Wetsuits vs. Drysuits: What Should I Wear?

Most people want to go on a holiday at any time of the year. Kayaking is best done during the summer but, what about winter? A wetsuit or a drysuit would come in handy during the cooler seasons. You will not have to wait for the lovely sun before getting into the waters.

Benefits of Wearing a Wetsuit or Drysuit

Why would I need such suits? The suits are important in some ways for your safety and survival.

Most paddlers would always want to keep dry during any kayaking trip. However, there is an unavoidable circumstance. You may come across elements that may force you off your boat. Wetsuits or drysuits will help keep you dry and warm, especially in cold waters.

If the warmth is enough, you will survive a good swim to get back to your boat or even a safer place. Sometimes it helps elongate your chances of survival as you do not know how long you will be stuck in the waters.

Moreover, wetsuits and drysuits help avoid complications like hypothermia and cold shock. Hypothermia occurs when immersed in water of extremely low temperatures. The side effects are immense, and you may be immobile.

A cold shock can occur when exposed to waters of temperatures between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. You will feel the following uncomfortable things;

  1. Heart discomfort and blood pressure problems
  2. Breathing complications include gasping for air, hyperventilation, and swallowing water
  3. Mental problems like panicking, inability to think, and disorientation

So when kayaking, you will need to wear a wetsuit or a drysuit to protect your body. Do not worry; we will help you choose the correct suit to fit your circumstances.

What is a Wetsuit? How Does It Work?

A wetsuit is used to provide heat for your body in cold conditions. It works on the principle that your body is the best source of heat. The suit is made with a closed-cell foam material, filled with tiny gas bubbles in the structure to keep the heat under the water.

When you get into the waters, a thin layer of water is allowed into the suit. The space between the inner layer and your body is now filled with water. Your body temperature will heat the layer of water and keep you insulated throughout.

Wetsuits are designed to be snug fits. A loose wetsuit will allow water to get in and out of the suit. Water will also get to your skin; therefore, your body will waste energy heating the extra cold water. This eliminates the purpose of thermal insulation.

Thickness of Wetsuits

The thickness is a vital factor to look at if you know the type of temperatures you are going to dive in. They vary in thickness, and it is usually displayed by three numbers separated by a slash on the suit. The numbers are used to show the thickness of the outer neoprene material in millimeters. The order of numbers shows thickness around the torso, legs, and arms, respectively.

Thicker wetsuits contain more small cells filled with air and are thus used in colder conditions. The thinner ones are lighter and therefore used in warm waters to offer lighter insulation. We need to also remember how different our bodies are and go for something that suits our bodies.

Wetsuits are made to be thicker around the torso to offer protection for your core body heat, prevent hypothermia and keep you warm. The limbs are made of thinner neoprene material. This is to allow for flexibility as the arms and legs are in constant motion.

Types wetsuits

1. Full Wetsuits

This involves a one-piece wetsuit that covers your torso, arms, and legs. It also covers up to the wrist and ankles.

2. Springsuits

They are also called shorty wetsuits. It is a one-piece suit that covers your torso, thighs, and upper arms. The suits are best used for warmer temperatures.

3. Short John Wetsuits

One-piece suits that cover only your torso and thighs. They are ideal for warmer tropical climates.

4. Long John Wetsuits

It is a one-piece suit which covers your torso and legs up to the ankles. There is no arm coverage. It is best used by surfers and triathletes.

5. Tops and Bottoms

If you do not want a one-piece suit, you can go for the separate bottom and top parts. They come in both short-sleeved and long-sleeved styles.

Pros of Wetsuits

  • They come in a wide variety of styles and options
  • Have more buoyancy than drysuits
  • Easy to maintain
  • It can be used for diving anywhere in the world

Cons of Wetsuits

  • They are designed to keep you warm but not the best to keep you dry
  • Wetsuits have proven to be tricky to come in and out of it especially when wet
  • They lose thermal insulation as you go deeper into water

What is a Drysuit? How Does It Work?

As the name suggests, the suit is meant to keep you completely dry. This is achieved by making sure that no water gets into the suit. It is made from waterproof materials like neoprene, vulcanized rubber, or heavy-duty nylon. To keep it completely sealed, there is a neck seal, wrist seals, and a waterproof zipper.

The design principle behind drysuits is to keep a layer of air between the body and the suit. They are made to be loose fit so that you can have other clothes beneath them. Insulator valves available are used to allow you to add gas when going into deeper waters. The exhaust valves help you get rid of water when ascending.

There are different types of drysuits for various water sports and different temperatures. Divers prefer a different drysuit to kayakers and suffers. You can also acquire either a one-piece or two-piece suit. Kayakers tend to go for the baggier drysuits as they allow for free movement while paddling.

