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What Is A Drysuit & How Does It Work For Divers?

Last updated: November 16, 2021
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vector graphic showing a drysuit against a plain background

If you’ve recently become interested in SCUBA diving, you’ve probably noticed that there is a lot of information out there on the types of equipment you’ll need.

Of course, one of the essential pieces of scuba gear a diver needs is a suit.

A big question then is, do you need a wetsuit or drysuit?

What is a Drysuit?

A drysuit is a waterproof exposure suit designed to keep water away from your skin.

Combined with the proper undergarment, it can protect the wearer against severe cold, as well.

vector graphic showing a drysuit against a plain background

What is a Drysuit Used For?

These suits are often used by recreational divers as an outer layer to protect against cold water temperatures during dry suit diving.

It’s also ideal for above-water activities like paddle boarding, surfing, or kayaking because it acts as a fully-waterproof shell.

To be effective at protecting against the cold, a drysuit must be worn over gear designed to keep you warm.

Do Drysuits Actually Keep You Dry?

Drysuits are specifically designed to keep you dry during a dive or other water activity.

They have neck and wrist seals, along with a waterproof zipper and taped seams that fully seal the suit.

Drysuit vs. Wetsuit

vector graphic showing a collection of the best wetsuits for scuba divers

Main Difference Between a Drysuit and Wetsuit

A drysuit is similar to a wetsuit in that it insulates a diver while in the water.

But where a wetsuit protects using a thin layer of water between the diver’s skin and the suit, a drysuit prevents water from entering entirely.

Instead, a drysuit traps air inside the suit to insulate the diver during their dive.

In addition, drysuits fit more loosely, reducing your range of motion underwater, while wet suits are skin-tight, making it easier to move about when you’re in the water.

What is Warmer – a Drysuit or Wetsuit?

A wetsuit’s design generally makes it warmer on its own than a drysuit.

It allows a thin layer of water between the suit and your skin, then uses your body heat to warm the water and act as an insulator.

That said, a drysuit combined with a warm undergarment can keep you just as warm on a dive.

Components of a Drysuit

vector graphic showing a drysuit against a plain background

Essential Components

First, let’s start with the essential components of a drysuit.

Shell

The shell of a dry suit is the suit’s main component.

There are three standard types of shells: neoprene, membrane, and hybrid.

Membrane

Membrane or trilaminate suits are made up of multiple layers of thin fabric.

These suits are typically made of rubber or a combination of rubber and nylon.

Because of the type of fabrics these suits are made of, the suit usually needs to be oversized to prevent loss of range-of-motion at high wear areas like the elbows or knees.

Neoprene

Neoprene suits offer a bit more warmth than membrane suits because they’re thicker, more comfortable, and more insulating than membrane suits.

Hybrid

Hybrid suits combine aspects of both membrane and neoprene suits.

They have a neoprene bottom with a membrane on top.

This lets you have better arm movement combined with the durability of neoprene on your legs.

Seals

Seals are one of the most critical parts of a drysuit because they prevent water from getting inside.

Drysuits keep water out using seals made of silicone or neoprene, or latex gaskets around the wrist and neck.

Whether you want latex seals, silicone seals, or neoprene seals is something to consider when choosing a suit, as each has its own set of pros and cons.

Waterproof Entry

Waterproof zippers can be on the front or rear of the drysuit.

Drysuits also have a relief zipper built in to avoid removing the entire suit to go to the bathroom.

The seams are finished with nylon tape and a glue-like membrane to make the suit fully waterproof.

Drysuit Accessories

There are several accessories a diver will need to go along with their drysuit.

Some come attached to the suit, while others must be purchased separately.

In many cases, this can allow you to find a better-fitting combination of gear.

Gloves

Dry gloves are essential to keep the hands protected during a dive and warm while kayaking.

Suspenders

Suspenders are located inside the drysuit and are intended to keep the suit from shifting and bunching.

Hood

The hood of a drysuit helps prevent body heat loss through the head.

Some suits have attached hoods, but others require a diver to purchase one separately.

Boots

Drysuit boots can be light or heavy-duty.

Lighter boots are made of thin neoprene with a rubber sole, making them lightweight.

Heavy-duty boots are made of thicker neoprene with a stiff rubber sole.

Valves

Drysuits have two valves–one for inflation and one for exhaust.

The purpose of these valves is to control the diver’s buoyancy during descent or ascent.

Dry socks

Dry socks are thin, loose-fitting fabric socks attached to the drysuit that keep your feet warm and dry.

Because they’re so light, footwear in the forms of boots or booties would be needed to keep the socks from tearing or becoming damaged.

How Much Do Drysuits Cost?

The cost of a drysuit varies depending on its fabric, brand, and how frequently you want to or are willing to replace it.

A lower-priced suit will likely need to be replaced more frequently than a higher-cost suit.

Average Cost of a Drysuit

A beginner’s-level drysuit can cost around $1500, but that doesn’t include the accessories that go along with it.

