving and out-of-water activities during which you want to stay dry. Because drysuits have no insulative properties, the additional layers you may add underneath can inhibit the mobility you have while you wear the drysuit. Waterskiing and windsurfing are popular surface water sports for which a drysuit is favorable, especially in colder water. Boaters, kayakers and sailors often prefer wearing a drysuit while they’re on the water to protect them from spray and short-term water immersion.
Many situations where your body is immersed in the water offer good opportunities for drysuits. Deep divers also generally prefer drysuits because of the ability to add layers underneath the suit in cold temperatures. Wetsuits restrict mobility in extremely cold water conditions, so drysuits are a great alternative. Drysuits can be made to endure heavy labor, such as underwater welding, which makes them a great option for commercial and recreational diving.
Because they’re not skintight like wetsuits, drysuits offer more options for customization to fit your needs.
Drysuits offer the availability of pockets, which are extremely useful for divers who want to keep an extra mask handy during their dive. It’s also easy to keep wet notes if you’re new to diving and need a quick reminder in the water. Additionally, you can choose what kind of foot protection you prefer and, for extremely cold weather, attach gloves to the suit.
Choosing when to use a drysuit depends mostly on personal preference. Comfort is the most important factor to consider, which means weighing the pros and cons of all kinds of suits. While drysuits can keep you warm with additional layers, those layers may inhibit mobility. The boots and socks are great for keeping you dry, but they add layers between your feet and any equipment you might be using, like a paddleboard, reducing the level of contact. Choose carefully to make the most comfortable choice for your water activities.
Caring for a Drysuit
Proper water suit care ensures the high performance of the suit. The zipper and seals on a drysuit are the most important pieces for ensuring water doesn’t easily leak into the suit, so you should pay special attention to them.
Handle your zipper with care. For the zipper to be waterproof, the teeth of the zipper produce more friction with the slider. This means that the zipper is harder to seal, but it ensures that water stays out of the suit.
Apply waterproof wax or grease to the zipper to open and close the zipper more easily — the lubricant will stay on the zipper even while getting wet, and the drysuit will come off as easily as it went on.
Plastic tooth zippers create less friction and are easier to pull on, but they’re not as long-lasting as metal. Although metal requires more maintenance, it can save you money in the long run. The zipper tape on a drysuit can also become frayed, which can accelerate damage to the edge. Trim the frays to avoid damage to the suit.
The neck and wrist seals on drysuits are typically made of latex or silicone. These materials may become pierced or ripped after coming into contact with sharp objects. This applies to the rubber socks or booties worn with the drysuit, as well. In particular, latex stretches easily and may deteriorate over time. Avoid this damage by removing the seals from the suit and keeping them in a dark, airtight environment.
Neoprene is a much more durable material that can replace latex or silicone seals. However, it’s not stretchy or adjustable in the same way as latex or silicone, so a neoprene seal must be sized specifically to the user. Taking proper care of your seals will ensure that they have a long lifespan and keep water out of your water suit.
A wetsuit is a water garment made of neoprene that provides thermal protection while the user is wet. Neoprene contains small nitrogen gas bubbles. These bubbles minimize heat transference, which means that the heat your body produces is trapped in the nitrogen bubbles instead of diffusing into the water around you.
This process is why the fit of a wetsuit is important to its function — if a wetsuit is too baggy, extra water will collect on the inside. As a result, your body heat will be warming the water instead of being trapped in the nitrogen bubbles that keep you warm. Water takes much longer to heat, so the thermal component of the wetsuit is compromised. Baggy wetsuits also allow heat to escape through loose openings at the wrist, ankle and neck seals.
On the other hand, your wetsuit shouldn’t be too tight. This may result in difficulty breathing, which is dangerous in situations where active movement, like swimming, is essential for survival. The best-fitting wetsuit will touch as much of your skin as comfortably possible. Foamed neoprene is stretchy, so you should remain mobile. The elasticity of neoprene allows many people to buy and wear off-the-rack wetsuits that fit well.
Wetsuits are made in varying levels of thickness, which makes them appropriate for different uses. Even the thinnest wetsuits are valuable, as they protect against hazards like sunburn, coral and jellyfish, unlike a regular swimsuit. Thicker suits are available for more insulation, but the thicker a suit is, the less mobility a wearer experiences.
Wetsuits are described based on their thickness in two numbers. For example, a wetsuit with a torso thickness of 3 millimeters and a limb thickness of 2 millimeters will be referred to as a “3/2(mm).” Some suits have additional insulation in other areas, like the lower back.
When to Use a Wetsuit
There are many types of wetsuits available for a variety of uses.
Wetsuits are optimal for water sports, especially those that take place in cold climates. Surfing is one of the most popular water sports where participants use a wetsuit, especially in cold air or water. Whitewater kayaking and triathlons are also common events where wetsuits are the best option. In some circumstances, endurance swimmers wear wetsuits.
Certain conditions and preferences will influence how to use a water suit. If you have a low tolerance for cold, a thicker wetsuit with more coverage will be favorable. However, if you have a higher tolerance, a thinner wetsuit with less coverage may be optimal. External air temperature also contributes to what kind of wetsuit you should wear. If you’re in warmer waters on a hot day, you’ll need less coverage than you would in the early morning before sunrise.
Air and water temperature go hand in hand. If you’re wakeboarding, the air temperature will be more important than the water temperature since you spend more time on top of the water. If the air temperature is high but the water is cold, a thinner suit would be appropriate. However, a cold day and warm water may require more coverage and insulation.
The thickness and style of a wetsuit will determine its use. Here are seven main types of wetsuits.