Drysuits require some level of skills for you to operate efficiently. If you want to use one, you will need to undergo some training by a qualified instructor.

Pros of Drysuits

  • It keeps you warm and dry in extremely cold conditions
  • Easier to get in and out compared to a wetsuit
  • Help in diving as they maintain the perfect body shape underwater

Cons of Drysuit

  • They cost a lot more than wetsuits
  • The maintenance routine is tedious
  • You need some training before you can use it comfortably
  • Lack of a relief zipper will make going to the toilet laborious

Wetsuit vs Drysuit: The Comparison

You will need to consider a few key differences when trying to either purchase a drysuit or a wetsuit.

Thermal Insulation

Wetsuits are designed to use a layer of water warmed by the wearer’s body to keep you warm. On the other hand, Drysuits use a layer of air for insulation and are completely sealed to prevent water from getting to your skin. Wetsuits have an advantage here as water is a better conductor of heat than air.

Both wetsuits and drysuits allow divers to wear undergarments to increase thermal insulation. However, drysuits have an edge here as they are a loose fit. This will allow you thicker garments under the suit.

Water Temperatures

This could be a personal preference matter, but there are temperatures that the suits are suitable for. Most divers use drysuits when diving in the water below 16 degrees. Some of the divers can tolerate temperatures below 10 degrees in a wetsuit.

Drysuits are mostly used in cold waters, but they can also be used in the tropics. Some use it in the tropics because of how they are vulnerable to the cold or take several dives a day. In other situations, some dive in helium-rich mixtures that take away a lot of heat from the user’s body.


Wetsuits are made to have a tighter fit. This is to make sure it works properly by avoiding any more water getting into the suit. The seals make sure the warm water layer is not replaced by cold water, which will waste the body energy as it is heated.

On the other hand, drysuits are a loose fit, so that you can wear other insulating layers beneath. They keep a layer of air between the skin and suit. It is controlled by valves attached to the suit. You vary the amount of gas according to the depth of the water.


Due to being a tight fit, wetsuits are more comfortable and allow for quicker movement when diving. Drysuits are looser and may prove to be baggy when diving into the water. This will slow you down and make you use a lot more energy when diving.


Wetsuits lose some buoyancy as you go deeper due to compression. You may have to adjust the weights to get the right balance. Also, wetsuits always provide additional buoyancy. This is why you may have issues descending when you have just dived in water with a dry thick wetsuit.


The typical wetsuit material is a closed-cell foam neoprene. It is a synthetic rubber material best known for its insulating abilities. There are nitrogen bubbles on neoprene to reduce heat transfer from your body to the suit. Some companies have experimented with other materials like neogreene, spandex, ariaprene, and yulex.

Drysuits can be molded from foam neoprene, heavy-duty nylon, vulcanized rubber or crushed neoprene. Attachments include neck seal, wrist seal, and waterproof zipper. The seals of drysuits are made from latex rubber or neoprene. The waterproof zipper is made of plastic, mostly placed across the shoulders.

Cost of Ownership/ Maintenance

Other than proper rinsing, there are not many maintenance requirements for a wetsuit. Drysuits will make you replace seals, attend to leaks, replace boots or socks, or even replace the zipper. In the long run, you will incur a lot of costs due to maintenance routines.

Also, drysuits hold their value for resale, and you can thus get something from it. Used wetsuits get tossed away after wearing out. Used drysuits are sold to get newer and better ones.


A wetsuit can give between 5 to 10 years of service depending on how well you take care of the suit. Drysuits are costlier and tougher than wetsuits. They are made to work in different environments, thus lasting longer. A good drysuit can last over 15 years if you take really good care of it.


Training is another vital difference between the two suits. A wetsuit is most common, comfortable, and easier to use. There is a manual to teach you how to use it. Drysuits are a bit trickier, from putting them on to controlling the weight and buoyancy.

Scuba diving centers may require you to provide some certification that you have been trained on using drysuits. Generally, being trained can save you from frustration and keep you safe underwater.

Purchase Cost

Drysuits are quite expensive for the average diver. There was a time you could purchase several wetsuits at the cost of only one drysuit. The reason behind this is because you can use a drysuit for a variety of conditions. They are also made from heavy-duty and tougher materials than wetsuits.


Which suit is the best for me? Having gone through what wetsuits and drysuits entail, I think you may have come up with the right answer. Go for a suit that meets your needs as people have different needs. If you wish to go diving in cold waters, invest in a comfortable and warm suit. Extra accessories like a hooded vest, gloves, or dive boots would also be handy additions.

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