TO WETSUIT OR TO DRYSUIT

THE GREAT CONTROVERSY OF DIVING

We always get asked by new divers and sometimes by experienced divers whether or not they should get a dry-suit. Some might think that it is an easy yes or no, however it is somewhat complicated.

Lets start with the the first priority in this context and that is to stay warm during the dive. Staying warm during the dive means planning for the coldest part of the dive, which is normally the deepest part of the dive. This also includes the length of the dive. For example, I am diving in shallow water maximum 30 feet where the temperature is no different than the surface. Normally I would dive in a 3mm (yes, even here in Saskatchewan), but this time I am doing an exploration dive and planning on about 60 minutes of bottom time. Wearing a 3mm suit may not be the best choice.

WETSUIT

In Saskatchewan 6mm to 7mm is a standard thickness for diving. The newer neoprene wetsuitsof today like the AKONA, PINNACLE, and WATERPROOF are very soft, pliable and flexible yet provides good thermal protection. Even with these newer products, the thickness still limits movement, but not as much as the products did 20 years ago. Remember, your wetsuit thickness decreases as you go deeper, and thermal protection is lost. That is the reason for the minimum of 6mm.

Wet-suits are very easy to care for compared to dry suits and are much more cost-effective. They can also cool off on those hotter summer days, get in the water, and unzip a little to let the cooler water in. Wet-suits can also be used for Ice Diving. However, it is not as comfortable as a dry-suit and would not be warm after two short dives.

SEMI-DRY WETSUIT

Don’t forget the Semi-dry Wet-suit – PINNACLE and WATERPROOF. They are a nice in-between suit that has a place in diving. The Semi-Dry wet-suit combines features of both wet and dry suits. Some also add attached hoods and neoprene seals at the wrist and ankles. Divers in Saskatchewan are slowly using them; however, most go from a wet-suit to a dry-suit.

DRY-SUIT

Let’s start with the cons of a dry suit. They are more expensive and require more maintenance/care than a we-suit. Even though they are durable, dry-suit zippers and seals (neck and wrist) are the dry-suit’s weak points. These weak points are not that bad; like all your dive gear, you should treat it properly. If you do that, then this is not even a point, as newer dry-suits are made to allow for these minor shortcomings. Even though a front entry is technically designed so that the diver can open and close the zipper themselves, I don’t recommend it. Damaging the zipper is not worth it. Have a buddy help.

Newer dry-suits such as WATERPROOF offer flexible and resilient materials from neoprene, vulcanized rubber such as VIKING, and synthetic materials such as Cordura, Tri-Lam, and Kevlar. Most dry suits now come with quick change neck and wrist seals. That means minimal downtime due to no cutting and gluing. The systems are so easy that they can be done right on the boat or at a tailgate in minutes.

A dry suit alone does not provide thermal protection unless it is a neoprene dry-suit. With neoprene dry-suits most divers will wear light thermal/wicking protection to keep their body away from the neoprene. This is because the neoprene provides the thermal barrier. In a shell suit such as a Tri-Lam or other material the diver must wear more thermal protection such as the WATERPROOF Nord insulation. The amount of thermal protection (this includes neoprene dry suits) will depend on the water temperature and the length of the dive. For example, if you are ice diving and planning on multiple dives that are relatively stationary (not much swimming), then extra layers may be required. If you are diving mid-summer, then less thermal protection is needed. The nice part about a dry-suit and internal thermal protection is that you can add air inside the suit to keep the thermal protection value working and uncompressed like neoprene (there are dry-suits made of crushed neoprene that retain their thermal value through the dive, no matter the depth). The drawback to dry-suit is on a calm day with +30C weather on the deck of a boat, and you can’t jump in the water with your zipper open to cool off.

Now, there is the unspoken rule of urinating. In a wet-suit, some say they don’t, and those that lie (PS wash it out). In a dry suit, it has become easier with the front entry suits (not so much for the ladies). Modern dry-suits are relatively easy to get in and out of, so planning is key. For the hard-core divers, there are other means, such as pee valves, diapers, etc.

With the 6mm and 7mm suits, weights can be an issue (Thank God for weight-integrated BCDs like the OMS Comfort III or SHERWOOD Axis). This also applies to a dry suit. The more thermal protection and air you add to the suit, the more weight is needed. Often, a dry-suit requires slightly more work than a wet-suit of equal thermal protection.

Even though I have had multiple dry-suits and continue to dive them, I still have wet-suits. This is because the wet-suit fills the dive need where a dry suit is an overkill. The added care and maintenance tasks, etc., are nothing compared to diving into dry comfort. Would I get rid of my dry suit? Never in a million years. Even when you get cold in a dry suit, it is a dry cold, and warming up is easier. You can always dive in a wet-suit, but sometimes a wet-suit can’t fill the long-term need for a warm, comfortable dive.

We can discuss this subject more later, in the mean time, keep thinking, asking, and diving for now.

 

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