1. Full Wetsuit
A full wetsuit is the best option for cold water and air temperatures. It has long sleeves and long bottoms for full coverage over the torso, legs and arms. You can pair it with a hood for extremely cold environments. Significant amounts of body heat are lost through the head, and the hood will retain the heat to keep your head and ears warm.
2. Long John/Jane Wetsuit
The long john/jane wetsuit has full leg coverage with a sleeveless top. The exposed arms make this a good option for paddling, as you avoid chafing along the underarm.
3. Spring Wetsuit
The spring wetsuit has long sleeves for arm coverage with short bottoms. This style is popular for use when the water and air temperatures are moderate. The long sleeves provide protection against rash when surfing, but the short legs keep you cool.
4. Short Arm Steamer Wetsuit
The short arm steamer wetsuit features arm sleeves that reach the top of the elbow and bottoms that go down to the mid-thigh. These are a great option for warm water and air temperatures.
5. Short John/Jane Wetsuit
Much like the short arm steamer, the short john/jane wetsuit offers little protection for coverage. It similarly features bottoms that reach mid-thigh, but the sleeveless top keeps the wearer cool in hot weather. This style is one of the most basic designs for wetsuits.
6. Wetsuit Jacket
The wetsuit jack offers protection for the torso and upper arms. The front zipper makes it easy to get on and off by yourself. This neoprene jacket is most commonly used in warm but windy weather, often on top of a sleeveless top wetsuit like the long or short john/jane models. They may also be used in cool to moderate-temperature water for diving.
7. Wetsuit Vest
A wetsuit vest is a great option for protecting your upper body on hot days with warm water. They work well for kayaking and paddling, as they allow for a large range of motion in the arms and avoid chafing.
Caring for a Wetsuit
Prolonged exposure to saltwater and chlorine can cause neoprene to lose its flexibility, causing permanent damage. Soak the wetsuit in a tub of warm water for 15-20 minutes after use. Rinse the water off with fresh warm water to fully remove the remaining saltwater or chlorine. Hang it to air dry.
You can cause a permanent crease in your wetsuit by leaving it folded for long periods of time. If possible, store your wetsuit on a flat, horizontal surface to avoid stretching or creases. The area should be cool, dry and dark to protect it from direct sunlight, as UV rays from the sun also contribute to neoprene deterioration.
Like the drysuit, zippers on your wetsuit are very important to its functioning. Be sure to pull the zipper only in a straight line along the track to avoid damaging it.
3. Semi-Dry Suit
The semi-dry suit is a water suit with strong seals at the neck, wrists and ankles that limit the amount of water that enters and leaves the wetsuit. The stronger seals are similar to those on drysuits, but like wetsuits, the semi-dry suits are made of neoprene.
High-quality semi-dry suits will have a waterproof zipper, like those on a drysuit. With a waterproof zipper, the only way for water to enter the suit is through the seals. Unlike drysuit seals, semi-dry suits intend to let in a small amount of water. This function, paired with the neoprene layer, means your body heat can quickly heat the water inside the suit. The warm water and trapped heat in the nitrogen bubbles of the neoprene keep you warmer for longer.
Layer semi-dry suits for increased warmth and buoyancy. With more layers of neoprene, made to retain heat, there are more nitrogen bubbles for heat to be trapped in to keep you warm. However, the thinner the neoprene layer, the more mobility a wearer has.
Semi-dry suits are an effective alternative for people who are interested in a drysuit but don’t want to spend too much money. The standard suits come in three, five and seven-millimeter thicknesses, which offers a wide range of possibilities for the semi-dry suits. There are also various semi-dry accessories available, such as hoods, that can help keep you warm in cold environments. Because semi-dry suits stop at the ankles, you may also opt for a pair of socks or booties for extra heat.
When to Use a Semi-Dry Suit
When participating in water sports that involve significant contact with the water, such as surfing, semi-dry suits are a great alternative to wetsuits to help keep you warm. This is especially true when water and air temperatures are low, as a semi-dry suit has much more insulation than a traditional wetsuit. Semi-dry suits aren’t optimal for swimming due to some restricted mobility.
Semi-dry suits are helpful for kayaking or paddling on smooth waters. With minimal opportunities for water to penetrate the seals or zipper, a semi-dry suit offers a mostly dry paddling experience. If you decide to take a break and swim during your ride, you can expect to get a bit wet with water in the suit. Similarly, paddling through rough waters or being dunked underwater will get the wearer wet.
When to wear a semi-dry suit depends mostly on personal preference. If you intend to paddle on rough waters and want to stay dry the whole time, you should opt for a drysuit. However, if getting a little wet isn’t a huge concern, a semi-dry suit would be a better option.
The neck seal is usually the biggest point of preference for people choosing between a drysuit and a semi-dry suit. Drysuits use latex for the seals, whereas semi-dry suits use other materials, such as neoprene. For some people, the latex material can cause irritation or be uncomfortable to wear throughout the day. However, others find no issues with the materials and are perfectly comfortable.
Caring for a Semi-Dry Suit
Much like wetsuits and drysuits, semi-dry suits experience most of their damage from the sun’s UV rays. Storing the water suits in cool, dry and dark areas will help them recover from the high-impact rays that can leave the neoprene on your suit with less elasticity, making it more uncomfortable.
Like drysuits, it’s also important to maintain the seals on the neck, wrists and ankles for optimized performance. A semi-dry suit functions as it does because the seals limit the amount of water that enters the suit. Therefore, if the seals become ripped or pierced, you compromise the suit.
The zipper is equally important, especially on high-quality semi-dry suits that have a fully waterproof zipper. Like with wetsuits and drysuits, be careful to only pull the zipper in a straight line to avoid pulling it off its track. Apply zipper cleaner to remove excess dirt and leftover grease or wax before applying more lubricant.
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