Depending on the suit’s construction, you’ll need dry gloves, dry boots, and a hood that protects the head and offers a good neck seal.

Why Are Drysuits So Expensive?

Drysuits can come with a hefty price tag, but that’s due to how they’re made and what their intended purposes are.

For a suit to provide an entirely waterproof outer layer, it has to be made precisely to fit the wearer.

Waterproof materials are also more expensive than other fabrics.

The material also needs to be strong enough at high wear areas and at the seams to ensure longevity.

In addition, the cost of accessories like dry gloves, a hood, a neck gasket, and boots can also add to the price tag.

Choosing the Best Drysuit

vector graphic showing the best drysuits in different styles and colors

Types of Drysuits

When choosing a drysuit, it is wise to look at the types of drysuits and pick one that matches your needs.

Drysuits for Diving

Wearing a drysuit instead of a wetsuit for a dive can take a bit of getting used to.

Recreational divers who choose to use a dry suit must learn how to adjust their buoyancy using valves while ascending and descending properly.

In addition, dry suits made specifically for diving can only be made of waterproof materials.

Drysuits for Kayaking

Drysuits that are intended to be an outer layer while kayaking don’t have the valves used in diving suits and can be made of breathable material.

For example, Kokatat, which makes drysuits specifically for kayaking, uses GoreTex.

Because there isn’t any pressure against the suit above water, the suit can survive getting a bit wet on the outside while preventing water from leaking in.

What to Look for in a Drysuit

Thermal Protection

The type of insulation in your suit should be based on the type of diving you plan to do and your normal comfort level.

It’s best to determine your personal rating for insulation before choosing a suit.

Drysuit Material

Different materials serve different purposes.

For example, a neoprene drysuit can help keep you warm and allow more range of motion, while membrane suits can restrict the range of motion if not fitted properly.

A fully-waterproof material like rubber is ideal for diving, but a breathable fabric like Gore-Tex will be best for kayaking.

Compression Level

How much the material of your suit is compressed will affect your buoyancy underwater.

In general, thinner compressed materials can lessen the amount of buoyancy changes you’ll experience while entering or leaving the water.

Front or Back Zipper

A front zipper allows you to zip yourself into your suit without the assistance of a buddy.

On the other hand, a back zipper suit requires a helping hand because of the way the zipper is positioned across your shoulders.

Freedom of Movement

The type of material you use will determine how much freedom of movement you will have.

Neoprene is typically more flexible, while rubber and nylon can restrict your movement more.

Range of Movement

A trilaminate or membrane suit can provide just as much range of movement as a neoprene suit as long as it’s appropriately sized.

However, to offer the same flexibility, a membrane suit would need to be more loose-fitting to allow joints to bend and flex.

Using a Drysuit

What Should I Wear Under My Drysuit?

Since a drysuit is intended for use in cold water temperatures, choosing a good undergarment is crucial if you’re seeking maximum warmth.

Undersuits don’t need to be waterproof because the drysuit is built to prevent water from leaking into the suit.

Wool, Thinsulate, aerogel, and nylon-polyester blends are the most common materials you’ll find when searching for an undersuit.

How Do Drysuits Affect Buoyancy While Diving?

Since a drysuit is filled with air instead of water, you’ll need to use inflation and exhaust valves to help you rise and sink in the water.

Using weights with your suit will also help counteract the bubble-like effect of wearing a suit filled with air.

A proper course on drysuit diving will help you understand how to use the valve system to avoid complications during your dive.

Frequently Asked Questions

vector graphic showing the best drysuits in different styles and colors

What happens if you bring a phone in your drysuit?

Although you can bring a phone SCUBA diving, you’ll want to invest in a special underwater case to keep it protected.

While the drysuit might keep it from getting wet, it can’t do anything to prevent the effects of water pressure.

Phones rated waterproof to a certain depth are rated that way based on the amount of pressure they can withstand.

In other words, a phone rated for a depth of 10 meters will likely shatter at a depth of 60 meters.

To get to a depth of more than a few meters, you’ll want to research which phone case best suits your needs.

Can you swim in a drysuit?

Swimming in a drysuit is possible, but it will affect your range of movement in ways that a wetsuit won’t.

A tight-fitting wetsuit will allow your body to move through the water in nearly the same way as if you were wearing just a bathing suit.

Alternatively, a drysuit will restrict that movement based on the air inside of the suit and the loose-fitting fabric.

In addition, while a drysuit will keep you dry, you’ll need the added bulk of an undersuit to make sure you stay warm.

At what temperature do you need a drysuit?

Depending on your cold tolerance, a drysuit is recommended for dives when the water temperature ranges from 57-70°F.

An open water diver will likely need something that protects against the lower end of that water temperature range, coupled with a warmth-providing undergarment.

Wrapping Up

A drysuit can be a good investment if you want to start diving or do other water activities in cold temperatures.

Once you’ve found the best suit for your purposes, your next step is to get certified so you can start your diving adventures!

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