- A wetsuit; regardless of how thick you might get it, due to the fact the water is in contact with your body & is more than 20 times more efficient at sucking the heat away than air means it is just not going to be any good most of the year & will restrict your diving to balmy summer months (should we get them!) in fairly shallow water
- A semi-dry; some rufty-tufty divers will tell you is enough. Here you still get wet but in theory once the water is inside, it mostly stays there & you warm it up. Well let me tell you: you don’t have to suffer for your sport and unless you are only to dive the warmer months the energy expended keeping the water warm (& the fact it doesn’t all stay inside) is going to chill you faster & restrict your adventures.
- A drysuit; keeps all that water on the outside & your body only has to heat the air, in theory meaning you expend less energy & spend the dive in far more comfort
So, a drysuit is the way to go; the bad news is it is the most expensive option, in fact it is likely the most expensive single item you are likely to buy as you are assembling your dive kit (anything from £350 to £1500+!) so it is important you get it right.
So how do you choose?
In my research to ensure my pounds were spent wisely I found the following that were of help in understanding the essential questions that need to be answered
Advice & Explanations of the terminology:
- Dive Magazine Drysuit Guide – A comprehensive article on all aspects of drysuit selection; well worth a read to understand the options along with the pros & cons of each choice
- Simplyscuba Help Choosing a Wetsuit or Dry Suit – Covers a lot of the same areas as the Dive magazine article but worth a look. Also goes into some detail on wetsuits & semi-dry’s (if you are still contemplating that avenue!)
- Excerpt from Drysuit Diving & More from Drysuit Diving – A whole book devoted to drysuits! but this is the key chapter for terminology – you may want to get the whole book, in which case it’s available here
- Suit: Neoprene or Membrane – Neoprene tends to have a fit closer to a wetsuit (though not very tight) while membrane is more ‘baggy’, Neoprene comes in natural or compressed and is heavier than membrane, natural is quite thick (6mm or more) and warmer (initially, until it gets compressed at depth, about 40% per 10m and will similarly uncompress on ascent giving an extra buoyancy boost around 10-6m which has to be compensated for by losing a lot of air) but you’ll need more weight to sink it, compressed is less warm than natural (you’ll need an undersuit) but doesn’t suffer the expansion issues of non-compressed and takes less weight to sink. Membrane suits dry quicker & tend to be lighter than neoprene. Both are about equally durable, though neoprene will deteriorate more over time. You’ll want a thicker undersuit with membrane. Another thing to remember about dry suits is that insulation means weight, every litre of air inside needs a kilo to sink it. Many divers say that after a while you can lose weight on your drysuit; well this is probably your undersuit losing bulk with wear so yes, you won’t need so much weight to sink it, but it has lost insulation also. I went for compressed neoprene but I may well try membrane next time – your choice
- Zip: Shoulder or Front – Front means you can zip yourself in & out (though watch that last inch or so under your arm, miss it & you’ll know about it!) while shoulder needs a buddy; front tend to be less common & some feedback indicates they may be more prone to damage but other feedback contradicts this; depending on the placement of the rear zipper & the suit fit make sure your arm movement is not overly restricted. Bear in mind there’ll likely be other divers around willing to help you out of a shoulder zip so don’t feel you have to go for the self extraction option but you might want to consider a P-zip or equivalent, just in case you are caught short & there’s no one to get you out!
- Dump: Shoulder or Wrist (or Hunchback or Please sir!) – In theory the shoulder dump is automatic with a setting to restrict its’ efficiency to keep the suit at a constant volume, in reality you’ll likely end up adopting a Quasimodo hunch & tilt, while a wrist dump is a simple affair that will dump if you raise your arm up (above the rest of your body) – for some the wrist option can restrict equipment placement on that arm & having to raise a hand that you might want to be doing something else might be troublesome, while for others the act of raising a shoulder & twisting is equally intrusive/awkward – go with whatever is comfortable for you
- Feet: Boots or socks – Boots mean you’ll likely need fins that are open heeled & probably a larger size than you’re used to, if the boots wear out you’ll have to get the drysuit serviced to add new ones, socks mean you can use foot-pocket fins should you so wish and boots (with open heeled fins) if you so desire (and you can replace boots with new ones as required). Neoprene socks also make a suit easy to turn inside out for drying and are easier to get off and on than attached boots – Socks sound like the answer (my suit has boots!)
- Seals: Neoprene or Latex – Latex tends to have a closer fit but has a shorter life (it is easily damaged & doesn’t like being left in sunlight), neoprene occasionally lets a dribble of water in, particularly on the neck if you’re craning your neck to, for example look around a wreck – you can of course mix-and-match & a latex neck & neoprene wrist is what I’d go for
- Pads – Yes! Definitely ensure your drysuit at least has knee pads for those kneeling on the bottom/platform/whatever moments, particularly during training & those ‘collecting yourself’ moments after descending but before setting off
- Divernet drysuit buyers guide – The ever trusty divernet have produced a pretty comprehensive review of offerings from most manufacturers available in the UK (see below for omissions), their previous review (from 2008) is also of interest
- Direct from the Manufacturer:
- Dive Shop: